Thursday, October 30, 2008

Can atheism be justified?

By Donald Sensing

A repost from October 2006

Dinesh D'Souza writes,

A group of leading atheists is puzzled by the continued existence and vitality of religion.

What an interesting thing for atheists to ponder. In the modern day one either has to accept some kind of deistic understanding of the origin of the universe or an evolutionary understanding that excludes any sort of deity from contributing to the origin of the universe and all contained therein. I am not saying that one must either be religious or non-religious, for the dichotomy is true even for adherents of non-deistic or nature religions. Either deity (or deities) had a hand in existence itself, or it/they did not.

So why would a deity-denying atheist be puzzled that religion is thriving? If evolution as they describe it is true, then religion is itself a product thereof. Not only that, but Judaism is an evolutionary product, so is Christianity, so is Islam, so is Buddhism, so is Shamanisn, so is ... well, you get the idea.

And so is the theory of evolution itself. And astrology. And tarot-card reading. And medical science. And faith healing. And everything else. So why do materialists single out religion as a particularly puzzling thing to exist? Why religion and not, say, athletics or stamp collecting or consumption of alcohol?

Dinesh reports,

As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it in his new book "The God Delusion," faith is a form of irrationality, what he terms a "virus of the mind."
[The list of other things that could be so characterized is very long, is it not?]

Philosopher Daniel Dennett compares belief in God to belief in the Easter Bunny.
[Or even, perhaps, belief in Daniel Dennett. Has it occurred to Dennett that no one other than small children, and those only in Western culture, actually believes the Easter Bunny exists, while billions of mature adults in all kinds of cultures do believe in God or some kind of deity? So in what way are the two beliefs the same?]

Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith" and now "Letter to a Christian Nation," professes amazement that hundreds of millions of people worldwide profess religious beliefs when there is no rational evidence for any of those beliefs.
[I bet no one can define "rational evidence" for religiosity to Harris' satisfaction except Harris himself. I guarantee he has prima facie excluded from rationality anything that would support religious belief. And "The End of Faith" seems a bit of an arrogant title since, as Dinesh points out, religious faith of one kind or another is not waning.]

Biologist E.O. Wilson says there must be some evolutionary explanation for the universality and pervasiveness of religious belief.
[Bing bada-bing! And if so, would Wilson agree that "the universality and pervasiveness of religious belief" is a "virus of the mind"? How can that be when atheism and religion are both alike the product of evolution? On what basis can Wilson, Dawkins or any other atheist make such claims since they cannot, by definition, appeal to any kind of transcendent authority? Can evolution explain why religious people are more influential in their societies than atheists? And why has religiosity survived more strongly than atheism if there is really nothing out there?]

This last point is addressed by Dinesh, too:

My conclusion is that it is not religion but atheism that requires a Darwinian explanation. It seems perplexing why nature would breed a group of people who see no purpose to life or the universe, indeed whose only moral drive seems to be sneering at their fellow human beings who do have a sense of purpose. Here is where the biological expertise of Dawkins and his friends could prove illuminating. Maybe they can turn their Darwinian lens on themselves and help us understand how atheism, like the human tailbone and the panda's thumb, somehow survived as an evolutionary leftover of our primitive past.

Dawkins, Wilson et. al. are what I call evangelistic atheists, not content with enjoying their own religion as they see fit but dogmatically trying to convert others to their belief.

Well, fine. There is no stronger defender of the free marketplace of ideas than I. But I hope they understand that they have no right to do so.

Let me say that again so you know I am intentional: If atheists are to take their own beliefs to their logical end, they must agree that they have no right to promulgate their belief. They have no right to challenge me about my religion. They have no right to speak up in my community, no right to live in my community, indeed, no right even to life itself. They have no rights at all, in fact.

If atheists are true to their own creed, they must admit that the entire concept of human rights crumbles to dust according to that same creed. Dawkins, Wilson et. al. have no “right” to denounce religion, they just have the ability or power to do so. If persons are not “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” (in the words of a famous Enlightenment rationalist), then “rights” is nothing but a flatus vocis. The concept of rights then really means nothing but “who wins.” So by their lights, atheists are able to speak out (in America, anyway, not in Saudi Arabia) and attempt to persuade others only because the rest of us let them. But why should we let them? Why don't we religious people simply persecute atheists out of existence?

I think atheists would reply that to do so would be contrary to our own creed (well, not contrary to Islamism, but I'll not go there today). And they would be correct. But so what? An atheist also holds that there is nothing behind religious creeds, that there is no content to them. Since religious beliefs are simply the product of evolution, they may be changed or discarded as we might wish. So could not we religious people simply say, "Sorry, persecuting atheists is no longer against our religion?" If you think not, why not?

And don't throw the US Constitution at me: the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights is nothing more than an agreement among religious people to let atheists be. But, as I've just said, we can change our minds. And heck, the whole document is nothing but a product of evolution and therefore worth no more than any other political manifesto.

Can anyone refute this argument without an appeal to transcendence? I think not. The reason America's religious people don't denounce their creeds - and Lord knows (oops, a virus of the mind crept it), we have a hard enough time living up to them at all - is that we (Jews and Christians, anyway) really do believe there is a God who is not only a God of mercy and compassion but also of moral law and judgement.

So, regarding rationality for any system of beliefs, how does atheism have a superior claim, except in the minds of its adherents? Any "rational" system of law or morals that atheists may devise may be rebutted by an equally rational system that countermands it.

As for me, I affirm the rights of atheists to be the same rights as mine because, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them." So said this fellow.

1 comment:

Sam said...

It is quite possible you won't put up this comment or answer. Just remember- the true value of a belief is if it can withstand scrutiny. Those that cannot should be discarded.

"So why do materialists single out religion as a particularly puzzling thing to exist? Why religion and not, say, athletics or stamp collecting or consumption of alcohol?"

