(I posted this a couple days ago, but it was accidentally deleted, so I wanted to put it back up.)
It’s from a theist who had a question he wanted to pose to readers. He seems sincere about wanted answers so I don’t mind putting it up here.
I have a question to pose to the community of those with an atheist perspective for which I’m eager to get an answer.
To give a brief background, I am a theist. Although some might instantly view that as being one in the same with narrow mindedness, I like to think I am open to any truth. With an intellectual interest I have read a decent amount of atheist literature including Letter to a Christian Nation and The God Delusion, and believe I have done so with an open mind.
The question I would like to pose is this: How is it possible to have a government without faith? Before anyone responds, please indulge a brief background to this question. I think it is difficult to separate faith from government without being intellectually dishonest.
I think that there are at least two ways of being intellectually dishonest.
1) Starting with a conclusion, and picking evidence to support your case. I think Creationists who claim the universe is around 6,000 years old fall into this category when they use scientists to support their claim. Instead of evaluating all astronomical data and current understanding of physical laws to draw a conclusion, they start with a conclusion and try to find as many scientific concepts that will support it.
2) Ignoring a legitimate observation or question. For example, often times literal biblical scholars when confronted with a question about how the bible can be internally contradictory and yet infallible often shrug their shoulders then pretend the question were never asked. Similarly, many theists do the same when asked questions about how God can be all good, all just, all powerful, and yet still let innocent people suffer.
I realize the first two infractions are committed by theists on a daily basis. Such substance is the fodder of many essays and books criticizing theism and its negative impact on reason.
What I would like to point out is my observation that similar intellectually
dishonesty occurs among people with atheist viewpoints, which at the same time are often believed to be truer to reason.
The main example where I see this occur is in the generation of ethical
principles from an atheist perspective. I think it is a logical conclusion
that without theism or faith, there can be no absolute ethics. Now before
anyone misinterprets this, I am the first to say that the most ethical people I know are of atheist viewpoints, people with whom I would trust my or my family’s lives. I am in no way insinuating that people with atheist viewpoints are less ethical than theist. What I am stating is that I do not see how one can argue absolute ethical principles without theism or faith.
For example. Lets say congress passes legislation on universal health care, and a politician suggests that a certain group be left out of coverage, let’s say people with Downs Syndrome.
Now, most people would be appalled at this suggestion. The argument against it would be that everyone is equal, and deserves equal treatment under the law.
But how do you prove this? In fact, science tells us that we are not all
equal. Some of us are taller, stronger, faster, and have higher IQ’s. The
idea that we are all equal is in contradiction of what science concludes. A person might then argue that we all deserve equal treatment, even if we aren’t equal. But how do you prove this? In fact, science tells us that many species survive by letting the weak or sick die instead of depleting resources for them when they can’t add survival value to the community.
So, if a person has a true atheist perspective, they should be willing to give ideas, such as that we don’t all deserve equal treatment, reasonable
consideration. But, I have yet to meet a person who will.
So far, everyone I have met from an atheist perspective believes in certain principles, such as equal worth of all humans, equal treatment of all humans, and autonomy. In fact, people will stand behind these principles like they will the laws of physics.
From an atheist perspective, I see two main choices:
1) Admit that equal worth, equal treatment, and autonomy aren’t absolute truths, or the only way our society must be.
2) Stand behind these principles, but admit that this involves faith, since
they can’t be proven.
I will use Richard Dawkins distinction between science and faith as put forth in The God Delusion, where he states: “Religion turns untested belief into unshakable truth, where as science is a process of reason, skepticism, and questioning to draw conclusions.”
Using that definition, it seems the belief in equal worth, equal treatment, and autonomy are more faith based than science. So given that we want these principles in government, is it not necessary to have faith inside government? For people reading this who identify themselves as atheist yet believe in these principles, how is that not faith?
Getting back to my original examples of intellectual dishonesty, before someone answers this I would like the two intellectually dishonest approaches to be avoided:
1) Starting with a conclusion. I think it is tempting to start with the
conclusion, that we all deserve equal treatment, and try to find scientific
support for this. If you believe it first, then prove it second it is the same
dishonest logic that creationists use.
2) Ignoring the question, which is actually my biggest worry as I am really be interested in a response to this.
Thanks to all who respond,
[tags]atheist, atheism, government, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins[/tags]