(Image caption) True believers think atheists cannot be expected to behave morally
As societies mature, many outgrow the need for a spiritual superbeing, argues Big Gods: How religion transformed cooperation and conflictThis is a FABULOUS example of the irrationality of atheism.
IN THE beginning, there were many gods. Societies entertained supernatural beings of bewildering variety. They resided in the heavens, the underworld and the forces of Earth, in things living and nonliving. They were appeased by worship, ritual or sacrifice, communicated with by oracle or divination. They harboured extreme passions, wielded extraordinary powers, and bestowed gift or punishment at will.
How, out of this pantheon, did a handful of monotheistic and polytheistic faiths come to dominate? Ara Norenzayan's perspective is a kind of theological take on survival of the fittest. In Big Gods, he argues that Islam, Christianity and other world religions prospered because they had a competitive edge over their rivals. They alone offered all-knowing, interventionist deities who judged immoral behaviour, an arrangement that encouraged cooperation among large groups of anonymous strangers – because "watched people are nice people". In short, they allowed groups to scale up: they paved the way for modern civilisation.
It is a neat, grand theory, one that Norenzayan seems well qualified to deliver. A social psychologist at the University of British Columbia, Canada, he had a hand in the experimentation and fieldwork he documents to illustrate the roots and nature of human prosociality.
He is conscious of previous attempts to explain religion in a Darwinian framework or as a by-product of human cognition and draws on them liberally. Furthermore, he grew up amid the violence and religious strife of 1980s Lebanon, curious about why a "once vibrant, cosmopolitan society turned against itself, and imploded" over differences in ideas and outlook.
It is a convincing thesis, and whether or not you buy it, some of its implications are compelling. For example, Norenzayan asks why in religious societies atheists are so profoundly distrusted – as many surveys have shown – rather than simply disliked or ignored. The reason, he suggests, is they are considered freeriders. To the faithful, those who don't believe in divine monitoring cannot be expected to act morally.
But he also finds that prejudice against atheists diminishes in nations with strong state institutions. Police, judiciary, and the rule of law can be as effective as a supernatural power at ensuring cooperation and accountability. This explains Norenzayan's most acute observation, addressed only in the last chapter: some of the most cohesive and peaceful societies are also the least religious. In Denmark, he notes, people don't steal bicycles even – especially – when the bicycles are free to use.
Such countries, largely in Scandinavia, have passed a threshold. No longer requiring their big gods to sustain large-scale cooperative behaviour, they have effectively outgrown them. They have "climbed the ladder of religion, and then kicked it away".
None of this explains why the US, one of the most economically developed countries in the world, is still among the most religious, where more than 90 per cent of people believe in God and close to half in a literal interpretation of Genesis. The US, an outlier in this, is a reminder that religion is about more than cooperation, that belief thrives perhaps because it eases deep existential anxieties where reason and logic cannot help.
The ideas in Big Gods resonate well beyond academic debates on the origins of religion. Think of the recent fracas over Twitter and other social media that allow users to speak anonymously, a privilege that has encouraged some to abuse whoever irks them.
This is what happens when people evade both big gods and secular eyes. If watched people are nice people, the unwatched can be the nastiest of all.
The article starts off (in a photo caption) by mocking those who think that atheistic morality is any less moral than religious morality.
It then proceeds to claim that religion itself is merely a product of evolution, and then in great arrogance towards the true God, claims that some European countries have evolved so far that they no longer need a concept of "God" and have kicked away from themselves the very concept, able to stand proudly and securely without it.
The author argues that advanced societies replace god with "strong state institutions". He goes on to claim that "Police, judiciary, and the rule of law can be as effective as a supernatural power at ensuring cooperation and accountability."
Wow! So atheistic morality is just as good as religious (or actually even better because religions are false), but we need big powerful governments to enforce this morality on people. That's what he's saying.
Then note :
"Think of the recent fracas over Twitter and other social media that allow users to speak anonymously, a privilege that has encouraged some to abuse whoever irks them. / This is what happens when people evade both big gods and secular eyes. If watched people are nice people, the unwatched can be the nastiest of all."
