Thanks for the clarifications.

My third objection means that religious claims tend to be more irrational than non-religious ones, and are consequently deserving of less credence. Even if secular values and belief systems have to start from some premises, which premises may not be justified by reason alone, that doesn’t mean they are just as untenable as any and all religious beliefs.

I agree with your criticism of Sam Harris’s view that the foundation of morality resides in the “self-evident” notion that “we want to be happy in the sense of maximizing pleasure and opportunity, as revealed by certain thought experiments Harris presents.” Neither science nor reason justifies Harris’s premise. But I wouldn’t consider his premise an outright absurdity. At least he’s attempting to justify this conjecture of his rationally. We can have a rational discussion about it with him. Not so with divinely revealed “truths”. Harris’s conjecture (“fundamental truth” for him) can at least be said to be connected with a very strong intuition issuing from our human nature. It’s not an arbitrary principle revealed by an ancient book. Now of course religious morality can be thought to equally just reflect the predispositions of our nature and the culture where it originated, and from that perspective there is perhaps not much difference between secular and theistic value systems. But the key difference remains that non-theistic beliefs can evolve more rapidly—hopefully for the better, although that’s certainly not guaranteed.

I believe it’s undeniable that humanity has been progressing morally. I think most of us are happy to have been born in our era instead of, say, the Middle Ages, when heretics were burned at the stake. If most humans prefer today’s values, I don’t think it’s naïve to speak of moral progress. And I don’t think this preference is arbitrary or “irrational”. This preference could help us to delineate a system of values that would align even more to the natural preferences of our species. Inquiries in that vein seem to me more rational than blind adherence to religious texts.

While I can readily concede there are some gray areas with respect to differences between religious and non-religious values, that’s not at all the case with respect to specific claims regarding what is properly the realm of science. Any religious claims about the origin of the universe or the creation of life, for example, can rightly be dismissed as irrational and absurd. The same can be said of the notion of an old guy in the sky that’s checking whether I said my prayers today, or of the idea of an eternal soul being reincarnated in different life forms until nirvana is achieved. Why can’t an atheist summarily reject such claims based on their being obviously irrational? Should he be more circumspect just because science can’t explain the ultimate origin of the universe or because it can’t ever reveal the meaning of life? Or because he himself is not fully rational in everything he does or thinks? Would that make him a “hypocrite”? I don’t think so. And I’d say it’s mostly claims if this sort that atheists typically reject, rightly, as irrational. This goes back to my third objection: not every claim is equally probable or credible. One can entertain tentative hypotheses (that may turn out to be totally wrong) while rejecting obvious absurdities, without being inconsistent or hypocritic.

Still, I do get what you say, kind of…: “We’re all pretty dogmatic about our core beliefs and values.” No objections there!

“The point is that atheists tend to reject theism by appealing to reason and by concluding that theism is irrational.” That’s probably the key point of your article. I see nothing wrong with the fact that atheists do that. That atheists commit their own fallacies and that they’re not necessarily fully rational in how they may choose to erect their belief system doesn’t negate that theism is irrational. Rejecting theism a priori doesn’t require that one provides a wholly coherent worldview to replace it. It’s at least a first step towards striving to find a better system, even if such a system may persistently elude us.

You say you’re an atheist. I thought as much. That’s why I found your article rather puzzling.

Interested in natural selection, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, science in general, human nature, consciousness, philosophy and ethics.

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