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'Could I desert thee, child,' said she, 'and not lighten the burden which thou hast taken upon thee through the hatred of my name, by sharing this trouble? Even forgetting that it were not lawful for Philosophy to leave companionless the way of the innocent, should I, thinkest thou, fear to incur reproach, or shrink from it, as though some strange new thing had befallen? Thinkest thou that now, for the first time in an evil age, Wisdom hath been assailed by peril?
Classic Trick Daddy and Bird Man.
[...] As far as the Argument from Evil goes, atheists actually need a lot more than objective moral values to get the argument off the ground. For instance, they need suffering, but for suffering there has to be humans and animals (or something similar), and human and animals are incredibly complex organisms. This complexity points to design, not to atheism. Atheists also need some sort of world where all this suffering is taking place, and any world will serve as the foundation for the Cosmological Argument. But there can’t be just any old world; the suffering we see around us requires a finely-tuned world. Otherwise humans and animals couldn’t survive. This, of course, is the idea behind the Argument from Fine-Tuning. Beyond this, atheists need minds to recognize the evil and formulate the argument, and this is part of the Argument from Consciousness. They also need a concept of God, because they’re claiming that this concept doesn’t apply to anything that actually exists. And our concept of God is used in various forms of the Ontological Argument.Given David's consistent use of the shift, I have a question for him. If theistic arguments were shown to be deficient - from cosmological arguments, to design arguments, to moral arguments, etc. - would David feel that AE is sufficient to make atheism more probable than not? In other words, if the shift were not available to David, would atheism more likely become an intellectually preferred option?
A couple of weeks ago, when Paul Manata posted his answers to all eighty-nine questions about theism written up by Reggie Finley and the Rational Response Squad, the bloggers over at Christian Skepticism came up with a set of questions of their own for atheists to answer. In a previous blog entry, I said that once they were finished coming up with questions, I would answer them. Since it now looks like they’re finished, I’m dedicating this post to their questions.
Keep in mind while reading this that atheists are not committed to accepting whatever answers I give here. There are plenty of atheists who would disagree with me on my answer to every single question of the CS list. So what I’m offering is merely my own take, as only one individual non-theist, and I don’t pretend to represent anyone else when I answer the CS questions. For an alternative list of answers that differs somewhat from mine, you can check out Jim Lippard’s response here.
#1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
There is something rather than nothing because ‘nothingness’ is a metaphysical impossibility of sorts. Bede Rundle and Adolf Grunbaum have done a good job treating this issue. Rundle, in his [plainly titled] book, “Why There is Something Rather than Nothing”, gives arguments for why there must always have been something or other existing infinitely into the past. Grunbaum likewise argues that questions such as these are rather nonsensical in his [pretty long] paper, “The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology”. For those who are skeptical that there can be actualized infinites, Graham Oppy’s book on the topic, “Philosophical Perspectives on Infinity”, is an excellent book to purchase and study carefully.
Also, Jim Still wrote an excellent paper on Wittgenstein’s point of view about questions of this sort, entitled, “The Mental Discomfort of ‘Why?’”. In his conclusion, Still writes,
I have argued that it is misguided to attempt to answer literally questions that we pose from the mystical feeling that the world should exist. Wittgenstein realizes that the mental discomfort of "Why?" is not satiated by the appeal to a supernatural being; therefore, it is incorrect to view Wittgenstein as holding a traditional view of God. The person who asks "why is there something rather than nothing?" is expressing an attitude toward the brute fact of existence. The believer is not asking how a thing came to be, but expressing the mystical feeling that a thing is. We need only see how the limiting question "Why?" lingers long after the cosmological proof is employed to see that this is so. No matter what terminus the proof finally settles upon, "Why?" continues to push itself beyond the limits of language. There can be no answer from reason to the problem of life.
#2. How do you know that you exist (without being circular)?
I agree with Lippard’s response, here. I think that Descartes’ cogito argument is sufficient for this, and Chalmers has recast this line of argument in his own terms with a discussion of “direct phenomenal experience” of certain of our beliefs that constitute epistemic justification.
#3. Where does human self-consciousness come from?
