Juice for Atheists
Below is a conversation I’m having with an atheist friend of mine, nick-named “Juice,” that began on Facebook, but was developing into something that was worthy of a different forum. I first suggested email, but my friend wanted it to benefit others, so he agreed to let me post it on my blog. This is somewhat risky on his part since I run a Christian-centered blog and he is advocating atheism. He’s not likely to find much sympathy for his arguments here. And that is why I am all the more grateful for his willingness to transition.
“Juice” is a good friend of mine from a previous assignment in Alaska. We flew F-16s together, rode snow machines together, and participated together in many others activities that interior Alaska provides. He has a Bachelors’ in Mechanical Engineering from Wright State University in Ohio. He has flown F-16s in the active duty Air Force for several years and will transition to the DC Guard this summer. He currently instructs fledgling fighter pilots in the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course in south Texas. He is unmarried, but has a girlfriend of seven years. He is a self-proclaimed “closet nerd,” due to his enjoyment of computer programming. He is also an advocate of free distributed education on the internet, which explains his willingness to join this forum. He has been, and will continue to be, a great servant to our nation and deserves the utmost respect for his service.
Context– “Juice” was responding to two questions I asked. ”What is the logic behind your belief that ‘faith is dangerous and ethically bankrupt’?” and “Can you explain what evidence you have for non-existence?”
Juice,What I’ve done is copy your most recent comment from Fb and put my comments in block quotes throughout your writing. This is meant only to address your comments. I’ll provide a direct answer to your question in a subsequent post.
As for evidence of non-existence, the burden of evidence generally falls to those claiming the existence of an object, deity, or hypothesis. Otherwise, we would be overwhelmed disproving every batty idea postulated by any random person. There have been thousands, if not millions, of proposed deities. You have chosen one as valid, but don’t feel motivated to find evidence for non-existence of all the others. From this perspective, you are an atheist much like me. I simply allow your god to remain heaped among the other gods for which I see no evidence, but also feel no real need to disprove. If I invented my own deity or extraordinary idea, I doubt anyone would really feel the need to refute it. They would simply disregard it by default unless I provided substantial evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The idea of an all-powerful supernatural entity, that mirrors man in his overall mentality, is certainly an extraordinary claim. So my question to you is what is your evidence for existence
Response: I agree that I have a burden of proof, I’m not trying to shirk that responsibility. But you also have to demonstrate the reason you believe there is no God, which you partially do below. If I said that I believe Darwinian evolution does not exist, you would be well within your right to ask my what evidence I have for such a belief. This is especially true when a majority believes otherwise. Currently, and throughout recorded history, atheists have taken the minority position–this doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong, but it does necessitate a reason for taking such a stance. Like you (and Christopher Hitchens) said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Atheism, in this case, is the extraordinary claim that requires explanation.
As to the “you’re almost an atheist, you only believe in one less god than I do” quip, it is possible, with a single effort to demonstrate the non-existence of every other god ever concocted in the mind of man. Monotheism involves an exclusive being (only one) and if the existence of this being can be demonstrated, then the non-existence of all other beings that have a claim on the moniker “god” is proven. More succinctly, the existence of my God, proves no other gods exist. While the quip above is enjoyable rhetoric, it confuses quantity for quality. I think you’ll find that people who believe in many gods are closer to being atheists than those who only believe in one.
That said, I think strongest argument against any type of creator is the same argument generally used to validate the idea of a creator. Generally, believers simply can’t fathom the idea that the universe simply came to be, or just is. How can you get something from nothing, right? Without getting into the details of how this might be, or how this philosophy may just be the result of a very limited perspective on the actual nature of the universe, let’s discuss why it is evidence against god. To say the universe was created adds a level of recursion, which further complicates the notion of existence. The creator himself would most likely have been more complex and sophisticated than the creation. I don’t think most theists would argue this, otherwise we could possibly be more sophisticated and knowledgeable than this postulated god. Therefore, to argue for a creator is to argue that something even more complex than the universe itself simply came to be. If the universe had to come from somewhere, so would a creator. The idea of a consciousness more complex than the universe itself having created the universe defies the logic that the universe could not have just come to be. In fact, it is even less likely that the more sophisticated, already conscious, deity just happened to appear out of nothing. That, I believe, is sound evidence against a supernatural creator of everything. When you combine the falsity of creation logic with the lack of evidence for a creator the case seems closed.
Response: Modern cosmology points to a universe that began roughly 14.3 billion years ago (give or take). Time and space began with the universe and without the universe, there was nothing. None of this is my idea, it’s what science indicates. I have no problem with the idea of the universe coming from nothing. And, whether you like it or not, any position you take for HOW the universe became, is a metaphysical claim that you take by faith. ”Empirical” is not applicable when nothing is all that there is, and nothing is all that there was without the universe.
Also, I don’t follow why the complexity of a creator is a case for no creator. The logic doesn’t seem to me to make sense. It sounds to be a bit like the “Ockham’s Razor” case against a creator, which is a misapplication of Ockham’s Razor (if your interested in the details of how/why, let me know). But in no way does the complexity of a cause obviate the cause. And I don’t believe the Creator needs to be greatly more complex. All the creator needs is a mind and ability. That isn’t positing something so complex as to be unrealistic. Plus as the debate stands today, cosmologists are debating the existence of a multiverse. Which entails some system that has randomly generated an infinite number of universes and randomly set the constants and quantities in their physical laws. How’s that for complexity! So your argument doesn’t stand even against the metaphysical claims of even atheistic cosmologists.
