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Theism vs Atheism: What’s at Stake

Posted by Mats on 20/01/2009

Unless atheists can give an account of why naturalism is true, their arguments against God all fail, and they are left with agnosticism at best.

http://www.intellectualconservative.com/2009/01/12/theism-vs-atheism-whats-at-stake/

My essay “How to Respond to a Supercilious Atheist” generated many responses from atheists and agnostics. Some were courteous, some were hostile, and a few were even supercilious.  But none even came near to adequately answering the fundamental challenge to the atheistic establishment that I articulated in “Supercilious Atheist.”

Indeed, the public arguments of the so-called “New Atheists,” and their admirers and imitators, are based on a fundamental error of thinking: As I showed in “Supercilious Atheist” (and summarize below) they assume atheism, but do not prove it. And given that the worldview by which they judge God to be nonexistent is illogical, and therefore necessarily false, I propose that the New Atheists be given a more accurate label: New Sophists.

And let’s be clear what’s at stake.  This is not just a matter of what individuals believe, as important as that is.  As I argued in “Liberalism 101,” the system of thought commonly called “liberalism,” by which I mean the entire worldview of the Left, has de facto control over America. Liberalism is not just an irritant; it expresses the deepest convictions by which our leaders make decisions and form our society.  And liberalism is based, philosophically at least, on the nonexistence of God.

For according to liberalism, even if God exists, nothing certain can be known about Him, and therefore He might as well not exist. Call it functional atheism. And with no God to guide us, mankind becomes the supreme being, i.e. the supreme authority on truth and morality, in which case liberalism’s campaign to remake society is legitimate.

In other words, if there is no God, then liberalism makes sense. And if God does exist, then much of liberalism is invalid. This is why most of our public policies are based, indirectly at least, on atheism.  For example:

  • The increasingly successful campaign to legitimize homosexuality. After all if, under atheism, we think homosexuality is ok, then it is ok.
  • The near-total absence of any restraints on abortion. After all, under atheism, man is just a physical body, in which case the barely-formed fetus cannot possibly be a person deserving the protection of the law.
  • Mass immigration. After all, if it is not true that, as the Bible says, God deliberately formed mankind into separate nations, then it’s perfectly ok to flood our nation with non-assimilable foreigners, if we think that there is some immediate advantage to be had.

In general, liberalism holds that because there is no creator God, things do not have fixed natures and there is no God who has authority over us. Therefore mankind is radically free, and any social change the majority wants is ok. To be sure, atheists are free to support traditional ideas and ways of life if they choose, but they are also equally free to implement radical change. And the one who is radically free usually does not gravitate toward traditional ways, but instead toward the sort of revolutionary change that liberalism aims for.

Atheism, then, (functional or actual) is the intellectual foundation of liberalism, and so publicly discrediting atheism is, philosophically at least, the first step in publicly discrediting the liberalism that is, in fact, dissolving Western Civilization, including America.

To be sure, theism does remain strong among some individuals and private groups, and vague “God talk” is still popular among politicians. Furthermore, public policy decisions that accord with theism are occasionally put in place, at least until the ACLU swings into action. But overall, atheism-based liberalism rules society. The ACLU is not fighting uphill against an entrenched enemy; they are suppressing rebellion against the ruling order. Furthermore, the policy decisions that accord with theism are made because of a residual allegiance to a mostly-gone theistic tradition, not because of a principled adherence to a living and consciously-believed theistic worldview. True conservatism, therefore, must challenge atheism.

In “Supercilious Atheist,” the challenge to the atheism that is (indirectly) the dominant way of thinking in America was, in summary, as follows:

Aggressive atheists claim there is no evidence for God. Therefore, they say, an intelligent person has no choice but to withhold belief in God. Note the wording: “withhold belief.”  Many atheists define their position not as being certain that there is no God, but as simply not believing, even as they concede that a God may, in some sense, really exist. They may be more accurately called “non-theists,” but I will use traditional language, and call them atheists.

However, the atheists’ position is obtained not by evaluating properly the evidence, but instead by interpreting the evidence according to a philosophical system that is guaranteed to produce atheistic results. Viewing life through atheist-colored glasses, they see atheism.

Of course, atheists don’t see it that way. For the aggressive atheist, the philosophical system he uses to interpret the evidence he observes, his “worldview” for short, is not just one among many possible worldviews. No, his worldview is the way things obviously are, and theists, who refuse to acknowledge reality, appear to him to be either stupid or wicked.

