Quick Roundup 268

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Atheism is not a Worldview

At Spiked, Dolan Cummings comments on the recent efforts of certain atheists to build a group identity movement around atheism:

Richard Dawkins's campaign urging atheists to 'come out' and be counted, is oddly reminiscent of an evangelical rally where born-again Christians are implored to rush down to the stage.


The desire to establish atheism as an alternative identity is ultimately conservative. Rather than joining together with others who share a positive vision of the future, self-styled atheists define themselves against an external threat.
There are two things wrong with such efforts. The obvious one Cummings indicates here: Whether there is a God is just one small question in philosophy. To attempt to do anything with others who answer "No." than (perhaps, within some narrow context) build an ad hoc alliance against various attempts to desecularize the government is in fact quite a stretch.

Less obvious -- but interestingly enough -- partially as a consequence of the first problem -- is that the whole notion of building a "group identity" is based on the underlying altruist assumption that the individual belongs to the group.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to have friends or allies, but before one can do that, one must know with his own mind what is best for himself -- not for some movement, or culture, or "society". Atheism is not sufficient grounds to reach the comprehensive philosophical perspective necessary to determine (for example) whether one should live one's life for its own sake or for a collective. Any given atheist may or may not have enough in common with me to be a genuine ally, so these efforts are worse than premature. Furthermore, to really appreciate this, I had to make my intellectual journey in the only way possible: alone.

By contrast, if one permits his priorities to be set by the expectations of a group to which one wants to "belong", some form of compromise is the inevitable result, even if merely in the form of withholding valid criticism. This kind of separation of one's actions from one's rational judgement is the major goal of religion and where the rubber really hits the road in terms of where it harms man.

In the case of this "identity movement", our culture is saturated with the religiously-inspired ethics of altruism, which most people will hold by default if they do not go beyond just asking whether there is a God. So this movement is inspired by and can only reinforce altruism, and prematurely end the intellectual journey of anyone who joins. Bad idea.

Who is better off in the long run? Someone who can think independently, but who, at the moment believes that there is a God? Or someone who is an atheist, but is too worried about his "group identity" to form his own opinions about other matters or challenge what "the other atheists" are saying?

Financing Murder

Via Isaac Schrodinger comes an interesting look at the relationship between the amount of money handed over to "Palestinians" and the number of homicides they commit each year. Joe Settler's unsurprising conclusion? "You can practically estimate how many Palestinians acts of murder and terrorism will be committed in any year based on how much money they received the year before."

Some First-Wave Ska

Awhile back, I posted about ska, my favorite kind of music, which originated in Jamaica around the time it became independent. The below YouTube video plays clips of several early ska songs while showing a montage of scenes from Jamaica and England from around that time.

Among the scenes are quite a few showing legendary musicians and places of interest, such as the site of Studio One. (HT: Adrian Hester)

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.


Gideon said...

"Atheism is not a Worldview" -- well put.

I am highly skeptical of virtually all the current atheists out there. They don't seem to get religion at all. Yes, it's easy to show that there isn't any reason to believe in God but that's hardly all there is to any given religion or a proper philosophy. Then there is the issue of morality which everybody outside of Objectivism gets completely wrong (I find the current arguments from Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens that we are somehow evolved to be moral arguably more absurd than anything coming out of religion). I suspect the long term influence of the current atheist books will be quite limited.

Jim May said...

Less obvious -- but interestingly enough -- partially as a consequence of the first problem -- is that the whole notion of building a "group identity" is based on the underlying altruist assumption that the individual belongs to the group.

The political corollary of this is the true meaning of democracy: groups are where the power is. Individuals are helpless.

Gus Van Horn said...


I agree with you that the "new atheists" are destined to be barely a blip on the cultural/historical radar screen.

And as with morality, Ayn Rand "gets" religion. For all the flaws in it she points out, she recognizes what valid emotions it both attempts to expropriate and provide expression for, what psychological needs it attempts to fulfill, and its quasi-philosophical role.

This is all vital in order to provide a truly viable alternative.

And thanks for noting your appreciation of that title sentence: You caused me to realize that it is just as viable as an introduction to a comeback against the various common lines of attack against atheism as (alllegedly) leftism.


Yes. If we merely semi-challenge only one religious fallacy, we are doomed to succumb to the worst religion has to offer.


Bubblehead said...

gus -- Off topic, but it looks like you're a finalist for the "Best of the Top 6751-8750 Blogs" category for the 2007 Weblog Awards. Voting starts tomorrow.

Ergo said...

I agree. Atheism is not a worldview.

What's also important is that the current crop of high-profile "atheists" aren't even atheist proper! They're just a bunch of empirical skeptics who define themselves as "agnostics tending toward atheism" (from The God Delusion).