So hang on, we should mock anyone who thinks religion produces better morality than atheism, but the atheist who wrote this is conceding that their definition of morality is limited to doing the right thing when someone's watching. No talk here of changing people's hearts, or getting people to want to do the right thing even when there's no state to intervene.
In contrast, true religion leads to heart change where people want to benefit other people, even their enemies, just because they love others. Atheists don't know this kind of love - if I don't know you, and especially if you're getting in my way, I hate you. That's the typical atheistic indifference or hatred to others. "Love your enemies" makes no sense to them. At best, you might put on a face of loving someone just in the hopes of removing their opposition to what you want, or perhaps to position yourself to win over them one way or another. But to truly love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, for others' sake, not because it makes you feel better about yourself, atheism knows nothing of the sort. Yet this is true religion, and true love.
So the author begins by mocking the idea that atheist morality is inferior to religious, and then ends by conceding that their idea of morality is simply conforming with the expectations of the big government in power at the time. Wow, how moral!
Be warned : in that author's scheme, if people aren't moral enough, the solution is a bigger, stronger, more watchful government. The ultimate end of this line of reasoning is a surveillance state : everyone's actions are monitored, all the time.
But the stupidity of atheism doesn't stop there. Here's another piece of stupidity in the article : If morality in the populance comes from "strong state institutions", where does morality in the state institutions come from? Stalin had "strong state institutions", He ensured those strong state institutions were instruments of cruelty and oppression. "Oh, but he was immoral!" Well, if morality is simply whatever the strong state institutions decree, then how can you say Stalin was wrong?
And so atheistic morality as portrayed in this article becomes a mass of true believers submitting themselves in blind faith to the moral dictums of the ruling class.
On another note, it's interesting the tacit admission that atheism is a fun mental game but unfulfilling :
"[America] is a reminder that ... belief thrives perhaps because it eases deep existential anxieties where reason and logic cannot help."
I guess the true believers in atheism just try and ignore their uneasable deep existential anxieties. Personally, I have no existential anxieties whatsoever - logic and reason require me to believe in a Creator, and Yahweh of the Bible is He, and so I can have intellectual stimulation and satisfaction and existential wholeness. But it sounds like the atheist author is conceding he doesn't have it so good.
And so atheism amounts to a bunch of fun mental games that don't make much coherent sense, including rabid claims of moral virtue that on closer inspection fall far short of the true love even of enemies that true religion instils in the heart, and all this for the price tag of deep, irresolvable existential angst. And they call this a good deal?!!
One final point : the whole article arrogantly claims to trace the origin of "god" and tries to show that "god" is a fictional concept no longer needed (as, by the way, Nietzsche believed long ago : "God is dead" - Nietzsche, but of course now "Nietzsche is dead" - God), but in typical atheist fashion it avoids asking the right questions. Purporting to trace the origin of "god", they conveniently fail to question the origin of the purported microscopic speck that supposedly exploded for no scientific reason and became everything there is except the laws of physics that somehow eternally pre-existed. Inept misotheists claim "we've solved that problem - there are simply an infinite number of universies, with infinite variation in their laws of physics and initial arrangements, such that regardless how improbable Evolution might seem, it was destined to happen somewhere". It's funny how atheists profess disdain for anything "unprovable" and then cling so religiously with blind faith to the unobservable and unprovable plethora of universes. It gets even more ludicrous when you realize that these atheists are thereby invoking "infinity" - they mock the concept of a God not bound by finite limitations, but then invent a multiverse with the same characteristics. Truly they are inconsistent and irrational. But rather than relying on historical documents that describe the origins of the universe, as recorded by an eyewitness (God Himself), they resort to their own speculations. Imagine trying to understand ancient Rome by looking only at archaelogical artifacts and refusing to read the writings of historians and other eyewitnesses of the day! You would be stupid. But that's what atheists are doing. But the stupidity doesn't end there either. This infinite set of universes has either been perpetually producing more and more universes (in which case the trail of time stretches out infinitely behind us, in which case we never got here), or else eternally had the full set of infinity universes within it (in which case our universe started at the same time as all the others, so we're back to the "but what started the time clock ticking?" question). In contrast, the one true God, eyewitness to His own creative work, informs us that it was not a mechanism that commenced the mechanisms of the universe as we know it, but a person. Volition - in this case Divine volition - is the first cause. Volition in the paucity of an atheist's understanding is purely mechanical, for after all, the mind is merely a superbly complicated mechanism. And so they scorn the idea of personhood and volition absent matter, and thus they scorn the idea of a person we call "God" who willed of Himself without mechanical prompt, and from His willing then used His power to create all things we know. But in so scorning, they have no option but to believe in the unbelievably and perpetually-inexplicably stupid idea that somehow something comes from nothing, or that that which is eternally at rest comes suddenly to motion without cause. Whilst giving lip service to science, they deny the very most basic tenets of science by claiming the mechanism we know as this universe started with a reaction that had no corresponding action. Science explains the laws of physics - of mechanisms. It was never intended to and cannot wholly explain the actions of persons - volitional creatures. And so God acted - God chose, and followed through on His actions - and this choice, wholly within the will of God, commenced time as we experience it. Atheists can and do perpetually mock the idea of volition as anything other than the result of mechanism, but in so doing they deride the only explanation that can fit with science and explain the origin of our universe. And this explains why - as this article typifies - atheists love to mock and deride the idea of God, and arrogantly presume to show that the idea of a "god" came only after humans came into existence, yet they usually daren't touch on the question of where everything came from, for any close analysis of that question reveals atheism to be utter absurdity. "But you can't tell us where God came from!" God did not come from anywhere. God did not come. God was already and always there. "But then you just believe in an eternal god whilst we believe in an eternal multiverse!" Nay, we believe in an eternal God Who is a person with volition. You believe in an eternal mechanism. Volition can start things without prior cause. Mechanisms cannot. "But volition is a mechanism!" You believe it so in blind faith. It is true that volition can be influenced, and exhibit characteristics of mechanisms. God has made humans so their decisions shape the very nerves in their central nervous system, such that choices become decreasingly less choices and increasingly impulse or habit. For humans, exercising volition is an act of programming our central nervous system to be more likely to automatically follow an equivalent course in future. But volition itself is inherently beyond mere mechanism. Nor is volition the same as randomness. To the atheist mind, since nothing can exist outside matter and energy, except of course paradoxically the very laws of physics which govern matter and energy, and except also paradoxically things like numbers and logic that defy material explanation - to the atheist mind, anything that is not mechanical then must be wholly random. Not that there can be any good explanation of true randomness from a strictly materialistic perspective, but atheists will far rather believe blindly in the existence of true uncaused purposeless randomness than in the existence of volition with true moral culpability for decisions made, even though both are beyond the realm of mechanism. And so we come back to what we've seen repeatedly : atheism is blind faith with inherently irresolvable contradictions that defy explanation and make mockery of the atheist's arrogance in his gorssly over-estimated intellectual fortitude.
No - the issue has never been "god or no god?" or "did god precede us or did we invent him?", but rather which god? And this atheist confesses that his preferred god is the super-powerful all-monitoring set of "strong state instutions", the which themselves inherently have no higher power to answer to, but to which all citizens should then blindly give their allegiance in faith that its dictates are right. The strong state said homosexuality was wrong 70 years ago? Presumably it was right. It says that homosexuality is right today? Presumably it is right. It said 30 years ago we shouldn't kill old people without their consent? Presumably it was right. It says in 15 years that everyone has a duty to die at age 70 if they haven't already? Presumably it's right. The state is god, and this is rarely so clearly seen and so openly admitted as in this article written by this atheist who exhibits for us a grand display of the moral and intellectual and existential bankruptcy of his beliefs.