What is the advantage of Atheism?

Randy writes in an earlier thread:

I took you up on your offer to drop by. I don’t know if you had a chance to look through my practical reason to be an atheist or practical reasons to be Christian on http:www.ideaplace.blogspot.com?

After arguing with a personal friend about atheism (He claims “no possibility of God,” for 20+ years, I finally shut him up with the question, “What are the practical advantages of being an atheist.” This question was then put to the readership of Skeptic magazine, and I received over 100 replies, primarily from atheists. The answers fell into about 10 specific groups which I then address on my blog.

I have also engaged in extensive debates on a huge forum which might be of interest to both of you. http://www.blogcritics.com. These debates and others on the subject that I haven’t participated in are in the archives.

For the most part, intellectual atheists say the practical advantage is not being constrained by a particular set of dogma. They want the freedom to be able to explore all possible answers. Ironically, most atheists are willing to explore any answer except Chrisitianity.

Almost all atheists that I have debated have had a bad experience with Christian churches or people. One exception would be the president of Skeptic, Michael Shermer, who slowly gave up an adult decision for Christ as he studied college level science. He became skeptical of anything he couldn’t see. Even today, he describes himself more as an agnositc.

The most compelling argument for atheists and agnostics in my opinion, is that given there is a God, which one?

13 Responses to What is the advantage of Atheism?

  1. The Atheist says:

    Welcome to the blog, Randy! I’m very glad you dropped by and I look forward to hearing your perspective! I hope you don’t mind that I started a new thread with your post. I would prefer to give visitors a chance to start their own new posts but I’m new to WordPress and I don’t know how yet. I did chance to looked at a few articles on your site. Also, I want to apologize for taking so long to respond – I’ve had trouble with my Comcast connection all weekend and this morning.

    Before I answer your question, let me clarify my position a little to give my answer some better context. I consider myself a “weak atheist” with regard to the possibility of some hypothetical god existing: that is, I don’t believe that any god exists, but I also don’t believe that there is enough evidence to prove that he doesn’t exist either. So I reach this conclusion from the absence of evidence rather than the existence of evidence. On the other hand, I consider myself a “strong atheist” with regard to any particular concept of God (like the God of the Bible for example), or at least the religious concepts of God that I’m familiar with. In other words, I believe that there is indeed evidence to deny that such gods exist.

    Now, to address your question: “What are the practical advantages of being an atheist.”

    I will agree with the majority answer that you already got from your previous discussion: the only real practical advantages of atheism is more freedom to think for myself. But bare in mind that one does not usually chose a belief based on it’s advantages! In the words of George Bernard Shaw: “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” People form beliefs because their life experience supports those beliefs. Some terminal cancer patients believe they will survive and some believe they will die. The ones that believe they will survive might have the advantage of being happier up until the end, but the ones that know they will die are more correct in their belief.

  2. Brantley Harris says:

    My brand of atheism is akin to The Atheist above, and my reasoning is rather simple: If there does turn out to be a god, it/he/she will undoubtedly be very compassionate/understanding and therefore would understand how I came to my decision. Simply put: the whole thing just doesn’t matter. I think Russel would agree with me.

    To me the biggest advantage is to be able to live my life for today, rather than for some future after death. Secular humanism is among the most lofty of noble thoughts, to me. In that philosophy one works for humanity, not because of the overbearing eye of god, but because one truly wants to advance humanity itself. In a sense, there have been some very noble secular humanists that were religious, e.g. George Washington Carver; they weren’t doing it to get into heaven.

    But also, most everyone I have ever met that is religious is so based on an emotional desire; they find great consternation in even the smallest logical doubt, although they hide this from themselves, as best they can, with assertations of the opposite. Say what you want, but it’s simply illogical to believe any fact presented by an oral or written tradition, especially one that has been translated again and again by essentially politicians. But deep down, I assert, this is known to even the most devout believer, and thusly creates a whirlwind of chaos in the mind, that must be soothed by constant communal reinforcement. The atheist is free from tradition, free to look at the subject with almost entirely objective eyes. Surely there are atheist with vendettas, but at least for me, it is mostly about freeing my thought process from the social norm. In fact, I would say that it is my ability to see past the socially enforced ideas to a more objective truth that makes me an atheist.

    I think this is the most compelling question for an athiest or agnostic to a religious person:
    If your parents where Muslim, do you really think you would be a Christian? (or of course, vice-versa, etc.)

  3. The Atheist says:

    Well said, Brantley — especially the part about the virtue of doing good without expecting a reward. That is by far more noble than expecting good deeds to earn rewards in the afterlife!

    For my part, I wouldn’t care to venture a guess about whether God, if it turns out that he does exist, is compassionate, understanding, etc. Maybe he is. Or maybe he’s mischievous; which would explain why he would hide himself from us — and why he would create mosquitoes ;) Or maybe he’s completely aloof and just doesn’t care if we know about him or not. Maybe he’s not omnipresent and just doesn’t live here any more.

    If you don’t limit yourself to the various images of God that the various religions paint. the possibilities are endless! Of course, given lack of evidence for any of these Gods or any God at all, it makes the most sense to believe that he doesn’t. We don’t believe things because they are remotely possible, we believe things because we have reasons to believe them.

  4. Depending on the country you live in there may be very little advantage in being an Atheist, in fact it may be life threatening to be one ,that being said – the greatest advantage to me is freedom of mind.

  5. The Atheist says:

    That’s an EXCELENT observation!! And in certain countries, it may be an equal disadvantage to be Christian, Jew, or Muslim.

