Sunday, July 22, 2007

Appeasment vs Assertive Atheists

I sometimes feel a bit discomfited at having no home in the debate between 'appeasment atheists' and 'assertive atheists' then it comes to religion.

It is not even accurate to say that I hold a middle ground between them, because my actual position is that both camps are utterly and completely wrong. Somebody in the middle ground between them would, then, be twice as wrong. (Well, not exactly, but you get my point.)

The problem with the aggressive atheists is that they want to assert that it is some sort of moral crime to hold unfounded beliefs. Yet, every one of us holds a number of unfounded beliefs. Our beliefs simply do not come to us in a manner that allows us to hold each and every one of them to the light of reason.

Even many of these aggressive atheists hold unfounded - even rationally absurd beliefs. As somebody who has studied value theory, I see this absurdity most commonly expressed in what they say is true about value. Many profess to a genetic or biological root to morality without recognizing that all good acts and all evil acts are equally rooted in biology.

In fact, they are quick to profess that the Euthyphro argument defeats all God-based morality. Yet, they prove the equal of their religious counterparts when it comes to the fact that this same argument defeats Gene-based morality.

So, they condemn people for crimes that everybody commits. Their accusations are untrue and unfair at best, and bigoted at worse.

So, this means that I side with the appeasers, right?

Appeasers are people who do not condemn religion because they think it is not nice to say bad things about other people's faith. If it was harmless faith, I could understand - though I would base my judgment more on the fact that we have far more important things to worry about than harmless false beliefs.

But we are talking about innocent people dying, suffering, forced to endure tremendous injustice, wollowing in ignorance of the real world, and making decisions based on myth and superstitions that have tragic consequences when they collide with reality.

The claim, "It's okay, they're not hurting anybody," is, in a huge number of cases, flat out and completely wrong.

People are dying and enduring great suffering as a result of these myths.

Since they are closing off medical options and discount long-term planning for the well-being of the earth in a universe that does not care whether we live or die, we, and everybody we care about, will be adversely affected by these myths and positions these myth holders take on public policy.

It is of extreme importance - particularly to those who would die prematurely or suffer greatly in life - that we take action against the causes of that death and suffering.

So, mine is not a middle ground between these views. They are both mistaken. My position is to start over here, with people who are now suffering or dying or who will be suffering and dying, and trace it back to its root. Where those who defend their actions do so on the basis of religion, that is where I say that a religion that does this does not deserve to live.

I so not say that no person may hold an unfounded belief - that would be absurd.

However, any specific real-world case where people are using a belief to promte death and suffering deserves our specific and targeted condemnation.

Leave it to people to decide for themselves where they want to go once they abandon the faith responsible for such harms. If they go someplace else that defends policies leading to death and suffering, then good people should pursue them and drive them out of that place as well. If, on the other hand, they retreat to some place harmless, then we have more important things to worry about.


God-Rousing Dog Pipes said...

I don't see what's so bad about "no person may hold an unfounded belief".

Admittedly, holding an unfounded belief isn't a "moral crime". Holding an unfounded belief is an epistemic flaw, not a moral flaw. And even genuine character flaws (like being lazy or being spineless) tend not to be moral crimes.

But still there's something inappropriate about unfounded beliefs. They're cause for shame or at least embarrassment, especially when they're the product of gullibility or intellectual dishonesty, and especially when they're ridiculous beliefs. Admittedly, only a pitiless scold would openly criticize every unfounded belief, and human beings deserve a measure of indulgence and forgiveness. But that doesn't mean unfounded beliefs are perfectly okay. Far from it. If they weren't inappropriate in the first place, indulgence and forgiveness would be quite out of place.

Maybe you don't like the use of "may". Would it sound better as "there's always something wrong with holding unfounded beliefs"?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

god rousing dog pipes

My points above were specifically concerned with the moral condemnation of an individual in virtue of the fact that the individual holds an unfounded belief.

Truth does have a value, and I have argued for that value in this blog. We seek to act so as to fulfill our desires, and act so as to fulfill our desires given our beliefs. False beliefs lead to error - a failure to fulfill one's desires.

Yet, clearly, some false beliefs are worse than others.

For example, to borrow an example from the philosopher Simon Blackburn, there is a debate among philosophers over whether numbers are real entities in the universe or inventions of the mind projected on the universe.

Yet, ultimately, this is an academic debate that has little relevance in the real world. Realists and anti-realists about numbers still balance their checkbooks the same way.

Not only am I refusing to get into the debate between realists and anti-realists about numbers, I see no reason to care one way or the other.

The same is true, for example, about beliefs whether the T-Rex was primarily a predator or a scavenger. I somewhat favor the scavenger view. However, there are people with a romantic view that the T-Rex must have been a predator who hate the idea of T-Rex as a 30 foot buzzard. Again, I don't think it matters much that these people are letting sentiment determine their beliefs.

I hold the same attitude towards belief in a God or a soul or a life after death. It is not important until and unless that belief leads to death, disease, suffering, injustice, and other forms of evil in the real world - and then only to the degree that it does so.

God-Rousing Dog Pipes said...

First, I'm not interested in condemning false beliefs, but rather unfounded beliefs. Someone can be an epistemic saint and be completely above criticism and still wind up with false beliefs.

But second, if advocates of the hunter view really are letting a sentimental attachment to the image of a marauding T-Rex have an adverse influence on their beliefs and reasoning, then that does seem to be epistemically inappropriate. It's not a moral crime, but it's cause for embarrassment. At least there's something wrong with the way they're regulating their beliefs.