News and Notes

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By George Kane

Head shot of George, smiling in jacket and tie.

At the end of April, the Washington Post published an article by two sociologists that provided many useful facts that argue that atheists are socially well-adjusted by comparison to god-believers:

On numerous respected measures of societal success — rates of poverty, teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, drug use and crime, as well as economics — high levels of secularity are consistently correlated with positive outcomes in first-world nations. None of the secular advanced democracies suffers from the combined social ills seen here in Christian America.

The article noted that murder rates and rates of imprisonment are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than states with far lower church attendance, such as Vermont and Oregon.

As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, verbal skills and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, and to evaluate evidence objectively. This is particularly true with respect to critically evaluating supposed authorities on abstract existential questions. They are also more likely to practice safe sex than strongly religious people are, and they are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. They value freedom of thought from institutional orthodoxy.

By comparison to Western Europe, where religious belief is much lower, we find that the United States compares badly on human happiness. Denmark, which is among the least religious countries in the history of the world, consistently rates as the happiest of nations. And studies of people who were reared to be religious but later rejected their beliefs report that they feel happier in their post-religious lives.

Nevertheless, several studies show that atheists are disliked and distrusted by more Americans than any other minority group. Americans would rather vote for a homosexual for office than a nonbeliever, and more likely to disapprove of their daughter marrying an atheist than a member of any racial or ethnic minority. The authors conclude that this is due to a concerted campaign of slander against atheists by fundamentalist Christians, which they conduct without the mainline denominations ever calling them to task.

I went to St. Peter to see Dan Barker’s debate against Southwestern Minnesota Fellowship of Christian Athletes director Jon Kaus, on the question “Can We Be Good Without God?” The debate was at Gustavus Adolphus, a Lutheran college, and was sponsored by the Fellowhip of Christian Athletes, confirming my observation that Christians are fascinated by atheists.

One thing that puzzled me about the debate was that Kaus kept saying that Barker had not been able to explain how there could be moral good without a law-giver god. Dan had repeatedly explained moral reasoning and judgment as a mental process that is purely natural and requires no supernatural intervention, but it seemed that Kaus had never heard him. It reminded me of my debates a couple of years ago against Dr. Arthur Hippler of Providence Academy on the resolution “That a supernatural authority is necessary for obligatory moral claims.” I explained that there is no sense in which moral obligation supersedes reasoning and judgment, that “moral obligation” is nothing more than what one “should” do, which can be decided by naturalistic reasoning. Just like Kaus, Hippler kept hammering on the claim that I had not shown how moral good can arise without a declaration by an authoritative god. Is this some blind spot common to even intelligent Christians? It seems to me that their Christian studies have trained them to be incapable of hearing or understanding naturalistic answers.

They say, for example, that a consequential ethical system such as utilitarianism can show that the consequences of an action may be beneficial, but it cannot show that the action is good. But in utilitarianism, the equivalence between ‘beneficial’ and ‘morally good” is definitional. It would be interesting to find out if this blindness, which seems pandemic among Christian debaters, also afflicts Christian audiences.

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