[Turing] Atheist Answer #2

This post is part of the Ideological Turing Test Challenge. Go to the tab above for an overview and remind yourself of the voting and commenting guidelines here. What’s your best reason for being an atheist? The evidence. The God of the Bible– and what else could “God” mean, in our culture?– just doesn’t seem to be operating in today’s world, speaking to prophets, working miracles, and so forth. It’s logical to extrapolate backwards and assume that such a being never did exist. If God is conceived in a more philosophical sense, the idea becomes unintelligible and untestable. In the past, some explanation of the order that we observe in the world was needed, so even a quite naturalistic thinker like Aristotle would postulate a “prime mover,” i.e., some sort of deity. For the same reason, in the 18th century, before Darwin’s theory of evolution came along, the intelligentsia turned to Deism rather than atheism. But Darwin’s theory explains how order emerges, leaving nothing for a creator God to do, except maybe set some ground rules, like the structure of the atom and the law of gravity. That’s so minimal that it would be a bit silly to personify it as a God. Let’s just say there are natural laws and be done with it. From there, science can in principle explain everything, including life and human beings and minds, though admittedly it has some ways to go yet before that task is complete. Some people try on the idea that they are nothing but a pile of molecules and don’t like it. Well, get used to it. There’s nothing else to be. 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? The second question is easy: if I believed in a God, I would join whichever religion was really in touch with God, and/or had correct views about his nature. If none of the religions were right but one was close, I might join that one. If all of them were quite wrong, I wouldn’t join any, I’d just deal with God in my own way. I suppose there’s another possibility: if God seemed bad, I might refuse to join a religion since it would involved worshiping him. That’s getting a bit too hypothetical. As for what evidence would cause me to believe in God, that depends on what kind of God you mean. If you mean the God of the Bible, I’d believe in him if I saw the things that are done in the Bible being done– miraculous healings, the parting of oceans to liberate enslaved peoples, the moon turning to blood like I think it talks about in the book of Revelation, etc. If you mean the God of the philosophers– Hegel’s Absolute, say– I don’t think any evidence would make me believe in that kind of God. I don’t know what predictions that theory makes. You might say that I don’t understand the question. 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? Here I’m not too different from the Christians, since I don’t try to make up my own code of morality, I just follow what I’ve been taught, what’s acceptable in the culture around me, what seems right. I respect Jesus as a moral teacher. In particular, the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is about the best moral advice that there can be. In a moral dispute, what I’d be most likely to say is some form of “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” And that usually works. That said, there are some differences between my morality and the Christians’. For one thing, what is the point of all their rules about sex? “If it feels good, do it” is maybe a little naive, sometimes you can get overwhelmed by the passions of a moment into doing something you’ll regret later, or that hurts someone else. But ultimately, two consenting adults can enjoy sex without needing to feel guilty about it. Also, I of course don’t agree with Christians that “blasphemy” is morally wrong. I think Jesus said “judge not that ye be not judged,” and that goes for other people’s views as well as their behavior. To be fair, though, there are views I don’t want heard in public, too. Nazism, for example. 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? This goes back to the ethics question. I said that we should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but an amoral person might reply, “Why should I? That’s not in my interest.” And I wouldn’t really have an answer. The Christians would: they would say, “Because if you do, God will reward you with eternal bliss, while if you don’t, God will condemn you to eternal punishment.” And that’s why religion is so persistent: if people believe its claims, it provides powerful enforcement for society’s moral code. I’ve heard that Voltaire was talking with some friends, and they got onto the subject of God and started speculating that he might not exist, and Voltaire said that they’d better not let themselves be overheard by the servants, lest they start stealing the spoons. I think a lot of philosophers have followed lines of inquiry that pointed to atheism and been afraid to take that step, not just for fear of the civil authorities, but because they were afraid it would unleash lawlessness to admit that there is no God. Similarly, I suspect there are a lot of parents who are secretly atheist but take their kids to church because they want them to learn morality. It might be in your interest for other people to believe in God even if you don’t, especially for others to believe in Jesus as God, since the ethics of Jesus would make a person treat everyone else so well, if Christians really practiced it, which they sometimes do. It would be too crude to say that everyone fakes religion in order to fool other people into believing in God’s sticks and carrots to make them behave morally. Most of the time, people aren’t consciously using God as an instrument of social engineering. They tell guesses and half-lies and then come to believe them. They let their own reflections be biased. That said, the theory of evolution was a watershed. Before Darwin, people could conflate the morality-enforcer God with the creator God who had to be postulated to explain the order in the world. Now there’s no need for the divine watchmaker, so religion can’t hang its morality-enforcer God on that hook. It has become more defensive and obscurantist, maybe more dishonest. Voting opens Friday afternoon

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Anonymous

    I'd say the emphasis on Darwin gives this one away as Christian.