In fact, the most common type of response to my essay from atheists was to say, in effect, “This guy is an idiot; everyone knows there is no evidence for God, because only evidence provided by the five senses is valid.”  Ah yes! The old “everybody knows” argument!

Many atheists also complained that I had not provided an actual argument for God.  But it was obviously not my intent to give a proof of God’s existence. The entire point of my essay was that the typical atheist cannot properly assimilate the evidence for God because of his false worldview, in which case there would be no point in presenting this evidence. First, we must remove his atheist-colored glasses, and then we can show him the evidence.

In the West, at least, most atheists have a worldview that is some variation of a philosophical system commonly called “naturalism.” Naturalism literally means the belief that “nature” is all there is, and this basically means materialism (the belief that only matter and its properties really exist) and empiricism (the belief that all knowledge must be based on sense perception). For a naturalist, God cannot exist, because only the physical exists. Also according to naturalism, even if God existed, we could not know it, because we cannot know anything that is not based on what we perceive with our senses.

For example, theists point to miracles as evidence for God. And the atheist responds that no miracles have happened, or at least, there is no reason to think that they have. But how does the atheist know that all accounts of miracles are unbelievable even before he examines them all? Because of his naturalistic worldview, according to which no supernatural exists, in which case miracles cannot happen. In brief, the atheist knows miracles are no evidence for God because he knows no God exists to do them. This is circular reasoning, i.e., illogical thinking.

And it all hinges on naturalism. But my challenge is that naturalism is not true just because it seems true to the atheist. Naturalism has to be examined and justified before it can be believed, because other worldviews are possible. Therefore one cannot just dismiss the evidence for God because it seems weak when interpreted naturalistically. After giving a brief summary of an argument that naturalism is false, “Supercilious Atheist” provided a link to an essay giving a more complete argument.

(The problem with naturalism, in a nutshell, is that it is fundamentally a negative doctrine, holding that there are no supernatural things and no non-sensory-based knowledge. But you cannot just assume that something does not exist, because an unknown could be anything, including existent. You need some sort of evidence that X does not exist before you can dismiss it. Furthermore, it is illogical to believe that all knowledge must be sensory-based, because sensory data can never prove that all knowledge must be sensory-based.)

With naturalism under a specific indictment, one would assume that thinking atheists would attempt a logical validation of the naturalism that is the foundation for their confidence that God does not exist. To date, though, there have only been weak responses to this challenge. Atheists assert, often in very colorful language, that naturalism is obviously true, but in my experience they rarely make a significant argument for why it is true.

And this is only to be expected. In order to validate naturalism, one would have to consider the possibility that naturalism might be false, and then show that even with this possibility, the best interpretation of the various facts of reality is that naturalism is true.

In other words, one must take off the atheist-colored glasses if one is to verify that they provide an accurate picture. But naturalistic atheists have little practice thinking in a way that makes the supernatural an actual possibility, so they generally cannot do it.

Kelly O’Connor of the atheistic apologetics organization “Rational Responders” provides a representative response to my essay.  Her essay “How to Respond to a Supercilious Christian” attempted to give a relatively comprehensive rebuttal of my argument, and I encourage you to read it before reading my response to her below. When you read it, note that O’Connor devoted most of her essay to rebutting my alleged arguments for God, even though I had given no such arguments. Also note that she made no attempt to validate naturalism.  She simply assumed that only evidence based ultimately on sight, sound, smell, taste and touch can possible be valid.

Here are excerpts of a comment I posted at her website in response to O’Connor’s essay:

Dear Kelly:

[My] essay’s main point, to which you did not respond adequately, is this: Any [knowledge] you know, you know because you have validated it in some way, and all validation takes place within a definite worldview, i.e., comprehensive philosophical system based on certain axioms.  But since more than one worldview is possible, and since man is capable of being mistaken even about his premises, one must have some sort of justification for his worldview.

(In retrospect, I would modify the above claim in one way: it seems that we can know a few things without formally “validating” them.  For example, we can know what we ate for breakfast without having to validate it within a specific system of axioms.  But knowledge about God does not fall into this category.)

You said:

The only evidence that exists is physical, material, verifiable, and falsifiable.

And also

…the use of scientific methodology to determine the validity of anything is necessarily going to have some starting point and then system of experimentation. That is all we have with which to work…[Italics added]

I use the word “naturalism” to describe the worldview you call “scientific materialism,” and these comments are naturalistic beliefs.  And the arguments you give all presuppose naturalism, so I’ll assume you are a naturalist. But how do you know that naturalism is true?

