The Illusions of Atheism

Do Christians and Atheists believe in fiction.

Atheism, secularism & freethought etc.

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The Illusions of Atheism

#1  Postby promethean » Mar 27, 2012 11:05 pm

The Illusions of Atheism

Before I was a Christian I thought that all Christians were at some level lying to themselves. I knew some very sincere ‘believers’ but it seemed to me that they couldn’t really truly think that there was a personal God who existed and who loved them. Hence the use of the word ‘belief’. I figured that to believe something meant that you were pretty sure that is wasn’t true but you were going to allow yourself to have the delusion of belief because it made life more palatable. As if to have ‘faith’ meant to trick yourself into thinking something was true when actually at a deep level you were pretty sure it was false. To have ‘great faith’ would mean to be able to trick yourself into believing something to be true despite large amounts of evidence to the contrary. Or to quote Richard Dawkins “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”

To my mind Christians were living in a world of illusory fantasy in which they were comforted by their mythical God who deep down they knew didn’t exist but they just had such strong blinkers on that they wouldn’t let their eyes be opened to the truth.
I was not like them – I was interested in The Truth. I wanted to find it.

One of the early steps in my journey was a growing awareness of some of the illusions of atheism, of which three concerned me in particular; objective morality, free will and love.

Objective Morality
Do you believe that some actions actually are right and some things are actually wrong (objective morality) or do you think morality is simply a cultural, social or evolutionary convention? Do absolute objective moral values exist? This question is very challenging to the atheist to answer in either the affirmative or the negative. If objective moral values do exist then where do they come from? If we are simply animals whose existence is the result of blind chance how can we have objective moral weight? There is no logical foundation on which these moral laws can be based. On the other hand if there are no objective moral values then we have no basis by which to criticise actions as evil (or wrong or immoral) or to commend actions as good (or noble or just). If morality is just culturally derived conveniences then the cannibal is equally valid as the human rights activist in their analysis of what constitutes good and evil. Many atheists seem to profess just such moral relativism, again to quote Dawkins “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

However – such a position is impossible to maintain. As demonstrated by Dawkins who very quickly moves on to define religion as ‘the root of all evil’ seemingly unaware of the irony in criticising religion on moral grounds having just established that the very notion of morality makes no sense according to his worldview.

In fact what most atheists (in my experience) seem to do is claim that morality is relative, but actually behave in a way that suggests they think morality is objective. The atheist who asserts moral repulsion when they hear about a priest engaging in child sex abuse can only do so with any credibility if they believe in absolute moral values – otherwise they have no business criticising the priest. This is the first illusion erected by atheists to maintain their worldview. They realise that at rock bottom there is no basis for them to make logically binding moral judgements on others and yet they choose to ‘believe’ in their moral code all the same.

Free Will
The second illusion offered by the atheistic worldview is the existence of free will. Do you believe that humans have free will? Are we able to exert our mental will to make a decision that is not actually controlled by the physical condition of the universe – or is everything predetermined? Again the atheist has a difficulty in answering this question either way. If one claims we do have free will then the question must be asked how is this possible? Because free will as thus understood cannot be explained by the scientific method as by very definition it not an application of predictable scientific law but an outworking of metaphysical cognition. On the atheistic worldview it makes sense to state that we do not have free will and that all that is at work are the blind forces of nature. But again the atheist cannot maintain this position with any credibility as they proceed with their lives. Without free will it makes no logical sense to praise another individual or blame them for their actions – yet no one can live consistently in this way. So many atheists instead adopt a position whereby deep down they know that they have no foundation for a belief in free will, but they choose to believe in the illusion of free will in order to function.

Love
The third atheistic illusion is that of love. Do you believe it is possible to love another human being? What does this actually mean? On an atheistic, mechanistic worldview love is reduced to a chemical response, or an encoding that is effective for genetic transfer. If an atheist does believe in romantic love then what does that even mean? Yet if they don’t believe in love then how nonsensical are the most intimate relationships that we have? How can you say to your spouse: “I love you” when what you mean is: “the neural connections in my brain have been conditioned to initiate pleasure responses when I see a woman with a symmetrically appropriate body proportion for maximum chance of reproductive success”. No, far simpler, as an atheist, to acknowledge that we are just evolutionary developed gene carriers who formulate relationships purely for instinctive reproduction – and yet at the same time to maintain a belief in love so that you can ‘enjoy’ an illusionary relationship.