  • Anonymous

    I'd say it's the capitalization of "God" everywhere, and the heavy focus on jesus

  • Anonymous

    I stopped reading after "and what else could "God" mean, in our culture?". FAKE.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14962578267726079335 Primedeath

    I stopped reading after "and what else could "God" mean, in our culture?". FAKE.I saw the exact same thing. I am glad I am not the only one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02222206953255687069 Spencer

    Also, they attributed the "Golden Rule" to Jesus, when it's been around for much longer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15651163650426018518 Dylan

    Definitely fake.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    "I said that we should "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," but an amoral person might reply, "Why should I? That's not in my interest." And I wouldn't really have an answer."I don't know any atheists who care enough to participate in something like this Turing Test who would not have an answer that that question.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05841476271318643430 Michaelb

    Spenser,It's my understanding that the "Golden Rule" of Jesus originated with him. There are many similar rules that go about it in a different way, for example, "Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you." This is a pretty good rule as well, but it doesn't demand that you do anything (other than perhaps don't ignore someone when they don't want to be ignored, etc.). The "Golden Rule" is the active reverse of that. It demands that one DO something. Perhaps someone else say this prior to Jesus. I'm not aware of it though. Can you educate me in this?Thanks,–Michael

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Anonymous 7/10 at 3:55 PM brings up an interesting point. How much actually ideology does capitalizing "God" give away? Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is a Christian writing this, is his goal to totally convince his readers that he is an atheist and not a Christian–as implied by the idea of a Turing Test–or is it to demonstrate that he understands atheists well enough to "could explain and the positions of [his] opponents well enough to pass as one of [his own] ideological enemies," as stated in Leah's introduction? If the latter, then the experiment is skewed slightly by a formality of punctuation–equivalent to a sort of test in which (say) a West-Texan must convince a panel of judges that he is British, and is given away ultimately by his accent.-J

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I haven't peeked at the answers and compared capitalization to beliefs, so I don't know if it's a giveaway. Some atheists (me included) capitalize God when it's being used as a proper noun and not when it's generic. I don't know if any of the Christians consciously decapped for their entries. I know they tried to pull other subtle tricks.

  • http://freethinker.typepad.com Nathan Smith

    Ordinarily, I capitalize pronouns that refer to God. In this case, I didn't, e.g., "if I believed in a God, I would join whichever religion was really in touch with God, and/or had correct views about his nature." Unless I slipped somewhere and capitalized it anyway.I was mostly trying to fool people into thinking I was an atheist, but possibly I failed to exclude a bit of the impulse to satirize the atheist position. Interesting that these commenters all seem to have seen through me. I wonder whether they're representative.

  • http://freethinker.typepad.com Nathan Smith

    Spenser's comment doesn't make sense, by the way? I agree with Michael that the Golden Rule is original with Jesus, but suppose He (ah, using the capital letter feels good!) did simply follow others. I state in the post: "I respect Jesus as a moral teacher. In particular, the Golden Rule, 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' is about the best moral advice that there can be."What does Jesus's originality have to do with that statement? He could be a great moral teacher, even if He sometimes passed on the teachings of others, no?

  • http://freethinker.typepad.com Nathan Smith

    Well, people saw through me, but I have to say that the reasons they offer are pretty unimpressive. Denying the God of the Bible is surely the first order of business for an atheist, particularly in this kind of contest. Was I really supposed to argue against the existence of, say, the pagan gods of Greece and Rome? I find it interesting, too, that the "heavy focus on Jesus" came across as such a giveaway. If I were an atheist writing to Christians and trying to persuade them, I would want to emphasize the common ground. Also, I was trying to impersonate a *good* atheist, moral, and not angry. I know some like that. In hindsight though, I guess it wasn't the best tactic for impersonating an atheist. The idea that before Darwin the argument from design made deism the best alternative to Christianity, but Darwin defeated that argument and gave a warrant to outright atheism, was stolen from an atheist I knew a while back. Oh well. In a way this is a contest I don't feel bad losing. It seems like people are judging more based on cultural cues than on the actual strength of the arguments made. In that case, this might just mean I'm a bad liar, and/or thoroughly and obviously Christian. Neither of those is a particular troubling discovery. :)

  • Anonymous

    "Denying the God of the Bible is surely the first order of business for an atheist"See, this is what gave you away. Most atheists find supernatural accounts in general unpersuasive (irrelevant to any specific culture) so it doesn't make sense for their "best reason" to be so Christian-centric.


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