Atheism’s Slippery Relationship with the Truth

Here’s a video where Richard Dawkins asserts, “What matters is what’s true.”

Yet you have to wonder if Dawkins believes this simply because he was raised in a culture that values truth and that is largely because of its theistic history.

Consider a couple of questions.

If atheism is true, does truth cease to be important?  Look at in another way – if atheism is true, why bother living as if atheism is true?

Now, from one perspective, it would seem foolhardy and nonsensical to deny the importance of truth.  For example, it is true that if you consume rat poison, you will die.  It is likewise true that if you jump off a skyscraper, without anything like a parachute,  you will die.  Ignore or deny these truths at your peril.  But these truths can be labeled as survival truths.  There are certain truths, typically linked to behavior, that must be acknowledged in order to survive.  Objective reality has a way of imposing itself on our beliefs.

But is atheism itself a survival truth?  Of course not.  One can live a happy, healthy, long life without acknowledging that atheism is true.   Millions and millions have done it.

So we have a problem.  If atheism is true, only survival truths are important.  Atheism is not a survival truth.  Thus,  atheism is not important.

At this point someone might argue that another form of truth is important – scientific truth.  Why?  Because scientific truth spawns technology and technology improves our quality of life.  And this same scientific truth indicates that atheism is true.  So one could say that while it is not important to embrace atheism, it is important to embrace science, and in doing so, you’ll end up embracing atheism.

But this line of reasoning suffers two fatal flaws.  First, the jury is still out about science and the quality of life.  While we cannot deny technology has improved our quality of life at the present, we can’t deny that it is also responsible for things like global warming, overpopulation, a growing population of antibiotic resistant bacteria,  and weapons of mass destruction.  It could very well turn out that in a century or so, technology will have driven human beings to the brink of extinction.  Second, it is simply false that scientific truth indicates atheism is true.  Atheists who typically make this argument rely on god-of-the-gaps reasoning, assuming that no gaps = no gods.  Yet the same atheists acknowledge god-of-the-gaps reasoning is invalid.

So it would seem that atheism has a very slippery hold on the importance of truth.  We can even see this in the way modern day atheists handle the truth.  We have the postmodernist version of atheism that questions the existence of objective truth and equates feelings with truth.  When truth is just a plaything or an activist’s talking point, it’s not treated as important in of itself.  Then there are the determinists, who posture in such a way that truth is just a brain state brought into existence by the interaction of gene expression and the environment.   What you believe to be true was something your genes and environment made you believe to be true.

We also see this slippery hold on the importance of truth with New Atheists like Dawkins.  Such militant atheists think it is important that everyone recognize that religion is evil, and the source of most of society’s ills.  In fact, they even stray into crackpot territory in trying to argue that is religious upbringing is child abuse.  All of this is a desperate attempt to create something akin to a survival truth – if civilization is to survive, it must shed itself of religion.  Yet, as I have shown over the years, there is no good evidence to think this version of a survival truth is true (recall that physicist Lawrence Krauss was incapable of supporting this belief).  The New Atheists alone seem to buy into the “religion is evil” belief and support it only through extensive cherry picking and confirmation bias.   In fact, the only thing having a problem surviving is the New Atheist movement itself.

“What matters is what’s true.”

But is that true if atheism is true?

This entry was posted in atheism, truth, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Atheism’s Slippery Relationship with the Truth

  1. essiep says:

    What is ‘living as if atheism is true’? What do atheists do differently?

  2. Ilíon says:

    So we have a problem. If atheism is true, only survival truths are important. Atheism is not a survival truth. Thus, atheism is not important.

    Exactly. As I have often pointed out, atheism has the curious quality of bring simultaneously a fundamental claim about the very nature of reality and being utterly irrelevant if it is the truth about the nature of reality.

    But is that true if atheism is true?

    *Nothing* is true (or false) if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality (how’s that for going “meta”?)

    The term ‘truth’ denotes a proposition which accords with reality. Now, propositions, whether true or false, exist only within minds; thus: no minds, no propositions; no propositions, no truths.

    But, if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, then there *are* no minds; there can be no minds. This has been demonstrated elsewhere, so I’m no going to prove it yet again.

  3. Kevin says:

    essiep: “What is ‘living as if atheism is true’? What do atheists do differently?”

    A fine question. I wonder why so many atheists have taken it upon themselves to combat belief in God?