As an atheist it occurred to me that I had no logical foundation for a belief in: morality, free will, or love but I was choosing to believe in these things despite any evidence to support their existence. In fact I was pretty sure these things were fictions but I was trying to have ‘faith’ in them all the same. If you are an atheist and you want to be logically consistent then you need to give up your beliefs in morality, free will and love. But you can’t do it. No one can – no one has. It dawned on me that as an atheist, to some extent, I was as guilty as I had thought the Christians were in erecting an illusion to believe in, rather than genuinely seeking the truth.

Theistic Response
Christian theism on the other hand makes sense of all three of these dilemmas with a beautiful clarity. We do have a soul and God has given us free will, one of the most remarkable phenomena in the universe that we often take for granted or even deny we possess. You have the ability to turn thoughts into action and exert your mental will onto physical reality. That is just a pale reflection of God’s ability to actually shape and form reality, matter, space-time and energy from sheer thoughts. With free will comes the existence of absolute morality. We have free will to choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing and the existence of a God who makes physical laws can also account for the creation of moral laws. And love? We recognise the existence of a soul within other humans and we see the beauty of God reflected in them, we have the free will to lavish our love and affections with genuine sentiment upon one another. What’s more: “God is Love” and “God demonstrates his love in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us”. Who is this Christ? He is “the truth”.

Thankyou if you've made the effort to read thus far. Any questions, comments (and a limited amount of personal abuse) would be most welcome.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#2  Postby amkerman » Mar 27, 2012 11:23 pm

And cue derision...

Very well written; not that it will make a spit of difference to most here.

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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#3  Postby Bribase » Mar 27, 2012 11:49 pm

Welcome, Promethian! :wave:

What a well written OP. It's a shame that the entire thing amounts to an appeal to consequences. What you are saying is that within your rather myopic view of atheism, objective morality, contra-causal free will and love cannot exist and you couldn't stand a world like that. Therefore, somehow Christianity is true. Leaving aside the fallacious core of your argument, your "theistic response" does nothing to explain the phenomena but rather explains it away with an appeal to magic.

You have nothing to offer beyond "I don't think atheists can explain it; therefore magicmandunnit".
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#4  Postby Shrunk » Mar 27, 2012 11:56 pm

promethean, a couple problems immediately leap out at me.

There are any number of objective moral systems that do not depend on the existence of God. Moreover, you have failed to address the issue of what makes God's commands morally imperative. The Euthyphro dillemma ("Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?")has been around for a long time, but has yet to be resolved by anyone advocating divine command theory, as you are here. And until that dilemma is resolved, there is no logical basis to the claim that morality originates from God.

Similarly, you do not address the logical incompatibility between an omnipotent, omnscient god and human free will. You simply assert that God gave us a soul, and free will, but don't explain how these can coexist. Do we have the free will to go against the wishes of God? If so, how can he be omnipotent?

I also don't see how a biological basis to love makes it any less real, or less wonderful. In the same way, the taste of a really good meal can be broken down to its chemical constituents and how they react with the cells of my tongue. But that doesn't invalidate the experience in any way, nor make it any less essential for me to eat.

Sorry, nice try, but you missed the target.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#5  Postby NamelessFaceless » Mar 28, 2012 1:38 am

Welcome to the forum promethean. And thanks for explaining to me what I believe. Because before I read your post I thought I believed in objective rights and wrongs, free will, and love. Silly me. All this time I thought I had the free will to make my own decisions. Like which program to watch, or when to workout. Or not to cheat on my tax return. But now I know that's just nature making my decisions. Hope you stick around, so the next time I'm not sure what to believe I can just ask you. :roll:
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#6  Postby promethean » Mar 28, 2012 1:56 am

Bribase wrote:Welcome, Promethian! :wave:

What a well written OP. It's a shame that the entire thing amounts to an appeal to consequences. What you are saying is that within your rather myopic view of atheism, objective morality, contra-causal free will and love cannot exist and you couldn't stand a world like that. Therefore, somehow Christianity is true. Leaving aside the fallacious core of your argument, your "theistic response" does nothing to explain the phenomena but rather explains it away with an appeal to magic.

You have nothing to offer beyond "I don't think atheists can explain it; therefore magicmandunnit".


Thanks for your welcome and feedback.

Firstly my OP is not designed to be an argument to prove the existence of God or the validity of Theism. It is nothing more than a description of part of my journey towards the realisation that atheism is not all it's cracked up to be.

