Yes, We Should Trust Atheists Less

In my earlier essay “Why It Is Rational to Trust Atheists Less”, I argued, via an analogical argument, that it was fully rational for people to initially and instinctively trust atheistic-naturalists less than religious believers—particularly Christians. Indeed, given what the atheistic-naturalistic worldview entails, and thus given what you would expect the proponents of that worldview to believe, I argued that it was an eminently reasonable stance for someone to instinctively view the honesty of atheistic-naturalists with more suspicion when compared to other religious groups of people. However, many atheists would no doubt take exception to this line of reasoning, likely claiming that I am “bigoted” and “prejudiced” for making such an argument.

So, in light of this anticipatory accusation, let us perform another little experiment. Imagine that there exist two groups of people. Each group sincerely believes what they profess to believe—a perfectly reasonable assumption. So, given this, I ask you to honestly and truthfully assess which group of people you would instinctively and initially trust more. Which group would you be more suspicious of? Which group, comparatively speaking, would you trust with the care of your children, or your most prized possessions, or with your own life?

So, with these questions in mind, here is our first group and an articulation of their sincerely-held beliefs.

The Sincerely Held Beliefs of Groups A:

Belief A1:  In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

Belief A2:  Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear—and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Belief A3:  We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA. … That is exactly what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self sustaining process. It is every living objects’ sole reason for living…

Belief A4:  If there is no purpose to life in general, biological or human for that matter, the question arises whether there is meaning in our individual lives, and if it is not there already, whether we can put it there. One source of meaning on which many have relied is the intrinsic value, in particular the moral value, of human life. People have also sought moral rules, codes, principles which are supposed to distinguish us from merely biological critters whose lives lack (as much) meaning or value (as ours). Besides morality as a source of meaning, value, or purpose, people have looked to consciousness, introspection, self-knowledge as a source of insight into what makes us more than the merely physical facts about us. Scientism must reject all of these straws that people have grasped, and it’s not hard to show why. Science has to be nihilistic about ethics and morality. … This nihilistic blow is cushioned by the realization that Darwinian processes operating on our forbearers in the main selected for niceness! The core morality of cooperation, reciprocity and even altruism that was selected for in the environment of hunter-gatherers and early agrarians, continues to dominate our lives and social institutions. We may hope the environment of modern humans has not become different enough eventually to select against niceness. But we can’t invest our moral core with more meaning than this: it was a convenience, not for us as individuals, but for our genes. There is no meaning to be found in that conclusion.

Belief A5:  I’m a Utilitarian, so I don’t see the rule against lying as absolute; it’s always subject to some overriding utility which may prevent its exercise. … [and] [t]he notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.

Belief A6:  …free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics. Your brain and body, the vehicles that make “choices,” are composed of molecules, and the arrangement of those molecules is entirely determined by your genes and your environment. Your decisions result from molecular-based electrical impulses and chemical substances transmitted from one brain cell to another. These molecules must obey the laws of physics, so the outputs of our brain—our “choices”—are dictated by those laws. … And deliberating about your choices in advance doesn’t help matters, for that deliberation also reflects brain activity that must obey physical laws. To assert that we can freely choose among alternatives is to claim, then, that we can somehow step outside the physical structure of our brain and change its workings. That is impossible. Like the output of a programmed computer, only one choice is ever physically possible: the one you made. So what are the consequences of realizing that physical determinism negates our ability to choose freely? Well, nihilism is not an option: We humans are so constituted, through evolution or otherwise, to believe that we can choose. What is seriously affected is our idea of moral responsibility, which should be discarded along with the idea of free will. If whether we act well or badly is predetermined rather than a real choice, then there is no moral responsibility—only actions that hurt or help others. That realization shouldn’t seriously change the way we punish or reward people, because we still need to protect society from criminals, and observing punishment or reward can alter the brains of others, acting as a deterrent or stimulus. What we should discard is the idea of punishment as retribution, which rests on the false notion that people can choose to do wrong.

Belief A7:  I have explained how an amoralist, such as I have become, could still continue to argue in the mode of morality. Although this risks being deceptive and hypocritical, it can also be done aboveboard because the amoralist could be appealing to his or her interlocutor’s (or reader’s) moralism. … But why would I even care whether I was being honest or not? Isn’t that, again, something an amoralist would be indifferent to? Strictly speaking, yes. But an amoralist still has a compass, a ‘guide to life’, an ethics, or so I would argue; and it can be a match for anybody’s morality. Thus, consider that in purely practical terms, honesty may still be the best policy. A reputation for truth-telling will likely make one a more attractive person to do (literal or figurative) business with, which will enable one to thrive relative to one’s less scrupulous competitors. Thus, ‘survival of the fittest’ could naturally promote honesty as a prevalent trait even in the absence of any moral concern. … I conclude that morality is largely superfluous in daily life, so its removal – once the initial shock had subsided – would at worst make no difference in the world. … A helpful analogy, at least for the atheist, is sin. Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God and hence the whole religious superstructure that would include such categories as sin and evil. Just so, I now maintain, nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality. Yet, as with the non-existence of God, we human beings can still discover plenty of completely-naturally-explainable internal resources for motivating certain preferences. Thus, enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molesting of children, and would likely continue to be so if fully informed, to put it on the books as prohibited and punishable by our society.

