The Problem With Atheism According To A Secular Psychologist
This is part 1 of a series by Akos Balogh. He is the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Australia. You can reach him on twitter via @akosbaloghcom, or at his blog akosbalogh.com
Modern Atheism has a problem. At least according to a Professor of Psychology at Toronto University, named Jordan Peterson. No, it’s not that Atheists are any more or less prone to psychological distress than religious people. Instead, it’s got to do with the popular view among Atheists (especially among the New Atheists) about the God-like power of human reason. Let me explain.
1) Many Atheists Believe That Doing Evil Is Irrational. And Doing Good Is Rational
So human reason alone can show us morality: no God required.
According to many Atheists I’ve encountered, anyone thinking rationally will know what good is, and do it. Doing evil, on the other hand – such as being selfish, and cheating on others – is irrational – it doesn’t make sense.
In which case we don’t need religion of any kind to tell us what right and wrong is – it’s just self-evident. But there’s a problem with this logic.
2) When Selfish Behaviour is Rational
Psych Professor Jordan Peterson nails the problem with modern Atheism when he says:
“What is irrational about me getting exactly what I want from every one of you whenever I want it at every possible second?…There’s nothing irrational about it. It’s pure naked self-interest.”
“Why not every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost? It’s a perfectly coherent philosophy, and it’s actually one that you can institute in the world with a fair bit of material success if you want to do it.’”
It’s an interesting point. And it’s relatively easy to find real life cases of this principle.
For example, is cheating on an exam the wrong thing to do? I know both Christians and Atheists would say ‘yes’.
But now answer this: is it rational or irrational to cheat on a test?
The answer is not so obvious. After all, if you can cheat on a test, and get away with it, and it means the difference between getting that great job, or that mark needed to gain entry to that prestigious university, cheating on a test may well be ‘reasonable’ (Suits, anyone?)
The same could be said for that lucrative business deal: why not bend the rules, if it means you end up with thousands more in your pocket? If you’re in an unhappy marriage, why not indulge in that marital affair, if you’re sure you can get away with it? (Evidently millions of married people think this way: a company by the name of AshleyMadison.com have made a business out of marital infidelity.)
In sum, if the benefits of doing something illegal/immoral outweigh the risks of being caught, why not do it? It’s a rational calculation.
But, there’s more. Not only can selfishness – and other forms of evil – be rational (certainly in an Atheistic Universe); doing good can be irrational.
(part 2 next week)