Faith in atheism

“The second way is based on the nature of causation. In the observable world causes are found to be ordered in series; we never observe, nor ever could, something causing itself, for this would mean it preceded itself, and this is not possible. Such a series of causes must however stop somewhere; for in it an earlier member causes an intermediate and the intermediate a last (whether the intermediate be one or many). Now if you eliminate a cause you also eliminate its effects, so that you cannot have a first. Given therefore no stop in the series of causes, and hence no first cause, there would be no intermediate causes either, and no last effect, and this would be an open mistake. One is therefore forced to suppose some first cause, to which everyone gives the name “God’.” —Aquinas

Well, not everyone.

“The second begins by saying that some things are caused and that everything that is caused is caused by something else. This assumes that everything natural is caused without giving reason for that assumption.” I just don’t understand what you are saying. He is saying that we can see a series of causes that are apparent to everyone. I honestly don’t see your point and also am having trouble understanding what you are saying about his assumption. That the world was pushed into being or that it was blown into existence seems to be a very safe assumption. That all things that exist now had only the “potential” to exist before and have now become “actualized” and or are still being actualized seems also like a safe assumption. If we use Ockham’s razor we can limit other explanations by simply tracing every cause back either to eternity or to an “uncaused cause”. Now it seems that Ockham’s razor would prefer the “uncaused caused” because it is impossible to eliminate the first cause in turn eliminating all other effects and causes.

“The Kalam cosmological argument begins by stating that everything that begins to exist has a cause. I’d say that this is a good, narrow premise that pretty much everyone can agree on. It does not assume that everything begins to exist, so it avoids some of the traps Aquinas falls into” I would say that Aquinas is saying that everything that comes in to actuality or exist was caused to by something else to do so. This seems pretty safe assumption to me. Do you not believe that everything in this world came into existence? Are you saying that the natural things always existed?

“I would say that atheism does not fall under that heading unless science also falls under that heading, and to say that science is a religion is clearly not useful.” It may not be useful but people think this way that is why i’m attempting to put it in its natural position. For some science is a religion whether they know it or not. They believe it to explain the unexplainable where as in Christianity we let these things remain mysterious so that other things may become lucid (Chestertonesque).

I’m interested to hear what you have to say on Aristotle’s ethics seeing since you are writing a book pertaining to ethics.

As to Jesus, i have faith that he existed and that He is God. This faith eliminates all the doubt (at least in this manner), this is what faith does. Is it possible im wrong? You know the answer. Do i believe im wrong no. In fact im completely convinced that im right just like millions of other atheist and theist alike.

I still don’t see the point in anyone creating their own purpose. If we are all going to die why not just enjoy life and forget any goals or any purpose in life. Why make any effort? If everyone created their own purpose then some goals would have to be different than others, even contradictory and this really doesn’t get us anywhere. And let us pretend we made this world into a better place, now what are we meaning by better? Ex; communism, socialism, national socialism.

” “Make the world a better place’ is a better purpose than “avoid punishment.’ ” I suppose making the world a better place (whatever this may look like, or means) is a unqualifiedly better goal than to avoid punishment. But who is avoiding punishment? I believe this is a common misconception about religion, especially Christianity. I don’t know one Christian who is Christian because of their fear (though i believe fear is a healthy thing). They are Christian because of their love for God, the good, justice, and morality.

“Life must be treasured, because when it’s gone, it’s gone.” So when life sucks and you have nothing going for you i suppose the only right thing to do is commit suicide, right? If life is valued over all things then in a way it is unnatural. I would say that there are things in life worth living for or dying for; a couple of examples would be justice, the good, and faith. These things seem to give direction to our lives and are of a higher value, do you agree? If someone pointed a gun to your face and asked you to convert to a religion i would suppose you would say no. Is that accurate example?

