Atheism Part II

Many who attack atheists know little about them, or about atheism in general.  Educating yourself before labeling a group of people is important.

Atheists have no moral guidance

Well I am not going to go into too much detail here.  You can watch the qualiasoup video on YouTube called “Good without Gods” if you want some excellent explanations for how morality is self-evident without God.  If being good didn’t have its earthly rewards and benefit our survival we probably wouldn’t do it.  Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that the increased chance of survival and increased happiness we experience from our morality is what defines what good morals are.  Dawkins refers to it as reciprocal altruism which is the more scientific way to look at it.  If we look at our actions in terms of the harm they cause in this existence, what does commandments from another plane of existence matter?  If only the threat of punishment from a plane of existence that only exists due to faith is the reason for you being good then to me that sort of cheapens humanity and is sort of worrying.  Does the smile on people’s faces not mean something to you?  Does the love you get in return for putting love out into the world not give you pleasure?  Does the quality of your life not increase when you treat other kindly and with respect?

If you’re an atheist you must have no purpose in life

Many people feel that with a hierarchal structure to the universe with a creator on top means that all this is for some reason.  That there is a purpose to the universe and thus it makes your daily life filled with purpose.  Once again, as a species that has evolved to benefit from having compassion for my fellow species, purpose can simply be derived by not only the need to survive, but to survive well.  The best chance for me to survive is to work to increase the quality of life for all my friends and family and hopefully beyond if I can.  The world is fascinating and amazing and I am extremely fortunate to even exist for a short time in this universe to appreciate some of it.  What difference does it make if the universe itself is indifferent?  What matters if there is no intentionality to it?  What does it matter that no supernatural being cares about whether I live or I die?  I experience love now.  I experience existence now.  I experience.  I have wandered no longer for purposes than anyone else in the world.  It takes time to find that…for anybody.

Atheists are empty spiritually

This is simply untrue.  The dictionary describes spirituality as being mostly being tied to religion, but this I believe is simply because religion has taken a hold of the definition of spiritual.  A secondary definition describes spiritual as something that is incorporeal which means having no material body or form.   Do I have feelings or moments which are unexplainable, or in which I am overwhelmed with emotion for which no expression captures that moment?  The answer of course is yes, and when people of faith describe “spiritual experiences” the essence of those experiences makes me feel like I have those similar moments.  I may not feel the presence of an angel or God but I feel like there is some presence so strong I could almost touch it.  I can even feel this knowing it is a conjuring of my own mind, because it is very human to have these moments and experiences.  People have them of all different faiths, so why can’t an atheist have them too?  Because I can explain the chemistry of love does not make me feel it any less.  Because I know why I cry, doesn’t prevent me from crying.  Being overwhelmed with emotion is natural, and very often a spiritual event.  For the record I don’t believe there is actually a spirit, but rather it is a good word which encompasses these moments I have tried to describe.

Atheism is a belief just like any religion

This one bothers me more than any other.  As the definition I put part I clearly demonstrates atheism is a lack of belief in a God.  Now this of course doesn’t mean that atheists don’t have beliefs.  We all do.  What it does mean though is that I live my life as if there was no god.  The idea of believing in the absence of something that only exists because people believe in it seems strange to me.  Let’s use an analogy:

                Me:  I believe there are mermaids

                You: I believe there are no mermaids.  Do you have proof of your belief?

                Me:  Well they are in books, and other people believe in mermaids too.

                You:  But I’ve never seen a mermaid.

                Me. Neither have I, but they are definitely real.  I know it.

Truth has to be evident from observation.  It shouldn’t require belief.  If we took the books about mermaids out of the situation you would just have two people who had never seen mermaids and thus have no reason to believe in their existence or believe in their non-existence.  There are no observations of mermaids and therefore one can conclude that there is no such thing as mermaids.

I for instance can believe that gases expand when heated.  I need never have experienced it myself, but I could believe that, but still we don’t know if it’s true.  Now if you come along and say you don’t believe that, well now we have something that we can actually observe and measure.  We would find that my belief is correct and yours was incorrect.  Furthermore someone with no beliefs about the subject of the behavior of gasses when heated could walk into the room during our test see what happens to a gas when heated and conclude based on his/her observation that gasses do in fact expand.

An atheist can have a belief about something, but a good atheist will seek out knowledge to test whether that belief holds because ultimately an atheist tries to be inductive in their reasoning and not deductive.  Meaning we try to make conclusions based on the evidence.  We may think we know what the outcome will be beforehand but evidence may prove us wrong, and any atheist should be willing to change their stance based on new evidence.  I do not believe in evolution.  The evidence of evolution is staggering thus I cannot help but conclude that evolution is a real process.  Nobody had to tell me it is real.  I do not believe in anthropogenic climate change.  The evidence for it is also overwhelming.  Now if new evidence was found that truly contradicted the theory of evolution I would know that a new theory had to be adopted because if a theory cannot explain all the evidence it isn’t a very good theory.  A good atheist should make their arguments with evidence and with respect.  Next let’s talk about atheists that worry me.

