Are you an Atheist for the Wrong Reasons?

I stumbled across an article in a Christian publication called “How Peter Singer and Oxford turned me off Atheism” by Sarah Irving-Stonebreaker. Once I got past the usual boilerplate rhetoric of how absolutely “atheisty” she was, “top of her game, future Horseman of the secular apocalypse” burnishing of her educational credentials [which is meant to be somehow more convincing to non believers that her conversion is significant in light of them] she gets to the emotional reason for her change of heart.

From the article:

After Cambridge, I was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at Oxford. There, I attended three guest lectures by world-class philosopher and atheist public intellectual, Peter Singer. Singer recognised that philosophy faces a vexing problem in relation to the issue of human worth. The natural world yields no egalitarian picture of human capacities. What about the child whose disabilities or illness compromises her abilities to reason? Yet, without reference to some set of capacities as the basis of human worth, the intrinsic value of all human beings becomes an ungrounded assertion;

Determinism can be a hard pill to swallow for some folks. Naturalism is the antithesis of the idea of group and individual value and it’s why the notion of afterlife and being redeemed by an unconditionally loving deity is so popular among religionists.

She goes on to say:

I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo; I was committed to believing that universal human value was more than just a well-meaning conceit of liberalism. But I knew from my own research in the history of European empires and their encounters with indigenous cultures, that societies have always had different conceptions of human worth, or lack thereof. The premise of human equality is not a self-evident truth: it is profoundly historically contingent. I began to realize that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.

And there you have it. Faced with the choice of believing in a god given universal human value or dealing with the logical consequence of a world with no god in it, she chose the comfort of faith. Not because there was evidence for a god, but because it felt better emotionally.

She acknowledges this in her further rationale:

Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones.

This makes me sad. People aren’t intrinsically broken. That’s one of the most pernicious lies perpetrated by Christianity. And it makes me angry to think people would accept that the only way they would feel like they have value would be if an imaginary entity provided it.

In conclusion, the secondary banner under the heading reads:

An historian is confronted by evidence for the radical extremes of God

I read the article several times. Nowhere in there did I find any “evidence” of god. I did find a lot of rationalization for succumbing to fantasy. None of it was convincing to me. But it did explain why people who make atheism an ideology rather than a decision about believing in a god based on lack of evidence have miracle conversions to lives steeped in belief.

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5 Responses to Are you an Atheist for the Wrong Reasons?

  1. “Hard determinism” is a fatalistic, and false, version of determinism. Hard determinism is the one that asserts we have no role in causation, but rather act according to an inevitable string of prior causes which somehow manages to bypass us. But that’s not reality.

    You see, determinism doesn’t actually DO anything. The correct definition of determinism is that it is the belief in the reliability of cause and effect. It asserts that objects and forces within our universe behave in a reliable and thus predictable fashion. But determinism itself is neither an object nor a force. Only objects and forces can be said to actually cause any effects. And we happen to be one of those objects that is actually doing the causing.

    With any intelligent species we have 3 distinct levels of causation: physical (passive), biological (purposeful), and rational (deliberate). The laws of physics only address passive behavior. To explain the behavior of an object that moves uphill or climbs a tree to find food, we have to expand our sciences to include biology, genetics, etc. And to explain the behavior of an object that calculates what it will do by imagining alternative scenarios, applying criteria, and choosing, we need the social sciences, like psychology and sociology.

    By convention, we call the process of deciding for ourselves what we WILL do, when FREE of coercion or other undue influence, “a freely formed will”, or simply “free will”. This is not an illusion, but a event that occurs in physical reality.


    • persedeplume says:

      Thanks for visiting and commenting Marvin. I gather we’re the only two discussing determinism this week. 🙂
      For the record, I’m not a hard determinist, although elements of it make sense to me as explanations for human behavior. I’m on the fence still about “free will”. I don’t think we’ll get it sorted out in my lifetime, anyway.
      Welcome! Don’t be a stranger….


      • Thanks! I start with the presumption of perfectly reliable cause and effect. The logical corollary is that everything that happens is always causally inevitable. But this is not something that we can or should be free of. What we inevitably do is exactly identical to us just being us, doing what we do, and choosing what we choose. And that is not a meaningful constraint.

        In fact, without reliable cause and effect we could not reliably cause any effect — we would not be free to do anything at all. Every freedom we have requires a universe of reliable causality.

        But a gun-to-the-head is a meaningful constraint. The guy with the gun is making our choices for us, deciding what we will do, even when it is against our will. Our will is thus subject to his will, and is no longer free. Similar to the gun-to-the-head would be other undue influences, like hypnosis, a brain tumor, or authoritative command (“Johnny, put your coat on or you can’t go out to play!”, “Aw mom, do I have to?”).

        The good news is that pretty much everyone understands this definition of free will, and correctly applies it in most scenarios.

        The paradox is created by the illusion that reliable causality is some kind of constraint. And it’s not.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. keithnoback says:

    So, the conclusion is: Moral realism cannot be ‘grounded’?
    I’m shocked?
    But, I guess I will just ignore the contradictions and act like things have moral properties anyway…


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