    But I don’t think it addresses the fallacy the question, “What is the advantage of atheism?” One does not choose to believe that God does or does not exist because the belief offers an advantage. One believes because one is compelled, hopefully by evidence. Anything less is not belief at all but only wishful thinking.

  6. Bobby says:

    Allow me to reiterate please. One consumes him.herself in a given daily ethics and morality based presented by a particular environmental, nurtured, and/or spiritual nature. This to operate in a given manner in this world. Now subtract the spiritual, we’re still left with influences and/or inspirations that form our way of thought. Really nothing has changed. The advantages and disadvantages which we experience throughout our day are circumstantial. Some we have control on some we don’t. Reliance on a given doctrine of living has nothing to do with having a spiritual belief. Being cool with everyone, sharing ones sustenance (physical/mental) with those that need it, not being judgmental, not imposing your beliefs on anyone, not stealing any ones sustenance, etc, is a fraction of a doctrine adapted by any given individual who is influenced by civilization and education (knowledge). So where does the absence of a belief in a divine existence fall here? Is there an opportunity cost belief or substitute belief? Like one can say that I believe that the school system should not force difficult mathematics on children, they should adapt to the childs learning ability and so forth and provide courses thereof. One dismisses one but there’s an alternative, that’s what I’m curious about. A particular doctrine is dismissed, is there an alternate one adapted, I guess that……could be an advantage. No then one is saying that my doctrine is better than others, you know? The real advantage could be that one has a choice to dismiss/renounce any belief and there’s no persecution by the given state law where one resides. Who cares about anything else? Finger pointing, labeling, there’s nothing to defend here, only the absence of a spiritual belief, and why defend a chosen path. Thank you.

    Harris

  7. your right there, no reason not to be one

  8. Damian says:

    I see this question in much the same light as “What’s the advantage of owning your house over renting?”.

    If you believe in an afterlife it can often hold you back from truly owning this one. If I’m renting I’m not really allowed to repaint the house in the colours I want or knock out a wall or two because the I don’t own it and it never really feels like home.

    As an atheist I have the freedom to do whatever I like with my life and the consequences of my actions are entirely on my shoulders. I am constrained only by my common sense. If you’ve ever rented for a long period of time and then bought a house you may get a feel for what I’m saying.

  9. The Atheist says:

    Damian,

    Inspiring analogy – I like it!

    In the final analysis, whether we benefit more by believing or doubting has little to do with whether or not actually God exists or not. Personally, what ever the truth is, I would prefer to know it and then make the best of it (as you suggest). On the other hand, I can appreciate that others may prefer the comfort of blind faith to that knowledge – kind of like the person with terminal cancer that instructs the doctor not to tell him how long he has left.

  10. Damian says:

    Very true. In a conversation with a friend recently we discussed whether we should strive for the truth no matter the cost. As first I am tempted to say ‘yes’ off the bat but what if we are all just brains in jars? Would we be happier with our delusions? Almost certainly.

    Daniel Dennett spends a bit of time dwelling on this issue in Breaking The Spell. He asks whether exposing the truth about belief in the supernatural may actually be more harmful than simply leaving it be.

    I have to say I don’t know the answers to these questions. What do you think? Do you think we are better off knowing the truth no matter the cost?

  11. The Atheist says:

    I read Breaking the Spell just recently. It was a good book – a little slow starting off, but Dennett is thorough and poses some really good questions. I don’t think everyone necessarily would be better off knowing that they are a brain in a vat, but personally, I would prefer to know regardless. Maybe I just prefer knowing that I’m the kind of person who would prefer to know ;) The harder question for me would be, “OK, now that I know… now what?!” Just continue with business as usual? Continue to work and worry about money? Travel?… there’s nothing really “out there” to see :)) Not sure what I would do after the revelation. Did you and your friend get that far in your thinking?

    In a way, we really are brains in a vat. If our perception of the universe (i.e., the way “red” looks or the way sand feels) is different from what the universe is “really like” (whatever that means… how does space “feel” and how does an superstring sound? How big is “big”?), then the nerves that route data from our sense organs to our brains are sort of the vat in which our brains live. We may have an image of the universe that is completely divorced from what’s really “out there.” We might take some comfort in not knowing how disjoint our image really is.

    Oops! Now you know that you really are a brain in a vat!! Sorry to spill the beans :p

    This discussion reminds me of The Matrix where Morpheus offers Neo the red and blue pills. Then later in the movie, Cypher muses that he bets that Neo wishes he’d taken the blue pill instead. Or when Morpheus and Neo fight and Morpheus asks Neo, “Is that air you are breathing?”

    Back to your comment about Dennett, I’m not sure that every individual would be better off knowing that God does not exist. I do think society as a whole would be the better for it. But as you point out and as Dennett says in his book, we’re just guessing without the data he proposes to gather. It’s a good point.

  12. Datdamwuf says:

    You said: “Ironically, most atheists are willing to explore any answer except Chrisitianity.”

    I really disagree with this statement, myself and most atheists/agnostics I know have thoroughly investigated a lot of religions, explored them, in your terms. The proper comment is that “most atheists have explored many religions, including Christitianity and rejected them based on rational thought processes”. In fact I venture to say that more atheists have actually read the bible and other religious texts than the people that believe in them. It is a big reason why we are atheists.

    To your main topic, who cares about the practical aspects? What are the practical aspects to being a Christian or Muslim? Would you change your religion or become an atheist if if was more practical to do so?

  13. The Atheist says:

    Datdamwuf,

    Welcome to the site and thanks for posting! You are quite right about the original statement, “most atheists are willing to explore any answer except Chrisitianity.” A recent thread on this blog,
    Atheists Read the Bible in More Detail Than Christian
    , is evidence of exactly the reverse!

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