10 myths—and 10 Truths—About Atheism (Part 5)

By Sam Harris for The Los Angeles Times (I first saw this at Seeking a Little Truth)  December 24, 2006 My thoughts are in orange.

9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society. Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as “wishful thinking” and “self-deception.” There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth. In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?

10) Atheism provides no basis for morality. If a person doesn’t already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won’t discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness. We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn’t make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

3,781 US Soldiers killed in Iraq.  27,848 US Souldiers wounded in Iraq.


14 Responses to “10 myths—and 10 Truths—About Atheism (Part 5)”

  1. September 18, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    I have no problem with any religion, including atheism, as long as its adherents are tolerant to those who disagree.

  2. September 18, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    to Tom Cat
    “I have no problem with any religion, including atheism, as long as its adherents are tolerant to those who disagree.”
    here is whole point that atheism is the least tolerant of all religions. look how many people atheists did murder and how cruel they are toward to other religions.

  3. September 19, 2007 at 12:03 am

    “moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us”

    I don’t understand what he means here. Who did the “hard-wiring?”

    Personally, I think it takes as much if not more faith to believe that everything is just coming about via natural selection as it does to believe that there is a divine being who is beyond our total comprehension but who has created us and reveals himself to us. I don’t understand beauty and love completely, but without God I don’t see no explanation for them at all.

    But I know there are no scientific tests for faith, whether it be in the God of the Bible or in the belief that he doesn’t exist. All I would say is that I believe that Biblical Christianity requires faith in the unseen, yet at the same time it makes the most sense of what I see around me and what I know inside of me.

    And please don’t let some of the more ignorant or foolish folks in our camp speak for the whole. There are many thoughtful Christians. Here is a list of articles by people who don’t believe you have to leave reason at the door if you want to embrace faith.

    If you are interested:

  4. September 19, 2007 at 12:06 am

    “…but without God I don’t see ANY explanation for them…”

    Again, cutting and pasting ideas has made me look like an idiot.

  5. September 19, 2007 at 12:17 am

    “Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?”

    But why does the Creator of the Universe want you to do it? Because that’s the morally correct thing to do, to help the poor out of concern for their suffering. It’s all great for people who will help the poor merely because they are suffering, but not everybody will, not everybody will even get the idea to do so. When they have these standards in religion, they are made to do so, even if it’s within their natural nature or not. At the end of the day, the poor are helped, doesn’t matter why it’s been done. God gives a bigger incentive to help the poor for people who would otherwise not help. And when it gets really tough to help them, to help those in war zones and those in other countries, people with no incentive but their own standards may give up, but those with bigger incentive than just what they feel is right, may keep going.

  6. September 19, 2007 at 5:22 am

    Actually, the challenge for atheism is to provide the guarantee that people would be moral without religion. I know you’ve heard this a billion, nay, a googol times, but it is still an issue. Indeed most atheist (aside from apatheists) are well aware of the nihilistic tendencies they’re facing AND able to be moral without religion.

    But the problem is the practice. Do you seriously think that the entire humanity would be moral without such thing as superstition? Yes, it is immoral to help the poor because you want to be rewarded, but, don’t be naive. As Napoleon once pointed out, what else could restrain a barely literate, barbaric, homicidal maniac that’s sick to death from starvation from killing the other man that’s sick because overeating?

    I say, indeed atheists are often more philosophically wise, much less self-deceiving, and value life in a better fashion, but to get rid of religion completely and still hoping for a stable future (at least for now) is more of a utopian’s dream. It’s naive.

  7. 7 loki
    September 19, 2007 at 6:47 am

    i believe that the main point herein is more human than divine. we have good and bad people at every section of any society, being those sections religious or not. a good religious person helps his/her fellow because he/she believes that this fellow is as much as a wonderful creation of G-d as he is himself. the gratification comes from helping a creature which inside has a sparkle of the creator of the universe. a non-religious person does the same, believing to be helping another human being.

    what we have to keep in mind is that humans are humans. passives of failure. and, therefore, you can find any kind of human being, having a non-moral behavior.

    all the religions and their scriptures are based on moral and good issues. either saying it directly by their books or via paraboles and stories. idiosincratically, people can make bad usage of or misunderstand it, though. which I trully believe G-d condemns.

    having no religion or belief at all, sometimes sound to me a little bit too anarchic. religion, in a certain way, helps the education of a person to try growing better. and all those ideas of “fearing G-d” and things like that are part of education. as much as like when a mother tells her 2-year-old son not to stick his finger into the power-supply wholes, not to get hurt. the child will not do it in fear of what may happen to him, and not in a understanding that what his mother says is always to his welfare.

    in a wide thinking, i can understand that the whole humanity is leading to more and more understanding some moral necessities that are latent, but it is a slow process and demands the participation of all. religion may help people individually speaking… as it may help each individual to understand moral things with patterns supplied by it.

    and a break for a doubt: are we exactly talking about atheism or agnosticism? the first is the non-belief in a god whatsoever, the second is when one believe of being able to believe in G-d and have a pure relationship with Him but without the necessity of a religion in between.

    so far, those justifications given on the post make me think more of agnosticism.

    the non-belief in a god is a bigger issue, i believe. one who thinks like this, may think that he/she can do whatsoever he/she wants because nothing may affect them. except for crimes condemned by civil laws.

    in conclusion: i think we must think about the difference of what G-d told us to do and we’ve being doing with it. that might be the big GAP that disturb many people who criticize religion.

  8. 8 unitedwelay1
    September 19, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    We have the stories that teach morals, some are in the Bible. There’s no reason to assume that we need to assoicate fear of hell or an invisible being with doing the right thing. The idea is to teach children to do the right thing regardless of who’s watching. Look at our criminal population. I don’t really think their belief or non-belief in god has anything to do with their motivation to do what they do.

  9. September 19, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    to unitedwelay1:
    “There’s no reason to assume that we need to assoicate fear of hell or an invisible being with doing the right thing.”
    this is correct in theory but historically atheism is essentially offers itself as a moral alibi. As Dostoevsky coined is his “The Brothers Karamazov” “if there is no God, then everything is allowed!”

  10. 10 unitedwelay1
    September 21, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    That’s not true. Societal norms dictate what we do and how we behave. If our culture says it’s taboo, people don’t do it, or they hide it. God never said dick about drugs, but people believe it’s immoral to use them. There are many things people believe are immoral and convince others not to do by setting standards that have absolutely nothing to do with god.

  11. 11 opit
    September 25, 2007 at 3:03 am

    Mostly I object to the common practice of speaking for the other guy. You aren’t him and should STFU about what he thinks. Religion should be a ‘dirty word’ because it implies subscription to the idea that other people can tell you what to believe – and that this is best. Jesus never said that BTW. He did indicate people should try his ideas on for size to see if they worked. And if they didn’t ? It wasn’t his conceit to impose them on you. The political power structures claiming to promote his ideas – or those of Buddha, say – have a frightful difficulty with this simple idea : it totally undermines authority structures by promoting a “Let us reason together” attitude. Which is closer to your idea of a Teacher ?

  12. 12 unitedwelay1
    September 25, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    I’m more of a Buddah girl, but there are some things I disagree with there. what I like, though, is that everyone is expected to read and interpret the words on theri own, and never to relent in their persuit of knowledge.

  13. 13 opit
    September 27, 2007 at 12:46 am

    If I have indicated anything else, I assure you it was completely against my intention.

  14. 14 unitedwelay1
    September 27, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Nope, sure didn’t.

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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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