[Turing] Atheist Answer #9

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?

My best reason for being an atheist is simply that it is the default position. I have not encountered any sufficiently strong reason to cause me to believe that there is a supernatural power, and so I go back to the default position that there isn’t a supernatural power. It would seem at first glance that this is an argument for agnosticism, and not atheism, and I am sure some people do stop at agnosticism, but I think that it is reasonable to reject the supernatural on the basis of there being no evidence for it. Our knowledge of the world is necessarily limited by what we can observe, but when a proposed hypothesis about how the world works does not mesh with our empirical observations, we can reject that hypothesis with reasonable confidence.

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 evidence that would convince me to believe in a supernaturalism of some type would be a directly observable logical contradiction of the type (P and not P). However, I don’t think this would cause me to believe in a specific religion, as it would necessarily mean that any form of reasoned argument is wrong, and therefore I would not be able to tease out my reaction using reason. It is possible that other evidence could convince me to adhere to a specific belief about a God or Gods, but that would vary greatly on what fact(s) were being claimed.

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?

There is a huge body of ethical norms that have developed independent of religion. Usually the simplest of these will suffice to answer most ethical disputes. By way of example, if you are behaving inconsistently or dishonestly, most people will see that this is unethical when presented with the facts in a clear fashion. As a check against my personal moral beliefs, I see whether or not they are internally consistent with each other, and whether they in fact produce the results I expect in them to produce. So if for example I expect myself to be happier after indulging a desire for a giant burrito, but don’t in fact feel better, then I would re-visit my belief that that sort of indulgence is a good idea.

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 religion is less persistent than is religiosity. If you compared religious practices of a median person from 300 years ago to now, I think you’d find them to be incredibly different from the religious practices of a median person today. Religiosity has persisted for millennia, but so have many philosophies, including empiricism, skepticism, mysticism, rationalism, and others. Most of these philosophies (and for that matter most religions) contradict one another. The fact that many people have believed something for a huge amount of time doesn’t mean it’s true, especially when other people have believed something which contradicts the first group’s beliefs for just as long.

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About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011 and lives in Washington DC. She works as a news writer for FiveThirtyEight 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."