Challenge to Atheists 4
Printed below are responses to this challenge. (See part I) I present them as is with no comment. I only use first names, last initial and don't ask for e-mails, I don't release them. I present this page only to induce thought, not as an attack. Send in your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will not post obscenities or proselytizing.
I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned much from your website. As an Objectivist, ergo atheist, I conditionally accept your challenge to Atheists. Here is why I qualify my acceptance:
Your questions re atheism seem misplaced, and you explained why in the body of your own essay. To say that one is an atheist asserts only what one does not believe, and reveals nothing about what one does believe. It is only in revealing what one does believe that one's epistemology, moral code, ethics, esthetics, values, politics and actions can be determined.
In declaring himself an atheist, an individual merely reveals that he rejects a particular brand of mysticism (I've known many so-called "atheists" who had no trouble accepting the very mystical concept of 'group identity', or 'race mind'). So you see here that, even amongst atheists, there are some pretty wide variants regarding definition. Again, it is not what one doesn't believe that defines one, but rather what one does believe.
Understand that philosophical certainty and moral absolutes both exist within the paradigm of natural reality -- no religious or mystical paradigm required. Like existence itself, reason and ethics are absolutes. Thus, 'Reason' would be the "credo" of an atheist/Objectivist......On the other hand, a so-called atheist/Marxist will passionately assert the subjective "needs" of the collective as his moral mandate, then go on to explain the very non-atheistic concept of "collective consciousness".
I cannot say that merely becoming an atheist improved my life. Atheism was merely a conclusion at which I logically arrived (thanks to Aristotle, only a positive assertion requires proof). I can state, however, and without reservation, that becoming an Objectivist changed my life for the better in every conceivable way. My husband (a scientist) likewise considers Objectivism the foundation of his happiness and sense of accomplishment. Discovering Ayn Rand's Objectivism, (ergo, reason, egoism, capitalism) came as a natural, intellectual and emotional epiphany for me, and powerfully validated a personal system of thought I had already begun to deduce and construct on my own. I only learned of and studied Ayn Rand's non-fiction writings as an adult, probably because of my very sheltered, intellectually monitored Catholic School upbringing. Fortunately, I'd had three pivotal teachers who taught me to hold to Thomas Jefferson's standards of bringing all questions to the throne of reason.
Atheism itself is not a creed. Nor does it present any more than a fragile clue as to what an individual actually believes. But I know that many people's lives have been destroyed by religion. And I also know that Objectivism has vastly improved the quality of my life, and my level of happiness and personal fulfillment. Incidentally, I know that Ayn Rand cured herself of alcoholism without resorting to a 12-step system. I also know that, until her divorce, my old college friend's husband used to beat her occasionally, invoking his Biblically decreed "husbandly authority" over her as his "moral justification" for so doing. He also wouldn't allow her to vote, claiming that his God gave men all authority over women, and that the husband alone should be his wife's political voice. His Assembly of God minister agreed with him. Religion certainly did nothing for my dear friend and the quality of her life. She eventually became an agnostic.
Anecdotal evidence aside, it is impossible to state that atheism can do or not do anything for anyone's life because, though it is an absolute assertion, it is not a positive one. To claim atheism did anything for or against me would be akin to saying that the non-presence of leprechauns in my life has left me bereft of hope, with nothing to live for, or something equally absurd.
Sorry to have been so long-winded.
This is an outstanding response. Webmaster
There has already been a good variety of responses to the "Challenge to Atheists" but I'd like to add my own $0.02 on just a few issues raised.
This assumption is made by the author regarding atheists: "If all peoples were atheists there would be none of the conflicts we see today that are fueled by different belief systems." This is not an assumption that I, as an atheist, would agree with. If all religion were to vanish, the world would not magically become a better place. The root problem is not religion per se, but authoritarianism and fanaticism (which can stem from religious as well as non-religious sources). When any idea becomes more important than human lives I oppose it. But not all religions are authoritarian or fanatical. While I may not be able to completely relate to the religious experience, I can respect the beliefs of those who have non-authoritarian religious beliefs, just as they respect mine.
Another assumption: That (all?) atheists are "smug" and that atheists have "figured it all out." I would say that those religious believers who have an absolute belief that God's concern revolves around them and their happiness, who can proclaim absolute answers to every problem in their lives would be "smug." The real challenge for the atheist is that he/she has NOT figured "it" all out (assuming what is meant is some sort of grand metaphysical purpose for existence). This is not an admission of weakness but merely an honest response.
