Atheism 2.0 is Vintage Ignorance

I’ve been watching TED talks recently—those “Ideas worth spreading.” Recently Alain de Botton gave a talk called “Atheism 2.0” with the tag line “What aspects of religion should atheists (respectfully) adopt?” Alain de Botton suggests a “religion for atheists” — call it Atheism 2.0 — “that incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.”

See it here:

I had to watch. I was dumbfounded. It was spellbinding. Here is an atheist acknowledging that atheism leaves a lot to be desired in the areas of meaning, love, and morality, and that the best place to get some of these things is in religion.

But the most fascinating thing was the logic of the argument;

  • Given that there is no God and religions are false,
  • And atheism is a poor foundation for meaning, morality, etc.—that which makes us “human”
  • Let’s import these things from religion!

In philosophy the first premise is called “begging the question.” It’s assuming the truth of a position with no evidence, sweeping away the very need to discuss the matter because “it’s so obvious.” From an epistemological perspective, it’s equally valid to say “since God exists…(duh),” or “since all unicorns are purple,” or virtually anything. That is to say, not valid at all.

Furthermore, it appears to be self-defeating to import meaning and morality from something that is not valid. If there is no God and no religious truth, then how can any moral truths be “stolen” from religion, as Alain suggests? It is equally valid to say:

  • Given that there is no God and religions are false,
  • There can be no meaning in life, no moral truths, etc.
  • Let’s shed ourselves of the illusion of meaning and morality!

This is the position at which many atheists have arrived. It is the most epistemologically honest. Of course it was used by the Marquis de Sade, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Nazis to justify their crimes against humanity, but nevertheless it is honest. I think that Alain de Botton is trading on someone else’s capital…borrowing from one worldview to support “virtue” in another worldview, but in a manner that is entirely ad hoc!

Then I realized that Alain de Botton is living in post-modernity, in which positions advanced need not be rational or valid. It is true that there is nothing wrong with stealing good ideas from religion, for the atheist. Since nothing is really “wrong” they may as well steal. Of course, what is “right and wrong” are useful fictions, and history has shown that the final arbiter will be power (not truth). I don’t think Alain de Botton is powerful enough, so when the next iteration of Nazis come to execute the intelligentsia, he’ll have no good defense for why they shouldn’t take his head.

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