Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Does Making The World A Better Place Allow Atheists To Kill Two Birds With One Stone?

As much as I'd like to think that it's atheism that's been primarily responsible for the advancement of less-progressive and less-advanced people and societies, I think it's probably the case that the opposite is true: when the standards of living, education, and technology in a society go up, as a result it gets less religious. Lower religiosity is probably a side effect and result of rising living standards and not the other way around.*

The purpose of this blog post however, is not to try and make a case for which way the causality is going. That's not the point. I could be wrong. There could be many other options besides these two that hold the truth, or a complex mixture of many things, as sociologist Phil Zuckerman has argued — I don't know. I have not done a thorough assessment of the data. But I was having a discussion on it recently and it seems to me that the causality probably goes from high living standards → decreasing religiosity (see below).

If that is the case, then the greatest thing I could do as an atheist who wants lower religiosity and cultivate a better society with all the liberal, populist, and progressive views that I hold, is to focus on fighting for all those liberal, populist, and progressive views that I hold.** And it seems that an interesting by-product of that will be that religious belief and practice will continue to decrease year by year, decade by decade, until it's so low and irrelevant for most people, that it's hardly even a factor, and it becomes virtually invisible. That could be a very serious and attainable reality in the not-too-distant future. Instead of focusing mostly on what I'm against and criticizing religion, debating theists, and trying to make a case for atheism and naturalism, I could focus on the political, social, and economic issues I'm for. And if you're an atheist, you could do this too. So you have to consider whether doing this may be a chance to kill two birds with one stone for the secular, liberal, progressive advocate like myself: Destroy what we're against socially, economically, and politically, and we could help destroy religion as a convenient by-product of that. It's a win-win situation!

I do think that a metaphysical case needs to be made and defended for naturalism, and I really do think that it should include beauty and aesthetics. Naturalism can be a very beautiful and poetic worldview, and that is something not often emphasized, especially by me. Atheists are all too often mired in esoteric debate or ridicule of religion and fail to focus on explaining the beauty of their own worldview to others. For many, a godless world is scary, depressing, and pointless. This repelling sensation of disgust blocks many from even entertaining the idea of a fully natural world. I think in this realm that scientific education can help tremendously help one see the intricate beauty of the natural world and our place in it. And I do, personally think it is beautiful and amazing when you really think about it. Religious myths have had their time and place, and many contain beautiful, epic, and poetic stories, as well as some good moral principles. But the true story of our origins and place in the universe given to us by science and reflected upon by philosophy is in every way just as beautiful and epic, and I argue, even more so, because it's true.

*This is sometimes called the existential security thesis (EST) or the socioeconomic security hypothesis (SSH). For more information on the latter see Gregory Paul's paper The chronic dependence of popular religiosity upon dysfunctional social conditions.

**By saying this I am not saying that religion is the only or primary factor for what is making the world a worse place and that getting rid of it would magically fix most of the world's problems. I am not trying to set up a dichotomy or anything like that.

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