Saturday, October 2, 2010

Doing Good

There has been, as of late, a rather large shift in the methods employed by theists in an attempt to rebuke non-theist world views. Prior to recent events atheists have mostly found themselves at odds with the likes of fundamentalist preachers, new-earth nutters, and an assorted host of red-faced right-wing populist snake oil salesmen. However the continued growth of innumerable humanist and secular organizations has now attracted a different breed of god-apologist that it would be foolish to ignore.

It has become apparent that the new challenges atheism faces are far more insidious than the previous batch of logical fallacies. The narrative which I see emerging is not one of truth versus fiction; for want of a better term I would call it an appeal to practical insanity.

Essentially we have graduated to a more robust level of debate, which is an accomplishment. Yes there will still be calls of "but the bible says so", "there must be a designer", and "show me the transitional forms". But for the most part those arguments have been long settled amongst thinking people. The theists are, quite simply, abandoning the idea of proving god as an argumentative tactic and have instead turned to a different line of rationale altogether.

Over the last several weeks some very mean things have been said about secularism. Journalists and bloggers the world over have already done more than enough debunking of the accuracy of those claims. What few have done, however, is focus on the central implication that was being made. That is, the assertion that religion is necessary even if it isn't true.

Case in point, consider what Ratzinger said in Scotland:

"As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny."

It is of course spurious that the regime Pope Ratzinger was attempting to portray as atheistic was anything of the sort, but there has been no shortage of commentary on that so let's put it aside. That statement does not assert that god exists. The statement is asserting that it is better for a society to believe even if it is demonstrably false. It is a claim that religion brings unity, social cohesion, compassion, and prosperity to society. This is religion not in the sense of pursuing truth, nor is it the fanatical zeal of a literalist. It claims belief in god as good in the sociological capacity which lead Huxley to dream up the Fordian rites of Brave New World.

Given the relatively limited examples of truly secular societies in human history it is a very difficult proposition to drum up examples against. As such, I suggest the following strategy:

Become the example. Instead of combating the perception with logic that will be twisted and facts which will be ignored, fight the perception with deeds. Every time some god-botherer brings up the alleged iniquity of atheism non-believers spend so much time playing defense that we have a hard time pointing out our accomplishments. By the time we've tamed whatever nonsense has been spewed in our direction there's an onslaught of zealot bloggers saying things like "well the church helps the homeless and poor and destitute ... what have atheists done?"

That is the real challenge facing non-theists now. The paradigm has shifted and it would be a grievous error to trundle on with the same evidentiary arguments that have served us in recent years. The only thing for it is to not just argue the legitimacy of our position, but to simply do good.

With every dollar you give to or hour you spend volunteering at secular humanitarian organizations, with every act of compassion you undertake the theists accusation of immorality is rendered more absurd. Demonstrate with great sincerity how your lack of belief makes you a better person.

Think of it this way, non-theists often say that the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim, e.g. "you can't prove a negative, if believers have proof of god we'll gladly test it".

Well "one does not need god to be good" is a positive claim on our part, so we are obligated to prove it. Religious apologists are changing tactics, and it isn't good enough to just be right anymore. Below are my favorites, if you know of others please leave them in the comments section. - a simply awesome org that's doing some really great things with very limited resources. They pick several secular charities every quarter to help out. You can pick how your funds are distributed, donation levels, the whole lot. Great great org. - Non-believers giving aid is currently working mainly with Doctors without Boarders and the Red Cross. Both of which are secular orgs you can donate time and money to independently. However, the NBGA does have that nice advantage of making it clear that donations from it are coming lump sum from non-theists coming together to help the less fortunate. Strength in numbers and all that.