The Value of Atheism (2010)

Ryan Stringer


Introduction

A little over two years ago I was working on a defense of the argument from evil at my mother's house, and at some point my mother and I started talking about it. After a lively and lengthy discussion, she asked me why defending atheism was so important to me. Of all of the challenges that she had for me, I had not been prepared for this one. Though I managed to come up with an answer, at the time I was much more focused on the fight than why I was fighting. I have since reflected more deeply on this issue, and what follows is my first real attempt to thoughtfully answer my mother's question concerning the value of atheism.


The Question of Value

After one has accepted the truth of atheism, questions about its value arise. Once you conclude that there probably is no God, then what? Is this fact worth defending? Should atheists even bother to rebut their critics and develop arguments for their positions? From an "existential" point of view, I think that there is no right or wrong answer; each person must decide for him- or herself. But my own answer is: yes, atheism is worth defending, and this certainly cannot be done without rebutting its critics and developing arguments for it. In the remainder of this section I will present my reasons for thinking that atheism is worth defending.

Primary Reasons

The main reasons why I think that atheism is worth defending are epistemic ones. The first of these reasons is quite simple: atheism is a true or rational belief. As both intrinsically and instrumentally valuable things, truth and rational belief are very important goods; so any belief will be valuable insofar as it is true or rational, and this value constitutes a very good reason to defend it. Other epistemic reasons for defending atheism are constituted by our duties as responsible epistemic agents. As such agents, we have a duty to defend true and rational beliefs for their own sake, as well as a duty to defend true and rational beliefs in order to engender such beliefs in other epistemic agents. Of course, there are occasional circumstances in which it would be imprudent or insensitive to defend true or rational belief—for example, trying to convince a delusional individual that he or she is irrational, or staunchly arguing against an afterlife at a funeral. But even though there are certainly cases in which there are overriding moral or practical considerations against defending true or rational belief, the acceptance of atheism as a true or rational belief still provides these very good epistemic reasons in favor of defending it.

Secondary Reasons

There are several secondary reasons for defending atheism—reasons that are intended to supplement the primary reasons. If atheism is not probably true or rationally acceptable, then it is not worth defending. However, if someone is unwilling or hesitant to defend it for the primary reasons alone, then perhaps the secondary ones will be sufficiently motivating.

        1. Religiously Inspired or Reinforced Contempt

Once accepted, atheism is also worth defending in order to combat the hatred, violence, and discrimination that is often motivated or reinforced by religious belief. Such belief has inspired or rationalized inquisitions, witch hunts, people being burned at the stake, crusades, terrorist attacks, and so on. For some things, it is not clear whether religious belief provides motivation or reinforcement. Indisputably, traditional Western monotheism has been and remains unfriendly to women (misogynistic), endorsing or sanctioning the following ideas. First, women are second-class servants and the property of men. Second, women can be given to men by fathers, purchased, or taken as war prizes. Third, women may be domestically oppressed and denied access to birth control. Fourth, women may be beaten, burned, raped, or killed with impunity (e.g., in Islam, women can be stoned to death for not covering themselves "properly" or burned with acid for things like going to school). Finally, women are demonized as the source of evil for being sexually desirable (i.e., they are a "sinful temptation") and for being purportedly responsible for the Fall of Humankind ever since, according to legend, the first man freely accepted a fruit from the tree of knowledge offered to him by the first woman. Holding women responsible for the fall of humankind, and seeing them as temptations to sin, stem solely from religious doctrine. But it is not clear whether the other instances of misogyny are motivated by the more traditional belief in God, or whether such belief simply reinforces already existing products of patriarchal structures. Either way, though, traditional belief in God has had negative effects on the lives of women through hatred, violence, and discrimination.