I don't believe my point amounts to an appeal to consequences. An appeal to consequences asserts that a premise must be false simply because the proponent doesn't 'like' the consequences of the argument, and is thus obviously fallacious. My argument is NOT:
P1) atheism means there is no free will, moral objectivity or love.
P2) I don't like the idea of there being no free will, moral objectivity or love.
C1) therefore atheism is false.
C2) therefore theism is true.

Rather my observation is simply that if you accept the hardline atheistic worldview an inevitable consequence of that is that the concepts of freewill, moral objectivity and love don't make any sense or do not even exist. However atheists (in my experience) all act and live out their lives as though these concepts did exist. This means many atheists are living lives that contain massive internal logical inconsistencies - whilst simultaneously claiming an intellectual high ground over theists.

As an atheist do you acknowledge that free will, moral objectivity and love do not exist?
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#7  Postby DougC » Mar 28, 2012 2:00 am

Welcome to our little site.
May I ask a question.
Why, when you chose to stop being an Atheist, did you chose Christianity?
There are lots of religions to chose from. Did it realy seem like the best option at the time or where you being lazy and falling in with your local cultural norms.

One again, welcome. :cheers:
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#8  Postby laklak » Mar 28, 2012 2:00 am

Maybe I'm just stupid, but I don't wonder about stuff like that. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I'm happy treating it as if it is an actual, objectively-real duck. When I make a decision it feels like I'm making a decision. All by my little self, so I just go my merry way, making what may or may not be free-willed decisions. I don't care if the way I feel about Mrs. Lak is the product of hormones, conditioning and neural responses, it feels like love and I'm happy to treat it as if it is. I have my own moral and ethical code that I live by, I don't care where it comes from. I'm happy without a god or gods, I have no need of a god or gods, see no evidence (even personal, anecdotal evidence) for the existence of a god or gods, therefore I'm happy treating he/it/them as non-existent. I'll leave the philosophical navel-gazing to those who can be bothered with it. In the meantime I'll open another beer.

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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#9  Postby Onyx8 » Mar 28, 2012 2:17 am

amkerman wrote:And cue derision...

Very well written; not that it will make a spit of difference to most here.

:cheers:



Gosh, no derision.

I too would ask why you (OP) wound up with christianity, and which branch/flavour of it.

Also what is an 'atheistic world view'?
The problem with fantasies is you can't really insist that everyone else believes in yours, the other problem with fantasies is that most believers of fantasies eventually get around to doing exactly that.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#10  Postby Xeno » Mar 28, 2012 2:39 am

promethean wrote:Objective Morality
Do you believe that some actions actually are right and some things are actually wrong (objective morality) or do you think morality is simply a cultural, social or evolutionary convention? Do absolute objective moral values exist? This question is very challenging to the atheist to answer in either the affirmative or the negative. If objective moral values do exist then where do they come from? If we are simply animals whose existence is the result of blind chance how can we have objective moral weight? There is no logical foundation on which these moral laws can be based. On the other hand if there are no objective moral values then we have no basis by which to criticise actions as evil (or wrong or immoral) or to commend actions as good (or noble or just). If morality is just culturally derived conveniences then the cannibal is equally valid as the human rights activist in their analysis of what constitutes good and evil. Many atheists seem to profess just such moral relativism, again to quote Dawkins “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

However – such a position is impossible to maintain. As demonstrated by Dawkins who very quickly moves on to define religion as ‘the root of all evil’ seemingly unaware of the irony in criticising religion on moral grounds having just established that the very notion of morality makes no sense according to his worldview.

There are options you have not considered. You contrast objective morality (which you can not demonstrate as coming from god) with the usual theist caricature of alternatives, usually based on simple individualist moral relativism. Have you considered moral objectives, that humans are highly social animals, that we assess behaviours on both social and personal consequences, with regard to utility and harm?

Taking this commonplace tripe:
The atheist who asserts moral repulsion when they hear about a priest engaging in child sex abuse can only do so with any credibility if they believe in absolute moral values – otherwise they have no business criticising the priest. This is the first illusion erected by atheists to maintain their worldview. They realise that at rock bottom there is no basis for them to make logically binding moral judgements on others and yet they choose to ‘believe’ in their moral code all the same.
you show a paucity of imagination in the opening sentence. If there is evident utility in not having children harmed (humans do not have many children and invest heavily in bringing them to maturity) then why would there not, from the most primitive times, be very strong sanctions against harm to children? Sanctions which have been strengthened over time as we recognise that we are having fewer children and have a greater appreciation and capability for their protection.

