2008-03-09 11:01:15, 来源：未名交友
Why I am an Atheist, but dislike Atheism: the Wisdom of appreciating Memetic Fitness
This is an article written by circletimesquare
I began life as a Christian: Baptism, Sunday School, etc., but gradually wound up like a lot of Western kids as an atheist in my teenaged years. I have not grown out of my disbelief in God, however, I have grown out of my atheism. The arc of nihilism and negativity is a story of teenaged psychological development as old as humanity: it is necessary for adolescent primates to dissolve and divest of their ties to their community, and therefore to destroy their faith in their community's institutions. They thereby become geographically and psychologically fluid and mobile, to travel to new places, if not literally, then figuratively as a voyage of evolution of outlook on the world away from how their parents saw the world.
It is normal psycholologically for teenagers to doubt everything and rebuild their relationship with their society on their own terms. But as adulthood approaches, usually faith in something, anything, reasserts itself as the early adult begins to grow roots of his or her own after a period of mobility, and is therefore invested in their society anew. However, modern life has allowed for a life in the West of permanent childhood, at least psychologically, and therefore you see people in their 40s and 50s nowadays who think like teenagers: permanently nihilistic, permanently negative about everything about their society and its institutions, with faith in nothing or no one but their own simple pleasures.
And so it is as what I have become, a secular humanist, with a positive faith in humanity's ability to overcome its problems, that I have come to appreciate the moderately religious of my world, with their similar optimism, and to dislike the loud strident form of atheist negative fundamentalism you often encounter.
Clarification: I am still an atheist. But I dislike atheism. In the same regard, and for the same reasons, as one would dislike Muslim or Christian fundamentalists. Atheism can be, and has been, as authoritarian as any monotheistic fundamentalism we usually associate with intolerance and fascist approaches to life's problems. Not that there aren't plenty of atheists who have positive faith in their communities as secular humanists like I do, but I see in the traditional monotheistic religions a more durable survival mechanism, if not also a less factually correct approach to life.
Memetic Fitness and the Ecosystem of Ideas
For example: plenty of atheists don't have children. They refer to people who have children derogatively as "breeders." Which is of course just silly, since if you don't have children, whatever you believe in simply fades from the Earth. It does no good for a European atheist to criticize the overtaxing of the world's resources and choose to not have children to contribute to that... when his Muslim neighbor has 12 kids. Certainly, some of those kids will become atheists and not have kids themselves, but those who remained religious of those 12 kids will have 12 kids of their own, and continue the mantle of religion. Such that atheism is always this fringe appendix of mainstream religious society, rather than a fully formed ideology that reproduces and propagates on its own.
If one is familiar with the idea of memes: the competition of ideas in human society and how some come to dominate others, then you realize atheism is memetically flawed and doomed to fail. The belief in not having children to save the world's precious resources is a losing meme, unfortunately. Meanwhile, religious people, with an optimistic outlook and faith in their society, have kids, and therefore their ideas survive.
Take a famous atheist, like Richard Dawkins. A good example, because he pretty much founded the modern study of memetics. Richard Dawkins rails against the attitude of the Catholic Church towards procreation. He is correct, of course, but unless something is done to inculcate his attitudes into a self-replicating belief system, the man's ideas will be a forgotten dusty academic curiosity in a century or two, and the Catholic Church meanwhile will still be chugging along doing what the Catholic Church does best: create more poor starving ignorant Catholics.
Richard Dawkins understands the truth, but in this world, it is not good enough to be right: you also have to propagate the truth. In the world of memetics, which is the world we live in in human societies, a truth that does not propagate fast goes extinct when faced with a lie that propagates fast. This is sobering, but absolutely true.
We must therefore, somehow, take what we learn from memetics and outcompete with religion. This is extremely difficult. Religion, through centuries of memetic evolution and millions of human lives and hundreds of human societies, has naturally evolved a set of memes which allows for maximum survival. We are talking about creating "artificial life", except our memetic critter must be artificially bred to outcompete that which has honed its complex survival memetics in the natural jungle of ideas.
As an analogy, consider the simple bumblebee. The brightest biochemical minds could not engineer something as perfect as that little bug. Frankly, our brightest minds don't even fully understand how the dang thing even flies. How are we supposed to make something better than the bumblebee, which evolved completely naturally, and therefore is more fit than the slickest artificial bug the brightest human minds could ever engineer? We face the same problem when confronted with outcompeting religion on its own turf. We don't even fully understand what makes religion such a powerful elixir of psychology and developmental sociology such that it propagates in human minds across the centuries. How can we outcompete religion with our own clumsy homebrew set of memes? But we must.
