HT: Eric Koski.
Sam has managed to outdo Keith Parsons, who only came up with seven misconceptions about atheism.
Let's take them in turn.
1) Atheists believe life is meaningless. Well, it depends which atheist you talk to. Sartre and Camus seemed to look at atheism as the basis for believing in the absurdity of life. It seems to me that atheism, or rather a full-blown naturalism, removes the possibility of finding the correct meaning to life. Whether this is a biggie or not, I suppose, depends on the person. The trouble with meaninglessness of life arguments on the part of theists is that you don't want to be telling someone who finds life meaningful by, say, doing evolutionary biology, that their life only appears meaningful to them but really isn't. Other people, however, might be psychologically disposed to be unable to find meaning in a godless world. It is natural, and not unhealthy, to crave the kind of ultimate meaning that Christianity, for example provides. It may be unfortunate, however, if it turns out that God does not exist. However, I do have trouble seeing the kind of reforming moral energy found in people like Gandhi, King, or Mother Teresa, without religion.
2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in history. No, atheism doesn't kill people, people kill people. And some of the killiers are atheists. Others are not. It is true that atheists do not believe in the sort of deity who disapproves of these crimes and will hold them accountable if they are not punished for them in this life.
Harris says that these regimes are bad because they are too dogmatic. But religion doesn't have a monopoly on dogmatism. There are dogmatic Christians, not so dogmatic Christians, dogmatic atheists, and not so dogmatic atheists. The desire to employ the power of the state to support either religion on anti-religion is what puts you in danger of abusing that power. That can happen to you if you are a believer or an unbeliever.
3) Atheism is dogmatic. No, it isn't dogmatic. But atheists can be. As I tried to argue on an evolution forum once, I think it's absurd to make the sort of claim that atheists often make, that there is no evidence for theism. There are a lot of things in our world that are more likely given theism than atheism, and therefore there are things that you can set in the scale on the side of theism. Now I can see someone saying, when all the Bayesian calculations are done, that atheism is better confirmed than theism. But to say there is nothing to be said for theism evidentially? That's dogmatic.
We might want to ask Harris the question I once asked Keith Parsons. "Suppose I were God, and I wanted to get you, Keith, to have a justified belief in me. What would I have to do?" Keith, memorably, replied by saying "If the stars in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words 'Turn or Burn, This Means You Parsons,' I'd turn." If Harris says he wouldn't turn, maybe we have reason to suspect dogmantism.
4) Atheists think everything arose by chance. If by that you mean that this is a world without design, then that is what they do believe. However, is it just chance that your heart is in the right place, meaning that in an atheist universe it could just as easily be in your rear end or just beside your nose? No atheists don't have to believe that.
5) Atheism has no connection to science. Again, it depends on what you mean. If you mean to say that atheism follows necessarily from anything science might have discovered, then the statement is true. If you mean that there are no arguments from science to atheism, of course not. But before we start comparing polls, as Harris does, we've first got to understand if the conception of God in both polls is the same. Also, science groups are just as subject to intellectual peer pressure as anyone else. It's not clear that members of the National Academy of Sciences are more reliable than the rest of us humans when they are operating "off the clock."
6) Atheists are arrogant. They can be. I've met some arrogant ones, and some that aren't nearly so arrogant. They don't recognize the existence of anyone superior to themselves to whom they are accountable. Harris's arguments here assume Russell's maxim that "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." Why science provides us with the only way of knowing anything is not at all clear to me. Whether science is, as Sellars said, the measure of all things, or as C. S. Lewis said, a truncated mode of thinking, is the subject of epistemological and metaphysical debate.
7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience. Given what they believe, they are not inclined to allow that such experience provides genuine evidence for the existence of realities that cannot be discovered using a scientific method circumscribed by methodological naturalism.
There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.
Really? So if you saw what Paul saw on the road to Damascus, you'd just say it was a piece of underdone potato and go on about your business? If you were to experience what you thought was death, and you were to, as philosophers would say, "be appeared to hellishly," you would consider it an illusion? And you're not dogmatic? What would it take to falsify your atheism?
8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding. Of course atheists believe there are some things we don't now understand. But a scientistic epistemology says that we could potentially understand everything if we just did enough science. I'm not so sure.
9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society. Again, it kind of depends on the atheist. Some recognize the contributions of religion to society, others don't. And many Christians realize that some things can be beneficial to society but at the same time be false. Atheists sometimes argue that religion is entirely harmful (Hitchens says it "poisons everything"), and when atheists talk like that, then they are ignoring or unreasonably downplaying the benefits religion has given to society. But not all atheists are as blinkered as Dawkins and Hitchens.
10) Atheism provides no basis for morality. That's true, but then I wouldn't expect unbelief about God to actually provide the basis for morality. However, atheists do have social needs just like everyone else, and so they are at least going to have to come up with some rules for conduct.
The most you can say about the Bible and slavery is that it doesn't condemn it outright. However, I believe that the idea that the meanest slave has a soul that Christ died to save is the idea that eventually provided the moral foundations for the abolition of slavery. Wilberforce was a secular humanist, right? Douglass? Garrison?
I do think that a logically consistent philosophical naturalism does logically lead to the conclusion that morals are either person-relative or society-relative. If so, then it is not objectively true that slavery is an abomination. To affirm this is to affirm that we can discover moral truths. But, as Russell pointed out, science cannot discover that it is true, or that it is false that slavery is wrong.
So if we mean that atheists can't have moral codes that they follow, yes, atheists can and do have codes of conduct and they do follow them. If we mean that in a fully naturalistic universe, you can have statements like "Slavery is wrong" be literally and unequivocably and non-relatively true, then no, I think J. L. Mackie is right. Such truths are "queer" in an naturalistic universe, in the sense that they "don't fit" in epistemologically or metaphysically.
None of this shows that atheism isn't true, or that we ought not to believe it. But I don't think atheists have a monopoly on good sense, or rationality, or intelligence. Yes, Christians make exaggerated claims about atheists. Atheists make exaggerated claims about theism. Once these claims are set aside, the discussion can continue.