The pernicious effects of traditional belief in God also negatively impact nonheterosexuals. Perhaps the most salient example in the United States today is the denial of marriage and its benefits to gay couples, which is said to violate the "sanctity" of marriage or contravene "God's plan." Here religious belief not only sanctions blatant discrimination, but desecrates the First Amendment and the purportedly inalienable rights guaranteed to American citizens by the Declaration of Independence. Of course, this is the mild side of religious heterosexism. Nonheterosexuals are also viewed as evil deviants that deserve to be hated and mistreated, and are even blamed for the misfortunes of others (apparently God punishes some people for the sins of others). This can result in verbal assaults, political discrimination, and violent crimes like beatings and bombings. In outright theocratic countries, nonheterosexuals face execution by the state. Defending nonheterosexuals from the outrageous injustices of zealous believers goes hand in hand with the defense of atheism.

While nonheterosexuals and women constitute well over half of the US population, an even larger group endangered by traditional belief in God is "sinners"—which basically encompasses the entire human race! According to the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worldviews, human nature is defined by wrongdoing: we are sinners that commit our own sin and have inherited the sin of our oldest ancestors, and thus are in endless need of purification. This negative and dehumanizing characterization of humans, along with the goodness of punishing wrongdoers, makes it much easier to "punish" others with severe mistreatment for real or imagined sin, and provides people a "legitimate" and even "noble" outlet for their sadism.[1] Ending or preventing the harm and injustice sanctioned by this rationalization for sadism, while simultaneously aiming for a complete and more accurate depiction of human beings, is another reason to fight traditional belief in God.

Of course, a critic could concede such reasons for defending atheism while offering similar ones for attacking atheism. Atheism too, one might argue, can have negative consequences; just look at Stalin's gulags or Communist repression in China.[2] Since both theism and atheism are associated with negative consequences, one might argue that these kinds of reasons cut both ways and do not support the defense of either view. But while atheists have undoubtedly done bad things, it is very doubtful that their atheism was the motivating factor behind such behavior—for there are no canonized texts, institutions, or ideologies of atheism that endorse amorality or that suggest, demand, or offer great reward for doing bad things in the name of atheism. In Communist states, it is not atheism that calls for bad behavior, but instead certain interpretations of Communism. In fact, because Communism functions a lot like a religion—as a political ideology rather than a religious one—these examples do not really bolster this objection. It seems more promising for our imagined critic to argue that atheism can reinforce bad behavior; but this, too, is rather unlikely given that there are no canonized texts, institutions, or ideologies of atheism to do the reinforcing. Of course, we can nonetheless imagine cases in which atheistic belief could reinforce bad behavior; but even in these hypothetical cases, such behavior is very likely due to the rejection of theism conjoined with the residual false belief—promoted by various religious traditions—that moral principles and motivation are grounded in theism alone. Therefore, it seems that more fault for alleged bad behavior coming from atheists would lay with religious tradition than with atheism, at least insofar as religious tradition staunchly maintains that God is necessary for moral behavior to have any justification at all.

Suppose we grant that atheism has some genuine negative consequences. That may simply be the price we have to pay for the promotion of truth and rational belief. Fortunately, in contrast to the negative consequences of traditional theism (which could fill volumes), the supposed negative consequences of atheistic belief are probably scant at best, and thus the price we must pay is probably very small. Also, contrary to the dogmatic presumptions of many theists, atheists are like other people in that they tend not to be immoral, dishonest deviants. Instead, they tend to be honest and helpful, liberal and tolerant, and less likely to be violent and commit crimes than certain kinds of religious individuals.[3] Therefore, even if there are negative consequences of atheistic belief, they are miniscule compared to those of traditional theism, and are not likely to amount to much; so fighting the ill effects of traditional theism is still a good reason to defend atheism.

