Sunday, February 3, 2013

Against the Appeal to Consequences

The debate of atheism vs. theism (mainly Christianity in the United States) has been characterized by appeals to consequences on both sides. From the atheists frequent arguments that religion leads to ignorance, the oppression of women, violence and other ills are heard. Christians for their part often claim that atheism leads to immorality, meaninglessness, and the atrocities committed by Hitler or Stalin, among others.

Advocates of both positions then make counterarguments to each of these, naturally. Many of these arguments have been false, at least in part, but that is not chiefly my concern here. All of them are committing the appeal to consequences fallacy implicitly, while some do so explicitly-namely, that because of the alleged undesirable results that atheism or theism have, they are thus false. Of course few people want to believe in something that does not comfort them, but that says nothing of its truth or falsity.

I, as an atheist, find Christianity in particular undesirable, though other forms of theism are less so. This personal attitude of mine has nothing whatsoever to do with it being true or not. I am unconvinced that it is, and would be disappointed if it were, but hopefully in that case my intellectual honesty would be enough to accept the truth, even though it was undesirable to me. Our chief commitment, I feel, must be to the truth, discomforting though we may find it.

That said, it is fair to make the distinction that one has been convinced of their position being true, and then critique the opposing view, but that if the other side was right, they would accept the fact. An example will serve to illustrate the disconnect often at work. Some Christians have said that atheism being true would lead them to depression, perhaps even suicide. Whether or not this would happen, the same could be said by atheists.

I would, if the facts to me warranted it, admit that Christianity was true. Most Christians in general assume realizing that will then lead to love of God and devoted worship, as it did for them. However, in my case I would refuse to either love or worship such a God as that of Christianity. Belief in something does not entail love or devotion to it necessarily, as we sometimes forget in these matters.