Just because thought is a function of the brain doesn’t make it any more natural according to your own words. We can not see thought nor touch it making it unnatural or supernatural by your very definition. The brain has a physical existence but you can’t see nor touch what im thinking. In fact i can see images of other people with my eyes open as im talking to someone else. As Shakespeare says “in my minds eye”, do we actually have an eye in our mind, no. Then where is it? In our brain, i doubt real images are in my brain. You said having an intellectual existence is not natural but thought is. I’m sorry this simply doesn’t make sense and for the purpose of the argument i urge you to reconsider.

“Really, the point is that within our universe there is (in a sense) no such thing as space with nothing in it, and pairs of particles can appear without apparent cause at any time.” This is again contradictory or at the least missing the point. If we are to suppose that the big bang theory is what created the universe then this brings us back to the point before any type of matter existed. So when i say something can’t come from nothing i mean literally that if absolutely nothing existed than nothing can come into being unless there was something supernatural that didn’t have a physical existence. “With out apparent cause” is not the same thing as from nothing. If space has particles in it than that also does not constitute as nothing. This is why the big bang theory is flawed in my. Now you said there might have something before the big bang that caused it, this i find funny especially since you don’t like Aquinas’ argument.

I would also say that “what created the universe’ doesn’t imply either the natural or supernatural.

How is this of any use to us, “that the default position is that the unproved is untrue” as opposed to “All men by nature desire knowledge” or “The default position is a willingness to know.” I don’t see your point on this, my definition is almost word for word the same as Aristotle’s. If our default position was by nature to desire knowing than by your default position in the argument you are stuck with very little knowledge at all since there are a lot of things that are unproved especially in metaphysics not to mention science. What im getting at is that i believe your default position is wrong or backwards. It seems that you desire to only know the physical realm, and knowledge is not a physical thing itself. In turn it almost seems as if you are using your reasoning to disprove its existence.

If supernatural things didn’t exist than i suppose neither would the unnatural and if these things don’t exist how is there a distinction when we use the word natural, everything would be natural. If everything were natural there would be no point to using the word and no point to your side of the argument. Now if there was a distinction between the natural, unnatural, and supernatural this would make more sense. By your previously stated definitions of the natural the mind would have to in turn be supernatural. How can something supernatural come from something natural? I don’t believe that it can. You know what’s coming, than the cause for the supernatural must be something that it’s self is supernatural. That something supernatural can create the natural makes more sense than something natural creating the supernatural.

I am saying that by using Ockham’s razor that we can discover the existence of the supernatural.

If happiness is just an emotional state than couldn’t good and bad be emotional states as well. I think better describing happiness will help us here. If i could propose to use either Aristotle’s definition which goes something like, “an activity of the soul in conformity with virtue”, or Kant’s which goes something like, “the complete satisfaction of ones needs and inclinations”. After you respond to this ill respond to what you’ve said about the good the bad and evil. By the way what is the opposite of evil.

I had no inspiration for “whether Jesus was a liar”. This is what i think a very common argument so i tried using it. It seems for the moment i failed in doing so because i’ve never heard anyone say that they believe that Jesus was wrong. This for your sake i believe needs to be proven. So if i can ask you to give me proof or good reason why you are convinced that he is wrong I’ll let this argument go. But if there is no substantial evidence in His words that make Him less of a God than you should humble yourself on calling Him wrong because one day you might consider yourself wrong.

If you really are interested in reading Chesterton i would politely suggest reading Orthodoxy because he was an agnostic at the time he wrote it. If you enjoy that book then read Everlasting Man which is said to be his best work. Thanks again for responding and i hope i don’t come of as rude if i do just let me know.

The argument from first cause is a hairy one, so let me see if I can better explain myself.

I agree that Aquinas is saying pretty much the same thing as Kalam, but I think that Aquinas just doesn’t do as good a job of it.

Would Occam’s razor prefer an uncaused cause to an infinite series? I don’t think so — an uncaused cause would be an entirely new kind of thing, and although an infinite expanse of time would also be something we haven’t encountered (so far as we know), it would still be an infinite amount of something we already know exists.

