Excellent…now we are getting into the meat! You are bringing up some classical arguments and some new ones which I would like to address.
I am glad to hear that you are in constant search of the truth, as we owe ourselves that at least!
Here are my response to some of your points:
1) I would love for there to be a God, watching over me and giving me a chance for eternal life. So far as I can tell, though, this isn’t the case, so my wishing it was true doesn’t make it true. Whatever reality is, I’m stuck with it.
Here, you do not answer my original question. I am asking for scientific empirical evidence that tells you why. You say “so far as I can tell”. Well, what is it so far that tells you this? Feeling? That’s no basis by which to prove a matter so serious. I will provide you with scientific evidence that supports why I believe in a creator God.
Can you provide the same for your stance?
2) I don’t think people can decide for themselves what is right and wrong, whether or not they are theists. Again, my new book is largely about how you can make moral decisions, and it definitely implies that some things are wrong whether or not there is a deity.
I agree that you do not need to be theist to know right from wrong. All kinds of Christians sin and do wrong (we live in a fallen world). That is my exact contention. Somehow the atheist and the theist know the difference between right and wrong. That is not my point.
I want to know how?
I know why I think certain things are wrong; God, through his word and holy spirit help me differentiate (via a conscience). How do you decide? What is your point of reference?
Aldous Huxley in his “book ends and means” says
“I wanted to believe the Darwinian Idea, I chose to believe it not because I think there was enormous evidence for it, nor b/c I think it has the full authority to give interpretation to my origins, I chose to believe it b/c it delivered me from trying to find meaning, and freed me to my own neurotic passions.”
My contention is that Atheism provides no moral law to which we can reflect, and Huxley says as much. He liked a world of godless evolution so he would have no guilt.
This very point rears it’s ugly head during the Nuremberg trials, in which the Judges in Nazi Germany were being tried for crimes against humanity. The defenses claim was that they were “operating according to the law of their own land”. They were then asked by the court, gentleman, isn’t there a law above all laws?
Nietzsche would say no. If I follow that logic, I have no means by which to tell them they are wrong. I cannot evoke a moral authority. This is what is scary about what is happening in the West. We have become such a pluralistic society, that we have blurred the lines of what is wrong. (the middle east still espouses Islam, so there is some kind of transcendent leverage for which they get their “morals”). A moral point of reference must have 2 characteristics to be a reference point: a) it must be outside yourself b) it must be unchanging. If you try to tell me that truth is relative…well, that’s an entirely other argument.
3) It’s tangential to your point, but I don’t see evidence that religion makes the average person more moral in any meaningful way. Neither atheism nor theism guarantees morality, and — sadly — saying that you are moral does not guarantee it either.
I could not agree more. As I stated previously, we live in a fallen world. All have fallen short. The difference is that Christians know why they should behave one way versus another. Again, how do atheists know this (I think they do know right from wrong, but how?)
As an aside, I believe Nazi Germany thought it had a Judeo-Christian value system. So did the fighters of the Crusades.
I am so glad that you brought this up. Your statement could not be farther from the truth. Hitler may or may not have been an atheist (this is debated), but he killed millions in the name of atheism. That is not debatable.
He was a follower of Nietzsche and cared nothing for the judeo-christian law (heck,all he did was kill jews and Christians). Do you know that the first thing Germany did when they conquered a nation was to put it’s people into indoctrination classes, to teach them, of all things, evolution. Not Marxism and the communist state, but evolution. Remove God, and your remove the moral reference point from which to argue they were wrong. He also heavily influenced Stalin, and Mussolini. These 3 men killed more in the name of atheism than any religious crusade. This is an oft missed bit of information. (a side note: often confused as well is the fact that the Crusades were an attempt by Christians to reclaim Jerusalem after they had been driven out by the Muslims).
“You ask how I arrive at my conclusion that god does not exist. I’m not going to answer that, because I haven’t concluded that god does not exist. Rather, I have not been convinced that any deities do exist.”
This is really confusing to me. You directly claim here that you “are not saying god doesn’t exist”, but you also “have not seen enough evidence to claim he does exist”. Can I chalk that up to “I don’t know if there is a god” territory? This seems a bit like agnosticism. You are riding the fence.
“Regarding Einstien, I think we need to check some facts here. As I understand it, he was annoyed that his calculations implied an expanding universe, since at that time the universe was thought to be static. Further evidence showed that not to be the case. “
Einstein’s theory of relativity still stands today as one of science’s strongest lines of evidence for a creationist God. As I stated previously, he was indeed annoyed along with may other scientists who were very busy in their day trying to use science to disprove the existence of God. Still hoping to disprove his discovery using “the fudge factor”, Einstein eventually had to submit to Edwin Hubble’s telescope and what it proved. It showed the “red light shift”, proof that galaxies were in fact moving away from earth. This showed that the universe was expanding from a distant past, a singular even. He later re-directed his effort to know “how God created the world” and said “I want to know God’s thought. The rest are details”.