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4 thoughts on “Atheism Part II

  1. Some observations:

    Morality – I find it ironic, and not in the Alanis Morissette way, that after admonishing us to educate ourselves before labelling others, you basically say that theists only do good things to avoid punishment from God. I may have misunderstood, but that’s how I read it. Jesus is attributed with saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That sounds a lot more like reciprocal altruism to me.

    Purpose – I think there’s something to the argument that atheists lack purpose. It’s easy to feel like life has meaning when you have the opportunity to grow and love and have good experiences. But for much of the world and much of history life is short, painful, and cruel and without hope. Where is the purpose in that? I would think that an atheist world view is that people created religion in order to provide purpose into a life of drudgery because presumably purpose was lacking.

    Spirituality – This is an argument of semantics. Some people like the first definition in the dictionary and some people like the second.

    Atheism like other religions – It’s not completely clear to me, but I think what you are saying is that atheism is not like a religion because it does not require faith. You don’t need to believe anything that can’t be proven or convincingly demonstrated. I think that’s a fair statement and a fundamental difference between atheism and theistic (is that a word?) religions. I do disagree with your statements about truth. Truth is just what is. What you believe or observe doesn’t change what is true. New species of animals are discovered with some regularity. Certainly they existed before we observed them.

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  2. As always I enjoy your thoughts and insights into things. I will respond by category as you did:

    Morality: I didn’t say that all Christians only do things out of fear of punishment from God. What I am addressing is what many Christians say about atheists. And I would argue that much of what a person does that is good morally has nothing to do with God. But if you asked them, many Christians would say they did that good action because the bible says so. I have heard the argument from many Christians that the fact that we know the difference between right and wrong means that there must be a God. Because how would we know? Then answer is, we sort of don’t. I think we have a genetic instinct that lends itself towards cooperation, but maybe more fundamentally cooperation is essential for our survival. Thus being good and kind towards others is in our best interest. Especially since we are so useless when we are born and unable to fend for ourselves. I’m not sure if my mom still believes that God is necessary for morality, but that is what she tried to tell me. So even people who I would consider good Christians think this, of course I just tend to think of them as good people. The words of Jesus you quote are a very humanist in nature. I actually think Jesus was a humanist, and there is much evidence to point to the fact that he never thought he was divine and that these things were added into the bible by other people. There are also plenty of Jesus lines about sin too in the bible.

    Purpose: Well if purpose is a function of having good opportunities then it is independent of your belief system. Many Christians then can feel a sense of purpose without the need for belief simply because they are born into a good country and have the opportunity for education, livelihood etc. I think most atheist think religion was created to help explain things that are unexplainable or beyond our comprehension. Religion can be used as a means of control of an uneducated mass of people with little hope, but any form of manipulation could probably as well. Religion is quite convenient however in terms of promising some sort otherworldly reward which gives you hope when your current life is not so good. I would also argue that religion does more harm than good to the people you talk about as living short loves and face poverty in hardship everyday. Getting people to believe in a set of religious dogma makes one slower to adapt to change. Despite the rhetoric here in the U.S. that poor people just want a free ride and are going to vote democratic, most poor people are in the southern U.S. and most of the south U.S. is heavily conservative.

    In Africa the spread of Catholicism has caused a lot of damage because they preach using birth control is murder and so AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases spread rapidly there. Moreover our brains are wired towards intentionality or agenticity. This is important when dealing with other animals, in and out of our species, but when we believe in a story about supernatural beings we tend to then apply this intentionality to all sorts of events. In fact, the cause and effect here is not so clear. Because unexplainable disastrous events might also lead us to invent some sort of supernatural story to explain. When bad things happen many people take that to heart to mean that they have done something wrong even when they haven’t. This is often even reinforced by the religious community. Christianity isn’t the only religion to blame here. The caste system in India in which an entire group of people are treated as less than human is predicated on the concept of Karma. Here we tend to think of it as a fun eastern philosophy, but it has been used as a great tool of oppression for many years. Personally I find the indifference of the universe much more calming because that means that when bad things happen to me beyond my control there is no supernatural being out to get me for something bad I did in the past even if it is completely unrelated. And you still see that tired argument today…Oh Haiti got hit by an Earthquake because they practice Voodoo there, and not because they happen to be located on the boundary between two tectonic plates. Mostly only crazy people say this kind of thing today, but they do have followers and this type of thinking was extremely prevalent in the west even as of a 100 years ago, and is prevalent in other parts of the world still.

    Not one person, poor or rich, drudgery or no drudgery is born believing in any religion. So the purpose and hope that religion can give is not a naturally evolved trait. What is, is our will to survive and faith can give us that strength to persevere through troubles and trials. But it’s a double edged sword because if you adopt a faith to give you strength you also take on this incomplete system of explanation for the natural world, that without any education you end up thinking that somebody up there doesn’t like you because they gave you a famine or disease, a cruel dictator, etc. I think it’s interesting to note how many religions have been created since the advent of the scientific method. There hasn’t been many, most are just branches of existing ones. Following a book written 2000 years ago and taking it literally seems extremely odd to me.

