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[en] Atheism: the default ethical position of humanity
« Online: 10 de Julho de 2008, 19:17:55 »
Atheism: the default ethical position of humanity
By David Nicholls - posted Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Atheism is not another religion. There is no head atheist, chain of command or a supernatural component. It is a private philosophical stance, which unapologetically places ultimate value on the primacy of reason.

Atheism does not have churches or celebration days. Atheists are individuals who pay their taxes, donate to charities, and are volunteers in society to the same extent as everyone else. Atheists have family, friends, acquaintances, careers, pets, hobbies, and so on, and although popular rumour has it that atheists have cranial horns and sacrifice babies, this is untrue. Their essential distinction is that atheists have no invisible means of support.

Some people are under the common misconception that atheism equates with Stalinism, Nazism, communism and so on. This is, of course, mischievous nonsense designed or used as propaganda for consumption by easy ears. Dictatorial social and political systems result from the tyrannical desires of deranged individuals and accommodating circumstances. Religious and non-religious people alike rightfully despise them and any mayhem these ideologies create.

Freely chosen atheism in democracies is the antitheses of forced compliance with narrow political agendas. In fact, atheism promotes informed decision making as the best possible way of governance. This ensures that to the highest extent achievable in human affairs, there is an assurance of equality, compassion and justice before the law.

Where societies do not rely on well-informed choice, as in authoritarian regimens like fascism, suffering is unavoidable. It is also the case that faith-driven doctrines cause similar predicaments. One needs only to watch the international and national nightly news on television to be convinced.

Reliance on ancient literature as a guide to establishing mores is problematical. There are a number of creeds and creeds within creeds, all containing conflicting messages with numerous interpretations inevitably leading to divisiveness, injustice and conflict.

On the other hand, atheism does not endorse acts of violence, encourage others to do so, or attempt to subvert those in disagreement. The explanation is simple. Reasoned argument and not belligerence is the hallmark of atheism. Atheism is the default ethical position of humanity. It does not slavishly follow a set of immutable “sacred” rules among the many on offer.

We are all born atheists, with a percentage indoctrinated personally or culturally by one of the thousands of religions, which exist or have existed. The brand of religion thus adhered to is overwhelmingly dependant on specific location and tradition.

Atheists have no wish to override properly constructed democracy by aggression, by unrepresented interference in politics or by using pre-existing notions. Atheism considers that the only method to secure positive outcomes is to have full regard for all the available evidence, and not just that in favour of a particular ideology.

This does not mean that atheism is a state of perfection or an infallible inoculation against idiocy. But its majority consensus favours reaching better conclusions more so than by inflexible adherence to fashionable dogma. Unfortunately, it is here where the harm of religion overshadows any good or perceived benefit.

A regrettable product of religion is intolerance of different outlooks, particularly where they do not fit a demanding preordained worldview. Religions tend to compel or attempt to implement their opinions onto whole populations to the detriment of arbitrarily selected groups. It is all very well to have “respect” for alleged revelation, but it is not acceptable to expect others who do not, to live by its dictates.

A study of freely chosen atheism in educated secularised nations demonstrates it to be the mechanism encouraging and nurturing happiness, prosperity, equality, compassion and justice. In contrast, those places on the planet where religion is inseparable from politics or where antiquated religious ideals form the basis for behaviour, the same is not true. Western Europe exemplifies this point very decisively.

Atheism promotes all persons as being equal before the law; to have a fully rounded education available for everyone; to cast out all kinds of ideological indoctrination; to ensure that religion and politics remain separate identities; and that every mature citizen retain the right to choose or not choose a religion without adverse consequence.

The imperative of adherence to a religion must be that its practice be a private concern between consenting adults and that any of its precepts, if not conforming to rational conclusion, are not politicised.

There is no grand plan for an atheist empire. The wider acceptance of atheism does not advantage anyone with large-scale power, kudos or money.

Some people see the promotion of atheism as a threat because many religions have dwindling numbers of adherents. This loss of control and thus sway over people’s lives and politics is the reason for the frightened panic. Many religious authorities and followers therefore look for the downside of atheism where it does not exist. Wild stories of the immorality of atheism suddenly emerge and become real to those alarmed by the unstoppable rise of a system of thinking repressed for centuries.