Finally, someone could object that fighting against the negative consequences of traditional theism does not give us a reason to defend atheism per se. Such a reason could be used to equally justify the defense of any belief system that tries to combat the ill effects of traditional theism, including other theistic belief systems. While this is true, it does not mean that combating the ill effects of traditional theism is not a good reason to defend atheism. In fact, any good consequences (or potential ones) of defending true or rational beliefs provide good reasons for doing so regardless of whether or not these consequences result from those beliefs alone. For example, if a student can study equally well in any coffee shop in town but cannot study well in his or her apartment, then he or she has an equally good reason to go to any coffee shop before a test. Although the need for a good study environment is not a reason to go to any particular coffee shop over all the others, he or she still has a good reason to go to any one of these coffee shops because doing so would foster studying. Similarly, even if different belief systems combat the ill effects of traditional theism, we still have a good reason to defend atheism because it is such a belief system. Of course, it may not be the case that atheism is equally effective at fighting the ill effects of traditional theism as other belief systems, so we might have a better reason to defend a different belief system in order to fight the ill effects of traditional theism. However, fighting the ill effects of traditional theism is meant to be a supplementary reason for defending the truth or rationality of atheism—it is not meant to be taken alone. To go back to my coffee shop analogy, we could say that atheism is like the coffee shop that you should go to because, even though it may not provide the best study environment, it has a pretty good study environment along with the one thing the others do not have: that enchanting clerk behind the counter that consumes all of your romantic musings.

        2. Developing Secular Ethics and Public Policies

Another reason to defend atheism is to foster the development of a secular morality and public policies based upon the concerns of real, sentient creatures. Religious morality typically treats God's wishes as primary, and regards his commands as inherently right regardless of their effects on human welfare. For example, the Catholic Church categorically opposes birth control even though it would hinder overpopulation, reduce the spread of AIDS, and prevent children from being born into poverty, disease, and violence. Moreover, birth control allows human beings to engage in sexually pleasurable activity with lowered risk of unwanted pregnancy and decreased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. The Catholic Church's "abstain or reproduce" position is very harmful to human welfare and has no justification other than God's supposed infallible endorsement.

Besides downplaying or ignoring human interests, traditional belief in God tends to promote obedience over autonomy, weakness over strength, and dependence over independence. Of all of the religious virtues, obedience to God is the most fundamental. (For example, "Islam" literally means submission to God.) This obedience is blind and absolute, and so entails performing, without question, any action that God is thought to command. But this mindset is antithetical to our need to think and act as rational and autonomous agents; indeed, it denies that we should be rational and autonomous agents. A case could be made that such obedience is incompatible with being a moral agent who engages in moral reasoning and adheres to moral precepts.[4] In order to be virtuous, one must act according to precepts that one can conscientiously approve of after deliberation; but this is precisely what we forfeit by perfect obedience. To make matters worse, the demand to relinquish our autonomy encourages weakness and dependence, which is then reinforced by slogans like "God is my strength." Another good reason for defending atheism, then, is to encourage the promotion of ethical rules and public policies based solely on the interests of human and nonhuman animals, and the promotion of true virtues compatible with moral agency.

        3. Solving the World's Problems

Many people think that belief in God is the solution to the world's problems. However, thousands of years of widespread religious belief did little or nothing to solve these problems, and in many instances actually caused additional problems or intensified existing ones. Instead of solving our problems, putting faith in a nonexistent being to solve our problems for us stands in the way of fruitful thinking and real solutions.[5] Prayer has not ended things like war and hunger; only actual human efforts "on the ground" have mitigated it. Imagine how much better life could be if all of the energy currently consumed in prayer were instead directed toward genuine work with organizations that try to end war and hunger, or toward thinking of novel solutions to these problems. Just think of all of the real solutions to sickness and disease that science has provided, and how much worse the world would be if faith and prayer were taken to be the only solution. Following in the footsteps of scientists to search for real solutions to problems is yet another good reason to defend atheism.

