The world is an ashtray
I'm reading a rather popular atheist blog a few days ago and there is a nice post about dealing with religious co-workers and whatnot and the post starts out like this (I'm paraphrasing here):
"So I'm on a cigarette break chatting with a religious co-worker..."
OK, stop right there. Cigarette break?
Say you're having a polite conversation with someone and half way through the conversation they happen to mention that they are a Scientologist, or have been abducted by aliens, or tell you that Jesus is returning to earth next Friday. Be honest, you're opinion of them has just dropped a little, regardless of what you are discussing. I don't care if you discussing evolutionary biology with frickin Richard Dawkins. If he let's it slip that he wears a magnetic bracelet to help him with his arthritis, your estimation of his IQ just fell a few points, even concerning his area of expertise (after all, if he can be fooled into believing that magnets will cure arthritis, what does he mistakenly believe about biology or evolution?)
Now, let's move on to something that isn't in dispute and that the vast majority of the scientific community agrees on: smoking is dangerous to your health and even to other people's health. This is pure rational science, backed up by tons of evidence. The jury is in, the verdict has been read and the guilty have long since been executed. Everyone (in this country at least) has no excuse for not knowing that they are harming themselves and others by smoking. The rational conclusion is that you should not smoke.
So am I a bad person if my opinion of someone (and thus of their opinions) drops a little when I find out they are a smoker???
We atheists like to claim that we are rational thinkers. It's what separates us apart from those who choose to believe and have faith in something that has absolutely no evidence to support its existence. Yet there is a ton of scientific evidence telling us that smoking is bad for everyone and yet a rational person can still choose to smoke? I'm sensing a little cognitive dissidence here.
Yeah, I know, everything is bad for you. Some people eat too much. Others drink too much. Some participate in high risk activities. Hell, just waking up and getting out of bed in the morning exposes you to risk. And you'll wither away and die quickly if you stay in bed all day. You can't win, so why not just give in to your temptations? Because we pride ourselves on being rational and hence making decision and living our lives based on the best available scientific evidence we have available to us.
So I'm a smoking Nazi now I suppose? I'm not telling you that you can't smoke. I'm not asking the government to make smoking illegal (at least in non-public places). I'm merely saying that you shouldn't smoke because it makes you appear to be just a slight bit less rational than you would like.
It is of course possible to say "I know that smoking is bad for me, but I choose to do it anyway because it is my body and I can do what I want with it." Again, I'm not arguing that you can't. But when we accuse others of hurting people based on their irrational religious beliefs but yet we willingly hurt ourselves and others by choosing to ignore the recommendations of our doctors, then we lose some of our claim to rational superiority.