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Emotional Atheism

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

There’s a rather clever statement I’ve heard a few times on atheist and skeptical web sites and podcasts. It’s that there is no point in reasoning with fundamentalist religious people because if they responded to reason they wouldn’t be fundamentalists to start with. It’s a good point and equally applies to extremely political, or sincerely credulous individuals.

There is also the fact that, according to all reasonable measures of reason, religion should be dead, yet it isn’t and has actually enjoyed a revival in some parts of the world. Whether this revival is just a last desperate attempt to revive religion’s “glorious” past is hard to ascertain at this point, but it does seem real.

So hundreds of years of solid science and the irrefutable logic of atheists hasn’t really made a lot of difference because, as I said above, the people who are the targets of these methods of persuasion aren’t actually persuaded by them. But what’s the alternative?

Actually, before I discuss that I perhaps should ask whether it’s a good idea to try to persuade believers that they are wrong. I think it is. It’s a good idea for two reasons. First, intellectual debate should occur on every subject and religion should be no exception. Presenting your ideas and examining other people’s is just inherently a good idea. And second, people should be given the opportunity to correct false beliefs. I know that not many people will actually follow through with the correction but at least they should be given the opportunity.

So if rational debate and presentation of facts won’t work what will? Again I must interrupt myself and say that there are occasions when the facts will work. I have encountered several cases in my discussions on the internet and through email where I have given a believer something new to think about. There was one person who had genuinely never heard about the evidence for evolution for example. When I showed him the huge list of transitional fossils which support evolution he was amazed. I’m sure that after that he was far less certain about the accuracy of creationism. Maybe he realised he had been lied to all those years by people who wanted him to believe in fake Christian pseudoscience.

So finally to answer the question: what alternatives are there to logic and facts? Well there’s emotion, and there’s a good story, and there’s social support, and there’s non-confrontational attitude change.

For example, many religious people think atheists are cold, uncaring, and immoral. By arguing from the perspective of simple facts that opinion can be reinforced. Atheists should point out that they are just as committed to emotional experiences, friendship, and doing the right thing as anyone else. They just don’t want a church or an old book telling them how they should do that. So emphasising the freedom of being an atheists is a positive point which can be made. And highlighting the fact that atheists are good because they want to be instead of being good because they’re scared of God’s punishment I think shows where the real morality lies.

By a “good story” I mean that the truth uncovered by science, when presented in an entertaining way, is much more compelling and awe inspiring than any religious story. Compare the scientific history of the universe with the rather lame and insipid Biblical version and you’ll see what I mean. The real story of the universe is far more spectacular than any old myth.

Social support is a more difficult one. Many people use their church as a social center for their lives. They meet their friends there and they might have very little in their lives without it. If that is the case then I think it’s unfair to try to dissuade anyone from continuing to make use of that support. There are alternatives of course, and being an atheist doesn’t mean you instantly become an outcast from society. Maybe all the believers need is to be reminded of that.

Finally there’s non-confrontational change of attitudes. Anyone who reads my blog will realise this isn’t my usual approach! I tend to like to use a more straightforward, aggressive style. But that’s because I’m not really trying to convert people, I’m just trying to present my opinions and challenge them. But reminding people that it is possible to believe in God and evolution at the same time could be more influential than saying that evolution really makes the Christian myth redundant.

There’s one last topic I would like to mention too. That’s spirituality. The word can mean many different things but in one context at least I think that science enthusiasts are more spiritual than religious people. I’m sure that I feel it as much as anyone when I look at the of the splendour of the night sky from a really dark place. Knowing what I’m looking at makes all the difference. I can easily find the closest galaxy and know that its light has taken thirty times longer to reach the Earth than the whole age of creation according to Christians. Yes, that’s the closest galaxy. What can believers have which could possibly stand up to the astounding facts we know about the real world?

So yes, atheism can be emotional, but only when it makes sense to be!

  1. Anonymous
    September 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    It has nothing to do with the tired old refrain that believers are only scared of some vengeful God. Have you no one in your life who is now deceased who you would give anything, even a bit of faith, to see once more? Arrogance is easy to practice, try to expand your perceptions of reality from outside your microscope sometimes. And what is “Rational” anyway? (perhaps a synonym for cynical)

  2. ojb42
    September 21, 2011 at 1:49 am

    I think many people are actually scared of their god. It’s an attitude that appears often in surveys and interviews. People really do act according to what their church tells them just because they want to avoid going to hell. Do you deny this?

    You can’t see someone who is dead. They’re dead. No amount of living in a fantasy world will bring them back. It’s sad but true.

    My “reality” extends to things which have some good objective evidence supporting them. It’s possible that there are true things I don’t believe in just because the evidence is too poor but at least it means I don’t believe things which are fake.

    Being rational involves following well established logical rules which make sense and have worked in the past. Deciding on the reality of things based on objective, repeatable evidence would be one example. It has nothing to do with cynicism.

    If I started believing in stuff which has no good evidence where would it end? I could believe in a hundred different religions, alien abductions, the Loch Ness monster, goblins and fairies. I think it’s best to stick with what the evidence shows.

  3. Anonymous
    August 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    This the most inspiring blog entry I have read in a long time – I do believe that you already have read or heard of Spinoza, and it is a great compliment for me to give you that your writings remind me of him

  4. ojb42
    August 12, 2012 at 5:13 am

    I don’t claim to be an expert on philosophy (not even close! :) but it seems that many people misunderstand Spinoza’s concept of god. They say he thought god was nature (or the universe or something) but that’s not the case. He had some other definition of god being infinitely complex or something. In my opinion it’s not very useful because it’s neither testable nor based on anything empirical. At least that’s my superficial reading. I would be happy to be corrected on this.

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