Atheism 6.2

First, atheism 2.0:

Alain de Botton speaks of gleaning useful culture from the trappings of religion. In my opinion, he takes a bit of time to get going, and I’m not convinced that he’s speaking to atheism so much as secularism or humanism, but that’s not a big deal. It did, though, remind me of some biology. After the jump:

“Evolution is smarter than you are” (Orgel’s Second Rule). We get all sorts of neat chemicals, neat materials, neat strategies, simply by looking around at what evolution has come up with. A plant’s war with insects might have come up with a biochemical arsenal we could use. A snail’s saliva turns out to be a more powerful pain reliever than morphine. Cuttlefish chromatophores inspire flat-screen televisions. Evolution takes its sweet time, and is powered by massive loss of life, but it gets the job done. And by looking at the end product of countless failed experiments, we can pluck out the winners and save ourselves a lot of time and effort.

That is what de Botton suggests we do with the culturally evolved characteristics of the successful species in cultural evolution–and there may be few cultural species or strategies more successful than religion. The use of ritual, of calendar, of oratory… de Botton suggests that “atheism 2.0” will draw inspiration from religion, pluck out the winning strategies and take a giant step forward.

But, see, I like the privative definition of atheism. It makes the most sense to me, and stops most misunderstandings in their tracks. It’s simple, and nothing more than it needs to be. If you want a positively defined world view, you are free to have it; it is, however, independent of atheism. Humanism, perhaps, could benefit from de Botton’s advice. For me, though… his “atheism 2.0” reminds me, oddly enough, of “atheism 3.0“, and of course, “atheism 6.2”:

In Atheism 6.2
The features that we add for you
Revise the changes we’d begun
In 5.5 through 6.1

In 5.5 through 5.7
Metaphors of hell and heaven
Were allowed, but pearly gates
Were strictly seen as 5.8’s

You must remember 5.9,
In which we said communion wine
Was for the first time “good to go”
(We took it back in 6.0.)

But frankly, wine was lots of fun,
So just as quickly, 6.1
Restored the wine, now 6.2
Allows us cheese and crackers, too.

But wine and crackers, even cheeses
Are not blood, nor flesh of Jesus,
(Once, of course, we called it true,
But that was version 4.2.)

Accomodationism maths
Makes some folks mad as psychopaths
They rant and rave like total jerks
And say “The beta version works!”

It has no bugs; it needs no mods,
It’s simply “no belief in gods”
But whiny people soon complained,
So changes soon were entertained

The purists say it came undone
As early on as 1.1
Which left believers free to claim
That “God” was “Nature’s other name”

Before you knew it, 1.3
Included “spirituality”
From there, by pieces, fits, and starts,
The later versions hit the charts

I wonder, what could be in store
For 6.3 and 6.4.
So pick your fave, and start a schism.
One thing it’s not… is atheism.


  1. says

    Hmm, I was just at Maryam Namazie’s reading a comment comparing sports to religion as Sastra once did on Pharyngula, and so (not having watched the video) I wonder if de Botton has ever noticed the similarity between sports and religions?

    “The use of ritual, of calendar, of oratory” seem to already be in play in sports. That is something I’d rather not have mixed with my atheism. I mean, I like the gnu mascot and the scarlet A and the blogs and the quips and the events and meetings and I can even get by with the accommodationist/gnu split, but rituals, unless they are done mockingly and sparingly such as Kagin’s debaptisms, seem to be crossing a line meant for fun and education into a kind of pseudoreligious territory.

  2. baal says

    Thanks Cuttlefish.

    I find this pernicious thread that of “athiests need to use the lovely good parts of religion” completely odious. I’ve was in academia a long time and the grad student tier was 80%+ athiest (varied a bit by department). It’s insulting to suggest that needed reminders or weren’t living positive lives. The rest of society isn’t like academia but I don’t see why we *need* the religious model to make life better for everyone.

  3. F says

    Ha ha, yes! That is exactly it.

    “That is what de Botton suggests we do with the culturally evolved characteristics of the successful species in cultural evolution”

    I wish people would quit making incompatible metaphors and then treating them as if they were real things. Software code is not like DNA or anything else, and culture and cultural change are not like evolution.


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