In fact this is a perfect basis for making logically binding moral judgements based on social and personal moral objectives. It is no basis for imagining that morality is derived from a sadistic pixie.

Love works like taste does, with a thinking layer included. It is also a short word covering a lot of important things we are still researching.

Free will is a subject to which I am happy to come back, preferring to keep a narrower focus at the moment. I will later support the position that your belief in libertarian free will is incoherent, absurd, or both.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#11  Postby YoumanBean » Mar 28, 2012 2:55 am

Personally, I don't see any reason to believe in free will, or moral objectivity (as Xeno says above, that doesn't mean we can't have a sensible basis for morals at all). Love is different, it's just a description of the feelings created by various biological processes, so that does exist. My position on these things is not a result of atheism, however. I don't even see the question of whether there is a god to be particularly relevant given that I can't see how asserting one would in any way 'solve' these issues at all, and in addition it brings up another set of issues as others have said (e.g. free will and omnipotence being paradoxical).

I don't 'believe' in my positions on these things really either, they just seem like the most logical positions to hold (given my, obviously limited, understanding of reality) and I am open to the idea that I might be wrong.

I must also agree with Bribase, and your response to him does nothing to counter his point (it's just a claim that he's wrong, then saying that you think a lot of atheists are hypocrites because they behave counter to your understanding of how atheists should see the world - as if that is relevant). Your whole argument is an appeal to consequences that is fairly badly thought through given that your new position is full of holes with regards to the philosophical 'dilemmas' you say it resolves. You have also given absolutely no explanation for why christianity is the best solution rather than the thousands of other 'options' out there, it reeks of intellectual laziness and just 'falling in with the crowd'.

This should be a really obvious question to ask yourself but it seems likely that you haven't - if you had been born or raised in another culture where christianity was not the norm (imagine you somehow developed in generally the same way), and you went through the same thought process regarding free will etc. you have described, do you honestly think you would have reached the conclusion that christianity is the best answer to your issues (if you say 'yes' I suspect you are deluding yourself, but in this case imagine that you were having this thought process in what we now call Norway 2,500 years ago)? What does this tell you about your 'truth'?

Hope none of the above counts as derision, I wouldn't want to upset amkerman's delicate sensibilities.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#12  Postby orpheus » Mar 28, 2012 3:08 am

:popcorn: (Uncle Orph'sTM popcorn - "love the taste" )
Let's try for peace in 2017, shall we?
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#13  Postby Spinozasgalt » Mar 28, 2012 3:34 am

promethean wrote:Objective MoralityDo you believe that some actions actually are right and some things are actually wrong (objective morality) or do you think morality is simply a cultural, social or evolutionary convention? Do absolute objective moral values exist? This question is very challenging to the atheist to answer in either the affirmative or the negative. If objective moral values do exist then where do they come from? If we are simply animals whose existence is the result of blind chance how can we have objective moral weight? There is no logical foundation on which these moral laws can be based.On the other hand if there are no objective moral values then we have no basis by which to criticise actions as evil (or wrong or immoral) or to commend actions as good (or noble or just). If morality is just culturally derived conveniences then the cannibal is equally valid as the human rights activist in their analysis of what constitutes good and evil. Many atheists seem to profess just such moral relativism, again to quote Dawkins “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”


I think this is quite muddled. The full picture of live positions is far richer that you'll have it, so giving us an either/or between objectivism and convention is starting out from a place of poverty. Morality remains challenging for the theist and the atheist both, because it's not clear which among the available positions, if any, our pretheoretical notions of morality favour. Now when you ask "where do they come from?" I hope you have a substantial answer from your theistic perspective, because if the level of answer is merely "God", then the atheist can quite easily reply with "the universe"; the available level of explanation will tend to be pretty important when the theist and the atheist are offering competing explanations. Next, it's not at all clear on what descriptive facts our "moral weight" supervenes: you clearly think it must supervene on supernatural nonmoral facts about where we come from (that we're God's creations maybe), but what's not clear is whether this is so or even if it's a viable position. The atheist who is undecided about morality hasn't done anything like identify moral facts with theistic ones, so until the theist can offer reasons for making such identifications, the atheist need not throw morality out with theism.