        4. Restoring the Value of Earthly Life

Belief in a traditional God often results in the devaluation of this earthly life in favor of an afterlife. If attaining eternal bliss or avoiding eternal punishment is the sole goal of earthly life, then this life is a mere means to a far more important end. But if earthly life only has instrumental value, and the afterlife is the real focus, then it becomes easier to perform and rationalize horrendous acts if they are thought to lead to salvation and eternal bliss. An obvious example of this is the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by fundamentalist Muslims who believed that their attacks would ensure their entrance into Heaven (where 72 virgins would be waiting to have sex with them upon arrival—talk about an obvious patriarchal fantasy!). Worse still, it becomes even easier to perform and rationalize horrendous acts if one thinks that they not only ensure entrance into Heaven, but avoid the eternal fires of Hell. With the prospect of maximal reward or maximal punishment, what is done in earthly life, no matter how horrific, can shrink to insignificance in the believer's psyche. Another reason for defending atheism, then, is to combat this devaluation of earthly life.

Of course, a critic could concede this and yet again try to offer a similar reason for attacking atheism because it can lead to the devaluation of earthly life as well. If there is no eternal afterlife, no eternal consequences for our earthly behavior, then what does it matter what we do? Why not plunder the earth and use everything in it for whatever we wish? While such a consequence of atheism might be possible, it is far from common and is actually a symptom of the instrumental-value view of earthly life that atheists are likely to argue against. For such questions arise only if (a) earthly life is seen as only capable of being instrumentally valuable and (b) there is no afterlife and hence no end to give earthly life any value. By contrast, such questions do not arise if we do not presuppose (a) and instead treat the content of our earthly lives as intrinsically valuable—all actions and events matter because that is all there is. Far from devaluing earthly life, atheists are likely to be interested in maximizing the goodness of its content, which requires treating it as an end in itself and not as a mere means to a fictional afterlife.

        5. Accepting Our Place in the Biosphere

Another common idea tied to traditional belief in God is the belief in our cosmic superiority—that we are created in the image of God, and that we own the world because it was created for us by God. On this view, our interests take paramount importance, while those of other living things are negligible or completely unimportant. Consequently, we claim property rights over other animals and treat them as we wish, no matter how insensitively or cruelly. Of course, this is not a necessary consequence of traditional belief in God; some believers agree that the interests and well-being of nonhuman animals should be included in our moral calculations. However, it was not until Jeremy Bentham introduced his utilitarian secular ethics that many people granted the moral status of animals; and utilitarianism arose as an alternative to the institutionalized morality of Christianity that has dominated Western civilization since Constantine. Another good reason to defend atheism, then, is to fight the institutionalized speciesism that often accompanies traditional belief in God.

        6. The Traditional God Makes for a Terrible Role Model

Believers widely regard the traditional God of Western monotheism as the paragon of moral virtue; he is, after all, morally perfect by definition. However, their sacred texts hardly portray this God as an acceptable role model. Let's start with their texts' account of his behavior as a selfish, cruel, control-hungry tyrant: he does whatever he pleases, commands perfect obedience to his primary and all-important wishes, threatens us with eternal maximal punishment and administers harsh earthly punishment for disobedience, and directly and constantly reiterates throughout the sacred texts that human beings should be afraid of him. This is certainly not the kind of behavior we'd expect from an omnibenevolent, morally perfect being who loves us. Moreover, the traditional God is portrayed as possessing unbelievable vanity: he not only needs to be praised and worshipped constantly, but he created humans precisely for this purpose, and created a place of eternal misery for those that do not fulfill this purpose. This portrait of a mad narcissist falls far short of our concept of moral perfection. Finally, although God purportedly knows what we need before we ask for it, he expects us to beg and plead for what we need before possibly granting it. Is this cruel, gratuitous display of power that humiliates and degrades us what we'd expect from a kind, loving parent, or a morally perfect being? Imagine how much worse the world would be if we emulated this sort of behavior to improve ourselves. And yet a God who purportedly behaves this way is regarded not only as a role model, but as the role model for humankind by many if not most believers. Standing firm against the promotion of this sort of God as a role model for human behavior is another reason to defend atheism.