Believing in a god or not and one's moral behavior do not necessarily correspond. Atheists have Communist totalitarianism but also Camus to claim. Christian believers have the Inquisition but also Bonhoeffer to claim. I think that prior to "converting" or "de-converting" one already has a pre-disposition for one or the other, even if they may not be aware of it at the time. I never "chose" to be an atheist, but rather discovered I was one all along. This was a shock when I finally admitted it to myself one day, since for years I believed that I believed. Honestly I don't think my moral behavior really changed much, only my beliefs did.
To echo what another person has said, I didn't become an atheist because I thought it would make me a better or happier person, but because I honestly came to the conclusion that there is no god. I am more concerned for truth than what might comfort me. Nor would I encourage anyone else to do so based on reasons of comfort. It would even be theologically dubious for a Christian to convert someone because believing in Christ will make one a better person or happier.
This passage really confuses me: "Debunking or criticizing religion is mostly a negative activity. It is a positive effort only when it frees people from a strangle-hold placed on them by too-authoritarian beliefs. After the chains have been broken - then what? A void has been created. Is the person really any better off than before?" Are you saying that since there is no good alternative to authoritarianism, we should stick to authoritarianism? Again, the absence of religion will not necessarily lead to world peace, but the absence of authoritarianism and fanaticism most certainly will.
Atheism is merely the lack of belief in a god or gods. Anyone who becomes an atheist will not find life any better or worse. Atheists are invariably "atheism plus something else," having some sort of ethical outlook that may or may not be directly connected with their atheism. Atheism is not enough for any individual as far as ethics is concerned. Atheism may only be the beginning of working out a way of dealing with fellow human beings without recourse to s "sacred" text. Which means one has to think instead of believing. This is a difficult and lifelong task which will never be resolved in any absolute and final way.
So I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, only not with the same intent: "Atheism is an incomplete worldview." Yes, it is incomplete-atheism is not a systematic belief, but only a paradigm without a god. But you believe that this "incompleteness" is something bad. I see it as something fundamentally good, something that teaches me a little humility.
Yes, as an atheist, I happily admit that I don't have "all the answers." I tend to mistrust those who do claim to have all the answers. They have a tendency to exert absolute authority over unwary folks which leads to fanaticism-in other words, leading to a denial of the worth and dignity of human beings. No, I am not the center of the universe. No one is. But isn't this all the more reason for each one of us to at least accept and respect one another in our many different aspects as human beings? Isn't that more important than what one believes?
Just my $0.02 .
Nice site - it's really good to see a fellow conservative with an atheist bent. I know you describe yourself as believing in an anonymous creator god but I see any uncaring, noncommunicative god as no different from a natural event and really not worth arguing about.
I'm linking to your site as I find it brilliant and informative and I will answer your "Challenge to Atheists" here:
"Having said all those nice things it is now time to take a shot at the smug atheist worldview. The atheist thinks he has it all figured out."
Actually I've run into few atheists that think they know everything about origins etc - they've just adopted a worldview which instantly dismisses superstition and magic. The mindset of the atheist to religionists can seem arrogant as it is similar to your mindset when confronted with a child who believes in Leprechauns. Silly magical superstition is best left to our past and children seated at a fireplace on Christmas Eve - we as adults in the information age need to keep our heads above these childish fantasies.
"Now here is the challenge: Does becoming an atheist make a person a better human being?"
Absolutely and thoroughly irrelevant. If a hoax makes you a better person is it less of a hoax? If truth causes people to despair does it make it any less true? Would you seriously suggest that people should be brainwashed into superstitious fantasies because they may be more moral for it? This was the view of Plato but I find it evil on a grand scale - someone has lived his whole life abstaining from coffee and jewelry while throwing away a lot of his time worshiping a myth! As far as atheists and morality... instead of cutting and pasting 4 paragraphs, just go here:http://bikinilane.com/atheism/atheistmorality.shtml
"Proving that the Bible is flawed only proves that either the Christian God does not exist."
That's good enough! What possible reason would an atheist have to disprove Odin? Do you mean a superior being without a theology? Well, that's not a god since it's an unworshiped being; (a god, by definition, is a worshiped being) instead it's an alien intelligence. If some alien intelligence without a theology was responsible for our creation than it is applicably no different from a natural event - how would you live your life any differently from an atheist? Since this creature is unworshiped it is not a god, it will affect NO CHANGE in anyone's life and believing in it would not make an atheist a theist.
"After the chains have been broken - then what? A void has been created. Is the person really any better off than before?"