The analogy between morality and law is pretty well-known and little's clear as to why it should worry the atheist too much.

promethean wrote:On the other hand if there are no objective moral values then we have no basis by which to criticise actions as evil (or wrong or immoral) or to commend actions as good (or noble or just). If morality is just culturally derived conveniences then the cannibal is equally valid as the human rights activist in their analysis of what constitutes good and evil. Many atheists seem to profess just such moral relativism, again to quote Dawkins “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”


Unless an atheist is an eliminativist, it's hard to see why he or she can no longer criticise the morality of others. It looks like you're saying that atheists have to be a certain kind of normative relativist who can't criticise the customs of other cultures, but then there's little reason to be this sort of relativist: because it seems to rely on the very universality that the relativist denies.

promethean wrote:However – such a position is impossible to maintain. As demonstrated by Dawkins who very quickly moves on to define religion as ‘the root of all evil’ seemingly unaware of the irony in criticising religion on moral grounds having just established that the very notion of morality makes no sense according to his worldview.


Not to defend Dawkins, but last I read the "root of all evil" wasn't really his choice for the title of his doco, anyway. ;)

promethean wrote:In fact what most atheists (in my experience) seem to do is claim that morality is relative, but actually behave in a way that suggests they think morality is objective. The atheist who asserts moral repulsion when they hear about a priest engaging in child sex abuse can only do so with any credibility if they believe in absolute moral values – otherwise they have no business criticising the priest. This is the first illusion erected by atheists to maintain their worldview. They realise that at rock bottom there is no basis for them to make logically binding moral judgements on others and yet they choose to ‘believe’ in their moral code all the same.


I don't think the relativist is actually at fault here. This sort of person disagrees with you that moral phenomena are at their best when place together with moral objectivism, so will typically have a different story to tell about moral repulsion and so on. It looks like you're merely begging the question here.

Really, I'd just like to see a theist here who's willing to lay out their moral arguments in such a way as to shed light, rather than load others with the burden.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#14  Postby promethean » Mar 28, 2012 3:41 am

Shrunk wrote:promethean, a couple problems immediately leap out at me.

There are any number of objective moral systems that do not depend on the existence of God.

I would like to hear a description of some objective moral systems that do not depend on the existence of God - or on some other metaphysical extrapolation.

Moreover, you have failed to address the issue of what makes God's commands morally imperative. The Euthyphro dillemma ("Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?")has been around for a long time, but has yet to be resolved by anyone advocating divine command theory, as you are here. And until that dilemma is resolved, there is no logical basis to the claim that morality originates from God.


A discussion of Euthyphro's dilemma is probably beyond the initial scope of the OP, but it is not without proposed solutions. It is certainly not a complete defeater to an objective moral system grounded in God's will. I would lean towards the side that what is good is good because it is commanded by God - and then deal with each objection to this as it is raised.

However my OP is a challenge to the atheistic position of claiming that there are no objective moral values and then behaving as if there were. It is a separate question about whether or not a Christian can justify their moral position. I'm happy to discuss both but not merely the latter as though the former has somehow been easily resolved by the atheist.


Similarly, you do not address the logical incompatibility between an omnipotent, omnscient god and human free will. You simply assert that God gave us a soul, and free will, but don't explain how these can coexist. Do we have the free will to go against the wishes of God? If so, how can he be omnipotent?

Your correct that I do not address these issues in the OP - but am not unaware of them. I see no incompatibility between God's omniscience and human free will. (I would argue that God's foreknowledge of our actions is a result of his privilege position in relation to time - not because the universe is deterministic)
The apparent contradiction between God's omnipotence and human free will is admittedly more complex.

However:

Neither of these address my question to the atheist - which is how do you reconcile free will with atheism? Do you believe in free will? If you do how can you justify the action of a 'will' exerting its influence in a purely physical universe governed by material laws? If you don't believe in free will then why do you act as though you do?



I also don't see how a biological basis to love makes it any less real, or less wonderful. In the same way, the taste of a really good meal can be broken down to its chemical constituents and how they react with the cells of my tongue. But that doesn't invalidate the experience in any way, nor make it any less essential for me to eat.


This is the aspect of your reply that interests me the most. Here you seem to acknowledge that love is a purely biological/chemical phenomena. (whereas at this stage I think you do believe in objective moral values, and do believe in free will - but you haven't provided an argument for how that is possible in an atheistic framework - instead you've criticised that Christians can't either.)

If 'love' is just a chemical process then I think it does 'invalidate' the experience. If I believed that all my 'meaningful' relationships were actually just chemical reactions playing out their predetermined physical reactions then I would feel that they weren't genuine relationships. They lose their meaning and significance if the people within them aren't making genuinely free choices, self sacrifices and showing care for one another. Here we can agree to disagree. And here I think you are submitting to an atheistic illusion. If you say to another individual that 'I love you' you are propping up an illusion that you know is false.

Thankyou for your thoughts.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#15  Postby promethean » Mar 28, 2012 3:46 am

DougC wrote:Welcome to our little site.
May I ask a question.
Why, when you chose to stop being an Atheist, did you chose Christianity?
There are lots of religions to chose from. Did it realy seem like the best option at the time or where you being lazy and falling in with your local cultural norms.

One again, welcome. :cheers:


You may ask your question and my response would be lengthly and possibly boring. My OP has at least 3 embedded questions for the atheist. If you have a go at answering them (in the spirit of staying on topic) I'll begin to flesh out a response to your question.

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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#16  Postby promethean » Mar 28, 2012 3:57 am

Hi Xeno - thanks for your comments

Xeno wrote:There are options you have not considered. You contrast objective morality (which you can not demonstrate as coming from god) with the usual theist caricature of alternatives, usually based on simple individualist moral relativism. Have you considered moral objectives, that humans are highly social animals, that we assess behaviours on both social and personal consequences, with regard to utility and harm?

Taking this commonplace tripe:
The atheist who asserts moral repulsion when they hear about a priest engaging in child sex abuse can only do so with any credibility if they believe in absolute moral values – otherwise they have no business criticising the priest. This is the first illusion erected by atheists to maintain their worldview. They realise that at rock bottom there is no basis for them to make logically binding moral judgements on others and yet they choose to ‘believe’ in their moral code all the same.

you show a paucity of imagination in the opening sentence. If there is evident utility in not having children harmed (humans do not have many children and invest heavily in bringing them to maturity) then why would there not, from the most primitive times, be very strong sanctions against harm to children? Sanctions which have been strengthened over time as we recognise that we are having fewer children and have a greater appreciation and capability for their protection.

In fact this is a perfect basis for making logically binding moral judgements based on social and personal moral objectives. It is no basis for imagining that morality is derived from a sadistic pixie.


Can you clarify for me here what you mean when you say that there are "very strong sanctions against harm to children". These sanctions - are they objectively binding (if so how?) If on the other hand they are merely biological conventions that have arisen as a result of evolution then they aren't actually binding - and you're back in the position where the priest's action is merely counter evolutionary - not actually 'wrong'.

The fact that a convention has arisen over time because it 'works' is in no way a perfect basis for making it logically binding as you suggest. Far from it. The same logic could be applied to religion by stating that religion has helped society to cohere over time and thus it is a perfect basis for making it a logically binding imperative. Surely not a position you wish to adopt?
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#17  Postby ChasM » Mar 28, 2012 4:06 am

Personally, I don't weep over the idea that there is no objective morality. As societies increase in complexity and inter-connectedness, ethical thinking and practice evolve accordingly, except when thwarted by the pull of tradition and habit. An example: moral codes laid down by some desert dwellers thousands of years ago, codes given their deity's imprimatur in order to give them the sheen of absolute authority. I prefer a more dialectical approach to morality than ready answers from some old book and some ecclesiastical authority. It's messier and, by gosh, requires some thinking, and, god forbid, I might have to flip-flop on an issue, but I find it worth it in the end.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#18  Postby MrFungus420 » Mar 28, 2012 4:20 am

promethean wrote:Rather my observation is simply that if you accept the hardline atheistic worldview an inevitable consequence of that is that the concepts of freewill, moral objectivity and love don't make any sense or do not even exist.


I disagree whole-heartedly.

I experience both free-will and love. I can discuss these concepts with others and conclude that they are having similar experiences, thus validating to some degree my acceptance of them as existing. In the case of love, there are specific physiological changes associated with different types of love, specific, different hormonal changes linked to those feelings. That gives us physical evidence that love exists.

Now, the case can be made both for and against free-will from a base of either theism or atheism, so that is a complete non-starter. I don't think that it particularly matters whether we actually have free-will or just the illusion of free-will. From our perspective the result is the same.

I will, however, deny that there is ultimate moral objectivity. Morals are determined by society. As societies have changed over the millennia, their morals have changed to become more and more beneficial to the society on the whole. That is why the Bible supports slavery, that was the prevailing morality of the time.