        7. Contempt for Free Thinking

My final reason for opposing traditional belief in God is the anti-intellectualism that often accompanies it. For many traditional believers and religious institutions, belief in God has been moralized to the point that nonbelief is regarded as a grave sin, and so any doubt or critical thinking which may lead to nonbelief is also regarded as sinful. Traditional belief in God also undergirds a complete ideological framework where any independent inquiry relying on our rational faculties that might challenge that framework is feared, frowned upon, and fought against (e.g., evolutionary biology). As Bertrand Russell nicely put it, for many religious believers and institutions, "it is their business to expound an unchanging truth, revealed once for all in utter perfection, so that they become necessarily opponents of all intellectual and moral progress."[6] So besides standing in the way of progress, religious ideology is unacceptably hostile to and condemning of our desire to think freely as rational and autonomous beings—something that we can legitimately claim as a right.


The Question of Action

If we accept that atheism is worth defending—that we should rebut our critics and offer arguments for atheism—how proactively should we promote it? Provided that we do not encourage violence (e.g., bombing random churches) or otherwise promote unethical behavior, there seems to be no one correct answer; each person has to choose how proactive he or she wants to be. Personally, I think that individuals should be outspoken about their atheism in most circumstances and, at the very least, respond to direct challenges or theistic assertions (unless, of course, there are overriding moral or practical considerations not to do so: one should not be strident that there is no afterlife at a funeral). At the most extreme level, atheists could go knocking door to door, rant on college campuses and street corners, or directly challenge family and friends without first being provoked; but I am averse to encouraging atheists to act like analogues of annoying, self-righteous, and in-your-face evangelists.

A more respectable level of activism would refrain from such counterproductive activities. It could include making pamphlets and leaving them on doorsteps; setting up information booths at college campuses; organizing public forums or debates; writing books, papers, poems, and so on that promote atheism; or asking family and friends if they would like to have a religious discussion and allowing them to enter it freely. These less aversive methods of introducing people to atheism would not be confrontational or invasive; people could throw away pamphlets that they do not want to read, walk past information booths, abstain from public forums or debates, ignore atheistic literature, or refuse to participate in critical discussions of religion. Also, this sort of open-ended activism would seem to make it more likely for believers to listen to our views and give atheism serious consideration. In other words, it is both practical and respectable to promote atheism in this moderate manner.


Are There Indispensable Benefits of Theism?

At this point a critic could argue that despite my primary and secondary reasons for defending and promoting atheism, the benefits of religion are so great and unique that it is still better for people to believe in a traditional God. These supposed benefits fall into two broad categories: moral and psychological.

1. Moral Benefits

A very common line of reasoning holds that God is necessary to ground any moral principles, and that the benefits of acknowledging that there are such grounds to behave morally outweigh the negative consequences of traditional belief in God. However, the idea that God is necessary to ground moral principles is patently false. Moral principles are either independently determined by (or grounded in) the nature of things, or they are determined by something else. If we suppose that no moral standards are determined by the nature of things, do we have to conclude that the something else that determines right and wrong is God's will? Certainly not—instead of taking God's decree as the ground of morality, we could in the same manner determine moral principles by our own decree. Because we can ground morality ourselves at least as well as God could, God is not necessary to do so. On the other hand, if we suppose that there are moral standards independently determined by the nature of things, then again God is not necessary for morality because it is grounded independently of him.

Perhaps God isn't necessary to ground moral principles, a critic might concede, because right and wrong are established independently of God's decree; but an all-knowing God might still be necessary to reveal to us what is right and what is wrong. Without God, the argument goes, we would have no way of knowing such things. But why should we think that this is true? It certainly is not obvious that we cannot figure out right and wrong on our own, and I can see no good reason to believe that we cannot. And in any case, God's depicted commands and behaviors are horrendous—various sacred texts and religious institutions portray God commanding or sanctioning actions which are at odds our moral sensibilities through and through. On top of this, this world contains a massive amount of apparently gratuitous evil, so it is highly doubtful that any God responsible for this world could be reasonably regarded as morally perfect. Consequently, God's reliability as a moral reporter is highly dubious, leaving us only with our own cognitive faculties to decide moral matters.