Believing in a god or higher force has a history as long as consciousness, which has embedded it deeply in the human psyche. It has evolved from times when limited knowledge of nature had its only answers in supernatural explanations. Fears of the certainty of eventual nothingness, of wishing for a better life, and indeed, of just surviving the next winter, war, drought or famine, powerfully influenced the worldview of our forebears. A few hundred years of scientific discovery is not going to yield easily to thousands steeped in superstition. It is foolish to think otherwise.

There is, however, a hope that a majority of civilisation’s numbers will eventually see the emperor of religion has no clothes. We need to look at the immense problems faced by the planet with minds unhampered by faith driven imperatives, many considerably adding to the sum total of misery and strife. The main negative influence is their inherent divisive nature, giving unhelpful support to tribal feelings of them and us.

The argument that without religious belief, people would have no morals is specious. A brief look at other higher animals especially shows how humans have evolved utilising co-operative traits, which benefit all. Love, friendship, protection of young, mother-offspring relationships, and so on, all correspond to human behaviour. These characteristics are inherent and if they were missing, we could not have possibly evolved, rather, we would be extinct eons ago. If people need the imagined presence of a god to control aberrant attitudes, one has to wonder how other animals have survived, as they do not have dependency on any supernatural beings for their mores.

The added advantage afforded humans and not other creatures are we can codify and improve upon our inherent helpful propensities as a way of ensuring the controlling of wrongdoing as a matter of law.

The observation of parliaments or governing bodies worldwide reveals that the less religious interference, the better off is its citizens. To suggest that one needs a god for an ethical outlook is really an accusation against those promoting such a position. If a religious person found proof that a god did not exist, would they suddenly go on a rampage of murder, rape and pillaging? As a high proportion of atheists were once religious and no statistics support such a notion, the answer is, of course not.

On a cautionary note, as stated, atheism is demonstrably the default ethical position of humanity but it does not carry a guarantee of saving the planet. The only definitive statement worthy of consideration, to paraphrase Winston Churchill judging democracy against various political systems, is that as a social advantage, atheism “is better than the rest”.

A study by Peter Singer & Marc Hauser concluded that choices made by religious and non-religious individuals facing ethical dilemmas are remarkably similar. This is an example of the quandaries confronted:

    A runaway boxcar is about to run over five people walking on the tracks. A railroad worker is standing next to a switch that can turn the boxcar onto a side track, killing one person, but allowing the five to survive. Flipping the switch is ______.

    The blank space needs filling in with, “obligatory”, “permissible”, or “forbidden”.

Of 1,500 respondents, 90 per cent chose “permissible” even though most, both the religious and the non religious could not adequately explain why.

For those wishing to know the reason they selected “permissible” here is the explanation: in almost all societies, it is “forbidden” to kill an innocent person deliberately, so it must be wrong to say such killing is “obligatory”. In this particular case, however, one or more deaths will occur whatever the respondent decides, but fewer will occur if the switch is flipped, so “permissible” is at least the lesser of two evils.

However, in prosperous democracies, statistical evidence of religious sectors in communities or even whole countries, as is the case with the USA, show a clear correlation between greater religious observance and higher numbers of dysfunctional characteristics.

The following extract is from a study by Gregory S Paul:

    In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies. The most theistic prosperous democracy, the US, is exceptional, but not in the manner, Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the US as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. Youth suicide is an exception to the general trend because there is not a significant relationship between it and religious or secular factors. No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In some cases the highly religious US is an outlier in terms of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially comparable secular developed democracies. In other cases, the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly so.

The apparent discrepancy that on the one hand, religious and nonreligious persons make similar ethical decisions and, on the other hand, a study demonstrating religion equates with dysfunction is clearly understandable and one supports the other on investigation of both cases presented. The Singer/Hauser paper dealt with specific hypothetical circumstances unrelated to any particular religion where the subjects used innate abilities. Gregory Paul however, cast a far wider net in statistically correlating dysfunctional societies with various amounts of religiosity.

Evolution has supplied us with the ability to make ethical decisions but religions can interfere with this natural process and produce mayhem.

We fail to heed a lesson of such importance at our peril.
« Última modificação: 10 de Julho de 2008, 19:20:30 por uiliníli »

Offline uiliníli

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Re: [en] Atheism: the default ethical position of humanity
« Resposta #1 Online: 10 de Julho de 2008, 19:19:41 »
I think the author in some points mixes up the concepts of atheism and secular humanism, which are different things, but the text is nice anyway.


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