[Turing] Atheist Answer #2

[Turing] Atheist Answer #2 July 4, 2011

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

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