Inresponse to an article I posted on my blog, "How the Bible was Used to Justify Slavery", I received the following comment which I'm posting below. And I'm curious... do you agree with this fellow? Is Atheism a world view? Do people do bad things indirectly in the name of Atheism?
"thanks for the feedback. With all due respect, however, I would strongly disagree that "no one does anything in the name of Atheism." Atheism may not be an organized religion, but it IS worldview - a perspective through which one tries to make sense of the world. In light of that I cannot see how you would deny a person might do something in the world that is evil, and yet consistent with an atheistic worldview. As a worldview without a strict moral code, how can you deny that such a worldview might give a person license to do whatever they see fit, no matter how evil?
For example, let's say I started a club called the "No Rules Club". Our main objective was to celebrate the fact that we are all autonomous creatures with no inherent moral compulsion to have to act in any preconceived way. Then one day, in light of such a notion, a couple of members steal a car. In court, I give testimony that they belong to the "No Rules Club", but I insist that their crime wasn't motivated by our Club because we don't have a strict moral code that tells them they should steal cars. Would not any reasonable lawyer ask me, "but you don't tell them to NOT steal cars do you?.... you tell them that there are no hard and fast rules to abide by, right?". While my 'club' didn't directly TELL them to steal the car, their involvement in my club suggests that ultimately, they had been given no objective reason to avoid such a behaviour. So while my club isn't directly to blame, it's ethos is in some way consistent with their actions. There are, after all, no hard and fast rules in life (according to my club).
If atheism is Darwinian, then there are no objective moral values. The greatest obejectives (if Richard Attenborough's documentaries are correct) in a naturalistic world are feeding, fighting, fleeing and fornicating.
The bottom line is that there have been millions die at the hands of people who rejected any conception of the divine. Because, in the atheistic view of the world, there are no objective moral values (there CAN'T be - we're only the product of bio-chemical processes and natural selection), these people have actually acted consistently with their worldview: there are no objective values, hence no inherent reason to avoid 'evil' behavior.
As a worldview, Atheists, like any other people, are capable to exhibiting behavior that seems justified by that worldview. With no strict moral code, I am astounded that you would claim that 'no one does anything in the name of Atheism'. They might not do things shouting "in the name of atheism I.......!", but surely you must concede that their atheistic worldview could lead them to certain actions that we might call 'evil'? Our worldview is the engine room for how we operate in the world. If the engine is atheistic, then that will color and shape how we behave and relate. As such, they will be behaving in a way that is shaped by that worldview.
Wow. Okay first of all, atheism is a part of a worldview, just as much as any religion, say Christianity, is a part of a larger world-view. A Christian, or an atheist for that matter, may highly regard science, or he may disregard it entirely. This could be completely consistent with either worldview (though it is more likely an atheist would regard science more highly than a religious person). So he is half-right in this claim. So yes, a person may do something quite wrong indeed in the name of atheism, just as a person may do something quite wrong indeed in the name of any religion.
Further, It is just as correct to say that there is no consistent moral code among any of the worlds religions, just as there is no consistent code of ethics among atheists. It is entirely wrong to say that atheism is "without a strict moral code", because, just like in any religion, any individual who prescribes to any ideology may live according to a strict moral code or he may not. It is also completely false to claim that atheists do not make some very strong moral claims indeed. A great many of us believe that we have a far stronger set of ethics than any religion can have, because we base our ethics on reality using reason, whereas religions base their morality on supernaturality (i.e. fiction) and faith (i.e. whatever they choose to believe, i.e. irrationality). On this count, then, he is way off-base. He later makes the claim that there is no reason to avoid "evil" behavior, but this is downright false, since if we are to operate according to reasons at all (and not faith), there is every reason not to do bad things - because they have bad consequences for us!
So this defeats his next claim, that atheists belong to some sort of "no-rules club". This is ridiculously false. We generally hold ourselves to far stricter rules, rules based in reality and what is actual and factual, rather than whatever we can make up.
