Saturday, June 13, 2009

Theism, atheism, knowledge and ethics

The conflict between theism and atheism is not a philosophical conflict, i.e. a conflict over how to think precisely and carefully. It is not an epistemic conflict, i.e. a conflict over what we know. It is an ethical conflict, a conflict over what is good.

Theism, whether fundamentalist or "moderate", is a very specific meta-ethical choice: It is the establishment of one's ethical beliefs as authoritative. It is not enough for the theist to disapprove of murder, however strongly; he must find or create some authority to establish his disapproval as correct and truthful. It must be true — in precisely the same sense that the law of gravity is true — that murder is wrong, regardless of what anyone's opinion happens to be.

(Of course theism is not the only way to make this meta-ethical choice; 90% (perhaps 99%) of secular philosophy has been dedicated to finding or creating some sort of extra-human "objective" ethical authority. Theism just happens to be the easiest and most popular way of doing so.)

Atheism, on the other hand, is not itself a meta-ethical choice. It is first simply a rejection of the "easy way" of privileging one's ethical opinions as true by attributing them to the commands of a deity. Note that denying the manifest truth of a deity just to establish ethical license is as absurd as denying the manifest truth of the Federal Government to establish ethical license to counterfeit money; it's completely ridiculous to assert that atheists really do secretly acknowledge manifest truth of a deity and deny this truth in speech only to establish ethical license.

Atheism results from the direct privilege of knowledge as the highest ethical value*. It is not enough to believe the truth, we have to know it, really know it. No matter how distressing, uncomfortable or painful the truth, the idea of not knowing the truth is more more distressing. And we actually know, by any system more sophisticated than making shit up and calling it true, there is no god, at least no god worthy of worship, obedience or admiration. (If you think a god is hiding behind the couch, you're an idiot. If you find deism (i.e. The God Who Makes No Difference) comforting I must confess complete incomprehension of what you mean by "comfort". Either that or you're bullshitting me and/or yourself: you think your god makes some difference somehow, and you're back to theism, not deism. Note too that believing a creator endows human beings with inalienable rights is not deism.)

Of course, atheism can result from other bases; one can be an atheist for trivial or superstitious causes. The converse is important: If you are an honest seeker after knowledge, you will become an atheist.

You might not stop bullshitting yourself, but you'll at least start bullshitting yourself in more sophisticated ways (i.e. philosophy), instead of just adopting the slave mentality of fundamentalist theism: my priest says God will send me to hell if I do it, therefore it's wrong; or the infantile mentality of moderate theism: I don't like it, therefore God doesn't likes it, therefore it's wrong.


  1. "infantile mentality of moderate theism: I don't like it, therefore God doesn't likes it, therefore it's wrong."

    In the blogging world your interpretations are about as infantile as it gets.

  2. UnBeguiled: This guy seems to disagree.

    That guy is completely full of shit. His argument boils down to God is by definition not understandable, we don't understand God, therefore God exists.

    Makarios: Did you actually take the time and trouble to post a comment that tells us nothing more than that you're a fucktard?

  3. The Robot Girl6/15/09, 1:17 AM

    So believers think murder is wrong- and to prove its wrong, they invent god, who rubber stamps this.
    This stuff is very very very hard for me to follow (just being honest and stuff, larry).
    Ok then, here's me question.....
    As atheists who believe murder is rong, why can't we use 'the will of the people'- to stamp this, instead of god?

  4. There are a lot of different ways to talk about ethics without a god. God is a true "rubber stamp": it's not at all independent of the original evaluation. There are ways of "rubber stamping" ethical beliefs under atheism, but most atheist ethical systems have some sort of independent or objective consideration.

  5. The Robot Girl6/15/09, 5:57 AM

    like murder is rong- cos everyone knoes evry well its wrong, so we don't actually need god to tell us.
    objective measurement is like human values of civilzation, the will of the people, it can be like the standard we have.
    So they got god-allah.
    we got- the will of the people.
    it's like that.

  6. "If you are an honest seeker after knowledge, you will become an atheist."

    How would one demonstrate/prove this assertion?

  7. No god exists. We know no god exists. Therefore an honest seeker after knowledge will become an atheist.

  8. We can also make an evidentiary case:

    We can independently determine whether one is a theist/atheist (content of belief) and an honest seeker after the truth (epistemic methodology). We find almost zero correlation between theists and honest seekers after the truth, at least about God.


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