[Turing] Atheist Answer #7

[Turing] Atheist Answer #7 July 6, 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?

I’d say that the best reason is the simplest: the lack of sufficient evidence that a god or god exists. Although, I have to say that this is tempered by the problem of definition. An omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being is logically impossible, but once you get to different definitions you have different problems with evidence. For pantheism, there’s not much evidence of a universal consciousness. For polytheistic religions, where have the gods been for the past few hundred years? In the end though, it just boils down to lack of sufficient evidence.

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 suppose it would depend on what the definition of God/god/gods is. I mean, the standard of evidence for accepting that, say, Thor exists is a bit different from whether Allah or Vishnu exists. For Thor, I suppose someone walking around who fits the description of Thor from the myths and controls the thunder with a magical hammer named Mjolinar would be enough.

I do have to object to the formulation of the second question. There are atheistic religions. Lack of a belief in deity does not mean a lack of religion. Buddhism, for example, is an atheistic religion. And Giulio Prisco and some other folks are trying to create a Transhumanist religion. Lots of Unitarian Universalists are atheists. Religion isn’t necessarily about deities, or even the supernatural. It’s its own thing. And to answer that question, I think that accepting a religion is a means to living your life in a certain way, and even atheists can take the supernatural aspects of a religion and find truth and meaning within them. Does religion give you joy? Provide meaning? Community? These are the kinds of things that address religious thinking. Our modern, western culture is obsessed with the idea of religion as a means of obedience to a certain god. It doesn’t have to be that way.

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?

My ethical theory is basically two-level utilitarianism. I have a set of moral principles for everyday life that are based on whether they generally lead to good outcomes based on experience and observation. When it comes to tougher ethical questions, I usually look at the outcomes of each possible choice and determine that the ethical one is the one that leads to the best outcome. Even if all the outcomes are bad, there’s always one that’s less bad.

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?

In many ways, religion is true, even if it’s not necessary factual. This is a hard thing to learn. It was years before I figured it out. But sometimes Truth can transcend fact. People need meaning in their lives, and that meaning comes from a variety of sources. Religion is one of those sources. Religion, like anything else, can be bad. But it can also lead to joy and love and community. It can lead to a feeling of continuity with generations past, which enables people to deal with their own mortality. Camus grappled with this idea in The Myth of Sisyphus — the need to impose meaning on a fundamentally absurd existence in order to rebel against that absurdity. And to that extent, religion can be true, even if its underlying facts are completely wrong. Having a sense of meaning in your life is of vital importance. Now, people can choose bad meanings, or twist their lives in bad ways to fit a preconceived notion. But I don’t think that aspect of human nature is unique to religion.

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