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The limits of atheism

22 May 2012, 12:01

Atheism is just about nothing. It has just one proposition - that God, gods, deities, whatever, doesn’t/don’t exist. And that’s it. Nothing follows from this proposition. It’s sole logical consequence is that an atheist answers “No” if asked about belief in God.

I suppose it could be argued that atheism allows or enables anything and everything but that’s another version of nothing: it would allow its own contradiction.

Some atheists claim that atheism supports “freedom of thought.” It’s an odd claim. It’s truth is entirely dependent on the existence of a god who or which restricts thought; an existence atheists obviously deny. 

Ok, don’t worry that was just a freedom of thought warm-up and not too serious except in the sense that it is.

Let’s go on. Because atheism is just about nothing it leaves little for atheists to talk about or do. That means they have to find something else to talk about and do.

Arrival Atheists

Some like Jean-Paul Sartre are arrival-atheists. They analyse whatever and find no god concluding he doesn't exist. Sartre  did an impressively turgid analysis of being and non-being and being human. He found no God in being. His ideas about human being, freely thought without god or religious restriction, was self-restricted by his search for meaning in existence but is full of interesting ideas. He found no meaning in human existence which is something like not finding something that's not there anyway. But he did think that people shouldn’t be horrible to each other and developed a nice humanism.

Crusader Atheists

Other atheists including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and some of those that contribute to this forum, emboldened by atheism, embark on anti-religion and anti-god crusades.

 Their crusade has good entertainment value - a good part of it for just how wrong they get the religions they attack.

Yes, they do get something right. One is when they say Biblical accounts are not science. They are not. That’s not rocket science so to speak but still, yes, atheists are right. They also get it right when they confront those who seek to impose Biblical accounts and the theories derived from them as science in school curricula.

What they get wrong though is religion and the role of deities in them. So, to be fair, do many members of the religions.  

A popular crusader-atheist point of view is that all manner of horrendous (evil) things are and have been perpetrated in the name of religions and the deities that are involved in them.  That’s true enough.

Because atheism doesn’t have a definition of good or bad or evil or wrong, they use religion’s ideas on the basis that if they find internal contradictions they will be a kind of anti-matter that will snuff out the religion. Religions, they say, are aimed at good, their members do bad therefore they are wrong. The crusader-atheists also argue more or less that the deities involved can’t exist because if they did with the attributes ascribed to them they wouldn’t allow it.

Their conclusion is that  because of the amount of evil caused by religions that serve the non-existent deities, they should be disbanded.

While it’s a bit of disconnected argument that doesn’t really amount to much, let’s take them at their word. Let’s imagine crusader-atheists are right and all theist activities and institutions stopped just after 14:30 pm on an average Tuesday … it would have to be a Tuesday wouldn’t it?

What would happen? Would all the problems laid at theistic doors disappear? Would wars suddenly stop? Would sexual predators stop doing what they do and start sushi courses? Would terrorism stop? Would shoplifting stop?  Would peace and goodwill descend on Earth? I wonder.

Arguments to be convincing should be based on meaningful and verifiable facts. They should also be based whole facts and not part facts. Crusader-atheist arguments fail this test. 

It is a fact that bad things have been done in the name of religions. Others who don’t claim religious membership also do bad things. Not all and not even remotely close to all bad things are or have been done by religious people. So it is nowhere near a verifiable whole truth fact that religions are the cause or the root of evil. Its not even a truth that the religions have failed.

The whole truth

But there is one relevant indisputable whole-truth fact. It has no exceptions.  It is completely verifiable and is this: all evil, bad and wrong things are done by people. People do bad, wrong, evil things. And we see those same people are also abysmally creative in justifying the bad things they do. They invent or abuse ideas - colonialism, capitalism, communism, nationalism, patriotism, custom, tribalism, the list is long – to justify wars,  and the other bad things they do, trying to make them good things. The ones with more integrity just do bad things.

The funny thing about the religions crusader-atheists want to dismantle, is that they know this whole-truth verifiable fact. They understand that some things people do, piss off others to the point that others do something about it – leading to serious interpersonal, tribal, community and often enough international conflict. They called the “pissing off things” bad, wrong and evil. Some of the scriptwriters called them “sins”.

More than just knowing this, it is part of those religions’ fundamental proposition. Another part is that all people are capable of doing and do things that piss off others; none of us are exempt. Those scriptwriters said people are “fallen” and “born sinners.”

And lest we think we really are exempt because we have hardly killed anyone, bear in mind that the things that cause problems are not just big things like murder, rape and making the serfs do boon work. They are also day-to-day things like: acting out prejudices, unfairly discriminating, making private phone calls on work phones, damaging the environment, walking away from human rights violations; being just plain abusive, violent, mean, selfish, insulting, bullying, jealous and venal.

Another part of the religions’ founding proposition is that it would be better if we didn’t do the things that cause problems. Now that part became a powerful belief, held quite unscientifically in the face of a mass of contrary evidence. There can, religions hold, be a better life if we stop doing so many shitty things.

This is enough to show up crusader-atheists silence on what religion really is. Their silence is ignorance or they find the foundational proposition (its other parts including the God part are easy enough to work out if one has a mind to) too tricky to undermine.

Entertainment section

Because everything has to be entertaining, here is the first scene in a movie that depicts crusader-atheists:

Crusader-atheists, many wearing “look-at-me” signs, scrabble among the bad fruit under a tree saying, “Ugh, this fruit is evil.”

One or two say, “Let’s write books about how bad the fruit is.”

The others join in, “Yes, let’s do that. Let’s also get rid of tree. We’ll talk, argue with the tree and insult it. The tree will fall over.”

People in the tree shout down, “Hey, the fruit up here is good. It’s a wonderful tree. Leave the tree alone.”

“Rubbish, you’re idiots for believing that the fruit can ever be good,” the scrabblers reply, “vrot is vrot.”

Now and again a person jumps or falls from the tree: “All the fruit I ever got was hard, green and kak. Now I know even if it did get ripe, it’ll go bad. I’ll help you shout down the tree.”

The camera zooms out. The tree is huge and old tree, providing plenty, yet also undernourished and damaged. Some people in it hold tightly to its branches; others get good fruit. In other parts of the tree, still others argue and fight over the fruit. They break the branches for weapons. They hit each other, themselves and drop them on the scrabblers below.  Only the loudest voices are heard: “I’ll lead you to the fruit. Give me money.”; “If I can’t have the whole tree, I’ll it blow it up”; “If you sit on this branch every Sunday you will get fruit.”

More drop out the tree saying, “I don’t want to be part of that.”

The scene fades out. The next scene fades in.  The bad-fruit-scrabblers find the Tree of Science. The movie so sadly rolls on and on …

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