Their metaphysical foundations are so weak that they cannot properly claim certitude about *anything*. I wrote about this failure in my post "Richard Dawkins is not an atheist."

Unfortunately, these are the people getting the most publicity.

Also, none of them have a fundamental understanding of the nature of religion. They evolutionary explanations lead them to propose some wild theories that simply do not get to the crux of the matter.
Ayn Rand properly identified religion as a primitive form of philosophy, because the need for a philosopy is indispensable for man qua man. Religion provides the easy and quick answers to essentially metaphysical questions and satiates the epistemic hunger of a conceptual mind.

The function of reason and modern philosophy is to elevate these primitive answers to logical and rational scrutiny and evaluate their validity.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the heads-up! Barely having time to just post lately, I might have missed the good news entirely!


Gus Van Horn said...


"[T]he current crop of high-profile 'atheists' aren't even atheist proper."

That is very well put. These "atheists" are just as much atheists as the Republicans are capitalists.


Burgess Laughlin said...

Re: "Atheism is not a worldview."

The question of the existence of God is really a third question that follows two initial questions: (1) What is the basic nature of the world? (2) How did it get this way, that is, what (if anything) is the cause? Whether God exists or doesn't exist is not a small question in philosophy.

Historically that question, in one form or another, has been a big issue. Look at the writings that theologians -- from ancient pagans to modern monotheists -- have poured out trying to prove or otherwise defend the existence of God. Look too at the writings of philosophers. In his Critique of Pure Reason, e.g., B611-658, Kant uses the question, among others which he (as a partial skeptic) sees as irresolvable "antinomies," to be a starting point for his attack on reason. His solution is: Philosophically we can't prove or disprove God exists (B659-662), but we need the idea of God to justify an ethics of duty, so we are entitled to treat the idea that God exists (and that he wants us to behave in a certain way) as a reasonable "presupposition" (also called "practical faith"). This is how Kant tries to bridge the Is/Ought gap, that is, the gap between ontology and ethics.

Philosophically, the question of the existence of God has been a problem in ontology, which is the most fundamental -- and therefore cognitively most important -- branch of philosophy.

So, I would say that, at least indirectly, the question of the existence of God, or any other candidate for the title of Cause of the World, is a huge question philosophically. It becomes a small question for me personally when I realize that (1) the question itself of the cause of existence is nonsensical, and (2) even ignoring that point, the onus of proof of the existence of God as cause rests on the claimants. Since they have not proven God exists, we now can hierarchically move on to other questions

Burgess Laughlin

Gus Van Horn said...

"Historically that question, in one form or another, has been a big issue. ... It becomes a small question for me personally..."

In other words, God is everywhere and nowhere -- so to speak!

My attempt at philosophical humor aside, I am glad you elaborated on how much the importance of this question depends on the context in which it is raised.

johnnycwest said...

For more proof of the truth of Ergo's comments, watch the Dinesh D’Souza & Christopher Hitchens Debate
“Is Christianity the Problem?”


Now I have a number of guilty pleasures and listening to Christopher Hitchens is one of them. The man is a talented wordsmith and his palpable anger toward religion does my heart good. In this debate however, he is like a punch drunk fighter trying to hit a school girl. Dinesh D'Souza and his arguments are pathetic, but Hitchens just flails away, seldom making a serious point. As Gideon says, the lack of a rational basis for morality is his ultimate undoing, but in this debate, he falls short of even getting to that failure in his arguments.

The only wish I would have, congruent with christianity, would be for Ayn Rand to return to debate such mental pipsqueaks as Dinesh D'Souza - he is truly painful to listen to - is this the best they have? Leonard Piekoff or Yaron Brook would have demolished him.

I was happy to see Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens getting attention for their atheism, but I am now beginning to think Gideon is right - they may damage the cause more than they help. However, it does help to bring atheism out of the closet making it easier for others to declare their disbelief.

Ergo and Gus - a very good point about Ayn Rand's recognition of the role that religion has attempted to play both psychologically and philosophically. It is vitally important to show how these needs are filled rationally rather than simply rejecting religion alone. It is not enough to disdain religion, because it does attempt to answer profound human questions and yearnings. We cannot leave out this recognition when doing battle with religion - thanks for the reminder.

Gus Van Horn said...

"The only wish I would have, congruent with christianity, would be for Ayn Rand to return to debate such mental pipsqueaks as Dinesh D'Souza - he is truly painful to listen to - is this the best they have? Leonard Piekoff or Yaron Brook would have demolished him."

This reminded me of a joke about communicating with Ayn Rand through a Ouija board I used to make back in my Objectivist campus club days.

And on a more serious note, the comment as a whole reminds me of a comment I recall being attributed to Rand about feeling weary at having to constantly fight off such small enemies. That will be a problem for intellectual activists for quite some time by the looks of things....