Is atheism good for society

In the view of Chris Arnade, atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy.

At 16 years old, I was a practicing Catholic, would go for confession every so often. In my circle of friends, enemies and those I was indifferent to, no one I knew was an atheist. If there was an atheist in our midst, must have been a closet one. We are products of the age we live in. In that age, in my village where I lived, atheism was not part of the cultural milieu. Was everyone poor? No, not by a long stretch of imagination.

I am a university graduate and most of my school life I was a practicing Catholic. Was I catholic because I was poor or because I was a product of the cultural milieu I had grown up in? At some point in my studies, I met some atheists but at that time, this chance meeting and spending time together did not result in deconversion. On the contrary, I was at a loss how one could have lived their lives without belief in god, that was how I had grown up. By the time I was graduating, I was nominally a christian but neither had I switched sides.

Now several years later, I am godless. My needs are basically taken care of. As a result of my education and my baloney detector, I am usually able to see a bad argument and in many cases see inconsistencies even in my choices, but that will be the story for my autobiography.

Coming to Chris, he tells us

When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be.

None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.

which in any case is neither an argument in favour of the bible nor against disbelief. Is it Chris’ argument that there are no atheist homeless and drug addicts? Was he an atheist because there is injustice, cruelty, and so on or because he was convinced that the evidence for deities is wanting? And if this is the case, what has this got to do with drug abuse?

He is right however when he says

They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.

because that would make him a jerk. But if and when they ask him about his religious beliefs or lack of that matter, he is not being a jerk when he says he has no belief in the gods or that he thinks their hope in god is inconsistent with their present circumstances, especially if they believe in an all loving god.

I am surprised that Chris did not know people make mistakes. He writes

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes.

It doesn’t take genius to know this. Nor do you need to sit behind a computer to know that you make mistakes, your neighbour makes mistakes and so on.

Chris tells us he had an epiphany

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.

at which point I quote William Foote on freethought

Our salvation is here and now. It is certain and not contingent. We need not die before we realise it. Ours is a gospel, and the only gospel, for this side of the grave. The promises of theology cannot be made good till after death; ours are all redeemable in this life.
Happiness is the only good, suffering the only evil and selfishness the only sin.
Learn what is true in order to do what is right.

but more relevant to his epiphany is the observations of Jean Messlier

We may be asked if atheism can suit the multitude? I reply, that every system which demands discussion is not for the multitude. What use is there, then, in preaching atheism? It can at least make those who reason, feel that nothing is more extravagant than to make ourselves uneasy, and nothing more unjust than to cause anxiety to others on account of conjectures, destitute of all foundation. As to the common man, who never reasons, the arguments of an atheist are no better suited to him than a philosopher’s hypothesis, an astronomer’s observations, a chemist’s experiments, a geometer’s calculations, a physician’s examinations, an architect’s designs, or a lawyer’s pleadings, who all labor for the people without their knowledge.

And maybe Chris is right, on those who have their needs taken care of have the luxury to reason about atheism and not before. In any event, the thing we must do is to heal the dysfunction in society that drive people to misery where their only hope is belief in chimeras and phantoms.

Finally, I am not sure whether this was Chris’ attempt at reflection about his life, experiences with the homeless or a way to attack Dawkins. I for one do not see the reason for writing this

I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently

Let’s not be jerks, that’s all. Others will believe in gods others will not. But as yet, gods remain un-demonstrated hypothesis, we are within our rights to ask questions. It would be condescending towards others to argue that because of their situations in life, they should not have access to philosophical questions. This, to me, is like treating them like little children.



Difficult questions for atheists 

Over at Nate’s, there is discussion going on regarding questions UncleE thinks are problematic to an atheistic worldview.

First, I have been reliably informed by my friends atheism has no content other than a lack of belief in deities, whatever these are. This is to say, you should give a reason for any position you take. Being an atheist cannot be one of them.

With that introduction, the question posed by UncleE, can be dismissed as not being problematic to atheism. 

I will indulge UncleE though. His question

Do we have free will? If so, how? If not how can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

First, I will mention what Bob said the other day. We cannot have absolutist answers on questions that are not amenable to proof one way or another. I am a freewill skeptic and will remain so till I am convinced otherwise. 

I think the question is a false dilemma. Isn’t evaluation of reasonableness a brain process? And how are we to tell that a thing is not a brain process? 

This question is not a problem for atheism. To the best of my knowledge, Marvin is an atheist and a compatibilist same as Dennett. 

I am hoping UncleE will ask better questions in future.