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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Benefits Package

After realizing that “God exists” is not a very defensible factual claim, many theists have resorted to claiming that religious belief is beneficial.  This is, of course, an entirely separate issue.  Even if blind faith has health benefits or makes you happy or moral or whatever, this does not necessarily mean that any of those beliefs are true.  Still, I am going to take this article as an opportunity for a counterattack, noting the benefits that my worldview has over most religions.  If you’ve ever wondered “Why should I dump my religion?” here’s your answer.

Guilt Reduction:  Have you ever had a crisis of faith?  I haven’t.  And you know why?  Because I’m a skeptic.  Skepticism encourages questioning what you’re taught and pursuing your doubts.  When a Christian doubts the existence of God, it is considered a sin, something wrong and immoral and impure.  But it’s not wrong to doubt things.  And once you realize that, you can stop feeling guilty whenever it happens.

And this doesn’t just apply to doubt, but to all the silly things religions forbid.  I’m not talking about having no moral code, because you definitely need one of those.  But as a skeptic, you can drop all the “immoral sins” that don’t actually hurt anyone.  Want to have kinky sex with a consenting adult?  Sure thing, no worries.  Want to work on Sundays? Go right ahead.  Don’t feel like shouting “Praise Allah!” every two hours?  Then don’t.  Don’t think babies are filled with sin because of what their ancestors did? Good for you!  Think pork is tasty?  Each up!  There are a lot moral statements religions make that just don’t make any sense.  As an atheist, you can feel free to ignore that so-called “morality” without feeling guilty.

Practical Application:  Once you stop giving mysterious answers, you can start pursuing legitimate knowledge.  People will contest this, of course, claiming that science and religion can get along just fine.  But the evidence is to the contrary.  Religions have time and again fought scientific advancement in many ways on many fronts.  Galileo’s persecution, the push for Intelligent Design “education” in schools, fighting stem cell research.  And those are just the active conflicts.  There’s also the passive conflict.  When you’re satisfied with mystery, you aren’t nearly as likely to try and do better.  If a priest tells you Smallpox is a punishment from God and the only way to stop it is to confess your sins, and you believe this, then you’re much more likely to spend your time confessing your sins instead of developing a vaccine.

Fear Reduction:  A lot of people claim that religion, in particular belief in the Christian afterlife, helps people deal with their fear of death.  And yet, it does so in a way that introduces another fear.  The fear of hell.  And I don’t know about you, but I for one find the prospect of eternal torture much scarier than nonexsistence.

And don’t tell me that “proper” religions focus on the positive things like love and forgiveness.  The fact of the matter is that fear of hell is actually quite common.  Take my own childhood as an example.  When I was in ninth grade, my social studies teacher asked the class which they feared the most: Going to detention, going to jail, or going to hell.  In a class of some twenty students around 14 years of age, I was the only one who did not list hell as the scariest prospect.  The rest of those kids were more afraid of empty threats of torture passed down by their religion than of their society’s legal system.  And that’s a kind of fear I can do without.

No Moral or Intellectual Gymnastics:  One of the best things about not believing in gods is that you no longer have to make up excuses for the overwhelming evidence.  I don’t need to worry about how God can be good while allowing infants to die.  I don’t need to try and come up with reasons there’s a fossil record of several billion years if the Earth is only a few thousand years old.  I don’t need to explain the nonexistent logic behind an omnipotent being who figures the best way to forgive you for something your ancestors did is to sacrifice his own son in your place.  When you start with the conclusion, you’re left trying to figure out how to force all the facts into a pre-existing picture.  But when you fit your picture to the facts, you don’t have to re-cut any of the pieces.

Reduced Criticism Discomfort:  I’ve heard many believers try to end an argument about religion with things like “you should respect my beliefs.”  I have no need for that crap.  I don’t have to protect my worldview like it’s some kind of fragile bubble.  Because I base my beliefs on evidence, my worldview is capable of protecting itself.  And if it does break, then it just reforms even stronger.  When you stop trying to interpret the facts in a way that lets you keep some treasured belief, and you start letting your beliefs follow the facts, you’ll find yourself much more comfortable with criticism.  You’ll find you can actually address criticism, rather than trying to hide from it.

Reaching Agreements:  The difference between theological disagreements and scientific disagreements is that eventually one of the scientists will say “Oh, wait, I guess I was wrong,” and then the disagreement ends.

Consistent Standards: ‘Nuff said


  1. It seems that many religions have not fought against scientific advancement, but rather have helped science along its course. The empiricism of Bacon, the calculus of Newton all pushed science further along its path.

    And in response to your riff on Intelligent Design: since when is it fighting scientific advancement to bring up an opposing viewpoint? It seems that naturalists, who are very confident in their worldview, would welcome challenges to this worldview, because ultimately their worldview would be proven correct. But instead naturalists have their own fragile bubble which they are afraid might burst if challenged.

  2. The fact that Newton and Bacon pushed science and the fact that they were both religious does not mean that religion pushed science. Individual religious people have often gone against the establishments they claim membership to (like catholics who use birth control). When you look at what the establishment does, rather than the achievements of a few radical members, you find institutionalized pushes against science.

    This is, of course, not to mention the constraints of the time. Newton and Bacon lived in a time where it was virtually impossible to denounce religion and maintain any semblence of a career. Their religious professions are not good evidence of religious belief.

    ID has failed to live up to scientific rigor, yet people are pushing to have it taught in science classes. The problem isn't challenging naturalism, the problem is the continued push of a failed hypothesis.

  3. The ID movement also suffers from severe dishonesty. They repeatedly misrepresent evolution as well as things like radiometric dating. They also have an annoying tendancy to quote mine Darwin.