Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Atheist Movement

132 days 7 hours until the first class starts.

Yesterday, I started the matriculation process so that I can actually be taking that class this fall. I indicated my agreement to all of their terms and conditions and set up my student account. I have a student email address now.

I need to figure out how I am going to handle having two names . . . Richard Fyfe (which is the name I use in the real world) and Alonzo Fyfe (which is the name I have used in my writings - as Alonzo is my middle name).

Anyway . . . I was sent a long message yesterday asking my opinions about the future of the atheist movement. I found it odd to be getting such a list of questions, since I am not a representative of the atheist movement. I have "atheist" in the blog title because of a rampant prejudice against atheists when it comes to ethics - the idea that religion is required for morality. However, other than that, I consider the question of whether a god exists to be relatively unimportant.

The reason I consider it unimportant is because the proposition "a god exists" says nothing about what is right or wrong. It has no moral implications whatsoever. In order to get a moral implication, you need to add something else to this statement. You have to say that morality requires that we obey God and that God requires that we kill anybody who works on the Sabbath. One can question both of these additional premises without touching the question of whether or not a god exists.

One does not even need to challenge the assumption that God created morality.

Here's an example that I often use. A theist believes that God created trees. However, there is no fear that, because atheists deny the existence of God, that they also deny the existence of trees. Atheists acknowledge that trees exist - they just deny that their origin is in God.

The same can be said about morality. An atheist can agree that the wrongness of slavery exists - but it denies that a god is responsible for its existence. In fact, it is easy to demonstrate that slavery does not depend on god for its existence because . . . can god make slavery a good thing? This is the famous Euthyphro argument. Morality has to be something that exists independent of God, or it would not be possible for God to be morally good.

So, I just haven't cared to argue about the existence of god and, I think, because of this I have not been a spokesperson for the atheist movement.

Well, here is my response to that questionnaire. To explain the answer a little - questions 1 through 8 had to do with how I would handle absurd religious beliefs. I gave an answer applicable to all of them. Then, on the issue of the future of the atheist movement, I gave more detailed answers.

(The answer is lightly edited - as those who are familiar with my writing know that I am prone to do.)

I find it odd that you would consider me a representative of the atheist movement. I have never held any type of leadership position and am not often cited as an authority.

A part of the reason for that is, I think, the fact that I do not consider being an atheist to be that important. I have an analogy I use to explain my priorities.

Assume that you and several hundred other people are on a spaceship that crashes on a planet with no hope of rescue. You have two options.

Option 1: come to a unanimous agreement on the existence of God, then look for food, clean water, shelter, security, and caring for the injured.

Option 2: get to work providing people with food, clean water, medical care, and security.

Well, here we are, 7.5 billion of us, crash-landed on this planet. Lots of us do not have enough clean water, food, or security. Many need medical care and they are not getting it. I don't think convincing people that their god belief is mistaken is the top priority.

Be that as it may, I identify myself as atheist to push back against the bigoted sentiment that atheists lack morals. But, generally, when I meet a stranger my first question is not, "Do you believe in god?" It is, "Will you help me to provide the global poor with clean water, food, medical care, and security?"

(9) Figureheads: Please note that atheists do not select their figureheads. The press selects them – they select the people that they will put in front of the camera and show to their audience. Naturally, they are going to select figureheads in virtue of their potential to boost ratings, not according to their ability to represent the atheist community. In fact, it is quite the opposite – they are going to prefer people with provocative and interesting messages over somebody whose message is boring.

(10) Schools: This may only be tangentially related to what you wrote here, but I do hold that atheist organizations should create private schools – and collect money from school vouchers and other sources of funding that is currently going to religious schools.

(11) Atheist Entrepreneurship: William Lane Craig is a showman – an entrepreneur. He knows that his station depends on selling entertainment. That does not mean that he does not believe what he says, but, at the same time, he knows that he is in the job of selling a product. The best comparison to WLC would be Bill Mahar – an atheist who recognizes that he, too, has to sell a product.

(12) Goals: Going with what I said above, my outlet – and the outlet I would recommend for atheists – are organizations such as the Party of Reason and Purpose (PORP). This organization, at least in its inception, seeks evidence-based government policy. Technically, it is not an atheist organization, but it has attracted a large body of atheists. I would object to making atheism a requirement for participation, but it is easy to see why atheists would be interested in evidence-based public policy. So far, it has demonstrated this concern. However, I do fear that it will become a "think tank" for rationalizing a liberal/progressive agenda - evaluating the evidence according to how well it supports a political agenda, rather than evaluating a political agenda according to how well it is supported by the evidence.

(13) Groups: Large movements are going to fracture into groups. It’s human nature. Rather than complain about what other groups are doing, the best option is to form or join a group that represents one’s ideals (see “PORP” mentioned above).

My main reason for finding value in an organization such as PORP is because it is interested in evidence-based politics. It is interested in providing food, water, medical care, and security as mentioned above. It (so far) discounts individual prejudices and is seeking to look at the available evidence to determine what ideas are actually worth supporting. I think – such an organization cannot help but improve the image of atheists, and do some good in the process. After all, these two goals go hand-in-hand.


FredT said...

No god cuts the foundation of religions, thus religions are fraudulent organizations. This makes religions less powerful against us, and we recognize them as criminal organizations.

Morality is more about our empathy to others and common/cultural/social behavior than anything else.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Everybody has at least one false belief. The mere fact that somebody has made an error is not sufficient grounds to condemn them - not unless we are willing to condemn ourselves.

Of these false beliefs, some are more important than others, due to their effects.

Because a belief that a god exists, or that god created the universe, itself, has no implications for behavior, it is not the type of false belief that I am particularly interested in confronting.

Unknown said...

Where can i learn more about this class and sign up?

FredT said...

"itself, has no implications for behavior," - if you believe that, I am done.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

the key word is "itself".

Another way of expressing the same claim is to say that no 'ought' statement can be derived from the premise that at least one god exists without adding at least one other premise. And . . . yeah . . . I will hold to this.