Promoting Objective Worldviews

In my last blog post I mostly compared worldviews as if they were subjective personal choices like ice cream flavours. And in the same way that I have a favourite ice cream flavour (praline) I also have a favourite worldview (Secular Humanism). For my own reasons I think that both of these things are right for me. These are subjective choices.

But whereas evaluating ice cream flavours will always be only a matter of personal taste, evaluating different worldviews can – to some extent – be done objectively. Go ahead and think of a common “ism”, religion or philosophy that people you know identify with. Now compare it to Nazism. Clearly Nazism is worse than the other thing you were thinking of. Because the other think you were thinking of did not promote the idea of an Aryan master race.

Of course, not all worldviews are mutually exclusive, and perhaps the best thing about Nazism is better than the worst thing about some other belief system. But there are definitely objectively better and objectively worse belief systems. The same cannot be said for ice cream flavours.

I like my belief system because I think it is well-reasoned and useful. I want to promote it. But I do not want to just be another annoying Atheist that goes too far in promoting Atheism. So I decided that my framework for promoting Atheism and Secular Humanism is as follows:

I will promote my worldview to the extent that it is objectively better than other worldviews.

Obviously, every single word in that sentence is up for interpretation and has many shades of grey (especially “promote”, “objectively” and “better”). Also, this is almost certainly not an original idea. I probably heard it somewhere else and just thought about it long enough until it felt like an original thought. I also think it sounds quite pretentious. But I don’t really care what it sounds like, I only care if it’s a good idea or not.

In order to use practical examples, I’ll try to apply this framework to three different ways that Secular Humanism and Atheism compare to my former worldview: liberal Christianity. This way we can discuss real issues rather than making easy hypothetical arguments against Nazis.

CASE ONE: The difference between Christianity and Atheism and Secular Humanism is only subjective

A Christian may say that their faith provides them with happiness, feelings of community and a reason to get up in the morning. Since these things are subjective experiences of faith there’s not really any reason for me to think that Secular Humanism would be any better for this person.

Now that’s not to say that if someone tells me of these great benefits of Christianity that I’m not allowed to say anything. In fact, I would probably respond by telling them that I am happy for their positive experiences, and say that I also have these positive experiences as a result of my Secular Humanism.

The analogous ice cream conversation sounds like this:

Other: “Wow! I love mint chocolate chip ice cream!”

Me: “Awesome! I love praline ice cream!”

No one is really trying to convince the other of anything, it’s just an exchange of subjective choices. Maybe someone will try a new flavour of ice cream to see if they like it, but there’s no argument to be made. But there’s also no need for annyone to be ashamed or awkwardly silent about their favourite flavour of ice cream. Certainly no one would label me an “annoying praline person” after that conversation.

CASE TWO: Christianity is objectively better than Atheism and Secular Humanism

One area where this may be the case is with charitable giving. My understanding is that religious people give a lot more time and money than non-religious people (link to first relevant hit on Google). This is easily quantifiable, and donating time and money is objectively a good thing.

In this area I think that the godless community could learn a few things from religious organizations. When the religious get on a soapbox and laud their own efforts to relieve poverty and suffering in the world, Atheists should listen and congratulate them. I think that most Atheists do genuinely value and promote philanthropy but often not nearly as much as we should (note: Peter Singer is a counter example).

EXAMPLE THREE: Atheism and Secular Humanism are objectively better than Christianity

The use of the Bible is one very basic issue on which I think that Christianity (yes, even moderate and liberal Christianity) is objectively worse than Atheism and Secular Humanism. My worldview aspires to increase human flourishing by promoting reasonable morality based on how our actions affect others in the real (natural) world. Christianity also does this (which is good) but Christianity is also restricted by and dependendant on faith and magical beliefs in a God that is by definition outside of the real world inwhich we live.

Christian morality is like an engineer that uses math, science and measurements to determine how strong to build a bridge, but who then also includes some randomly generated numbers into their calculations. There is mostly sound reasoning in this process but there is always at least some amount of belief in magic that dilutes and confuses the conclusions.

In cases like these, I feel my worldview is objectively better than other worldviews. Of course it’s possible that I’m partially or completely wrong about this, and I’m open to criticism at every step in my thinking. But (unless I’m very wrong) I don’t think that it’s appropriate to dismiss this point as just my subjective opinion.

I still have many questions about in what way it is appropriate to promote one’s worldview. I’m not always sure how loudly or with what tone people should speak about their worldviews. But I think that the framework described above is the right way to begin deciding in which areas people should promote their worldviews.


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