Religion is InevitableAtheism will always be reborn anew in every generation, but as a sort of statistical shadow. You can see how atheism is less a sound ideology in its own right, and instead merely a temporary outgrowth from the mainstream moderately religious society. Atheism can only exist, unfortunately, as a parasite on mainstream religious society, it can never exist on its own: it doesn't breed and propagate. Atheism has no evangelical movement, and has less kids.Of course, one would hope that a secular humanist society with an optimistic outlook could come to replace monotheism, but again, it all comes down to who leaves what legacy, and the religious always seem to outbreed the nonreligious: religion has a superior memetic fitness when compared with atheism.We need to make another obervation about atheism and religion: religion is inevitable. If one were to snap their fingers, and all of the religions of the world magically disappeared, what would happen? The world would not become a peaceful nirvana of mentally freed slaves in atheism. No, instead other new religions would instantly spring into being to fill the void. In other words, the voyage away from religion is not a trip most humans ever take. No amount of indoctrination or education will "cure" human societies of religions. But more importantly, one realizes something more: why should they ever be "cured"? Why can't they be left in their philosophically inferior state of religiousness, as long as they are optimistic and good people?Certainly, the fundamentalist fringe of religions are pure evil, and keep people in suffering and poverty, and must be fought. But this is an aspect of human society which also will never go away. There will always be reactionary fools in human society, even without religions. Look at the nationalist fascists: this is a sort of nonreligious fundamentalism.It's simply a matter of statistical inevitability that these evil losers constantly reassert themselves in their loud vocal evil intent, in every generation, forever. They must always be swatted down as long as civilization exists, a constantly recurring cancer. Religious fundamentalism will never simply be vanquished one day and never return, it is a tormented cancer born anew in every generation. In the name of positivistic symbols of religion, fundamentalists work to destroy the positivistic beliefs those symbols stand for. Because religious fundamentalists have ceased believing in human society, they only believe in abstract symbols. Such that you can murder in the name of religion, be intolerant in the name of religion: evil on the Earth at work.
One begins to appreciate that human society is a sort of ecosystem of pseudostable groups: nonbelievers, mainline moderate believers, and the fundamentalist fringe, on either end of believers and nonbelievers. It is within this moderate middle I find hope for the future of humanity, and it is with the fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist monotheists I see our doom.
Anthropomorphization and Social Intelligence
There is of course, no God, no invisible skyman. This is factually true, but not necessarily true about how human beings think. The most important aspect of our human intelligence is our social intelligence. We evolved in groups and troupes. Our social interaction with our fellow primates drove the majority of our cognitive evolutionary development. And therefore, more important than our logic, dexterity, spatial, reasoning abilities, or any other form of intelligence, is the paramount aspect of our social intellect. We all anthropomorphize: we see faces in clouds, in trees, it's unavoidable. That is our social intelligence asserting itself as most important. And that is true, evolutionarily: our relationship with our fellow human beings is the greatest decider of our aility to survive and pass on our genes than any physical aspect of our existence, or ability to avoid predators, or find food, or any of that.
Our social intelligence is the most important, dominant thing going on in our cranium: we talk to and name inanimate objects, like boats and cars and hurricanes. We think through problems by having a dialog with say our car's engine or our farming machinery or the weather, sometimes literally and out loud. This is not merely a cute quaint habit, it is intellectually superior to socialize with nonhuman ideas and inanimate objects in our head because this brings to bear our social intelligence, our most powerful intelligence, to work on difficult problems. To ignore our social intelligence when thinking through problems is to purposely cripple our cognitive strengths.
Likewise, on metaphysical problems, when we think anthropomorphically, we begin to conceptually things like a God. What I mean by that is, if we use our social intelligence to work on metaphysical problems in our mind, it becomes inevitable to posit an entity out there in the metaphysics, someone we can dialog with: God. A completely false construct, but useful nonetheless to bring the strongest aspect of our intelligence to bear on the deepest questions of our existence.Again, there is no God, but the idea of a God is simply useful mental shorthand to think through metaphysical problems. We begin to have a dialog with aspects of our trust and faith. We involve a social person at the end of an important idea about civilzation's survival, because we begin to involve our social intelligence. Now you could say that it is superior to abandon this quaint convention to arrive at ultimate truths, that this habit gets in the way. Except that the majority of people aren't great philosophers, just common people working their way through life.