The foundation of morality:

Group A:
Me: I don't want to be killed or stolen from or raped or anything else like that.
You: Hey...I don't want to worry about that stuff either.
Me: I know some other people that also agree, let's get together with them and agree that those things are wrong. Then we ca help protect each other and help ensure that we don't have to worry about those kind of things.

Group B:
Me: I just want to kill and rape and steal.
You: Me too, let's group together.
<Kill each other>

Which group is more likely to survive and become the "blueprint" for other groups, A or B?

And that is all ignoring the fact that I can examine the possible consequences of my actions and take that into account. It is also ignoring the fact that we are instinctively empathic so can understand how something affects another.

Or, how about the simple fact that we have evolved as a social species, that we have only survived as a social species? Evolution could predict that we would have to be good in groups just to survive because we are so poorly equipped individually compared to so many other animals.

One lion versus one human with a spear = one well-fed lion.
One lion versus 8 humans with spears = one nice lion rug

Show me any animal that lives is a group, be it a pack, a herd, a pod. etc that does not have many of the same behaviors that we consider to be moral (such as protecting the group, working to protect and raise the young, not wantonly killing each other, etc.). We can see the rudimentary basics of morals in those animals.

There are evolutionary reasons for societal morals, there are ways to reason out morals, there are selfish reasons to adopt morals and there are altruistic ones. It would be impossible for any society to exist without morals.

promethean wrote:However atheists (in my experience) all act and live out their lives as though these concepts did exist. This means many atheists are living lives that contain massive internal logical inconsistencies -


There is much of my position. Where are the internal, logical inconsistencies?

promethean wrote:whilst simultaneously claiming an intellectual high ground over theists.


That is just plain wrong. I may claim an intellectual or educational "high-ground" over some individuals, but not of any group like that.

I merely maintain that I have never seen any reason to accept the claims that a god exists.

promethean wrote:As an atheist do you acknowledge that free will, moral objectivity and love do not exist?


Free-will: Doesn't matter.
Morals: Exists. Objectivity: Doesn't
Love: Exists
Atheism alone is no more a religion than health is a disease. One may as well argue over which brand of car pedestrians drive.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#19  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 28, 2012 4:44 am

@promethean: Spinozagalt has already effectively corrected your misconceptions of "objective morality" and why it's erroneous to believe that we can only accept moral objectivism or moral relativism, as if there were no other ethical possibilities. And, as he correctly points out, even if atheists were forced into a position of moral relativism, this does not mean he cannot criticise other moral systems and suggest that his way is better than others.

The second illusion offered by the atheistic worldview is the existence of free will. Do you believe that humans have free will? Are we able to exert our mental will to make a decision that is not actually controlled by the physical condition of the universe – or is everything predetermined? Again the atheist has a difficulty in answering this question either way. If one claims we do have free will then the question must be asked how is this possible? Because free will as thus understood cannot be explained by the scientific method as by very definition it not an application of predictable scientific law but an outworking of metaphysical cognition.


Why would the atheist position have to be explainable by science? The atheist could be a panpsychist, who believes that everything is conscious (thus allowing for free will). They could be dualists, who believe that reality is composed of two substances; matter and mind, and free will is the interaction of mind with matter. They could even be idealists or solipsists who don't believe that our actions are confined to the physical world or physical laws. Or we can adopt a compatabilist position like that of Dennett or Ainslie. Accepting free will as an atheist isn't a problem.

On the atheistic worldview it makes sense to state that we do not have free will and that all that is at work are the blind forces of nature. But again the atheist cannot maintain this position with any credibility as they proceed with their lives. Without free will it makes no logical sense to praise another individual or blame them for their actions – yet no one can live consistently in this way.


Of course it does. Praise increases desirable behaviors and blame decreases undesirable behaviors - we have a perfectly coherent system that does not require freely willed actions. This is why no serious philosopher would argue that the lack of free will means the lack of morality or lack of responsibility.

So many atheists instead adopt a position whereby deep down they know that they have no foundation for a belief in free will, but they choose to believe in the illusion of free will in order to function.


Suppose that's true - so what? People use many cognitive heuristics to get through the world. For example, your vision is not continuous. For hours within a waking day you are blind, as every time you move your eyeball you blink. The brain creates an illusion that your vision is continuous in order to avoid the reality of the situation (i.e. that your vision is choppy and is constantly blacking out your field of view). There is no foundation in believing that our vision is continuous, but we believe in the illusion of it because it is useful.

