Atheistic Sectarianism and Problems with Religion Developing Evolutionarily
Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the TED talk by Alain de Botton on Atheism 2.0. I have an update that almost sounds like it’s ripped from the front page of The Onion, but is a serious article from the LA Times. In “Atheist writers clash over how to not worship a nonexistent God,” de Botton and Dawkins criticize each other on how to practice their atheism.
De Botton is raising $1.5 million to build a temple to atheism, where folks can contemplate 300 million years of life’s existence on Earth and think good thoughts. Dawkins argues it is rubbish and the money should go to funding nicely atheistic schools.
At first glance, it is crazy, and one is likely to side with Dawkins on this one.Most atheists reject the idea of worshipping anything, claiming it is unnecessary at our stage of rational development.
As pointed out in Atheism 2.0, de Botton is trying to do two things, counteract the negative, destructive image of atheism with a kinder, gentler form, and also he recognizes some benefits to aspects of religious practices on human behaviour and wants to use those in bettering humanity…but without the supernatural baggage. He recognizes that a physical focal point for our attentions is useful to our psyche.
A theist might be tempted to argue that de Botton’s perspective is evidence for the hardwired need God put in us to worship (and it is supposed to be worship of God Himself). And while I agree with this, a naturalist would argue that an instinct to worship was an evolutionarily necessary aspect of self-awareness—if you will, a check-and-balance on our selfish natures running amok and destroying our species by preventing the formations of stable societies that allow us to flourish. Many might add an aside that de Botton just hadn’t evolved as far as the rest of the atheists, like a hatchling with a bit of shell stubbornly sticking on, likely to his head and affecting his equilibrium.
A check on this speculative rationalization is if geneticists could find the genetic code programming worship into us, and see if there was recoverable DNA from extinct hominids that demonstrated a lack of this coding. Even if this were to be discovered, it would still be inconclusive. Human beings, to the best of our understanding, are the only creatures with an instinct to worship, so if we were the only species to have a DNA code for this, it might actually be considered evidence equally in favor for God designing us physically for worship as it would be evidence that we were evolutionarily favored to succeed because of the unity it brings us.
The other sticky point for the atheists is that they then have to explain how if worship gave us an evolutionary advantage, how can they then expound on the evils of religion and how it is responsible for so much war and death, particularly the barbaric religions that performed human sacrifice? If I were a naturalist, I’d respond that it would be an ideal check and balance on the species in a single trait—it both unifies us and limits our population to sustainability by fostering competition for ideas.
Thus, a remaining problem for the advanced evolutionary state of the modern atheist is how that is accomplished without religion? We seek to bridge gaps in understanding and tolerance through diplomacy and argue against war. This eliminates the check on population growth that evolutionarily-based religious impulses provide, while overexpressing the benefit of human unity.
Enter theories on population control. If peace truly breaks out because of our work to counteract the negative aspects of humanity that cause fighting and wars, then how do we prevent overpopulation? A number of theories have been proposed over the last 150 years: abortion, forced sterilization, one-child per family rules, euthanasia, and various versions of eugenics.
If humans are purposeless, accidental globs of protoplasm, then such methods are acceptable because there is no reason why we should favor any given member of the species. The problem that arises from that is that we humans become the arbiters of who is better suited for survival instead of natural selection. It becomes literally unnatural selection.
There seems to me a logical disconnect here—if humans have no inherent value other than we like them because they are us, then what is the root justification for human rights? How are human rights consistent with population controls? Because we do not know the unrealized potential of any given human being, it is a weighty thing to decide who lives and who dies based on either an arbitrary or subjective rationale.
If we are going to assume for ourselves the role of natural selection on human population, then the only fair thing to do, as far as atheists have come up with, are to have truly egalitarian societies such as depicted in movies such as Logan’s Run or Soylent Green, where all people are expected to submit to mandatory euthanasia at a certain point. That has the advantage of no favoritism to any elite class, but does not avoid the problem of risking killing the prodigy before they develop their opus. An atheist would argue that is no different than said prodigy dying in an accident or by disease…or by a bullet in some war.
But there is a difference. While in either case the prodigy dies ‘prematurely,’ one occurs at ‘random’ and one is done deliberately. Rather than seeking to preserve all human beings from random premature death, we either pick winners and losers or we arbitrarily decide when someone’s use to society is over.
It seems to me after running through this quick analysis that the primary benefit of religion is that all humans, and each human, has intrinsic value. And of the major religions, it seems that the Judeo-Christian religions do the most consistent job of proclaiming this value.
All humans have a sin problem. All humans can be redeemed, if they choose to accept the means of redemption. Even if they do not, they are still humans with value, because they bear the image of God.