While previously, if I encountered a religious person who would say "God this" or "God that", I would be annoyed. Having made peace with this mental approach though, now I find myself even able to talk about "God" with this person, since I have taught myself that "God" is just a codeword for more abstract concepts. If someone says to me "God will find a way" after a tragedy I take it to mean that human faith in its institutions will find a way to be restored. Or "God will help me through this", rather than debate them on the silly argument of there being no God, I can simply say to them "yes, God will help you through this" and in my mind I'm thinking "yes, faith in human civilization will help you through this."
You often encounter hostility if you tell someone there is no God. Of course, because when you say to a religious person "there is no God" they hear in their minds "there is no good in the world." And so they react to that, rather than what you are really arguing against: some invisible skyman. Tightly wound is their anthropomorphization of the metaphysics of faith that they cannot extricate themselves from talking about some concepts in the terms of a God.
And really, is this so bad? These are simple people grappling with complex ideas. Why insist that they disavow one of their greatest mental gifts, their social intelligence. If in reaffirming their faith in the essential goodness of humanity, if they want to "talk with God" why laugh at them for that? As long as they are good people, what's the problem really? Is it more important to be absoutely Right, with a capital R? Or more important to be good?
After awhile, you begin to accept this, that some people will never make the trip to secular humanism. And you realize that there will always be the bulk of human society that can only think in these anthropomorphic terms of an invible skyman. That you begin to understand that debating someone on the existence of God is not intelligence on your part, but that true intelligence on your part is simply accepting that some people need the codeword for the deeper concepts. And to simply use their codeword with them, and stop fighting the silly fight. That the true fool becomes you if you fight them on the idea of God, for not realizing that God is just a useful mental crutch for some people for retaining faith in their society.
And you are just a socially autistic ass for kicking their mental crutch. Ok, you know there is no God. You are factually right about that. So? Why do you need to rub your sense of superiority into your social interaction with simple people? As long as they are good, simple people, why the need to attack them? This is only your intolerance, your lack of confidence, your smug vanity at work, not your wisdom or intelligence.After all, we are pack animals. The idea of an alpha male is still written in the hard wiring of our brains. Therefore, investing the hope and faith of our human community in the abstract symbolic notion of a great alpha male in the sky is not so weird after all, if you understand some of human social evolution. And so I have made peace with the fact that simple people need to talk of God. Why haven't you?
Four Modern ArchetypesMeanwhile, a lot of atheists haven't made the trip back from teenaged emptiness to positive faith in their societies. Much of strident fundamentalist atheism is just nihilism and negativity and absence of faith in humanity, in the exact opposite of the religious person who needs the mental crutch of a God to have faith in their society. In other words, there are two concepts going on here: (dis)belief in god, and (dis)belief in human society.
The issues touched on here are huge and complex, and I am painting in broad strokes. If I am granted the concession that I can't possibly mention all varieties and permutations and objections and approaches to belief in God and humanity, then you can delineate 4 archetypes of people (archetypes, not rigid molds we all fall into) in any human society:
1. People who believe in God, and believe in human society: salt of the Earth, the bulk of mediocre society. Your mainline moderately religious person, who is fundamentally good, if mentally handicapped in some areas. They are not great thinkers, but they are good people. Being a good person is more important than slavishly aligning yourself with absolute truth. Therefore this great simple moderate middle needs to be appreciated for what it is, and cherished, not attacked. 2. People who believe in God, but not human society: the great evil of the world. Your traditional religious fundamentalist fascist, such as fundamentalist Muslims who happily murder in the name of myths, as you see across the Middle East. Or who happily support intolerant agendas, for example, in the West: Christians who discrimate against basically good people just because they are gay. 3. People who don't believe in God, and don't believe in human society: inert, meaningless, but loud, parasites. This is the sort of byproduct of modern rich Western life. They enjoy the fruits of the dominant ideology of their society, but they will not support that ideology, or any ideology, save those "ideologies" which are really just a compendium of ideas that stand in kneejerk reection of what actually works, not that their ideas would work in their own right. This is a phase of teenaged psychological development that, due to survival needs, had to be cognitively evolved out of as you became an early adult and had renewed investment in society, in more trying times. But in the modern West, as rich and fat as it is, there is no real psychological need to become a psychological adult. And so now you see this loud, vocal, inert faithless nihilistic kneejerk negative atheist group that believes in nothing and no one except their own simple pleasures in life. Permanent teenagers.
