Irrational atheists

Scott Adams considers atheist irrationality from what I’d consider to be a rather quixotic entry point:

Allow me to summarize every discussion of atheism that has ever occurred on the Internet:

Atheist: “Religion is irrational.”

Believer: “Oh yeah? Atheism is a religion too, because it’s a cause that’s believed on faith! See Merriam-Webster’s 4th definition of religion.”

Atheist: “Atheism is religion the same way that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Believer: “You can’t prove the non-existence of God. And belief without proof is faith. Check Merriam-Webster’s second definition of faith. Therefore, atheists are irrational by definition.”

Atheist: “You can NEVER (or almost never) prove a negative. Besides, some things are so obvious that proof is unnecessary. Do you believe there’s a monster under your bed? You have no proof that it doesn’t exist. Therefore, by your reasoning, it’s only reasonable to believe there MIGHT be a monster under your bed.”

Believer: “Hey, you never know.”

To which I responded:

Given that the title of your post indicates that you may have encountered my column – soon to be a book – entitled “The Irrational Atheist” – please allow me to correct you here.

The irrationalism of atheism does not refer to its being a faith-based religion, although for many atheists this describes their adherence to sciencism rather nicely. Instead, it refers to the average atheist’s adherence to Christian morality, subtracting only some of the sexual aspects, despite having no rational basis for doing so.

(This is the point when most atheists will usually argue that one COULD construct a morality sans God, strangely, very few ever claim to have in fact successfully done so or can cite any successful constructions that aren’t a basic utilitarian pitfall. Nor do they explain the coincidental way in which their newly conceived morality so closely happens to resemble the wider morality in which they have been raised. As Joseph Heller wryly puts it, these “Scheisskopf” know exactly in which God they don’t believe.)

Atheists and agnostics who have actually thought the matter through, such as Voltaire, Sartre and Nietszche, have concluded that without a Divinely imposed morality, do what thou wilt shall indeed be the whole of the (moral) law. Voltaire, like Socrates, declares that this lack of belief should be limited to the elite, while Sartre dithers and Nietzsche rather more boldly embraces the logical conclusion. I daresay the German philosopher would conclude that the atheist who lives by Christian morality rather than the will to power is not only irrational, but a weak and cowardly fool at that.

Christian morality is not the Golden Rule. To love and obey God comes first and foremost, while “doing unto others” is merely a summary and a guide to behavior for those who know the least.

And though it is wildly offensive to those who think themselves the great servants of Reason, it is actually their irrationality in moral matters that speaks well of the basic character of most atheists. It is the rational atheists, those who put Nietzsche’s logic into practice, that the world does well to fear.

Scott replies:

[It seems rational to do what feels good and has a good trade-off in risks and consequences regardless of how that feeling was germinated in you. So it seems rational to be a non-believer who prefers adhering to religious moral codes in the same way it’s rational to paint your house in your favorite color.

The problem here is that the moral behavior of the average atheist, as defined by the traditional Western morality, simply isn’t rational. There is no thought entering the process at all, it is merely unthinking adherence to the herd norms.

Unless you are a very unusual individual, you don’t refrain from engaging in an immoral action because you have rationally considered the morality of the matter, you refrain because a) you fear negative consequences, b) you have no interest in performing the action, or c) you are allowing the moral inertia of society to dictate your behavior.

What you describe as “seeming rational” to you is simple utilitarianism, which is a very poor substitute for God-based morality given the ease with which it can justify most actions that those subject to Western moral inertia would consider reprehensible.

For example, the Scott Adams who grew up in a society that practiced ritual child sacrifice would “rationally” engage in actions that the Scott Adams in this society would consider abominable. This is a great weakness of atheism as a philosophy and one of the reasons it is very unlikely to form the basis of a sustainable society, as it offers no fixed foundation for universal applicability.

Shedding no tears

The dinosaurs are dying out:

U.S. media job cuts surged 88 percent in 2006 from the previous year, a downsizing trend expected to continue this year, a survey said Thursday. The media industry slashed 17,809 jobs last year, a nearly two-fold increase from the 9,453 cuts in 2005, outplacement consultancy Challenger Gray & Christmas said.

I do so enjoy watching the continued implosion of the mainstream media. Long may it continue, until they become as irrelevant as they deserve to be.

And the foundations rocked

I am agog, I am aghast. Why, I am not at liberty to divulge, but let’s just say that I would have been less surprised to come home from the gym today and discover Spacebunny in flagrante delicto with Rosie O’Donnell than the mind-bending news I actually received in my inbox.

I would have been far less taken aback by the revelation that the X-Files was a documentary or that the Lizard Queen was actually human. The world is a much, much stranger place than you would ever imagine.

Super thoughts

While I’m pleased that Tony Dungy, whom I have long admired and wanted as a Vikings head coach since before he departed for points south, finally gets a crack at the big game, I’m disappointed that the Colts are there because they simply don’t deserve to be.

A lot of people have been commenting on how the officiating has been so much better in this year’s playoffs, but there were two reprehensible calls and two questionable ones in the AFC Championship game, all of which went in the Colts favor.

1. The utterly ridiculous “face-guarding” pass interference call that gave the Colts first-and-goal on the 1 instead of third-and-seven on the 19. This isn’t debatable, as according to league official Dean Blandino, who was in the replay booth at the game “Ellis Hobbs should not have been flagged for pass-interference. He didn’t make contact with the receiver and in no way did Hobbs impede Reggie Wayne’s ability to catch the pass.”

It was as bad a call as the “illegal block” call against Matt Hasselbeck in the last Super Bowl.

2. This was compounded by the no-call on the pass interference in the Colts end zone. New England ended up kicking a field goal, if I recall correctly; that’s a four-point difference right there.

3. The pass-interference call on Troy Brown. That pick-play is a common one, it’s the same thing that the Saints used to free Reggie Bush on his long touchdown against the Bears.

4. The roughing-the-passer call on Tully Banta-Cain. However, the officials have been making these ticky-tack calls all year, so no surprise there.

I wasn’t impressed with either Manning or Belichick. Manning, to his credit, didn’t quit when he was down, but neither did he pull an Elway or a Montana. A quarterback who can’t even bear to watch the other team drive is simply not a mentally tough one, Manning is unquestionably talented and a very hard worker, but he’s neither a leader nor a clutch performer.

Belichick uncharacteristically choked, in my opinion. He made bad decisions on two critical occasions, on third-and-4 with 3:22 remaining and after the two-minute warning with the Colts on the NE 11. In both cases, he placed his bet on the exhausted New England defense rather than Brady and the offense; I couldn’t believe the pass and punt on third and fourth downs when two runs would have given a much higher probability of success and given the Colts the ball where they could be held to a field goal without burning up the entire clock.

And if Belichick had ordered the defense to permit Addai to score on the inevitable run up the middle after the two-minute warning, the Patriots would have had the ball, a high probability of decent field position, two minutes, all its timeouts and a Colts team dreading another 4th-quarter Tom Brady march.

I think the Super Bowl will be better than most people are expecting. I wouldn’t go so far as to predict a Bears victory, but I expect a Bears win if the game is close in the 4th quarter. Rex Grossman, for all that he is a frighteningly erratic disaster, strikes me as more likely to show up when he’s needed most than Peyton Manning.

But if the Colts can crack the Bears defense early, I think they’ll roll to a runaway victory in the best tradition of the 80’s Super Bowls. Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that in most Super Bowls, the great defense knocks off the great offense. The Bears defense was weak towards the end of the season, but the one that showed up last weekend at Soldier Field looked as if they had invoked the spirit of 1985.