I use this scientific evidence to prove my point, and interestingly Occam’s Razor is more appropriately used by me at this point. It has nothing to do with what is the most “natural explanation”. It says that all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. He said that if you get too complicated with your answer, my Razor will cut it off. (For those not familiar with Occam, it goes as such: If you are walking in a field and come across a fence post with a turtle on top of it, there may be three possible explanations for how it got there: 1. It got up there itself 2. A strong wind carried it up there 3. Someone put it there. You could argue the first 2 vehemently and show me all sorts of data and stories about storms and such, but I’m gonna go with the most logical explanation).
I find it interesting that you find the other option more plausible. Your evidence is simply that you don’t think a creator is the right explanation. Your bit about Allah writing on a fish and Jesus on a stain glass are not pertinent to the creation of the world. You say other explanations are more compelling….such as? what are these? Use science please. I did not use “supernatural assumptions”. I used proven scientific theory. To say that you don’t like it is not enough.
Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous godfather of existential thinking from the 60′s on his death bed said that he “could not bring himself to believe anymore that this world existed apart from an ultimate designer”.
Why is it that throughout history people don’t turn to the great thinkers and philosophers on their death bed….but to God? I think that a world formed apart from a creator without intent and design leaves a longing in all of us. Everyone has a desire to know their greater meaning in life. We owe it to ourselves to find out why. To say that we are accidents with no purpose leaves a bitter taste and may explain much of the feelings of hopelessness we see in the world today.
I know this is a lot, but this correspondence address 2 of the 4 things I believe that atheism does not have an answer for, and maybe we can get to the other 2 down the road.
Whew — lots of stuff!
You say that I didn’t answer your original question. But wasn’t your original question about what my evidence was that there is no god? I thought we agreed that this was the kind of negative statement you can’t prove. I have no proof that there are no deities, but I don’t feel that I need to offer such proof. I don’t see that I have the burden of proof in this case.
When I say that “so far as I can tell” there is no God, I am not talking about personal feelings. A theist might logically base their belief in a deity on personal feeling, but an atheist can’t do so. I say that God does not exist “so far as I can tell” because to the limit of my experience and knowledge I see no compelling evidence that God exists. I am open to the possibility of evidence outside of my knowledge and experience. I look to you to supply such evidence.
Can I support scientific evidence that God is not necessary? Yes and no. If we’re just talking about the origin of the universe, there are a number of scientific theories for how our universe could exist without a deity. However, most of them are relatively recent science, so they still need study. In order for me to believe that deities exist, I would need to be shown either compelling evidence that deities exist or that no possible scientific theory — including theories not yet conceived or proven — could explain the creation of the universe.
But if you can provide compelling scientific evidence that there is a creator god, then this is moot.
You say that you know how you tell right from wrong — “God, through his word and holy spirit help me differentiate (via a conscience).” What is your evidence that your conscience is informed by God through the Holy Spirit? If that were the case for everyone, then wouldn’t most people agree on what is right and wrong? If two people disagree about what is moral, how do you know which one is right? If there is a way to decide other than going by your feelings, then there is an objective morality outside of your feelings and your feelings are not necessary to judge morality.
Now, I agree that people have a moral sense. I believe that this moral sense is part cultural and part the product of evolution. That’s why it differs from person to person. However, I also believe that the moral sense is largely irrelevant in terms of absolute morality — someone without a moral sense could still arrive at a perfectly workable system of morality.
My 2Q system of belief examination can help one go a long way toward creating a morality that is not based on anything supernatural or emotional. In brief, I suggest that you go through your beliefs and for each one ask two questions: “Does my philosophy contradict itself?” and “Would I condemn another for reasoning as I do?” If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, then your belief is in need of revision.
So let’s try this with a real example: is it okay to kill someone for no reason? Let’s say I am a person who thinks it would be fun to kill someone. Would it be moral for me to do so? Before I examine this belief further, I put it to the 2Q test. The second question asks if I would condemn someone who reasons as I do. Would I condemn someone who wanted to kill me for no reason? I sure would — I don’t want anyone to kill me! So if it’s wrong for someone else to want to kill me for no reason, then it’s wrong for me to want to kill them for no reason.
From this I see that murder is wrong, and I didn’t have to appeal to my conscience for guidance. I can use similar reasoning to show that Nazis “just following orders” were morally wrong.
You say that atheism provides no moral law to which we can reflect. That’s true. Atheism does not have a moral system attached to it. However, that does not imply that an atheist cannot have a moral system. The two things are separate topics.
You say that a moral point of reference must be outside one’s self and be unchanging. Would you say that everyone — at least, all those who righteously believed in God — throughout history had the same feelings of conscience that you do? If so, then did God’s people in Biblical times have to wrestle with their conscience when they killed babies or took people as slaves? Personally, my conscience would have big problems with doing either of these things. I assume yours would as well.
I’d say that logic is outside of myself and is unchanging. That, to me, makes it a good basis for morality. In fact, I’d say that it may be a superior basis for morality, because people’s sense of conscience can be seriously out of whack with what I’d consider moral.
