Trunthepaige, who awhile back blocked me for winning an argument, deleted my comments and told the christian blogger I had been conversing with in her comment section that she blocked me for calling her a bitch and a cunt (which of course never happened, you can read the whole saga here if you wish), recently wrote yet another blog bashing atheists which showed up in my feed because someone rec’d a comment or something, and I had to log out to read it. The blog (here) and the following comments maintain that atheists have made no contributions to the world and only cause pain and suffering, citing communist dictators as the only “real” atheists and as being entirely motivated by atheism.
When confronted with examples of countless atheists that have done good, such as throngs and hoards of scientists that didn’t believe in a personal god, she claims that their good deeds had nothing to do with atheism. See the double standard? If I murder you, it’s because I’m an evil atheist. If I risk my life to save yours, it’s because I’m around christians and their goodness has rubbed off on me. This reminds me of a page I saw on a creationist website recently which gave a quote from charles darwin where he described the harm that helping the weak does in human society, then concludes:
“Nor can we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature… We must, therefore, bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind.”
The quote was characterized as evidence of darwin’s “brutality” and the page was titled “darwin versus compassion”. People see what they want to see.
Anyway, trun insists that these people only did good and were allowed to do good by merit of christianity. That christianity was the basis for free speech, and that they could not have made their (apparently non-existent) contribution without christian scientists that came before. While this is true it is also true that scientists like isaac newton couldn’t have made their contributions without the work of muslim mathematicians who invented the language of science before him, or the countless pagans which invented the forerunners of his language, the alchemy that became chemistry, the astrology that became astronomy and so on. No human invents their field of research from the ground up, all humans rely on each other (which is a really beautiful concept if you think about it). But in trun’s mind, atheists rely on christians and christians rely on no one. If an atheist helps a christian it’s just the christian’s awesomeness hitting the atheist and bouncing back. I suppose if an atheist saved her from drowning she’d ask him for an apology for not doing it sooner.
This pathological notion that atheists are innately inferior to everyone else can be tested the same way that any bigotry can be tested, by going out and seeing if a subjective mental impression cannot be confounded by real world evidence. If, as many christians in the US maintain, our sole source of morality and kindness and altruism was their religion then the non-christian world would be in chaos, it would be in perpetual violent upheaval, there would be crime rates through the roof and starving people everywhere. And while you can cherry-pick examples of countries in some of these states, none of them that I am aware of are very secular. The most secular countries like sweden and norway are places where people are generally happy, the crime rates are low, there’s little pollution, and they have every indication of a smoothly running, highly developed society. I doubt they’re perfect, but from a statistical point of view they’re not what one would expect if the fundamentalist narrative about morality were true.
The reason is that morality in some sense actually necessarily pre-dates civilization. Without the instinct and desire and lust to do good or an impulse toward solidarity (or conformity, which actually gets us into a lot of trouble much of the time) you can’t have a social species, whether it’s a school of fish or a flock of birds, or a giant metropolis of primates with big brains. You couldn’t have, for instance, meat-eating predators working together in a pack who are often hungry and made of meat without an instinct toward helping and against hurting each other. That being said what we believe is important because our instincts and emotions and all of these guides that are built into our brains are actually informed by our intellect, our knowledge and our perception of reality. If for instance science informs us that smoking while pregnant is harmful to the baby, this allows a mother’s maternal instinct to kick in and make her quit smoking. Without that knowledge her instinct (which is not omniscient) would have sat idly by as she did untold harm to her own flesh and blood.
So what we believe and understand about the world is a vital part of being a good person, making correct decisions and generally having a positive effect on the world. Similarly if there were a hell that would inform our morality, because just like not knowing the effects of smoking makes you ill-equipped to make the decision of whether or not to smoke during pregnancy, so too not knowing about eternal fiery consequences of our actions would make us ill-equipped to make life decisions. If having premarital sex or masturbating would send me (or my loved ones) to a place of eternal doom I’d sure want to know. But just like with any information, the crux is whether that information is reliable or accurate. If there’s a hell it matters, if there isn’t it doesn’t. If smoking is harmful it matters, if it isn’t it doesn’t. And unlike smoking which can be empirically studied, hell is an article of faith. Which to me makes it not something I’m going to base my life upon. But that doesn’t mean there is no basis for morality for the atheist – after all, just like with smoking, it is a fact that unkind words do harm. And physical abuse, and careless action and war and poverty and many, many things. That sometimes my money will help someone else more than it helps me is also a fact. That humility is often beneficial and arrogance can be harmful. That forgiveness allows us to go on with our lives. That we would want compassion if we were in someone else’s shoes.