Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Utility of Atheism

Dear Internet Diary,

Read on a skeptic board:

Being an atheist conveys no utility in the utilitarianistic sense. You can't use "being an atheist" to unlock any puzzles or solve any mysteries. Simply put, it isn't good for anything; it cannot be used.

I'm no utilitarian, but I think this person is getting everything backwards. If everything that is true is useful, then by definition atheism must be useful. But that's besides the point. "Useful" is a kind of subjective term when you're a collectivist. It might be more useful to society to force women to have X number of babies. It might be useful in society to force people into certain mating pairs. It might be useful to promote hoaxes like Christianity in order to keep people in line.

It's really not the point of atheism to "be useful." It's not a worldview. There are atheistic worldviews, but atheism in itself is just not believing in any gods. Not that it isn't useful to reject unproven or outrageous claims. Here's another use: it's called self-accountability. I would argue that it's better to use critical thinking than magical thinking. Not that it's required in not believing in Gods. But this fellow who suggested this nonsense thinks that atheism is a religion. If it were, I would say that materialism as a religion is much more useful and constructive than most religions. If it were a religion, invariably it would be a reverence for reason, reality, science, The World, life, and freedom of thought. Much better than death and hatred of the self.

Unfortunately, it's not. Fortunately, atheists are free to have worldviews that are constructive.

Thanks for listening.


Anonymous said...

Atheism unlocks the possibility of actual knoweledge and values. I'd say that's pretty damn useful and does indeed help to "solve puzzles". Even for a utilitarian, the person quoted seems to have a very dim view of utiilty.

Anonymous said...

Hello Aleee and friends. Glad to know you’re out there. I have several comments to make of this post, so I’m going to parse it out and have at it. I hope you don’t mind the repetition.

“You can’t use ‘being an atheist’ to unlock any puzzles or solve any mysteries.” You can’t use religious belief to unlock any (etc.) either, unless you prefer illogical and self-serving conclusions to the scientific method. Religious answers consist of opinions and belief (most of them badly founded) not fact, and is therefore useless as proof of anything without collaborating evidence.

“Simply put, it isn’t good for anything; ...” Atheism is good for the survival of the species, if not necessarily good for the survival of the individual in this culture. It insures that there are a number of individuals that will not follow religious leaders lemming like, blindly over a figurative cliff, should the Jim Joneses of the world wind up on top. Therefore the race has an insurance policy over the logically expectable dead end of religion.

“If everything that is true is useful, then by definition atheism must be useful.” As you point out in so many words later in this paragraph, truth is relative. Therefore, this cannot be used as an ipso facto argument unless one concedes that everything that exists is, by some definition, true. Another problem with this logical argument can be demonstrated like this: It is true that I will never be instantaneously transformed into a sentient sub-atomic particle. Knowing this is not particularly useful (outside of its usefulness as an example here).

“(Atheism) is not a world view.” This, I guess depends on your definition of “world view”. Does it affect the way you view the world? Do you believe that you are the center of your own space-time continuum (relative universe)? Does an idea require popularity beyond one person’s acceptance to be a world view?

“Unfortunately, (Atheism) is not (a religion)” Here we are in complete agreement. It is unfortunate that atheism cannot act as methadone to the opium of religion.

Hellbound Alleee said...

I guess I shouldn't have said that "unfortunately, atheism is not a religion." It's not unfortunate. Because, as I said, a person who does not believe in gods is free to have constructive worldviews. It's important that one does not believe in a god, because it allows one to build a positive worldview based upon material relality. That's the way to affect positive change while giving proper respect to The World and what exists inside it. There is only room for destruction when one's worldview is that The World is useless, and only things "outside" the universe is worthy of respect.

Anyone is free to make a religion and call it "Atheism," if they wish. But I go by the word-origin/latin definition (the pure one) of atheism, using Strong Atheism to descibe a positive "belief," for want of a better word.

Francois Tremblay said...

I also forgot to mention that utilitarianism is dangerous nonsense - almost as bad as Christianity.