You say that Hitler “killed millions in the name of atheism” and that “that is not debatable.” I disagree — it’s very debatable. I read Mein Kampf quite a while ago, but it struck me as the work of someone who definitely thought God was on his side. As he said, “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator” and “As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.” To me, these statements don’t sound even slightly atheistic.
I believe you are also wrong about Stalin killing “in the name of atheism.” Sure, Communism is atheistic, but Stalin’s murdering ways had nothing to do with trying to forward the aims of atheism. Atheism did not compel him to kill. Communists are also socialistic. Would you say that Stalin murdered in the name of socialism?
I don’t know enough about Mussolini to discuss him in this context. I am guessing that he falls into the same category as Stalin for the purposes of our conversation.
I agree that the Crusades were, in general, an attempt to retake holy lands from Muslims. But the Crusaders treated non-Muslims very poorly as they went to battle, and famously slew many Jews in the holy land. This is not something Christianity should be proud of.
Back to the main topic. You say you feel that I’m riding the fence of agnosticism. In general, an agnostic does not believe that it is possible to prove that deities do or do not exist. I think that it is logically possible for there to be proof of a deity’s existence. Therefore I am not an agnostic.
I say that I don’t believe God exists because I see no reason to believe that God exists. I’d say that this does not put me in “I don’t know if there is a God” territory, because I think that the possibility of God existing is very, very small. Saying “I don’t know if there is a God” makes it sound like I think there’s a significant chance — like saying “I don’t know if Bob is home right now.” And, based on my experience and knowledge, I don’t think there’s a significant chance.
Let’s look at the same kind of belief using a different example. I don’t believe I’m a clone because I see no reason to believe that I’m a clone. Can I prove that I’m not a clone? No. Does this put me in “I don’t know if I’m a clone” territory? No. Does this mean I’m “riding the fence” about my being a clone? No. I’m also not agnostic about whether or not I’m a clone.
On to Occam’s Razor. I don’t see how the Razor is used more appropriately by a theist than an atheist. The Razor is commonly phrased as, “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” It seems to me that an all-powerful being would be a pretty significant entity, so explanations that do not appeal to such a thing should be preferred. If the universe can be explained appealing to nothing but things that already exist or things that are similar to things that already exist, then the Razor says that such an explanation should be preferred.
You’re right that, in general, the simplest explanation is preferred. I’d say that any explanation that involves positing the existence of a massively powerful being outside of our universe isn’t simple.
Your example of the turtle on the post is a good one, but it misses our point a little because it involves only things that we know exist. Let’s look at a different example — the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. One theory is that the pyramid was built by up to 40,000 workers who spent 20 years hand-carving millions of blocks of stone and transporting them across the desert without using wheels. Another theory is that the pyramid was built in a week by one really big, really strong guy. Well, it could be argued that the second explanation is the simplest, but since the first is more in keeping with nature, it does not unnecessarily multiply entities and therefore, by my way of thinking, should be preferred.
Similarly, I think it’s more likely that nature, over a great period of time, created the Straight of Gibraltar, although there is a theory that it was created by Heracles.
You say that you did not use supernatural assumptions, but rather proven scientific theory. You’ve mentioned Einstein’s theory, but the expanding universe is only evidence that our universe had a starting point. That our universe had a starting point is not, in and of itself, evidence of a deity’s existence. At best, it is consistent with a deity’s existence. Science cannot posit a deity because a deity is something outside of science — that is why I said you used a supernatural assumption. At best, science could say “at this point, science does not apply,” after which theologians could posit a deity.
This is why I brought up Allah writing on a fish — and why it does pertain to the creation of the world. With both the fish and the universe, scientific theories need to be exhausted before deities are invoked. Otherwise, we are stuck with a “god of the gaps” situation, and that lacks intellectual rigor.
You ask what other explanations are more compelling. There are a number of them. I think that brane theory is, currently, the most exciting. Stephen Hawking also has a theory in which the Big Bang’s singularity does not exist and there is no boundary there. Frankly, I haven’t read enough of that theory to understand it, but I think it is more likely that a theory I don’t understand is true than God exists. But as I said earlier, this is a young field of research. We have a long way to go before we can decide that science doesn’t have the answer and theologians can step in.
You ask why people turn to God instead of to great thinkers on their death bed. Assuming that this is indeed the case, a cynic might say that it’s probably because we don’t do our best thinking when we’re dying. A more generous person might say that it’s because it’s comforting to believe that death is not the end.
You are right that for some people the idea of a world without a creator leaves an empty feelings, and that it leaves a bitter taste to think we are accidents. Unfortunately, that does nothing to prove that a creator exists. There may be no meaning to life other than what we give it.
Regarding your list of four things that atheism doesn’t have an answer for. We’ve gone over the possibilities of origin without a deity. You’re right that atheism is disjoint from morality, but I’ve explained how an atheist can still be moral. An atheist wouldn’t say that life has inherent meaning, but an atheist can still give life meaning. As an atheist, I don’t think there’s any such thing as destiny.
I look forward to your response.
In: About atheism, Discussion, Evidence