[Turing] Atheist Answer #4

[Turing] Atheist Answer #4 July 5, 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?

There is no evidence that gods exists, and a lot of evidence to the contrary that humans are psychologically predisposed to invent gods. Both the lack of evidence for deities and the presence of evidence for bias are products of scientific inquiry. So science is what makes me an atheist.

I’m not sure how much more can be said about it. There is no evidence that any gods exist. Religions are made-up systems of thought for the sake of empowering the few over the many. Religious people make up a bunch of rules and rituals and then they go and steal and kill, and are then excused for it by their religion.

The fact that human minds are predisposed to inventing gods and believing the unbelievable just makes the religious ruse too easy. The best response to religion is science, which tests things for objective truth. Beliefs which are tested are either exposed as lies or demonstrated to be correct, in which case they are no longer in the realm of religious belief. They become just more science. The march is inexorable. Religion falls before science: it is either invalidated or removed from religious control.

So, just to summarize, behind the two above ideas – no evidence for gods and psychological predisposition to invent gods – I would say that science is killing religion and that’s why I’m an atheist. Don’t choose lies when you can choose truth, no matter how hard that truth may 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?

I would need a personal experience that was completely unexplainable and which was consistent with a particular religious tradition in order for me to start to believe that tradition. Like Jesus and the Pope teleporting into my room to tell me to convert (and then an email confirmation from the pope saying it happened, or a picture of the encounter, otherwise I would assume it was a dream or delusion).

Also, the religion I was directed to by personal experience would need to be otherwise compatible with logic and evidence. The unexplainable experience would induce me to look at that particular religion, but while looking at it I would still make rational demands of it (though I suppose what counted as evidence might be tilted a bit based on the experience, depending on what that experience entailed). I don’t think any religion can stand up to rigorous investigation, but with a strong otherwise unexplainable experience with its finger on the scales maybe it could.

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?

For morality I appeal to ethical rationalism. This provides an objective standard. Religious moralities are only bad approximations of ethical rationalism.

Ethical rationalism comes straight from Kant, Rawls, and other rationalists, and the basic criteria are universalizability and always treating others as ends in themselves. If an ethical rule cannot be universalized then it undercuts its own necessary presuppositions for existence which relies on the equality of all actors. If a rule treats others as mere means to an end then it undercuts an agent’s own necessary presuppositions for action, thus invalidating itself yet again.

Only rational ethical rules allow for a society that actually works justly because all are treated fairly, as ends in themselves, not as tools of others for others’ selfish gain.

As for why this is better than alternative systems I would say that every other ethical system contains contradictions in how people are treated. For example Catholicism does not treat women equally. By doing this it implies that its rules are not universalizable and hence not fair. It also treats women as means to an end (reproduction) and by doing this admits that the rules can be undercut for selfish gain and therefore that none of its rules are really honest at all; they are just structures for oppression. The ones making these rules are therefore acting irrationally because they are undercutting the other rules which make possible their own ability to act. It is irrational and needs to be tossed out.

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?

The persistence of religion does not suggest its basic truth, what it suggests is a basic cognitive bias, universally shared among humans across history and geography.

Any “basic truth” of religion is invalidated by the fact that religions all disagree with each other – in other words they have no “basic truth” only a basic mental structure which proposes and maintains religions, no matter how bizarre and contradictory they may be. The fact that they all contradict and seem to spring from the same mental source makes a strong argument for their universal falsehood, not their truth.

Such a bias could be built around such things as the “hyperactive agency detection device” (HADD) as discussed by Pascal Boyer, or the “design stance” as discussed by Daniel Dennett, or sociological functionalism as discussed by Emile Durkheim. Religion is either just a side-effect of other mental processes, or if one takes a functionalist interpretation then religions function to bind societies together. But for functionalism all this means is that they have real effects on the world, not that they are true in any sense.

Lots of things are persistent in history. That does not make them good, much less true. Religion is one of these things.

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