As for the claim that there is no objectivity in discerning morality from evolution, this is also quite false. We can say a great many things about morality which are very objective indeed, far more so than what you might find in any religion. For example, we can say that it is objectively true that we as organismic beings strive for biological life, and that this imperative is vital (note the language) to any realistic set of values. What this gentleman may be getting at is rather different from the claim that morality according to an atheist cannot have any sort of objectivity, but rather that it cannot have absolute meaning. Of course, it is only possible to deal in absolutes if one makes claims about the universe that cannot be substantiated, since the spectre of skepticism always lurks in the background. Religious people simply affirm what they do not and cannot know, and are dogmatic in this regard. It is a deep philosophical point however. Religious people are fond of loosely throwing it at atheists because they take the difficulty in responding to an extremely complicated question as affirmation of their being right, which is expected from such dishonest thinkers as theologians. Without values being absolute, they begin to fall down the slippery slope towards meaninglessness, as the argument might go. Are we completely free to make up our own set of values, or to absolve ourselves of them completely, if there is no absolute set of values which we can latch on to? Of course not. We come into this life as beings with a very specific set of qualities. First and foremost among them is that we are biological creatures who value life, this one, and not some imaginary other "life of the soul". We either act in accordance with what actually brings about a healthy, long-lived existence, or we suffer. The religious set of beliefs concerning values do no more than intuit what is true about reality and attempt to provide a stable foundation for why we intuitively believe these things. 2000 years ago it was the best we could muster. Today we have got far better answers. So as for his claim that "The greatest obejectives in a naturalistic world are feeding, fighting, fleeing and fornicating", this is a gross misrepresentation of the kinds of things that people value. Also necessary (but not included in this absurd straw-man argument) are caring for our young, caring for others with whom we have close intimate connections, caring about what types of experiences we have, what kind of life we would like to live, how we want to be treated by others, etc. Religious people take the exact same principles and simply add in what they feel is necessary to get to some absolute truth of the matter. And again, compared to what we now know and what we are now capable of explaining, they do a shoddy job.
His point that millions have died because of a lack of any appeal to the "divine" is quite simply countered by the fact that many millions have also died because of an appeal to the divine. That argument gets us nowhere. Religious people who think they have got a point with this one completely ignore history. As for his conclusion, it would be (again) just as right to say that religious people can and continually do do things which should be considered very bad indeed (there is no such thing as "evil". "Atrocious" is a good alternative). And if we are to compare the two, a worldview based on reason and love of this life and the actual people in it, a worldview which acknowledges that real life consists of a never-ending set of challenges and obstacles, is far better suited to providing a healthy, realistic set of values than one based on faith, love of an imaginary existence and imaginary beings, and the childish desires to live forever and exist in a state of eternal bliss.
I couldn't even read past a quarter of his post. Atheism a worldview? Right, just like not believing in witches is a worldview. Just like not believing in Captain Hook is a worldview.
They try to do the same thing by calling Atheism a religion. The word "Atheism" confuses allot of people because of the suffix "ism", but the prefix "A" negates the meaning behind the suffix "ism" entirely. There is one thing and one thing only that atheism can tell anyone about an atheist, and it's that they don't believe in a god.
His premise is false, and he can't attribute anything to a lack of belief other than what is stated in the word. There is simply no guiding principle. Anything else like whether or not morality is objective or subjective is another issue separate from Atheism. Any attempts to attribute anything negative to Atheism is a slippery slope fallacy, and his post is one huge slippery slope.
I did skim through the bottom and found this classic example:
"but surely you must concede that their atheistic worldview could lead them to certain actions that we might call evil?"
One can just as fallaciously argue that not being convinced of the existence of witches means the lack of a moral compass and leads people to do bad things. This is not just a slippery slope, it's a non sequitur as well.
His whole post utterly fails from start to finish and I didn't even have to read the whole thing.