I agree that everything in this world came into existence, if by “this world” we mean our universe. I am not saying that the natural things always existed, but I am saying it is likely that something natural always existed (although the definition of “always” gets messy here since our universe may have a time dimension that had a finite beginning but also exist within a space that has its own time dimension). I am saying that there may well be something natural outside of our universe, and that this extra-universal space either is infinitely old, has unbounded but finite time, or does not have time in the same sense our universe does.

I disagree that the natural position of atheism and science is in the category of religion. I agree that there are forms of both atheism and science that can be correctly characterized as religions (because they incorporate beliefs that are considered unassailable by evidence, for example), but that does not allow us to paint the whole field with the brush of religion.

You say that for some science is a religion because, “They believe it to explain the unexplainable where as in Christianity we let these things remain mysterious so that other things may become lucid.” Interestingly, I see the opposite to be true. There are plenty of things that science has not explained, and that scientists admit have not been explained. But, the mind of God aside, it seems there are very few otherwise-inexplicable things that Christians do not attempt to explain by using God as a cause. Do you have an example of something inexplicable that some people would say science explains but which Christians consider a mystery?

You ask what I think of Aristotle’s ethics. It’s been quite a while since I read his works on ethics, but I agree with him on a number of points. In particular, I believe that ethical behavior is something that must be learned and practiced, and that there are times when you must work to find the point of balance between two conflicting extremes (this, by the way, is why I believe that lists of rules such as the 10 Commandments are too incomplete and inexact to be measures of morality). Obviously I largely disagree with the metaphysics of his morals since they are theistic.

I think it is difficult to enumerate virtues as (if I’m recalling correctly) Aristotle does in order to measure morality. My personal philosophy is closer to that of Kant — I think that there are some very basic logical rules from which valid morality should be derived.

Discussing people creating their own purpose: you ask “why not just enjoy life and forget any goals or any purpose in life?” If someone wants to lead a meaningless life, I say go ahead. I think that they’re inviting depression, but that’s their business, not mine. Personally, I prefer my life to have meaning.

You say, “If everyone created their own purpose then some goals would have to be different than others, even contradictory and this really doesn’t get us anywhere.” You’re right that some goals would have to be different than others, and that these goals may be contradictory, but I disagree that this gets us nowhere. Examples:

Rudy’s example is important when answering your question, “what are we meaning by [a better place]?” It’s true that people won’t agree on what “better” means, but if everyone had a purpose that was philosophically sound undesirable conflicts would be avoided and everyone could strive for their version of “better.”

I hope you are right that most people are Christians because of love of God, good, justice, and morality. However, I have met an uncomfortably large number of Christians who seem to sincerely think that, regardless of the roots of their religious belief, avoiding punishment is the only reason to be moral. These are people who don’t think atheists can be moral because atheists have no fear of divine punishment, who preach with threats of hellfire instead of invocations of love, who blame deadly disasters on God’s anger over a political decision, or who blatantly break their own moral rules if they won’t be caught on Earth because they will be forgiven in Heaven. Fortunately, not all Christians are like this.

I said that life should be treasured and you asked if it is reasonable to commit suicide when you have nothing going for you. In general, I’d say that people are horrible judges of when they have nothing going for them (in fact, I run a Web site designed to find suicidal people and help them get assistance). I will say that I think there are rare, extreme situations in which suicide is rational because life is unbearable and hopeless (such as when you are in constant pain from inoperable cancer and keeping you alive medically would only prolong both your and your family’s agony).

I agree that there are things worth living or dying for, but I would not globally include justice, good, and faith on the list, and I think everyone’s list would be a little different.

You ask a very interesting question: “If someone pointed a gun to your face and asked you to convert to a religion i would suppose you would say no.” In response I ask you, if someone pointed a gun to your face and asked to you believe you were a bicycle, would you? Someone might be able to get me to say a prayer under pain of death, but you couldn’t force me to believe that God was listening.

But to answer what I think may have been your real question — no, I wouldn’t die to defend my “faith” in atheism. As an aside, many atheists deny their beliefs every day to avoid persecution by religious people, and I don’t blame the atheists — I blame the bigots they live amongst.