  4. Julian says:

    Or attack people who are praying in public, as though it somehow affects them.

  5. Ilíon says:

    Or attack people who say in public that they are going to pray in private, as though those prayers can somehow affect the so-called atheists.

  6. Julian says:

    Exactly, although it just seems to be related to today’s “triggered” society.

  7. Michael says:

    What is ‘living as if atheism is true’? What do atheists do differently?

    They live as if atheism is important. As if it is important that people know God is a delusion and as if it is important that people become atheists. Of course, not all atheists live like this.

  8. Ilíon says:

    “They live as if atheism is important.”

    There aren’t all that many so-called atheists who *live* as though atheism were important, though there are scads who *claim* that it is important.

  9. essiep says:

    In other words, they live. Most atheists don’t think atheism is important because they don’t think about it any more. Getting on with your life is more important than thinking endlessly about stuff they don’t believe in.
    There is, after all, an infinity of things that we don’t believe in.
    Living as atheists isn’t a thing, it’s a non thing.

  10. Kevin says:

    essiep: “Living as atheists isn’t a thing, it’s a non thing.”

    Then why are there so many atheists trying to get people to stop believing in God? What is the difference they are trying to achieve?

  11. Michael says:

    Living as atheists isn’t a thing, it’s a non thing.

    So we’re told.

  12. essiep says:

    Just the way it is here. More than half our population are not religious. Not many people spend any time discussing it.

  13. TFBW says:

    @essiep: sure, most people just get on with life without reflecting on what it is or why they’re doing it, and that means they’re even less mentally engaged with the universe around them than the Atheist who professes to value truth but can’t explain why. Was that the point you were trying to make?

  14. Featherfoot says:

    I think this speaks to a big difference I’ve seen between atheists I’ve met on the internet and atheists I meet in real life. The ones on the internet are typically combative and very arrogant, making ridiculous, grandiose claims. They often feel religion is the worst evil in the world, or something close to it. The ones I meet in real life are usually fairly relaxed, normal people, who couldn’t care less if someone else is being religious. Obviously, this is just my experience, and both rules have exceptions. Still, I’d be curious if anyone else has noticed this trend. It’s strong enough that I tend to agree with Essiep that living as an atheist is essentially a non-thing for most atheists. Just not for the ones that like to talk about atheism on the internet.

  15. stcordova says:

    “– if atheism is true, why bother living as if atheism is true?”

    And it turns out some atheists, even subconsciously, act as if God is true.

    “The researchers used electrodes to measure how much sweat people produced while reading statements like “I dare God to make my parents drown” or “I dare God to make me die of cancer”. Unexpectedly, when nonbelievers read the statements, they produced as much sweat as believers — suggesting they were equally anxious about the consequences of their dares.

    And that’s not simply because nonbelievers didn’t want to wish harm on others. A companion study showed that similar dares that did not involve God (such as, “I wish my parents would drown”) did not produce comparable increases in sweat levels. Together, then, these findings suggest that despite denying that God exists, nonbelievers behaved as though God did exist.”

  16. stcordova says:

    “. If atheism is true, only survival truths are important. Atheism is not a survival truth. Thus, atheism is not important.”

    Not even survival truth, but comfort truth! When Peter Boghossian’s mother was dying, he let her hold onto a crucifix to let her comfort herself rather than follow his usually policy of street epistemology! At least he admitted to his “failure” of moral resolve when push came to shove.

  17. @joesw0rld says:

    Notice you have to ask these questions of a person, the importance of truth is subjective and some care for it more than others. There are many examples of people ignoring or disbelieving uncomfortable truths, I’m sure you can think of some.

    On the matter of the existence of gods atheists prefer truth (while theists praise faith above truth), that isn’t to say atheists are always truthful in other matters. Atheism is a position based on honesty in this regard.

  18. Kevin says:

    Joe: “On the matter of the existence of gods atheists prefer truth (while theists praise faith above truth), that isn’t to say atheists are always truthful in other matters”

    Making such universal claims about both groups demonstrates the falsity of atheists caring about truth when it comes to the subject of God. My own experience with atheists also demonstrates a lack of intellectual honesty and adhering beliefs to evidence.

    That’s not to say all atheists fail at these things, of course.

  19. Ilíon says:

    I’m glad I was sitting when I saw @Joe’s comment in my email inbox. Had I been standing, I might have hurt myself when I fell to the floor laughing.