We may be atheists, but we still believe in and uphold the law - even laws we don't like. Besides, religion never prevented anyone from committing crimes. American jails are largely filled with people of faith. Here is an article from a Christian source complaining about the large numbers of prisoners being converted to Islam: http://www.equip.org/articles/faith-behind-the-fence-religious-tren...Here's a link to the source of the following information: http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm
The Federal Bureau of Prisons does have statistics on religious affiliations of inmates. The following are total number of inmates per religion category:
Catholic 29267 39.164%
Protestant 26162 35.008%
Muslim 5435 7.273%
American Indian 2408 3.222%
Nation 1734 2.320%
Rasta 1485 1.987%
Jewish 1325 1.773%
Church of Christ 1303 1.744%
Pentecostal 1093 1.463%
Moorish 1066 1.426%
Buddhist 882 1.180%
Jehovah Witness 665 0.890%
Adventist 621 0.831%
Orthodox 375 0.502%
Mormon 298 0.399%
Scientology 190 0.254%
Atheist 156 0.209%
Hindu 119 0.159%
Santeria 117 0.157%
Sikh 14 0.019%
Bahai 9 0.012%
Krishna 7 0.009%
Apparently, religion does make a difference if you are a Kirshna. I don't know of any huge international terrorism incidents, grizzly murders or major wars committed in the name of krishna. Maybe it is because they are too high or their numbers are so low. Maybe if your brain dead enough to be a krishna, you don't have the brain power to plan out let alone commit a crime.
To be honest, I don't think he read the article at all. He saw the title, maybe skimmed the first paragraph and made an assumption, as far as I can tell because this is a complete non sequitur.
My answer to Mr. Theist would be to make a few things very clear, because he clearly doesn't understand that "atheist" doesn't necessarily mean "depressed mass-murderer waiting to happen." So here it is:
Life isn't any less important because we all arose from common ancestors.
Love isn't any less meaningful because it's a series of biochemical reactions.
Being good to fellow human beings doesn't lose its importance just because we're doing it out of instinct, rather than the oft-touted "reasoning" that "God told us to be nice so you can't be nice without God."
Just because I think that none of the millions of gods that have ever been invented actually existed and I look to science, flawed as it sometimes can be, for answers about the world, does not mean that I'm a volcano of evil waiting to erupt. I'm just as "moral" as when I was christian because being good to other people matters to me. That's all there is to it. It matters less to me than some other things, to be sure, and being good to people I know and love is more important than being good to random strangers, but that's how it is for everyone, religious or not. I care about my cats more than people I've never met and never going to meet, but there's nothing wrong with that. I'm really sick of being told that I'm somehow sub-human because I don't believe in any gods.
The article he failed to read was about people using the bible to justify slavery. What they were doing was saying, "In the name of christianity, I will go to another continent, take its population, put everyone in chains, and use them for free labor because I don't want to pay my employees. This is exactly what Jesus would do." He seems to think that an atheist doing anything that seems immoral is the same thing as pointing to a bible verse to explain why you blew up the Planned Parenthood. It isn't.
His idea could be true, of course, but what's more likely - that someone committed patricide because they hated their father for whatever reason or because when they were little someone read them "Hop on Pop" and it shaped their worldview? Even though they didn't directly say that they had killed their father because of a Dr. Seuss book, you can't deny that it shaped who they are today, and it was part of the engine that caused them to kill. Dr. Seuss books will color and shape how we behave and relate, and so everyone should demand restitution from his heirs and boycott Seussical the Musical for moral reasons.
That's how his argument sounds to me, beautifully presented in the wrapping paper of condescension with the big shiny bow of pretentiousness on top. He's trying to blame atheism for immorality, when surely he must concede that a jew or christian has their "engine room" shaped in such a way that they might stone their teenager to death or sell their daughter into slavery? And surely he understands that those two things are what people might call immoral? So surely he must agree that people can be moral or immoral with or without the influence of a strict moral code imposed by somebody else?
So, to answer your question, no. I don't agree with this guy. He's using very flowery language and dancing around the point somewhat, but he obviously thinks that all atheists are immoral. Atheism is part of my worldview, as is a love of cats despite my allergies, but I can't see the world if my ideology gets in the way of my vision. I can't speak for anyone else, so I won't try, but, in my life, atheism doesn't cause me to make different moral choices than I always did. My morality or lack thereof is my own issue and the result of my own decisions. Atheism sometimes plays a part in those choices, but more often I attempt to use my best judgement to make my decisions, rather than have someone else (i.e., a god of some kind) be blamed for my poor choices or given credit for my good ones. I always had the license to do whatever I see fit, whether I believed in a strict moral code or not, which Mr. Theist here fails to understand.
And now I see fit to stop making long-winded arguments on the internet because I'd prefer to go make a cup of strong tea and play with my cats. :-P Sorry for the length, this kind of thing just pisses me off.