Consciousness is supervenient upon the brain. A few good books I’ve recently read in the philosophy of mind include Kim’s introductory “Philosophy of Mind”, Kim’s “Physicalism, or Something Near Enough”, and Levine’s “Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness”. I think reading these three books will give you a good perspective on where a lot of physicalists about the mind are coming from.
#4. How do you know that your senses are reliable (without being circular)?
With this question I disagree with Lippard. I do not think it is possible to give a non-circular justification for believing that our senses are reliable. I think this is true for theists and atheists alike. I also think that this has interesting implications for how we should construe evidentialist theories of epistemic justification, for those who are internalists.
[EDIT] Lippard has since clarified that we don't actually disagree with one another on this issue. Instead, Lippard feels that we are not precluded from understanding in some sense the reliability of our senses through the use of science. I agree with him here.
#5. What is truth?
‘Truth’ is a property of propositions, just in case those propositions correspond to reality. They are ‘true’ if they correspond and ‘false’ if they do not.
#6. What is the cause of everything?
There is no one cause of everything. Besides this, there are also examples of causeless events in quantum mechanics. So while causation may be something we think is very important in our everyday lives, there are in fact places where it simply doesn’t apply.
#7. What is the purpose of mankind?
There is no such thing as cosmic purpose, but there is certainly such a thing as individual purpose. Some atheists like to use the phrase, “There is no meaning to life, but there is meaning in life”, and I’m perfectly content with that.
#8. How do we determine right from wrong? Is there such a standard? Where does it come from? The State? DNA?
I’m personally inclined to think that there is an objective standard of right and wrong, but not at all in the sense that requires there to be intrinsic values. So you might only call me a quasi-moral realist if you would insist that objective standards imply that there are intrinsic values. I think that the desires of sentient beings are the objects of ethical evaluation, and from our recognition of this we go on to construct rules by which we live in order to avoid thwarting the desires of others. So while a form of consequentialism is true, we nevertheless go about our ethical lives in a quasi-deontological fashion due to the fact that we’ve extrapolated moral principles that we can live by, in order to successfully avoid thwarting the desires of other beings. You might call this theory ‘Desire Rule Consequentialism’. For the closest description of this theory in print, I would highly recommend that you purchase Richard Fyfe’s recently published book, “A Better Place”. In terms of the essentials, my ideas are almost identical to his.
#9. What is the difference, from an atheistic standpoint, between love and hate? Aren't these merely emotional responses triggered by certain stimuli? Why is one better than the other?
I think we all understand that “love” and “hate” are emotions triggered by certain stimuli. We all act in accord with this belief in our day-to-day lives, and we recognize this in basic psychology and in neuroscience. As to why one is better than another, this question should be more specific. I think it’s a matter of extreme controversy whether or not we should experience or maintain an emotion of love in different circumstances. I think there are good arguments for this idea and against it. But, in general, love is ‘better’ than hate for two reasons – (1) reasons pertaining to your individual benefit over the long run (those who are loving people will live happier lives than those who are not very loving); and (2) reasons derived from the ethical theory that I described as an answer to question #8.
#10. How do you explain transcendent truth? I.e. Even folks that have never heard of the Bible (like tribe people in deep jungles) knowing that stealing, murder, adultry etc. is wrong.
By ‘transcendent truth’, I’m understanding this person as saying that there are examples of innate, non-instinctual knowledge. I do not think that there is any such thing. I think that the vast majority of our moral education is an empirical endeavour, where we gradually come to understand the consequences of various sorts of action that we can partake in, in our everyday lives. I disagree with some evolutionary psychologists who might be inclined to say that we have inherent notions of right and wrong when it comes to things like stealing, adultery, etc. It is only when we come to understand the consequences of these actions through our experiences that we can recognize that these are morally wrong actions to take.
#11. Isn't implicit, weak or negative atheism (ala George Smith, David Eller & Michael Martin) just another form of agnosticism? If the atheist critiques theism without justification, then isn't he/she believing in atheism with something other than rational thought? And as soon as the atheist provides any kind of rational justification for his/her critique of theism, hasn't he/she just moved into explicit, strong or positive atheism? And if so, doesn't he/she then need to worry about some burden of proof for his/her belief in a lack of belief?