Athletics is based of the human urge to compete. Team based if off the hunt and individual is to establish superiority in the pecking order.

Stamp collecting is based of the human need to gather.

"As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it in his new book "The God Delusion," faith is a form of irrationality, what he terms a "virus of the mind."
[The list of other things that could be so characterized is very long, is it not?]"

Yes, the list is long. Rationalists wage a tirely struggle to fight them all. Racism, sexism, bigotry, supersticion, homopathy, etc...

"Philosopher Daniel Dennett compares belief in God to belief in the Easter Bunny.
[Or even, perhaps, belief in Daniel Dennett. Has it occurred to Dennett that no one other than small children, and those only in Western culture, actually believes the Easter Bunny exists, while billions of mature adults in all kinds of cultures do believe in God or some kind of deity? So in what way are the two beliefs the same?]"

Small children do believe in the Easter Bunny. I did. I also believed in Santa Claus.

Remember- appeal to popularity is a logical fallacy.

"[I bet no one can define "rational evidence" for religiosity to Harris' satisfaction except Harris himself. I guarantee he has prima facie excluded from rationality anything that would support religious belief. And "The End of Faith" seems a bit of an arrogant title since, as Dinesh points out, religious faith of one kind or another is not waning.]"

If evidence is not universal, it is not truely evidence at all.

The title "The End of Faith" does NOT refer to the decline of religion, but the danger of its continued exitance.

'On what basis can Wilson, Dawkins or any other atheist make such claims since they cannot, by definition, appeal to any kind of transcendent authority?"

I know- if only there was something external to people, something that isn't altered by our thoughts. Hint- it is known as the universe.

"Can evolution explain why religious people are more influential in their societies than atheists?"

Falsifying example- Soviet Union, Sweden, etc. Hypothesis- religious people are more influential in religious societies.

"And why has religiosity survived more strongly than atheism if there is really nothing out there?]"

Why does racism exist if blacks are equal to white people?

"My conclusion is that it is not religion but atheism that requires a Darwinian explanation. "

Simple. There is a natural selectionary pressure for people who can see the universe clearly.

"It seems perplexing why nature would breed a group of people who see no purpose to life or the universe, indeed whose only moral drive seems to be sneering at their fellow human beings who do have a sense of purpose."

Except they do have a sense of purpose.

"Dawkins, Wilson et. al. are what I call evangelistic atheists, not content with enjoying their own religion as they see fit but dogmatically trying to convert others to their belief."

Yes, because using logical argument is evangelical. Which makes everyone on Earth who talks to another human being an evangelical. Please- think of the words you are butchering.

"Well, fine. There is no stronger defender of the free marketplace of ideas than I. But I hope they understand that they have no right to do so."

Funny, I feel the same way about YOU.

"Let me say that again so you know I am intentional: If atheists are to take their own beliefs to their logical end, they must agree that they have no right to promulgate their belief. They have no right to challenge me about my religion. They have no right to speak up in my community, no right to live in my community, indeed, no right even to life itself. They have no rights at all, in fact."

And you are going to defend such an incredible stretch?

"
If atheists are true to their own creed, they must admit that the entire concept of human rights crumbles to dust according to that same creed. Dawkins, Wilson et. al. have no “right” to denounce religion, they just have the ability or power to do so. If persons are not “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” (in the words of a famous Enlightenment rationalist), then “rights” is nothing but a flatus vocis. The concept of rights then really means nothing but “who wins.” So by their lights, atheists are able to speak out (in America, anyway, not in Saudi Arabia) and attempt to persuade others only because the rest of us let them. But why should we let them? Why don't we religious people simply persecute atheists out of existence?"

Have you ever heard of a social contract?

"I think atheists would reply that to do so would be contrary to our own creed (well, not contrary to Islamism, but I'll not go there today). "

It is spelled Islam. And to crush other religions is fundamental to ALL religions. See Christian history for your own examples.

"So could not we religious people simply say, "Sorry, persecuting atheists is no longer against our religion?" If you think not, why not?"

Actually, religious people are fine with persecuting atheists know.

'And don't throw the US Constitution at me: the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights is nothing more than an agreement among religious people to let atheists be. But, as I've just said, we can change our minds. And heck, the whole document is nothing but a product of evolution and therefore worth no more than any other political manifesto."

No, it is a decision to keep religion out of public life to avoid religious conflict amoung the differant denominations of Christianity as much as possible. Just a century prior, Europe was bathed in the blood of those fighting for God.

It has weight than other manifestos because it works. The US exists and has done so for 300 years.

"Can anyone refute this argument without an appeal to transcendence? I think not. The reason America's religious people don't denounce their creeds - and Lord knows (oops, a virus of the mind crept it), we have a hard enough time living up to them at all - is that we (Jews and Christians, anyway) really do believe there is a God who is not only a God of mercy and compassion but also of moral law and judgement."

It is simple. If you declare that you will persecute atheists, than you have to declare who counts. Then there is the threat of what is proper doctine and what leads to atheism. Down that road lies theocracy and civil war. The country would fracture as heretic groups fought for their existance, the ACLU would become a revolutionary front, Califronia would secede from the Union and the nation would BURN.

In short, the US doesn't do that because the population won't go ahead with it. Of course, the evangelicals have been trying hard to change that.

"So, regarding rationality for any system of beliefs, how does atheism have a superior claim, except in the minds of its adherents? Any "rational" system of law or morals that atheists may devise may be rebutted by an equally rational system that countermands it."

Except reason is based on logic and logic IS universal.

"As for me, I affirm the rights of atheists to be the same rights as mine because, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them." "

So clones and test tube babies have no rights? More to the point Plato disproved the assertion you need God for morality in the Euthyphro dilemma