A response to “6 Ultimate Reasons not to be an atheist “

I would like to thank Sarah Hippolitus for all of her hard work on this post. I originally wrote up my own answers to each point, but thought that getting the perspective of somebody more knowledgeable about philosophy and neuroscience would be beneficial. In the end, Sarah has written (or rewritten) probably 75% of the answers to the 6 “points”, and I’d like to acknowledge her time, expertise, and immense help with this.

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I will start off with the assumption that this video is not satire, although there is a chance I’ve fallen for a Poe (and if so, I’ll admit it “got me”). I checked a number of their videos and nothing seems to give it away that it’s satire, so I believe it’s “real”; but it’s SOOO bad it’s pretty tough to believe it’s real.

I recently stumbled across this video on YouTube. I will warn you in advance, it’s painful to watch, but good for a laugh:

And it was so ludicrous I felt I had to respond, point by point…

The video begins with the following two lines:

This video does not argue for god’s existence… It simply shows the things that atheism CANNOT account for.

Whether these things exist or not is irrelevant to this video

Well that’s sort of odd to me. These are supposedly the “ultimate reasons to not be an atheist” and yet it’s irrelevant whether or not they exist? Perhaps we need to continue on to understand just what these two kids are driving at…

Let’s take a look at their 6 “ultimate reasons”, shall we?

#1 Atheists cannot believe that there is purpose and meaning to life

Well, yes and no. If they mean an “ultimate purpose” or “ultimate meaning” then true. But if they mean that I have no reason to live, that’s patently absurd. My “purpose” is manifold. First, to learn, love, and become the best human being I can; second, to make life better for those I care about; and third, to leave the world better than I found it (not just for those I know, but for all humanity to come).

#2 Atheists cannot believe that there is an objective moral law

If you mean, that nobody came down from a mountain and gave mankind a set of laws (and yet somehow forgot to condemn slavery) then yes, this is true. There is no rule-giver checking out when we “sin” and telling mankind what is right and wrong and my response simply is “so what?”

In the absence of a rule-giver, there are objectively better ways to live. For example, it is better to love than hate; better to make someone feel good about their talents instead of picking on their shortcomings; it is better to study than to smoke pot all day; it is better to be generous than stingy; and the list goes on. Objective morality is not Absolute Morality. Absolute Morality means there are universal moral truths (i.e., moral claims true in any scenario) – e.g., “Lying is always wrong.” This is not true.  For example,  consider lying to the Nazis about where a group of jewish people are hiding during the Holocaust.  Stealing is not always the wrong thing to do (E.g., your suicidal friend has a gun.) We have to evaluate each moral scenario and apply our best moral judgment weighing all the factors involved in the situation. Ethics is messy, but it doesn’t follow in the least that it is not objective. There isn’t always a right answer, but there is almost always a better and worse one – this proves objectivity. If morality is not objective, we have no yardstick are to measure different ways of life against each other. In other words, if we deny objective morality, we have to say killing people for no reason is just as good as helping them succeed – that is ludicrous. What does believing in objective ethics have to do with belief in theism or atheism? Nothing. It’s a metaethical position. There are Christian objectivists (about morality) just as there are atheist objectivists. How is this possible if theism is necessary for objective moral understanding?

#3 Atheists cannot believe that they have free will

This is true, but there is no such thing as free will. So no rational person ought to believe this.

That said, we ought to live our lives as if we have free will, since to do otherwise is a bad way to live in a society. There are consequences for our actions, even if those actions are “caused” by our previous experiences and genetic makeup. People are not “born” rapists. They may become rapists based on their upbringing and genetic makeup, and while it may explain their actions, it does not excuse them. It gives us the understanding of their motivation, but for the sake of society there MUST be consequences for actions that harm others.

Free will is illusory. Anyone who denies this should do some research in neuroscience. You would be hard pressed to fine a single neuroscientist who will say that free will is not illusory. What you have are people who have more or less control over their actions. Basically, an overactive amygdala and an underactive pre-frontal cortex means the person has less control – depending on the severity, the person may have basically no control. And with the reverse, you get someone who is equipped to temper their actions with reasoning.

#4 To be an atheist you cannot believe that you can trust your reasoning

While this may TECHNICALLY be true to a point, but as with the free will argument it is seriously misguided. While it’s true that we can never 100% trust our own reasoning, it’s also equally true that to live our lives we MUST rely on our reasoning on a regular basis.

There are three types of reasoning (induction, deduction, abduction), two major types: inductive (moving from facts to a conclusion), what we do in science; and deductive (argumentative reasoning moving from claims/premises to a conclusion).

Until shown to be flawed, we must trust that human reasoning is generally sound and rely on it.

Say you hear what sounds like a car backfire. A few moments later a person stumbles around the corner holding his stomach and you can see blood seeping through his shirt and all over his hands. You would likely assume that the “backfire” was actually a gunshot, and that the person before you was the victim of said gunshot. This is an example of using inductive reasoning, i.e., inferring a conclusion based on available facts.

However there are some cases where we have learned that human reasoning is flawed, or can be tricked. Magicians rely on this regularly, and this is one reason that for truly important tasks, we rely on repeatability and thorough testing.

But to tell the truth, it is actually the theist who doesn’t believe they can trust their reasoning; so they rely on faith. Theism is based off of the idea that human reasoning is flawed and we must take God on faith in his infinite wisdom. He must provide us our ethical code because we don’t have the rational capabilities to develop a successful ethical system. Atheism is based on the idea that human beings have the capability to be rational and we must exercise this capability to its fullest. We do so because we trust it.

#5 Atheists cannot believe in absolute laws of logic

Again this is a misunderstanding of what is technically true and what is realistically feasible. We accept that logic is valid because to NOT do so would lead to chaos. However must like the last point, this is one reason that we rely heavily on the concepts of the Scientific Method. Things must be testable and repeatable before they are generally accepted.

Absolute laws of logic are as true as anything in the universe; and if I didn’t believe in the law of non-contradiction, the most fundamental law of logic, I would assert something like “I do believe in absolute laws of logic and I do not believe in absolute laws of logic.” Yet, I absolutely do not assert this. There. I believe in an absolute law of logic. I also used logic to arrive at this conclusion. Twofer.

#6 Atheism cannot account for absolute truth

From the comments on this, he is talking about god as the “absolute truth”, which obviously as atheists we don’t believe in.

So if “absolute truth” means your particular god, as atheists, we can’t account for “absolute truth” because it doesn’t exist. But the more important point you fail to grasp is that neither can the theist. The theist attempts to account for it but fails.

But to “help” him out a bit, I’ll assume he means things like “absolute” laws of physics or “absolute” laws of mathematics upon which the universe behaves. And much like the last few, this is an assumption that one MUST make if one is to attempt to understand anything about how the universe works.

If the video mean “absolute truth” like absolute laws of logic, like law of non-contradiction, well there is no “account” that goes with them – they are a priori true (true apart from experience).

As with the others, is we don’t start with the understanding that things work in a rational way then there is no point in trying to understand anything, as it can not be truly understood. So we start with a basic assumption, the universe is rational and understandable; and then we work from there in order to understand it. But we also must acknowledge that we COULD be wrong, and all of our attempts to understand the universe could theoretically be nothing but an exercise in futility (although this is a very remote possibility, it does remain in fact possible).

About Jeff Randall

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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