While working on my Go-Rilla VS. Elk Diablo comic I was catching up on old podcasts in my iTunes. Specifically I was listening to an episode of Science Friday titled “Balancing Science and Religion” in which Ira Flatow interviewed two scientists who were also religious. It was a really interesting listen but there was one quote at the end that was like a slap in the face to me and I would think to any atheist.
As I look about in the culture and world we live in, a world without the kind of noble intentions that arise many times out of people’s hearts in the consequence of their faith – a world that misses out on a Mother Theresa or an Oscar Schindler – a world where science has to go on in a completely materialist way – does not sound like the kind of world of wonderful humanity and nobility of humankind that I hope will be evolving over the many decades to come.
As if altruism and humanitarianism and “nobility” cannot exist in people who don’t believe in a higher power. Ridiculous, I say!
That made me wonder what famous humanitarians and generally celebrated people in history and modern times were/are also atheists. I googled “humitarian atheists” and before I found what I was actually looking for I found this:
Letter: Atheist actions can be selfless
by Letter to the editor
Thursday, March 27, 2008; 12:00 AM
I’m writing in response to the column, “Defending morality in an atheist’s culture is challenging” (CT, March 25). The author implies that a lack of faith in God translates to apathy toward others’ well being.
The author fails to understand the influence of society and evolution on altruism. It’s obvious that cooperation is the best method for progress — selfishness only works to a certain degree before everyone becomes selfish, benefiting nobody. Scenario-simulations show that cooperation always leads to the most success for groups. Just ask vampire bats, which actually regurgitate blood they’ve foraged during the night for a friend whose hunting was less fruitful. Next time, if the first bat gets no food, his friend can return the favor.
Giving up one’s seat and making sacrifices for another are explained through societal norms and evolutionary mechanisms. Society expects us to act a certain way, so it becomes ingrained into our minds to let an old lady have our seat. We make sacrifices for our kin because evolution wants our genes to flourish. If I die so that my two brothers survive, then there will be two sets of my genes, rather than just the one. My potential sacrifice for friends who are unrelated to me can be explained by my evolutionary triggers backfiring, which would encourage me to save everyone.
As for losing rights to atheist majorities, Norway was rated the most peaceful country in the world (the U.S. was 96th), as well as the least religious in Western Europe. In contrast, Hitler was Catholic, and Stalin Eastern Orthodox.
Finally, I argue that atheists possess stronger morality than theists. With no fear of God, our sacrifices are more selfless. Few of us believe in an afterlife, so we cherish the only life we get more. We put greater value on human life because, in general, we don’t think that any “soul” floats off someplace.
sophomore, psychology and Spanish
I don’t actually agree that “potential sacrifice for friends unrelated to me can be explained by evolutionary triggers backfiring” – I would expect that it has to do with the evolution of protecting your tribe and is completely natural (in the same way that the evolution of propensity towards religion was helpful for strengthening social bonds) but I agree with pretty much everything else that Andrew says.