    In the grander scheme of things there may be no purpose to it all. If you ask me the reason for the universe or the reason for existence in general, I would say I don’t know. It could simply be that there isn’t one. It could be that just because we can ask a question doesn’t mean there is an actual answer for it. If there is no great plan towards this existence does that bother me? Not in the least. In my heart I’ll admit that I’d like there to be. But what I do know is that for the many who are poor and face the day to day struggles, that we who are the privileged ones have a chance to do something about it, because there is nothing else out there that will. If there is a grand scheme it will take care of itself. It is much too big for me and seems to not be overly concerned with any of our daily lives so it’s up to us with privilege to help raise people up. I am not going to preach any hope to people through religion when I could do something to bring them comfort instead. Almost all religions (if not all) place humans at the pinnacle of some sort of grander purpose, yet evolution shows that intelligence is just another evolutionary advantage. And evolution is divergent not convergent, so in starting the world over again, there is no guarantee that a species will develop to even be asking the question. I think it’s wonderful that we can ask the question, but we should recognize that there may be no answer to it.

    Spirituality: Kind of like the fact that there is no consensus of the nature of God, spirituality in my opinion is much the same way. So I’m not sure I’d even so much say semantics, but rather spirituality is something we use to describe a somewhat overwhelming sensation of emotion. Like love it could simply be an emotion for which many people define it differently.

    Truth: I agree with what you say. There is an objective reality out there that does not depend on OUR observation. What I am saying is that truth has to be observable even if it isn’t by us. Even when we didn’t know about gravity it was still in operation. It was a truth we didn’t know about at the time, but it didn’t make gravity any less true and eventually it is something we will able to observe, test, quantify etc. There are plenty of truths out there that would don’t know about still, or that we may know about, but have defined correctly. The value of the scientific method is that it represents a rigorous form of analysis and testing so that we can both discover and try to define things better that we have discovered already. I am saying that anything new we learn about in how the world works will come from observation, not from supernatural explanation. Unless we observe the supernatural actually interacting with this plane of existence. So I am sorry if that was unclear in my argument.

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  3. I find your insights very interesting as well, although even if I didn’t, I really like to argue. My favourite topics are religion and politics. We don’t get invited back to a lot of places. 😉

    Morality is an interesting topic. I think people are inherently moral and any world view that cannot account for this is essentially debunked, but morality itself is not proof that there is a god or that evolution works or idea X. It is merely consistent with a given set of beliefs. Any claim otherwise is disingenuous in my opinion. In my own experience, I often make moral decisions or do “good things” because the Bible says so, but it is hardly the sole motivation for everything I do that seems good.

    Purpose: 42!

    Good points about purpose. I agree with much, but not all of what you say. No doubt, religion has been used to control and manipulate people for thousands of years and that is not a good thing™.

    Poor people always vote against their best interests. That’s what makes elections so funny! Or sad. I can’t remember which it is.

    I’m still not sure what I think about truth needing to be observable. Certainly to prove something it must be observable and you could even argue that for a truth to have some value it must be observable, but for something to be true, I wouldn’t put such a constraint on it. I wonder what Heisenberg or Schrödinger would think.

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    1. I am sure you know that by observable I don’t necessarily mean with two eyes, but sort of in a measurement sense. Anyways, truth is something that is easy to make mistakes about and I certainly don’t know if I’ve got it all figured out. Of course many truths wait to be discovered and there are many things that we’ve discovered that we haven’t got exactly right. So intellectually I’m fine with being an agnostic on God’s existence. If God does exist then I do wonder about God’s value with our current level of understanding. And when you consider that the nature of God has so many different perspectives and has changed throughout history it’s very difficult to attribute a value to an entity for which nobody agrees upon, and for which science can provide no answers of confirmation either. Ultimately people can say that faith is different and that’s what God is about, etc but ultimately religion does make claims about God’s interaction in our world and so these interactions should be observable and measurable and we should be able find consistencies in how they are observed that is not dependent on culture. There are also too many things that had been previous attributed to God that we know now are no longer seen as part of divine intervention. Also God cannot be used as explanation for the complexity of the universe because anything that designs something complex must be necessarily more complex and then it always begs the question who designed the designer? One can respond, well God just always existed. One could also say that strings always existed or hydrogen atoms…whatever. One explanation is top down, one is bottom up. The idea that out of simplicity comes complexity seems to mirror more what we observe in the world. I think we have just created the illusion of the top down model because we are superior as species in a lot of ways in our ability to control our environment. (as an aside I’d say even that is an illusion because many species for how they survive appear to have great control over their environment, just on a much smaller scale) Which is what leads me to believe (and yes this is a belief) that we have modeled God after ourselves and not the other way around. If we accepted however that we arose out of simple beginnings and that our consciousness is just an emergent property of a bottom up model I think we could live in better harmony with the Earth. Human conceit more than anything is the cause of much damage in the world.

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