Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Delusional Atheism: A Reply to a Reader
A reader named Guy Monty posted the following on "The True Meanings of Christmas, Part II". I want to respond to it in detail, because I think it is a good example of delusional atheism. Guy's comments are in italics.
Although I am not affiliated with any group, movement, or cadre, I am an atheist. From what I have witnessed and learned in 44 years here on planet Earth, I have to agree that religion is stupid, offensive and that it does actively erode man's quality of life. Why? Because it requires one to accept things for which there is no evidence, as if there is. As soon as one sets foot on that path, the mind is left open to all kinds of nonsense. This can manifest itself in a fairly benign form of delusion (crystal and faerie worshipers for instance), but it is delusion nonetheless. Any creature which chooses to allow fantasy to take the decision making reigns, is a creature which will eventually get itself into trouble. With social animals such as humans, this inevitably leads to getting ones fellows into trouble as well. The moment when your argument against atheism fails, is when you assume that atheism is some form of dogma, theology, or even an ideology. It's not. It simply means that one does not believe in a deity.
Ready Guy? Here goes.
You conclude by summarizing your version of atheism in this way: “it simply means that one does not believe in a deity" (call this [ND]). This is what most atheists usually say, but it is a flattering delusion, as you yourself show.
Consider what else you have written in this paragraph:
1.) "Religion is stupid”
2.) “Religion is offensive”
3.) “Religion actively erodes man's quality of life";
4.) “Religion actively erodes man’s quality of life because it requires one to accept things for which there is no evidence, as if there is".
5.) “Accepting (any) things for which there is no evidence eventually gets us, and others, into trouble”.
These five beliefs go far beyond (ND), don’t they? So, your belief (ND) is false, isn't it? And, you are unable to see this fact, aren't you? Indeed, it is remarkable how you can type out all five of those specific beliefs – about the nature of religion, the nature of the best sort of belief, etc. – and then type out (ND) without noticing that it cannot possibly be true given what you'd typed mere seconds earlier.
Moreover, those five beliefs very much appear to serve as the anchors of a genuine ideology. Yet you write that your version of atheism doesn’t constitute an “ideology”. That seems to me like another instance of a sort of delusive blindness.
But let me get more specific. Take belief (3). It is a universal claim. As such, it is a denial that there is, or could ever be, a single case in which religion would not erode the quality of a person’s life. On that basis alone, I would say this extreme belief looks very much like dogma. More to the point is that your belief has absolutely no evidence for it. By your criteria, it is therefore a delusion.
Worse, though, is that (3) is contradicted by the positive results of innumerable psychological studies which show that by a number of criteria, religious belief and activity enhance the quality of life of certain people. (3) also betrays a gargantuan presumptuousness, in that, on no evidentiary basis whatsoever, it denies the validity of the first-person-reported experiences of many tens of millions of religious converts who claim that the quality of their lives has improved as a result of their religious adherence. In other words, (3) constitutes an assertion that you, Guy, know far more about the quality of people’s lives that you have never met, and never will meet, than the people in question do.
Yet the lack of evidence for (3), and the abundance of evidence showing it to be incorrect, has not induced you to revise (3). The point is - if this all does not constitute some serious dogmatism, some serious delusions about the knowledge you posess, I don’t know what does. That alone should be enough to show that there is something totally wrong with this sort of atheism. But let me mention something more.
Notice (5). It expresses the belief that there can be no such thing as an adaptive unjustified belief. There is also absolutely no evidence for this belief – it is therefore an unjustified belief (a “delusion”, according to you).
But even worse is that this belief of yours is in conflict with the Darwinian principles of evolution that all good atheists subscribe to. After all, what Darwinian evolution says is that the human brain has evolved so as to form beliefs which confer survival advantage - a claim which obviously allows that such beliefs may very well have no supporting evidence, and very well may not even be true. Darwin makes this pretty explicit in his famous passage from "The Descent of Man":
"There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over other tribes; and this would be natural selection".
In this passage, Darwin contemplates that the following sorts of beliefs would confer survival advantage on to groups:
"My tribe is the very best tribe in the whole world" (patriotism);
"I ought to suffer inconvenience, or more, to relieve the suffering of a fellow tribesman" (sympathy);
"I ought to run toward enemy lines to distract them while my tribe escapes, even though I will die doing so" (sacrifice for the common good);
And what is key here is that none of these beliefs can muster any sort of evidentiary support. So, these are "unjustified beliefs" which Darwin says are adaptive. That is, Charles Darwin believes that there can be such things as adaptive unjustified beliefs, but you don't. Hm.
Now, let's introduce the elves which you mentioned in your note, since these would push these beliefs away from being merely unjustified, toward being false.
So let's say our tribesman believes the following:
"There is a small green elf named Burkle who lives inside my head. Burkle has told me that I should exercise and be strong, instead of remaining lazy and growing very weak and fat".