I just had a long argument with several atheists about this. I think that all of these terms – “weak atheism”, “strong atheism”, “positive atheism”, “negative atheism”, and so forth, are simply ridiculous. Apart from stipulation, defining atheism in any other way besides “the view that there is no God” is a misuse of language. So I would not equate atheism with agnosticism in any sense, like other atheists have tried to do. If you’d like to check out the argument I had with the other atheists, you can see here.
#12. If you honestly do not believe there is a God, why do you ask so many questions about a God you don't believe exists?
This all depends on the atheist. For instance, nowadays, I couldn’t care less about the philosophy of religion. I continue to discuss it only because I have friends who have a continued interest in the subject. I would prefer to talk about other topics in philosophy and the natural sciences. However, there was a time when I was extremely active and enthusiastic about arguing against theism. Why?
There are several reasons why some atheists are enthusiastic about criticizing religious beliefs. Some atheists are convinced that religion is harmful. When it comes to certain theological beliefs (e.g. with Islamic extremists and Christian anti-gay, anti-atheist, anti-church-state separationism, anti-science beliefs), I agree with them. Other atheists are simply convinced that religion is one great big lie that hinders people from living intellectually fulfilling lives, and they feel that it’d be better if we put a stop to it. Finally, there are plenty of atheists who used to be believers themselves, and so their experiences with their religious beliefs have had a profound impact on their lives, which would naturally explain their continued interest in the issue.
#13. If you really don't believe God exists what does it matter to you, how He should choose to punish those who don't believe?
So this is a question about the Problem of Hell. The answer is simple – the argument that atheists put forward about Hell is purely hypothetical. If God exists, and if God sends people to Hell, then this is either incoherent or morally reprehensible. So there’s no genuine fear among atheists that there really is a being who is sending people to an eternal toaster oven, or place of pain, or a depressive place of separation from the divine (whatever you believe Hell is). Simply, atheists are arguing that there is an internal problem with the theological beliefs of many theists.
#14. If you really believe God doesn't exist, then there is no worry of punishment for you anyway, so why get upset just because someone else believes you're going to a place they believe exists?
I think everything I said when I answered question #12 applies here. I don’t get upset -- I could care less what other people believe about the after-life. I have better things to worry about. What I do get upset about are people who actively work toward dominionism, or toward putting pseudo-science into the classroom, or toward unfairly indoctrinating people through fear tactics, or actively working against equal rights for homosexuals. That makes me angry. These are injustices against tens of thousands of people in our country. It is an injustice against children’s education and their psychological development when you instill beliefs in them through the use of methods that encourage fear and negative self-image. I have plenty of good friends who have missed out on the richness of their younger lives because of the negative effects that indoctrination had on them. So, do you want to believe in God? Fine. I don’t care. This is supposed to be a free country and so I support your right to believe whatever you want to. But it shouldn’t be a great mystery to you why some people will get upset when extremist believers actively campaign to discriminate against people, take away from the quality of life, and damage children’s psychological development. That’s what I’m against. And I’d like to think that plenty of believers will agree with me on this.
#15. How about "life from no life?"
There’s a good show that NOVA did on this. In fact, one scientist said that it’s gotten “too easy” to produce life from non-living materials. There are laboratory scientists who do this for a living. If you’re asking the historical question about how life first actually got here, then as far as I understand, no scientist knows that for sure, even though we’ve made plenty of progress (e.g. the Urey-Miller experiment, and many subsequent experiments like it). But the NOVA program demonstrates that it is certainly not impossible in principle for life to arise from non-living material.
#16. "How can atheists speak definitively, authoritatively, or otherwise on the metaphysical (and spiritual)which is beyond their experience?"
I don’t think we can speak definitively about much of anything. But we can certainly be highly confident about a lot of things, and I think its possible to achieve certainty about a few basic beliefs. But I don’t think that the theist-atheist debate is something that goes on beyond our experience. I think that theism makes certain predictions about the way the world will be, and we can test that by simply taking a look around us. I think that a competitor explanation -- naturalism, is the superior between the two. The predictions made by a naturalistic metaphysic seem to fit our observations about the world better than what we would expect given a theistic metaphysic.
Stanford Encyclopedia article. Link.