4. People who don't believe in God, but who believe in human society. This is the rare ultimate and superior psychological and philosophical evolutionary point in all of human history. The trick would be though to play around with the memes such that this pinnacle of memetic evolution can be directly passed onto offspring with the same zeal and positivism that the traditionally religious in group #1 currently enjoy. We have not reached that point of memetic evolution yet, but we should, as it will minimize the threat group #2, the evil religious fundamentalists, poses to everyone's survival and progress.
As you can see from those 4 groups above, you can see why I would rather align myself with #1: those who have faith in humanity, albeit in code words and anthropomorphic shortcuts, rather than with #3: a bunch of essentially empty human beings, who have not yet made the post-adolescence trip back towards faith in their society, and therefore are permanent useless teenagers psychologically. In other words, group #4 above has more in common with group #1 than with group #3. That is what I mean when I say I consider myself an atheist, but dislike atheism. Because it is more important to be good, than it is to be right.
Group #2, by the way, is of course the scourge of everyone, and if humanity does in fact get wiped out, and loses its way on the path of progress and falls into barbarism and suffering and poverty, it will be due to the religious fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalism is the greatest evil humanity has ever known. It is ironic of course, because if one wants to talk about the anthropomorphistic approach towards metaphysical concepts, Muslim fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists are very much what you would call the Devil in how they stridently spread injustice and suffering.
Group #3 above are loud Western children, but due to having no anchor in life, they are mostly harmless. They have no ideology to spread, nevermind not having the means to do so. They are memetic dead ends, because they are largely devoid of any structurally sound memes, never mind memes that could propogate themselves. Sure, they believe in various things, but most of their ideas are fluff, or structurally flawed when one tries to apply their ideology to how human nature actually works. They are inert parasites, the flotsam and jetsam of history, a loud useless meaningless drag on society.
But at least they are not the outright evil venom of religious fundamentalism. In other words, group #3 is infuriating and annoying, but mostly harmless. The real enemy of us all is group #2.It is More Important to be Good than it is to be Right
Being "good" of course is simply nothing more complicated than a simple faith in humanity, it's ability to prosper and make progress. Being good is simply being a humanist, secular or not. This is the wisdom of humanity's greatest leaders. My current philosophy towards religion is best summed up by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who realized the pinnacle of attitudes towards religion in the first century:
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."Where the wise are not really wise, as they forget that the utlimate goal is a peaceful prosperous society, not slavish devotion to an autistic person's idea of truth. Those who rule are always the most wise, at least, wise in ways that those who are considered wise traditionally do not appreciate. Because those who are considered wise traditionally: the academic unversity teachers, the stoic philosophers alone off on a hill somewhere in isolation, such wise people don't usually understand the wisdom of memetic fitness and propogating it in society. The traditionally wise are concerned with absolutely truth. They are not concerned with truth as it can be propagated and reborn in the next generation and defended in society at large and the ecosystem of ideas at play there. In other words, they are not familiar with the wisdom of rulers and leaders, the utilitarian and realistic shortcuts one makes in regard to absolute truth in order that society remain peaceful and good. And, in the end, the pragmatic always dominates over the idealistic. Because the pragmatist propagates and breeds, and the idealist dies off.
It is not good enough to realize a stoic monklike appreciation of truth: you must also propagate it. That separates the wisdom of the rulers from the wisdom of autistic savants, and the traditional academic view of intelligence and wisdom. And why, as an atheist, I dislike atheism.
The great challenge of this millenium is an engineering one: how can we invest in secular humanism the robust breeding and propagation powers we usually associate wih traditional religion? We must do this, because of the evil of religious fundamentalism and its constant venomous threat to our prosperity and progress.But how can we have a self-replicating faith in basic human good that avoids the mumbo jumbo mental claptrap of monotheism? It's almost like a computer programming problem, except human society is the computer, its various organs something to be tweaked and divested or invested in to ensure the continuation of the most essential of memetic codes, secular humanism. It can not be relied upon for secular humanism to merely be rediscovered anew in every generation as some byproduct of the mainline religious moderates, as is currently the case. We must take some of the high level memetic ideas, some we haven't even discovered yet, and use them to bring more peace and prosperity to more people in this world. Secular humanism must be fortified so as to serve as yet a stronger bulwark against the evil of religious fundamentalism that always seems to have more and more venom for the continued existence of tolerant human civilization.
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