  20. Ilíon says:

    Actually, Kevin, *all* ‘atheists’ and ‘agnostics’ are intellectually dishonest … else that’d admit that God is. This is not a statement of “faith”, as @Joe misused that term (and as God-deniers in general do), but of reason

    By reason alone we can know that the world we experience, including our own experience of ourselves *as* selves, is contrary to what *has* to be true of the world were atheism the truth about the nature of reality. That is, since we know by reason alone that atheism is false, we thereby simultaneously know that God is.

    And, since the knowledge that God is is so basic, and so obvious, and to easily available to anyone who *honestly* investigates the question, we know that God-deniers, every last one of them, are intellectually dishonest.

  21. TFBW says:

    @joesw0rld: you’ve reiterated the hackneyed “atheism is true” assertion without addressing the point raised in the OP. Specifically, if atheism is true, as you say, then why does truth and honesty about it matter? Why do you posture as though atheism, as a true belief, has some intrinsic virtue independently of the consequences of believing? On what metaphysical hook does such a position hang, having clearly divorced itself from mere physical consequences?

  22. @joesw0rld says:

    Hi Kevin thanks for the response, I’m not sure what you’re getting at though. On this specific issue;
    Atheists are constantly bleating for proof or evidence, it seems very much like they would like to know the truth.
    On the other hand to the theist it is the belief itself that is important. Any doubts are supposed to be struggled with and overcome.
    I don’t really see any parity here.

  23. @joesw0rld says:

    Hi Ilion,

    Sorry reason won’t help you here. Beware apologetics, they have some very sophisticated nonsense.

  24. @joesw0rld says:

    Hi TFBW, importance is only meaningful in relation to a person. So you’re asking me, why in my personal opinion, truth matters to me. I could give you my reasons, but how would that help?

  25. Ilíon says:

    ^^ It has been my long observation that God-deniers will *always* retreat into un-reason and irrationality so as to protect their God-denial. That is, their pose of just wanting to *reason* is just a pose.

  26. @joesw0rld says:

    Actually Ilion I take that back, my mistake. Reason can of course help anyone, look at the reams of dense apologetics from deep thinkers.
    It’s reason + honesty that will be no help.

  27. TFBW says:

    @joesw0rld: ah, so the metaphysical hook on which you hang the significance of truth is subjectivism, meaning that truth has no intrinsic value at all, but can be valued or not on a person by person basis, just as one may or may not like the taste of aniseed. The application of terms like “truth” and “honesty” then becomes a trap for the unwary, since most people are not radical relativists, but believe these things to have objective moral significance, and will interpret them as such.

    Going back to the questions I raised, I will try to surmise answers from the response you’ve given me. I asked, “why do you posture as though atheism, as a true belief, has some intrinsic virtue independently of the consequences of believing?” I take it that the answer is, “it has no such intrinsic value: this is merely a matter of taste on my part, and any ‘posturing’ comes from using words like ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ which normally convey intrinsic value.” On the question of the metaphysical hook, the answer is, “subjectivism”.

    If that much is correct, then I need to point out factual errors in your original post, in which you say:

    On the matter of the existence of gods atheists prefer truth (while theists praise faith above truth), that isn’t to say atheists are always truthful in other matters. Atheism is a position based on honesty in this regard.

    The first error is that theists do not generally praise faith above truth. Faith is merely the tenacity to hold course in the face of adversity. Faith is not even a virtue unless the thing being held to is true, or otherwise morally appropriate, such as faith in marriage. In general, theists (or Christians, more specifically) only praise faith if it operates in the service of truth or righteous conduct. Faith is definitely subservient to truth, not above it.

    The second error is that you claim atheism is based on honesty due to its (alleged) relationship with the truth, and imply that theism is dishonest by juxtaposition. This is wrong because honesty consists in a lack of deception, not a lack of error. You can be an honest atheist or an honest theist independently of whether God exists, so long as you are actually persuaded by the evidence presented to you, and express your beliefs truthfully. You are only a dishonest atheist or theist if you profess one thing but believe the other.

    With those errors addressed, we see that your position does not really offer a distinction between theism and atheism. Assuming both are honest about their beliefs, then neither is more honest than the other, even if one turns out to be true and the other false. Both prefer truth, but disagree on what the truth is. It just so happens that theism, in the form of Christianity, has a theological basis to prefer truth, whereas on atheism it’s merely a matter of personal taste.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.