Thursday 22 August 2013

Absolutely misguided: theism's mental block

That Facebook thread mentioned in my previous post has been growing, but it's become clear to me that the author of the Original Post has some serious misunderstandings about atheism, materialism and naturalism. In this she's far from unique, and since the mental block she's exhibiting is one that other theists apparently share I thought I'd jot down some explanatory notes about such notions that I can refer to if (when!) such brain-jams come up in future.

The first, exemplified in the OP referred to above, is the notion that without God everything is pointless. The theist is saying that if God does not exist there's no point to anything at all — that if human beings are "merely" matter, then they don't … matter.

This misconception is tied up with the theistic idea of absolutes and ultimates (as are most theistic misconceptions, I might add). In this case the theist maintains that there must be God-given purpose for human life to have any meaning. This idea is so ingrained into religious thinking that many theists (the OP author cited above included) cannot see beyond it. To them, the idea of a world without God is simply too alien to be entertained. Some even suggest that if God didn't exist, they would resort to crime, and care nothing for their fellows.

This scary prospect is evidence of the second, related, theistic preoccupation with absolutes — that of objective morality. Many theists claim that morality is impossible without a transcendent moral law-giver. They claim their own morals come from scripture, and that even an unbeliever's morals are based (or borrowed) from the same scripture. Faced with an atheistic insistence that morality can be derived from circumstances and consequences, theists will often ask, "But why should you care what is good or bad? What makes one action 'better' than another, if there's no ultimate objective morality?" So, absolutes again. But what makes scriptural morality — rules written in a book — any better than moral guidelines derived from careful consideration of the likely outcomes of moral decisions? The answer of course is that it isn't better, it's actually worse. Personally I'd rather be subject to a moral code derived from analyses of circumstances and consequences, than to the arbitrary moral edicts of a Christian with a crib-sheet.

It seems to me that moral philosophy, neuroscience, cosmology and indeed physics in general are moving steadily in the direction of materialism and determinism and away from outdated concepts of dualism, the soul, free will and absolutes. Yet theists cling desperately to these notions because without them their faith makes no sense at all.

This week's Jesus and Mo is apposite: