27 September 2011

False Arguments for Atheism

When I am asked why I am an atheist, I simply respond that it is because there is no god in which to believe. It’s really that simple. Many fellow atheists have some relatively elaborate stories about how they came to their disbelief and also some justifications for why they maintain their position, but what more is needed after you’ve realized that there is no higher power on which to rely? This question has prompted me to look into the arguments and support for atheism that many give. I wanted to critique how others are defending the position, to make sure that it does not become another fad that people accept for superficial reasons.

Here are the most popular superficial arguments that I’ve heard atheists give for their lack of belief:

1. God is terrible.

The most common reason that newly-announced atheists give for their deconversion is the realization that their god is an asshole. Okay, that’s true, but it doesn’t do anything to disprove god’s existence. If this is the sole basis for your disbelief, my suggestion would be to instantly separate yourself from theological discussions entirely. The material that you should be digesting right now should be scientific in nature, preferably from the fields of either physics or psychology. Learn how to the world and individual brains work. Understand the mechanics behind belief and answer some of the questions you once thought only god could answer.

I’ve had too many born-again Christians tell me how they used to be in my shoes, but then they saw the light. From my perspective, I would need to suffer some severe mental incapacity in order to end up like them. The reason why I think the way I do is because my position is backed up by logic and moderate knowledge of many different areas of science, sociology and philosophical theory. I assume that these so-called former atheists did not really have the same background that I do. Instead, I heavily suspect that their previous disbelief had more emotion behind it. After all, most argue that I must hate god, which is probably what they went through before they were born-again.

2. Disbelief makes you happier than faith.

I can’t argue against the claim that most religions are mentally unhealthy. I’ll even throw my hat into the ring if someone wants a good explanation for why rationality could lead to a happier existence. But if you’re trying to sway believers away from their faith by using your relative happiness as a lure, I have a bone to pick. We are surrounded by trendy spirituality and pseudo-sciences shrouded by the optimism they portend. The last thing the rationalist movement needs is to be hijacked by this desire to simply feel good.

In truth, there is no guarantee that leaving faith behind will make someone happier. Faith provides a huge amount of comfort that many people simply are not mentally agile enough to deal without. That doesn’t mean that atheism is only for smart people, though. If we are going to evangelize disbelief, let’s at least be completely honest that all we’re saying is that god doesn’t exist. We’re not trying to sell happiness or enlightenment; that comes through a different avenue and should be a different pursuit all together.

3. The world would be a better place if there was no religion.

Aside from the obvious logical fallacy that a positive result does not infer a true belief, this kind of reasoning is also fairly naive. The world is a nasty place even when you discount the harm that religion has done to it. Religion, at times, is just a scapegoat and motivational factor for a greater motive. Case in point: An FBI interrogator described the structure of Al Qaeda by citing that the high-level officers he interrogated were politically motivated while the low-level grunts justified their actions with religion. This illustrates a grim truth about the world we live in: ideology is a tool, not a goal.

Get rid of religion and it will merely be replaced with another motivation. It is no more effective than attacking a symptom instead of the source. Most times, the evil is just a case of one entity acting in its own self-interest. Corporations are the finest example of this. As human animals, we are capable of terrible things and religion is just fodder for our desires and aspirations. I think the only way to make the world a better place is to personally empower everyone with education and self-confidence, but that’s just as plausible as getting rid of religion.