And, of course, it should be pointed out that many people live without even the illusion of free will. Some people find the illusion useful and comforting, and for others its unnecessary.

The third atheistic illusion is that of love. Do you believe it is possible to love another human being? What does this actually mean? On an atheistic, mechanistic worldview love is reduced to a chemical response, or an encoding that is effective for genetic transfer.


What? Why would an atheist need to believe that? That sounds more like a moronic materialist who doesn't understand the subject they're discussing.

If an atheist does believe in romantic love then what does that even mean?


It can mean a wide range of things, depending on what personal beliefs that particular atheist happens to hold. "Love" for some atheists can be the idea that the person you are with is your cosmic soulmate, who the universe has brought you to in some fated sense. For others, it's simply a description of a set of emotions and behavioral sequences, no different from anger or guilt or envy.

Yet if they don’t believe in love then how nonsensical are the most intimate relationships that we have? How can you say to your spouse: “I love you” when what you mean is: “the neural connections in my brain have been conditioned to initiate pleasure responses when I see a woman with a symmetrically appropriate body proportion for maximum chance of reproductive success”. No, far simpler, as an atheist, to acknowledge that we are just evolutionary developed gene carriers who formulate relationships purely for instinctive reproduction – and yet at the same time to maintain a belief in love so that you can ‘enjoy’ an illusionary relationship.


This sentence makes no sense. An atheist would not need to adopt such a reductionist view of love.

As an atheist it occurred to me that I had no logical foundation for a belief in: morality, free will, or love but I was choosing to believe in these things despite any evidence to support their existence. In fact I was pretty sure these things were fictions but I was trying to have ‘faith’ in them all the same. If you are an atheist and you want to be logically consistent then you need to give up your beliefs in morality, free will and love. But you can’t do it. No one can – no one has. It dawned on me that as an atheist, to some extent, I was as guilty as I had thought the Christians were in erecting an illusion to believe in, rather than genuinely seeking the truth.


Unfortunately for you, there doesn't appear to be any problem for atheism in those areas. Instead, the problem lies solely and entirely with your ignorance of the philosophy and science underpinning all those subjects, including the very basic concept of what atheism is and what positions it must accept. You seem to have rejected your atheism based on logical fallacies, confused thinking, misconceptions, and even outright lies.
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Re: The Illusions of Atheism

#20  Postby Xeno » Mar 28, 2012 4:46 am

promethean, before replying I will take up this point from your reply to Shrunk, because it is quite important to me.
promethean wrote: my OP is a challenge to the atheistic position of claiming that there are no objective moral values and then behaving as if there were.

Then from my point of view you are challenging thin air, or a straw man you have constructed.

I do not consider there are objective moral values as opposed to values functionally effective toward agreed moral objectives arising from evolution and early cognitive functioning. If you were to claim that I act as if there is objective morality then I consider you would be reading fairly obvious moral acts in your own preferred terms without considering there may be an alternative moral structure which commonly arrives at the same conclusions. Indeed, I could say that for the most part you act morally for human reasons for which goddism provides an additional source of potential corruption but that would be something of a generalisation on my part.

promethean wrote:Can you clarify for me here what you mean when you say that there are "very strong sanctions against harm to children". These sanctions - are they objectively binding (if so how?) If on the other hand they are merely biological conventions that have arisen as a result of evolution then they aren't actually binding - and you're back in the position where the priest's action is merely counter evolutionary - not actually 'wrong'.

You seem terribly hung up on "objectively binding". Why do you presume there must be an external agency, outside broad human control, to establish any law or behaviour? What do you mean by "binding" that does not beg the question of a god?

The fact that a convention has arisen over time because it 'works' is in no way a perfect basis for making it logically binding as you suggest. Far from it. The same logic could be applied to religion by stating that religion has helped society to cohere over time and thus it is a perfect basis for making it a logically binding imperative. Surely not a position you wish to adopt?

Has morality changed over time, from the OT to the NT for example, and further to today? If you wish to take that as other than rhetorical then please answer without cherry-picking or reading into the bible what current morality tells you to read.

Religion may well have served functions useful for social cohesion, teaching and calming fears in times past. For some people it still does today. That is not a reason to persist with something so obviously baseless and unhelpful, any more than ancient slave-keeping argues I should continue slavery today.
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