All of you religious nutters out there probably believe you’ve known this for some time, but I’m discovering that atheist/agnostic students can be just as unreasonable, pig-headed, irrational, rude, lazy and just plain stoopid as any given believer. As a regular participant in a atheist/agnostic discussion forum at my university, infantile debates are raging on vegetarianism and evolution, and some parties to these debates seem to have decided that – once they give up on god, Santa and the Tooth Fairy – their logical fortress can no longer be breached and they no longer have any obligation to even try to present coherent arguments. It’s all very sad and tawdry.
The question of whether belief in god is rational or not seems presume an answer to a prior, and perhaps more important question – namely: do we want belief in god to be rational, as opposed to being fruitful, joyous, beautiful, etc.? To put it another way, it’s long been of interest to me why this contest is often fought in the domain of rationality, where everyone who is not a supernaturalist of some sort agrees that there is no possibility of providing any sort of knock-down argument for belief in god, at least where arguments are understood to follow standard rules of logic, involving non-contradiction, the possibility of refutation, and where conclusions are adopted once they are shown to be the best justified of available alternatives.
Rather, the more compelling arguments in favour of belief in god point to various benefits of believing in god, whether these benefits are social, psychological or moral. While it’s far from clear that any of these other purported benefits hold up to scrutiny, or can’t be purchased at lower cost from other sources, it seems to me that we’d need to adopt a definition of “rational” that is essentially teleological (goal-based), rather than one that aims at truth, for it to be possible for belief in god to be described as rational.
On a track from Heathen, David Bowie demands “a better future”, and after watching Jesus Camp yesterday, I’m inclined to agree with him. The movie isn’t great, as the basic message could have been conveyed in an 45-minute documentary rather than a feature-length film, but it still serves as a powerful reminder of the insidious and growing power of religious fundamentalism in society, and politics in particular.
- Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion – Jonathan Haidt
- Some responses to the above.
- One of the respondents above, Marc Hauser, on the neuroscience of morality. A further interview with Hauser here.
- Another of the respondents, Sam Harris, gave a typically provocative address at the recent Atheist Alliance conference in Washington D.C.
- And finally, Hitchens’ account of his recent book tour to promote God is not Great shouldn’t be missed.
As an atheist of the militant persuasion, it’s somewhat odd that in the past two weeks I’ve spent significant time in deep conversation with a preacherman. Sometimes you need to call in the specialists, and the situation demanded a specialist of his description.
The strangest part of the experience, however, was finding that the urge to label myself inconsistent in having this interaction was insignificantly weak, and in the end rested on something linguistic rather than principled. And I mention this because it’s immensely liberating to realise that one can be as principled as always, without those principles trumping all other interests.
Another potential cost associated with religious belief was brought to mind last night in a conversation over dinner: we have deferred so much of our human symbolic activity to official representatives of social institutions (preachers and the like), that we no are no longer as able to generate ritual significance ourselves.
After many decades of guilt and denial, it appears that Christians have finally discovered a way to integrate porn into god’s plan. This is achieved through “Loving Wife Spanking in a Christian Marriage“.