Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On Atheists

I'm an atheist. I do not believe in god, nor have I ever. Generally speaking I don't believe in the soul nor do I believe in fate. However, the idea that atheism somehow automatically corelates with materialism and naturalism is absurd, thank you very much Pharyngula. From the mouth of PZ Myers

And oh, yeah, I'm passionate about atheism, but atheism isn't about nothing: it's about valuing reason over superstition, about conquering unfounded fears, about facing the real world without crutches and lies to hold you up. I'm sure someone is going to sit there and dissect the letters of the word and tell me that atheism means only an absence of belief in gods, but screw that — it's about a whole philosophy of thought that is built on materialism and naturalism. It is an idea with substance.

No, in fact, atheism does not suppose materialism or naturalism, it supposes only that there is no god(s). This is exactly why this new movement of atheists(white, middle-class, male lead movement I might add) needs to have a name other than simply "Atheism." Because it is not simply atheism.

What worries me more, and this I most definitely don't fault PZ for, as he is too smart to fall right back into this sort of trap, is the apparent use of evolution as a basis of moral behavior in comments such as:
I have never understood how the morality argument gains any traction at all with anyone simply because you can see rudimentary and sometimes more than that in virtually all other primate groups not to mention other animals.

Morality seems a matter of opinion about natural behaviours of our species. If someone can't understand why they need behave properly to havegroup acceptance I suggest they first observe chimps and then a primary school. You can see many the same lessons being conveyed.

And, even more so in this comment:

But more than this, as an atheist, I see my one and only life in this universe as the only chance I get to leave a positive legacy. My off-spring need the best possible example to follow in order to give them the best chances of passing on my DNA -if they view immoral behavior as okay, then the chances increase that they might not survive to reproduce.

Yes, because that is a basis for morality, that it is useful. Or was I uninformed that one must also be a Utilitarian to be an Atheist. Unfortunately this argument falls into the same trap that theists are so often accused of falling into, argument from good ends. One cannot say that something is moral simply because it is useful, unless there is some proof that utility is a good unto itself, the existence of which I am not aware. Moreover, this all presupposes even the existence of morality. Why does the materialist and naturalist view need morality? If it is simply to convince the theists that we don't just start killing people when we think there isn't a god then it's rather pointless, we could instead simply not kill people.

Myers is himself somewhat guilty in all this talk of morality, though it isn't clear if it is simply a matter of confusing the question or not. Responding to the accusation that "they have particularly failed in their attempt to present a coherent system of morality that in no way rests on a belief in the supernatural." Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he is not arguing the point about which the theist wish to argue. Perhaps this is simply more of the dreaded "framing," but I think not. The theist position is that we can call nothing moral or immoral without God, not that we cannot act morally without a belief in god. The latter is clearly absurd, though many theists certainly make the argument, but the former is a real issue. Can we actually accept morals into our ontology if we accept only what is physical as that which is real?

Worst of all is that so few of these people are willing to engage in conversation about substantive topics, ones which atheists can legitimately disagree on and still be atheists. They dislike the problem of induction even being brought up. They seem to take Occam's Razor as some sort of logical dictum and not as a useful, albeit flawed, tool.

This have been bugging me for a while. Nothing is more frustrating than those who claim to be rational and who then reject either the rational ends of their beliefs, or refuse to discuss those beliefs to in depth because it might threaten their little world view.

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