In the end it is vastly more probable that something caused the universe, rather than nothing causing the universe. The second law of thermodynamics and universal observation of cause and effect demonstrate this and I can think of nothing more empirical. There is no bad logic, and it is pretty decent evidence (more to follow later).
As far as the danger and moral shortcomings of faith, they are easy to see today and throughout history. Let me know if you would like me to make a list of historic religious atrocities, but I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to. I will however bring up a few. Attempting to deny women the right to contraception and the right to choose what happens within their own body, female circumcision, attempts to stop the progress of life saving medical technology, and sanctioned bigotry against homosexuals. You yourself condone teaching children the theological idea of creationism as if it has scientific evidence and ration behind it. These are but a few of the less obvious immoral acts carried out in the name of faith today. The only way any of these can be couched as ethical is through the lens of faith. There are no logical reasons that any of these are ethically sound practices. In actuality, they are harmful to society and thus unethical.
The above examples, and all of the examples that I fail to list, boil down to the one root ethical failing of faith. That is the condolence of disconnect from reason. In order to believe any mythology you must eventually believe simply because you are told to, or because you want to. You cannot reason your way to faith. By championing belief without overwhelming reason, faith is a moral failure. If you need no reason to believe, then you can be convinced to act on believes with no logical foundation. Without logical foundation, people can be, and have been, convinced that terrible things are actually good things and act on those ideas. Faith is one of the few mechanisms by which good people do wretched things… and they may actually feel good about it afterwards. Worse yet, faith has parents indoctrinate their children with the idea that stiff arming logic in favor of a belief system with no empirical validation is acceptable. This may seem harsh, but I personally believe that history will look back on this practice a tantamount to child abuse. I can’t see how a child can endure the tales of hellfire and brimstone, and encouragement to believe simply because they are told to without suffering some degree of brain damage. Faith is the enemy of reason and therefore fails ethically.
Response: Now for the moral argument, I’d like to recommend we not use the term “ethical” and use “moral” instead. Ethics is broader than morals because it speaks to values of which morality is only one subset. Ethical dilemmas involve rules, laws, morals, and pitting goods of varying degrees against each other. If we want to be technically pure “morals” should be our focus. Plus, I think if we do a one-for-one swap of “ethical” for “moral” in your comments above your meaning and intent will still be essentially the same.
I have a couple of questions for you. I ask you to seriously think about your answers, because what you come up with will greatly impact the case you presented above about the morality of faith. Question 1) In reference to the list of contemporary political issues you provide above as moral, how do you determine which side of the argument is good? Question 2) How do you define “good” and why? Please don’t disregard or short change these questions. If you are going to understand why I believe what I believe, (and why you believe what you believe, for that matter) it helps immensely when you know your foundation for what is good. I hope you don’t mind this approach to addressing your argument from morality, I want for this to be the focus of the conversation as it moves forward.
As to my “yet-to-be-declared-but-essentially-is” child abuse, I (and you) teach what you believe is true. Because you don’t understand why I believe the way I do, doesn’t make the teaching of my beliefs child abuse. I always have to try really hard to not be offended when I hear this “New Atheist” retort. The statement is the epitome of bigotry and can be the foundation for atrocities on par with what you accuse faith of committing. This isn’t a valid argument. It is an insult and a dangerous one. We should base our arguments on logic, reason, facts, and experience, not ad hominem attacks parroted from others.
“Faith is the enemy of reason.” This, I believe, is one of the basic assumptions that underlies much of your subsequent reasoning. It is a statement you take by faith to be true, because it isn’t empirical. You can probably give me a thousand anecdotes demonstrating where people have used faith to oppose reason, but I (and others) will continually stand here as evidence that faith can be supported and even enhanced by reason. It is possible to use faith instead of reason, which is what you are doing in believing the “enemy” quote. But, if your faith leads you to the same conclusion that reason would, great, your faith was placed correctly. And if your faith leads you elsewhere, you are not immoral, you just may perhaps be wrong. Even if you take a conclusion by faith, when reason dictates otherwise, you are not immoral, you simply may be wrong again. And if the reasoning you opposed ends up being based on faulty premises, you may not be wrong. Either way everyone draws conclusions based on reason AND faith, you included. Whether the premises match reality or not will determine whether the belief is right or wrong, not whether the believer is immoral or moral.
To wrap up, as with any blog post, the comments can branch off in one hundred different directions in a single comment. I’ll leave it up to you, which and how many will be the focus, but I’ve opened the door to the moral argument. This is where I hope we would focus. I’m drafting a response to your question “What is your evidence for existence?” Expect that in another post soon.
Thanks for being willing to move this to my blog. These are important issues that deserve discussion. And I’m thankful for your willingness to do so civilly. Whether you believe it or not, God loves you and He proved it in Christ.
You’re a good friend, Juice.