Is thought natural or supernatural? You say that being unable to see or touch thought makes it unnatural or supernatural by my definition, but I don’t think that is the case — there are many things we can’t see or touch that are perfectly natural (time, temperature, a vacuum).

It’s true that I can’t see or touch what you are thinking, but that doesn’t make your thoughts supernatural. In fact, it’s possible that my inability to see what you are thinking may be overcome by technology in the not-so-distant future.

Let me try to clarify what I mean when I say that thought is natural but that something intellectual can be outside of nature. The concept “two” exists in and of itself, whether or not anyone is there to think about it, whether or not there is anything to count. But “I see two birds” is a thought, a function of a brain, that only exists as part of that brain’s function. The thought is natural; the concept is independent of nature.

You say, “If we are to suppose that the big bang theory is what created the universe then this brings us back to the point before any type of matter existed.” No, it brings us back to the point before our universe existed. I do not posit that there was no matter before the Big Bang.

You go on to say that if there is literally nothing then nothing can come into being without supernatural intervention. I agree. But Big Bang theory doesn’t assume that there was nothing before the Bang, only that our universe didn’t exist before that point in time.

You say that my statement about something before the Big Bang is funny considering that I don’t like Aquinas’ argument. I don’t see why. I dislike his agreement because it’s poorly argued. That has nothing to do with my point. I also don’t see how it’s funny that I would think an effect would have a cause, in that this is also the crux of Aquinas’ argument.

Regarding willingness to know: “All men by nature desire knowledge” is merely a statement of human desire. “The default position is a willingness to know” is a very different statement because it introduces the words “default” and “willingness.” Saying that men desire knowledge in general does not imply that, in any given case, people desire to know the truth, but saying that willingness to know is the default position does imply this. Saying that knowledge is desired does not imply willingness to know the truth — one may want knowledge, but only be willing to accept certain things as “true”.

When I said that the default position is that the unproved is untrue, you said that the default position is a willingness to know. This implies that you think “willingness to know” should replace “the unproved is untrue.” If when I said that the default position is that the unproved is untrue you said that all men by desire knowledge, then you would not be contradicting my point, but adding to it the desire for further investigation. There is a significant difference here.

I think where we are hung up is that you seem to be taking Occam’s razor as an end instead of a means. Applying the razor does not mean that an argument is over, only that certain conclusions cannot be reached without further investigation. If you have a desire to know, you will investigate further.

You say, “It seems that you desire to only know the physical realm, and knowledge is not a physical thing itself.” This is probably just semantic, but I disagree. Knowledge is physical (a function of the brain); truth is not physical (it’s a measure of reality). I desire the know the truth about all things, whether natural or not. That I am not convinced that supernatural things exist doesn’t mean that I am unwilling to consider their possibility or try to investigate their nature so far as I am able.

Regarding the distinction between the natural and the supernatural: it is possible that only natural things exist. In fact, I think that is likely the case (putting aside things that are neither natural nor supernatural, such as concepts). I disagree that my definition of natural makes the mind a supernatural thing, any more than it makes a running computer program a supernatural thing.

You ask whether happiness being an emotional state might imply that good and bad are emotional states as well. In a sense that is true, but only if you don’t allow metaphysical definitions of good and bad. For a definition of happiness, I’d choose Kant’s over Aristotle’s. Since you asked, I’d reassert that the opposite of evil is good.

You ask me to prove that Jesus was wrong when he said he was the son of God. (Just to be clear, I didn’t say I thought he was wrong, only that — given the situation you proposed — I thought it was possible he was wrong.) I can’t prove that he was wrong. Rather, I’m giving him benefit of the doubt. He may have been a liar. But both of these possibilities aside, I think it’s far more likely that the Gospels are so unreliable that we can’t make a fair judgment of Jesus in this matter.

(I apologize for any typos in my portion of this post — I didn’t have a chance to read it over before posting.)

Posted on March 20, 2009 at 12:18 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Discussion, Evidence, Meaning of life, Morality

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