In the video here Rebecca Watson from Skepchick, the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Curiosity Aroused, etc, addresses the question “What does atheism have to offer?” Her answer? It’s a bullshit question. And she’s absolutely right.
The kind of question about which she’s talking here is of a type that is often posed by people from a number of sides of various issues, and it’s always bullshit. The presumption in such a question is that there must be some sort of benefit to conferred upon the holder of the position at issue, else there is no good reason to hold it. Worse, in that case, there is reason to hold the opposing view. But this concern from some practical benefit has nothing to do with the truth of the issue. Nothing.
In a clear way this hits at the practical vs. the principled concern that I’ve noted here a few times, including a post dedicated just to that issue. If you’re in an argument with someone about the truth of something, it is completely improper to ask what the benefit of holding that belief is. What does it matter? How does that affect the truth of it? It doesn’t. In terms of the way things are, your happiness is completely irrelevant. You might be utterly miserable believing some particular truth. It might cause an existential crisis of such a degree that your life is irrevocably ruined, but that would not change stop the truth from being the truth.
This is not to say there is no room for discussions about pragmatic concerns. There’s plenty of room for that. But we need to be clear when we talk about such things that we are not talking about whether or not that makes the thing discussed is true. They are just different questions.
Let me be clear about what I’m saying and what I’m not saying. I’m not talking about atheism here, even though that’s the question that provoked the response Watson gives in the video. Whether or not atheism is a justified view is completely beside the point I’m making here. I’m saying that in a debate about a principled issue, the practical concerns of the consequences of the issue are just not relevant to the discussion. So, in terms of the question of atheism, it just does not matter if not believing in a god makes you unhappy when the concern is which position is epistemically justified. The same goes for theism. If you’re a theist debating with an atheist about whether or not one is justified in believing in a god, and if that person says something like “But what good does it do to believe in you god?” tell them that they are asking a bullshit question and skirting the real issue. It’s a red herring, and it should be pointed out as such.