Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In Defense of Atheism

The following is a lengthy letter which I composed to respond to critics of atheists and atheism on another blog.

I have omitted the handles of those to whom I responded to protect their identity.

"Hi all…
(a): You said that there cannot be morality with a god. I disagree.
Let me ask you something: does your god declare something to be good because it is, or is something good because he declares it to be that way? If your god declares something good because it is, that means that there is a form of morality above and beyond your god, and therefore he could not be all-powerful or all-good. If something is good because your god declares it to be that way, then all of your god’s morality is subjective. Then how do you know that what your god does really is good?
Let me ask you something else: Who is more moral? An atheist who jumps in front of a speeding car to save a child, or a Christian who jumps in front of a speeding car to save a child? The atheist, who believes that there is no life after this one, is willing to sacrifice everything, but the theist believes that he will be rewarded in the next life for his actions. Isn’t the person who is willing to do something good without being rewarded more of a moral person? Are you really a moral person if you have to threatened with eternal punishment or bribed with eternal reward to do the right things?
(b): You said that if atheists were true atheists, they would have nothing to demonstrate or protest about.
I disagree. Atheists are not protesting something which we don’t believe in. If this were the case, I would feel sorry for atheists. However, you have been mislead. Atheists are protesting the actions of Christians and other theists. We protest the discrimination against atheists and other non-religious people in the United States and around the world.
Also, you say that atheists “don’t know god and hate him”. Do you even know any atheists? (b), atheists don’t believe in any gods. There’s nobody for us to hate. We do condemn many of the actions of religious people which with we disagree. However, it would be silly for us to hate something in which we do not believe. Also, I know a great deal about religion. I used to be a Christian; I was for most of my life so far. Then I asked myself “what if it’s not true?”, and then I examined the evidence for Christianity and for other religions, and I found it to be severely lacking. I enjoyed my time as a Christian. I tried to live my life according to those beliefs as best I knew, and I still think that there is a lot of good moral lessons in Christianity and also in other religions such as Buddhism and Jainism and Islam, and I try to live by my own interpretation of morality. You have to admit, almost all Christians do this, too. Do any of you take the Bible 100% literally? No? Then you are doing what I am doing. You live your life according to the sections of the Bible that you think are moral, and you disregard the other sections.
(b): Do you know what the First Amendment means? It means that our government cannot give preferrential treatment to any religion or to religion. That means that the atheists have every right to place a sign on public property if the government is allowing Christians to place a sign on public property. It’s entirely Constitutional.
(c): You say that an atheist “is the worst kind of moral vermin”. Hmmm….
I’m not sure how you can justify that statement. You’re the one who “mocks” atheists and insults us, too. I don’t insult theists just because I disagree with them on theological questions. Most of my friends and relatives are Christians. I respect them for who they are, even if our beliefs differ. Do you remember the Gospel passage where Jesus of Nazareth says “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”? It’s John 8:7, if you want to look it up. Better yet, look up Matthew 7:5. “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. Your own beliefs condemn your vicious treatment of atheists and other non-believers. As I said earlier, most atheists know a great deal about religion. We’re not atheists because we know nothing about it; most of us have done our research and decided that it just didn’t seem to be true, or that there was enough evidence to prove its claims.
Also, you ask “what is good?” “what is morality?” “how can atheists explain the presence of good in our world, or morality, or both?”
My sense of morality is grounded in the human empathy I share with my fellow human beings. You ask if rape is just a matter “of human reproduction”. I would not want my daughter or sister or mother to be raped. It’s hardwired in our personalities that rape is wrong. We don’t like rape because we know it’s consequences, and we sincerely don’t want it to happen to others. Are there psychopaths who don’t share this hardwiring? Yes, and this is why we have police and a legal system. My basic code of morality is that I should always minimize both actual and potential suffering, while always maximizing both actual and potential happiness. It’s based on the Golden Rule, it’s based on our shared human empathy. Good is what increases our happiness and reduces suffering; evil is what decreases our happiness and increases our suffering, both in actual and potential quantities.