That is a false belief. We could crack open our tribesman's head, and we would find no green elf there at all. Yet one result of this false belief will enhance the tribesman's ability to survive. It doesn't matter that the green elf portion of the belief need not be there; the fact is, it could very well be there, and if it is, then this is just one of innumerable beliefs which are both false and adaptive. We could easily replace the green elf in the head with Jesus living in the sky; the belief would stay the same: an adaptive unjustified or false belief, that is, a religious belief which does not "erode" the quality of a man's life, but enhances it. And the fact is that most religions have quite a few beliefs as beneficial as this one. Duh. "A bearded man who lives in the sky wants you to be chaste" may be a false/unjustified belief; but chastity confers real health benefits in an era of sometimes lethal STDs, like HIV. Doesn't it? How could this be any more obvious?
Your denial of the possibility of adapative unjustified/false beliefs, and by implication adaptive religious beliefs, is, I think, very blatantly wrong; and certainly it is at odds with evolution as Darwin conceived of it. And funnily enough, whether a belief contradicts Darwinian evolution seems to be an important standard for atheists when evaluating theist beliefs. Yet here you have shown you have an atheist belief which also contradicts Darwinian evolution. Why should it not be regarded as just as delusional, by your own standards?
Although it would be offensively wrong to argue that no atheist ever committed a crime (I've yet to hear that from anyone who professes to be a theist), I cannot agree that the presence of an atheist within a morally bankrupt political ideology amounts to "crimes committed in the name of atheism". In the case of the atrocities committed by Bolsheviks, the heinous crimes against humanity were committed in large part to consolidate the power of madmen, not in the name of "atheism".
Here's one problem with this, Guy. You cannot make this argument without disallowing atheists from making their favourite argument for "crimes committed in the name of theism"; for following your example, and with as little justification, we could just glibly assert that "the heinous crimes against humanity were committed in large part to consolidate the power of madmen, not in the name of theism".
But the bigger problem is that this statement about theism would be no truer than your own about atheism; for atheism is as crucial, as fundamental, to Marxism, as theism is to Catholicism. There is no way around this. That atheism is a disbelief in God, rather than a belief in God, makes no difference. The point is that fanatical devotion to each has helped inspire people to commit heinous crimes.
By the way, your statement that "I cannot agree that the presence of an atheist within a morally bankrupt political ideology amounts to 'crimes committed in the name of atheism' is shocking in how grossly it distorts the fundamentality of atheism to Marxism. This isn't about "the presence of an atheist" in a "morally bankrupt political ideology"; it is about a political ideology which itself is fundamentally, crucially, officially, irrevocably atheist. As I said in my earlier post, for this reason crimes committed by Marxists to advance the Marxist cause are - unavoidably - crimes committed in the name of atheism, just as unavoidably as are crimes committed to advance Catholicism crimes committed in the name of Christianity. The belief that they are not, is just another example of the delusions to which atheists of your stripe are prone.
When a political entity attacks a specific religion because they are trying to gain sole political power, I can hardly see where this constitutes an atheist Jihad. So would the world be better if without religion? I think it would. I don't feel the need to toss anyone into a lake of fire for all eternity if they don't agree though.
---Again, your belief that the world would be a better place without religion is a belief without any evidentiary warrant, especially given the atrocities committed in the name of an ideology for which atheism was a crucial pillar just in the past century. Moreover, your belief seems to rest on the assumption that "a human race without religion" is even possible – which I would say is itself a total delusion, given that innumerable findings from anthropology, psychology, history, sociology, etc., are that religion is endemic to human brains.
And that you can "hardly see" how crimes committed in the name of a fundamentally atheist ideology are no less crimes committed in the name of atheism, as are crimes committed in the name of a fundamentally theist ideology crimes committed in the name of theism, is precisely the point. You can't see it even though it is as plain as day; and you just repeat the same sorts of defensive slogans that theists repeat when guys like you start talking about how religion is the primary cause of evil on the planet.
This whole business, this sort of contemporary orthodox "Dawkins-style" atheism, goes far beyond mere disbelief in the existence of God. That is its problem. It prides itself on being an expression of "critical thinking" and science-based skepticism, when in reality it has nothing to do with critical thinking or science-based skepticism at all. It is nowhere near critical or skeptical enough. It is, rather, mostly a pile of bigoted, dogmatically-held, false knowledge claims - delusions - about the supposedly evil nature of religion, about how to save humanity from itself, about what is possible in human affairs, etc. - slopped on top of a blinding, self-congratulatory disbelief in God, and which is no different in principle from a pile of delusions which just happen to be theist. It is just the other side of the same coin.
This type of atheism, in short, is no less delusional, no less unjustified, no less false, no less dogmatic, no less ideological, than the religions it claims to be superior to.
I welcome your reply, Guy.