Even if God is not necessary to ground moral principles or reveal right and wrong to us, there is one more way in which God might be necessary for morality. Traditional belief in God is intertwined with belief in eternal postmortem reward or punishment for earthly behavior. If such belief provides an essential (or even the only) motivation for people to help others or to behave morally in general, then it might be too socially beneficial to discourage. Without the prospect of divine reward or punishment, the argument goes, no one would have a reason—or perhaps enough reason—to help others or to act morally. However, the idea that belief in God's eternal judgment is necessary to motivate altruistic and moral behavior is again patently false. After all, plenty of people do good things without having any religious motivation because helping others or acting morally is intrinsically valuable—that is, good for its own sake. As such, helping others or acting morally does not require any external motivation; instead, it is its own reward. In fact, many helpful and morally good theists would probably exhibit such behavior regardless of whether or not they believed in God. At most, their belief in God might reinforce being altruistic and moral, but I highly doubt that it is the main or only reason why they act this way. On the contrary, I think that altruistic and morally good people act as they do because such behavior is its own reward, and hence is intrinsically motivating—whether they are theists or not.

But perhaps our imagined critic would argue for a weaker claim: that traditional belief in God provides an essential motivation for some people to at least act morally. Though the threat of human punishment can provide some incentive to be moral, it is nonetheless possible to beat the legal system, overpower or hide from potential punishers, or have our immoral actions go undetected. Without the prospect of unavoidable divine punishment, the argument goes, those undeterred by the threat of human punishment would have insufficient reason to be moral.

While there may be some grain of truth in this worry, belief in postmortem rewards and punishments seems unlikely to restrain many immoral people. Most people are probably either morally motivated, or else sufficiently deterred from acting immorally by the prospect of human punishment. The few that are neither are not likely to be deterred by the prospect of divine punishment, either. Since any postmortem punishment for one's transgressions would be delayed for perhaps decades, the prospect of such punishment is probably too remote to have the immediate deterrent effect needed. Humans, like other animals, respond well to rewards and punishments which closely follow their behavior. The more these rewards and punishments are delayed, the less likely they are to influence our behavior. Therefore, it is not likely that divine punishment provides motivation to be moral for those who have no other motivation to be moral. In fact, our overcrowded prisons provide empirical support for this, and for the unlikelihood that belief in postmortem reward provides sufficient moral motivation for these individuals to act morally. Because traditional belief in God is not likely to motivate moral behavior, and (at best) might do so for only a small number of individuals, such a possible benefit is too small to outweigh my reasons for defending and promoting atheism in most circumstances.

2. Psychological Benefits

One psychological benefit commonly claimed for traditional belief in God is that it gives life meaning and purpose, which if true may well outweigh the negative aspects of such belief. But people can (and do) create their own meaning and purposes without seeking such from God, tailoring their life projects and goals to their and others' interests, rather than having them imposed upon them from the outside. Because such a benefit is not unique to belief in God, it does not constitute a good reason to refrain from defending and promoting atheism. (In fact, the benefit of meaning and purpose can be found in defending and promoting atheism.)

Other psychological benefits of traditional belief in God, or of its supporting institutions, might outweigh any negative aspects of such belief. For example, belief in a God that loves us, is looking out for us, or is on our side can provide comfort, confidence, strength, and self-esteem given the intrinsic goodness of being loved and supported. Moreover, believing that we are all God's children can engender a sense of community that brings people together and provides more comfort, confidence, strength, and general support. While it is true that belief in God can provide these benefits, once again such belief is not necessary to secure them. Instead, these benefits are attainable through secular means. For example, knowing that other people love us, are looking out for us, or are on our side can provide comfort, confidence, strength, and self-esteem given the intrinsic goodness of being loved and supported. Furthermore, being autonomous and self-reliant (which is typically frowned upon by religious institutions) is another source of strength and confidence.