Also, I am not a “Social Darwinist”. You’re right to say that evolution inherently says nothing about morality. It is a description of the natural world, not a proscription for how we ought to behave as human beings. However, there are some things that have been developed by evolution in part such as our basic human empathy that do help tell us what is moral and how we should live as human beings.
(b): You wrote that a “moral atheist is an oxymoron” and asked why an atheist would do anything for his or her offspring, and why an atheist would even bother to have children.
(b), the only inherent difference between us is that I believe in one fewer deity than you do. That’s it. Atheists feel the same natural love towards other human beings which Christians and other theists do. I believe strongly that love is its own reward. That’s one reason why atheists have children. Is all of your satisfaction from being a parent contingent on the circumstance that there happens to be a deity in control of everything? I believe that atheist parents take as much pleasure in the mental, moral, and physical well-being of their children as theistic parents do. I am too young to have any children, but from what I have witnessed, there are many intrinsic rewards for parenting, and I’m not sure what believing in a god has to do with the benefits of raising children.
You also write that a “true atheist” would be “entirely self-absorbed”. Why? Atheists have the exact same incentives for loving others that theists do, apart from belief in a god. As I said earlier, our love and compassion for other human beings is based on our empathy, that is natural to all human beings, and which all of us share. Belief in a god has nothing to do with how we treat our fellow human beings. It is a non sequitor.
I agree with your basic assessment (taken from Geisler and McDowell), that there is one ultimate moral code. It is one based on our shared human empathy. This is why all of those cultures share some of the same values, and it has nothing to do with belief in a god or any particular religion.
(c): you say that atheism is “parasitic” on “theistic morality”. No, I disagree. I think “theistic morality” is parasitic on our natural human empathy and the concepts of morality which societies around the world have deduced from it, with or without your particular religion. People who are pagan, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Aborigine, Native American have all deduced these moral truths without the aid of Christianity. I believe that this is powerful testimony for those who say that belief in any god or in any particular god is necessary for morality. Some of the most moral religions in the world are thoroughly atheistic, such as Jainism. The Jains have some of the most powerful doctrines of non-violence in the world. You will struggle to find a religion that has a less violent history. Yet they have no god. I have studied Christianity as a former Christian, and I have studied many of the world’s other religions. Please try to explain away the existence of so many people who do not believe in a god or in your god who live such a moral life. Your premise is strongly called into question by their existence. Research Jainism. Research Buddhism. Both are strongly moral in their traditions and guidance, and both are inherently atheistic. Also, many societies in today’s world that have the lowest crime rates are predominantly or have very large numbers of atheists. Look up the statistics for Japan or countries in Scandinavia. Large numbers of atheists, but very low crime rates. There is no causation between morality and religious belief. None. Your argument is flawed. Atheists can be just as moral as Christians or other theists.
I have no quarrel with any of you, on a personal level. You have suffered because people have told you things that weren’t accurate about atheists and atheism. I came here, to your website, to help set the record straight. I am sure most of you are good, reasonable people. Even though we may disagree on theology, I hope that we can respect one another as people, even if we do not respect each other’s beliefs or lack of beliefs.
There are so many more things I wanted to say to you, and so many errors I saw on this website that still need to be corrected, but I have other things and committments which I must do and which I must keep. I encourage all of you to think for yourselves. Don’t take what I say or what anyone else said for granted. Check my facts. I easily could have misspoken about something. Think for yourselves. Thanks for listening to what I have to say.
I hope you have more positive experiences with other atheists in the future. Peace."

What are your thoughts on this? How did I handle the situation? Is there anything else I should have said? Is there anything I did say that I shouldn't have said? Is there something I could've said better?

Thanks for your opinions.


Anonymous said...
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Player Piano said...

Thank you! I will try to keep this blog updated as often as I can. I do very much enjoy writing for it when I get the chance. Thanks for your encouragement.

Player Piano said...

However, I would appreciate it if you didn't post a link to a commercial product at the bottom of your comment.