Belief A8:  [To] all my Atheist friends. Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this.  However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice. We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself.  While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not.  Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time.  But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past.  They got us here. That’s it.  All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose.  Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die.  That is our bible. We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books.  We imagine ourselves superior.  But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc.  Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality.  Have they allowed life to exist?  Absolutely.  But who cares?  Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife.  Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me.  Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population.  They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays.  But underneath they know the truth.  They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen.  Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one.  You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all.  When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife. I know it’s not PC [politically correct] to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may.  At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.

So, the above are the sincerely-held beliefs of Group A. Let us now move on to the next group.

The Sincerely-Held Beliefs of Group B:

Belief B1:  Lying lips are an abomination…

Belief B2:  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Belief B3:  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Belief B4:  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Belief B5:  Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness… Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person…has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.

Belief B6:  Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man… The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity. By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray. Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships. Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another’s reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.

Belief B7:  The life [purpose] of man – To know and love God [who demands us to be honest and keep the truth].

And so, these are the sincerely-held belief of Group B.

 

A Comparison of Beliefs

Now, having read the sincerely-held views of both these groups, I ask you: Which group do you instinctively and immediately perceive as more honest and trustworthy? Which group are you innately more suspicious of? Which group would you rather trust with your secrets, your life, or the lives of your loved ones?

I contend that it is both obvious and natural to initially perceive see Group B as more likely to be trustworthy and honest than Group A. And I contend that it is obvious that one would be suspicious of people that espoused the beliefs that those individuals in Group A sincerely hold to. After all, if someone believes that there is no morality, that they are not at all responsible for their actions, that child-abuse is only “bad” because it is something that society currently dislikes, that lying is subject to utilitarian considerations, and so on, then this makes for a toxic combination when it comes to truth and honesty and trust.

But of course, the “beliefs” in Group A are direct quotes from leading atheists:

Group A – Quote 1 (http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/dawkins.htm): Richard Dawkins – Rated as the World’s Seventh Top Atheist.

Group A – Quote 2 (www.bevets.com/equotesp5.htm): From William Provine – Rated as the World’s Sixteenth Top Atheist.

Group A – Quote 3 (Christmas lecture study guide, Growing up in the universe, BBC Study Guide to the Christmas lectures, London: BBC Education 1991): From Richard Dawkins – Rated as the World’s Seventh Top Atheist.

Group A – Quote 4 (http://onthehuman.org/2009/11/the-disenchanted-naturalists-guide-to-reality/#sthash.lwjL9opf.dpuf): From Alex Rosenberg – Rated as the World’s Fourteenth Top Atheist.

Group A – Quote 5 (http://www.nthposition.com/aconversationwithpeter.php): From Peter Singer – Rated as the World’s First Top Atheist.

Group A – Quote 6 (http://chronicle.com/article/Jerry-A-Coyne/131165/): From Jerry Coyne – Rated as the World’s Twenty-Fourth Top Atheist.

Group A – Quote 7 (http://philosophynow.org/issues/80/An_Amoral_Manifesto_Part_I): From Joel Marks, an atheist philosopher who realized that atheism implied amorality.

(Note: The ratings for these atheists was taken from an article titled “50 Top Atheists in the World Today”. See here: http://www.thebestschools.org/blog/2011/12/01/50-top-atheists-in-the-world-today/.)

And Group A – Quote 8 (http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/the-inevitable-consequence-of-an-atheistic-worldview/):  From an atheist commenting on the ‘Cold Case Christianity’ website.

By contrast, the quotes for Group B were all taken from Christian sources:

Group B – Quote 1: Proverbs 12:22 (ESV).

Group B – Quote 2: Philippians 4:8 (ESV).

Group B – Quote 3: Exodus 20:16 (ESV).

Group B – Quote 4: Ephesians 4:25 (ESV).

Group B – Quote 5: From the Catechism of the Catholic Church – 1731 & 1738.

Group B – Quote 6: From the Catechism of the Catholic Church – 2483 to 2487.

Group B – Quote 7: From the Catechism of the Catholic Church – Prologue I & Mark 10:17-31 (as well as Matthew 19:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30).

So again, I readily maintain that such a “test” clearly provides the grounds to be able to rationally claim that it is indeed eminently reasonable to be, at least initially and instinctively, less trusting of atheistic-naturalists than of religious believers, so long as one makes the reasonable assumption that the atheist and the religious believer genuinely believes what they claim to believe, which is something that we all initially assume anyway. And I think that any sane and objective person—even atheists—would agree with this conclusion upon some reflection.

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