In addition, a sense of community and its related benefits can be engendered by secular beliefs—like the fact that we are all human beings with feelings, needs, desires, interests, and goals, and are living in an indifferent and sometimes cruel universe. Because these benefits are not limited to those who believe in God, they do not constitute good reasons to refrain from defending and promoting atheism.

Furthermore, traditional belief in God is doctrinally tied up with belief in an eternal afterlife that promises maximal reward—especially that of being reunited with dead loved ones. There does not seem to be any secular equivalent to the psychological benefits that accompany belief in an afterlife. Nevertheless, the idea of death as an eternal rest and a deliverance from all evil for us and our loved ones is also a very comforting and beneficial one. As Arthur Schopenhauer beautifully puts it, death is the return to "the blessed calm of nothingness."[7] Moreover, the benefit of believing in an eternal, maximally rewarding afterlife must be tempered by the cost of acknowledging the corresponding possibility of ending up in an eternal, maximally punishing afterlife; and if one destination is just as likely as the other, any psychological benefits of the afterlife beliefs accompanying traditional theism must be canceled out by their psychological costs.

Finally, the sacred texts of traditional Western monotheism portray God as a cruel, controlling punisher, making the probability of going to Hell higher than that of going to Heaven (and explicit verses state that few individuals end up in Heaven, such as Matthew 7:13-14). Consequently, the psychological costs of traditional afterlife beliefs might actually far outweigh their benefits. Of course, even if the probability of ending up in Heaven is greater than that of ending up in Hell, it is still a gamble, whereas the blessed calm of death is guaranteed to everyone on an atheistic view. Therefore, even if belief in an eternal, maximally rewarding afterlife has great and unique psychological benefit, adopting a secular view of death can secure a large amount of psychological benefit while simultaneously avoiding the psychological cost of possibly ending up in an eternal, maximally punishing afterlife. Thus, the psychological benefit of such religious beliefs does not constitute a good reason to resist defending and promoting atheism.

Conclusion

While it is ultimately up to the individual whether or not, and to what extent, to defend and promote atheism, I have argued that there are several good reasons for individuals to do so to a moderate degree. Succinctly, I think that atheism is worth defending and promoting because traditional belief in God is false, irrational, and dangerous. Of course, traditional belief in God does not always produce the negative consequences that constitute my secondary reasons for defending atheism. In fact, many believers do not actualize such consequences. But many do, embracing such consequences wholeheartedly when their particular religious convictions entail that bringing them to fruition is God's will. This is sufficient justification for taking my secondary reasons for defending and promoting atheism as good ones. Finally, I argued that there are no benefits to traditional belief in God that are so great and unique that they constitute reasons that override the ones I presented for defending and promoting atheism. Therefore, unless one can convincingly show that atheism is false or rationally unacceptable, I conclude that it is worth defending and promoting.

Notes

[1] Bertrand Russell, "Why I Am Not a Christian" in Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects ed. Paul Edwards (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1957), p. 27.

[2] I would like to thank Larry Martens for pointing out this objection.

[3] Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, "Atheists: A Psychological Profile" in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism ed. Michael Martin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 300-317.

[4] James Rachels, "God and Moral Autonomy" in Can Ethics Provide Essays? And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997), pp. 109-123.

[5] Bertrand Russell, "Can Religion Cure Our Troubles?" in Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects ed. Paul Edwards (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1957), p. 193.

[6] Russell, p. 26.

[7] Arthur Schopenhauer, "On the Suffering of the World" in Essays and Aphorisms (London: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 47.

[8] I would like to thank Keith Augustine for his very helpful comments on and friendly amendments to this essay.


Copyright ©2010 Ryan Stringer. The electronic version is copyright ©2010 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Ryan Stringer. All rights reserved.

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