What’s your best reason for being an atheist?
My best ‘reason’ for being an atheist is simply the lack of any reason NOT to be an atheist. I find all the personal stories of faith uncompelling for me even if I were to accept their value for the people that experience them. I would expand on this by stating I find Darwin’s discovery of the FACT of biological evolution of species from a common ancestor provides a very compelling and intellectually complete atheism. Prior to the discovery of evolution and speciation it was not possible to answer the most compelling question religion answered with atheism, where did we come from? Using this I can say the most compelling reason to be an atheist is that I can have an intellectually consistent world view that is both predictive and informed by the sciences. This is lacking with a religious world view. I find looking at the family of life on earth and seeing it all as connected to me in one great big family tree to be an amazingly inspiring and uplifting thing, perhaps in the same way that religious folks ‘feel’ god in all of creation.
What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to believe in God? If you believed in some kind of god, what kind of evidence would be necessary to convince you to join a particular religion?
This is a question I have thought long and hard about. I feel that you can not will belief in something, if this were the case, as the thought experiment goes, why wouldn’t you just will yourself to believe something that makes you happy? Because I can’t will belief all I can say is that only incontrovertible proof would cause me to believe in a deity. At this point I would tend to say that if something miraculous were to happen that I could only attribute to that which I consider supernatural I would think I was going crazy before I would think it was a deity of some kind. Many of the ‘miraculous’ claims people make about religion wouldn’t compel me to belief since I can accept that there are phenomena that are unexplained by science, without accepting a deity. As for choosing a religion, since I can’t rationally see how I could be argued to religion it is hard to say how to pick one. I suppose I would go with Chesterton’s assessment that his church is a ‘truth telling’ device, and the religion that seemed to have the most truth would be the most compelling to me.
When you have ethical and moral disputes with other people, what do you appeal to? What metric do you use to examine your moral intuitions/cultural sensibilities/etc?
This is the one area where I find my own personal system lacking. I do believe there are concrete rights and wrongs in the world, but find it difficult to articulate them in a simple way. I would suppose that in practical arguments I appeal mostly to utilitarianism or consequentialism, but admit that I find both these to be lacking. I think that the enlightenment rejection of religious belief has biased a lot of modern philosophy against really investigating the possibilities of fundamental morals and so-called natural law from a non-theistic perspective. Luckily for society morality from an atheist perspective has recently started to become a hot topic, see Sam Harris et al.
Why is religion so persistent? We have had political revolutions, artistic revolutions, an industrial revolution, and also religious reformations of several kinds, but religion endures. Does this not suggest its basic truth?
I think that there may in fact be a basic truth at the core of religious belief. I do not however accept that this truth is supernatural in nature. There may be evolutionary advantages on individual and/or society scales to religious beliefs. There may be a core psychological need in most people that is fed by religious belief. Religious experiences with distinct characteristics are described by mystics and true believers of almost every faith (and some followers of sports team or apple computers, etc) – this doesn’t prove anything supernatural, it proves that people have certain psychological reactions to certain stimuli. If there was a basic truth at the core of specific world faiths then why haven’t the others died out? Orthodox Christianity describes a completely different universe than Buddhism so which is correct? Santa Claus and Christmas trees are very persistent cultural practices in society, even among non-Christians, does this mean that bringing a tree into the house has some core truth to it that atheists and post Christians see?
Voting opens Friday afternoon