Truth is the most important benefit of truth - anything else is secondary! Certainly some people may've become wretched child-abusing mass-murderers because they discovered that the human body was not run by little trolls but by a circulatory system. Does this mean that we should consciously hide dangerous truth from the populace? No! Besides a good example in history is the Age of Enlightenment which was a revolt against religious orthodoxy. This produced such brilliant men as Jefferson, Franklin and Paine; Not one a Christian and yet they developed arguably the most important document written in the last 300 years. Maybe a potential monk once deconverted would instead become our next Thomas Paine.
"Atheism is an incomplete worldview."
Atheism is not a worldview - it is not a belief. Atheism only exists as an opinion on religion. Communism and Objectivism are opposite worldviews which include atheism.
"Stalinist Russia... Atheism was treated as religious dogma"
COMMUNISM was treated as religious dogma. Atheism just meant that no religious dogmas were allowed to come in and compete. Communism, like religion, would pronounce dogma which you were NOT allowed to disagree with. In many ways communism can be called a pseudo-religion.
Again - nice site, thanks!
John Conservative Atheist http://www.bikinilane.com/atheism/
I may "lose" the challenge, either on the ground that I don't qualify as an atheist or because I avoid giving an adequate answer to the question, but here goes...
I am a hard agnostic rather than a true atheist. In other words, I don't claim to know that there is no God, I just think that the existence of God is highly improbable. An old philosophical criticism of atheism is that the atheist presumes to have godlike knowledge since he claims to know that there is no God. I accept that as a valid criticism.
To me, whether one is an atheist, agnostic, pantheist, Deist, Christian, or what not is a matter of truth. You may be absolutely correct that atheism does not change lives for the better, and that to the extent that atheism is more rational than fundamentalism, so are agnosticism and Deism, but that doesn't exclude or even diminish the possibility that there is no God. Maybe we had more saints when most people believed that the world was flat, but that doesn't change the fact that the world is not flat.
I would expect that most atheists believe in freedom of religion and freedom of thought, and so would object to dogmatic atheism being taught as a surrogate religion.
I also disagree with your comments about pantheism being equivalent to atheism. I once read something similar in one of my grandfather's Masonic books. It said that pantheism was equivalent to atheism because it identified God with the universe, which was matter, and so pantheists worshipped matter and denied the existence of mind. The Masonic book focused on the mind/matter dichotomy, while your argument focused on the immanence/transcendence of God, but basically I think it's the same thing. Can't one be a Monist? It occured to me that an atheist could flip the Masonic argument and say that pantheism was equivalent to theism or Deism, because it identifies the universe with God, which is mind, and so the pantheists believe the universe is mind, and deny the existence of matter.
Lee, February 1, 2005
Hello again - Couldn't resist writing after reading some of the comments in this section.....so hear are mine. I'd like to give this some thought, but I guess I'll just say what's on my mind right now.
These questions are not relevant in the sense that the atheist doesn't find atheism the way a drug addict "finds" god in his struggle to quit doing drugs.
The only thing atheism compels me to do is to take responsibility for myself and for my actions. I would think it would be impossible to be compelled by a disbelief in something. My disbelief in god is identical to my disbelief in the tooth-fairy and thus has very little effect on my day to day life. My morals come from the evolution of the society that I live in. From what I can tell, religion seems to have little effect on one's actions or one's desire to be a decent, honest individual who truly lives by the golden rule. There are good Christians and good atheists, but there is really no correlation!
I do enjoy reading, studying, etc. the effect of religion on society and the world at large. If you take a step back, it's utterly fascinating (if not terribly sad) how most everything in this world revolves around differing beliefs in invisible beings that exist only in the imagination. The mind is a powerful thing!
Kirk - recovering East Tennessean February 18, 2005
The positive effects of atheism are (1) Independent thought (2) a growing ability to examine the facts in any situation (3) fewer "dumb" or ill advised marriages, and other relationships. (4) greater awareness and respect for facts and the laws of the land. (5) Recognition of the value of non-religious (secular) morality or ethics.
I was a preacher (and a sinner) for ten years long before I espoused Atheism as a result of a lack of convincing personal religious experience or failure to discern any positive effects of belief in God, and a discovery that God did not intervene in my life. Fortunately I belong to the IQ group (above 119) that is more capable of discerning truth from error. At a score of 122, I am not brilliant, but I can learn, examine, decide or think instead of just going along with the opinion of the crowd. Positive effects of Atheism do exist: they are also Courage and Honesty, which attitudes are helpful in every situation one encounters in life.
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