Sunday, 10 March 2013

Am I A Dishonest Atheist?

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.
The above quote is taken from a review of A.C. Grayling's The God Argument written by Damon Linker. I've heard this sentiment expressed often enough, yet I've never really understood what it means. Perhaps I am only paying lip service when I affirm all those points, but haven't truely internalised it. And while I could nitpick that humanity is not entirely the product of random events (natural selection is a non-random process), it's hard to see just how all these things are meant to be so terrible.

I'd like to dismiss it at rhetoric (can one be a fair critic of the arguments for a position if they find the consequences for that position so dire?), but since the point comes up often perhaps I am missing something. Why do we need to worry about being alone in the universe? There are 7 billion of us after all - and our brains don't need more than about 150 of them at any given time. Why do we need someone to hear our prayers? We can communicate with others here and not. Why do we need humans to be wanted into existence? I'm here because my parents wanted me. Why do we need to have intrinsic dignity? We decide the dignity for ourselves. Why should our certain annihilation worry us? It's life we care about, and that comes before death. Why does ultimate suffering matter? We live contingently. Why does it not matter that our lives matter in a larger sense? Our lives matter now. Why does it matter that there's no ultimate punishment for crimes? Again, we don't live in the ultimate.

Now perhaps I'm being dishonest with myself. This blog entry won't matter in any ultimate sense, nor will it make much of a difference to anything other than satisfying a personal psychological disposition. Yet I'm not deluding myself (at least I don't think I am) into thinking that there's some ultimate sense in which this is ultimately meaningful and enriching.

God, it seems, solves a problem that is of the believer's own creation. Are these really universal problems, or problems that come from a belief to begin with? And even if they are universal, would we be doing anything other than appeasing our psychological dispositions? It's hard to see that even if these are real problems for us, that they are real in any sense other than a projection onto the universe.

It does seem odd that religious people keep telling atheists how terrible it is to be an atheist to the point that they have to tell happy atheists that they're doing it wrong. I can only conclude that divine hiddenness is only a problem if you believe that there's really a God.

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