You also said:

…an axiom is just something that is self-evident.

But something is not self-evidently true just because you believe it is. I have given an argument why naturalism is not true, and therefore you cannot just say “it’s obviously true, and that’s all there is to it.”

You also said:

…most people that I know would respond with the criteria [for knowing if there is a God] being objectively verifiable evidence, and that we know this method of validation to be the most accurate due to hundreds of years of making advancements as a society thanks to the scientific method.

Of course, “objectively” means truly, but how do you know that “objectively verifiable evidence” must be naturalistic evidence?  If there existed a non-physical God, his existence would not be detected with the senses, and yet He would nevertheless really exist.  The argument that “society has advanced due to science” is not a compelling one. Aside from the fact that social change is not advancement just because you say it is, most of science does not assume that there is no God.  It only assumes that the physical universe operates according to natural law the vast majority of the time. For most (if not all) of science, naturalism need not be posited.  You have not justified naturalism.

And the point of [my] blind man analogy was simply this: Just as the blind man would not be justified in disbelieving in color because he cannot perceive it, the fact that God is not detectable scientifically does not prove that He is not there.  There may be other means of detecting Him.

In fact, you take the position “the supernatural may exist, but until we see scientific evidence for it, we can safely ignore it.”  [To begin with], you said:

We don’t know for sure that [a supernatural explanation] couldn’t be the correct explanation…

And in other places, you clearly specified that you will only accept naturalistic evidence. So you require naturalistic evidence before you will believe in the supernatural, in exact analogy with the illogical blind man of my analogy.  You need to stop being inconsistent, and either disbelieve in the supernatural, or else admit that it may exist, in which case you cannot dismiss its existence based only on naturalistic science.

I must interrupt my comments addressed to O’Connor in order to make sure you don’t miss what’s happening here. There are two key ideas to know if you want to have a proper understanding of the argument between atheism and theism. Most important is the main point of my “Supercilious Atheist” essay: you cannot just assume that naturalism (or any other worldview) is the correct way to think. You must test your worldview.

But the other key point is this:  Most atheists will eventually say the following: “Sure, a supernatural realm might, in some sense, exist. But since we have no direct, naturalistic experience of it, we cannot know anything about it. And therefore we might as well assume naturalism, and therefore atheism.”

This is probably the strongest case that can be made for atheism. The atheist is saying, “Theism goes beyond the tangible and the mundane, so it is fraught with danger, intellectual and otherwise. Let’s see if we can get by without it.”

I sympathize to a certain extent with this view. If the supernatural is unknowable, then it’s a threat, because if we cannot know it, we cannot protect ourselves against its dangerous elements. Furthermore, there is a great deal of charlatanism associated with religion and the supernatural. Why not see if we can, rhetorically speaking, eliminate the supernatural?

But is it really true that we cannot know anything about the supernatural? How, in general, do you know that something cannot be known?  It would appear that you cannot know that something cannot be known unless you consider it to be a real possibility, and then investigate it.

And actually we do have a sense of the supernatural, because we have a sense of the natural, and of its limitations. We observe that purely material processes do not generate the information required to turn mere chemicals into life, so why should we assume this did happen in the remote past, as the Darwinian evolutionists insist? We know that we are conscious, and that matter does not spontaneously generate consciousness. Why should we assume such generation occurred in the remote past? Scientists tell us that the universe has not always existed, and we know that this effect requires a cause that would have to be prior to the universe, that is, prior to the existence of matter.  Something literally super-(i.e., beyond the) natural is needed to explain these things.

The atheist says: “All of these things can be accounted for naturalistically.”  But how does the atheist know it can?  Only by assuming that all causes must be naturalistic, not by proving it. It is impossible to prove that all causes must be naturalistic.

Not only that, but naturalism (as indicated above), is logically contradictory, and therefore false. Not only is it impossible to prove naturalism true, it is possible to prove it false!

I quoted O’Connor as saying that a supernatural realm, which would be a realm not detectable with the senses, might exist. But then she immediately said “. . . but unless we see scientific evidence for it [i.e., evidence provided ultimately by our senses], we can safely ignore it.” She is literally saying, “The invisible man may exist, but until I see him, I won’t believe!”

The typical American atheist is so unaware of her naturalism that it is difficult for her to avoid this sort of illogical thinking even when it is clearly pointed out to her. If you are undecided between atheism and theism, I urge you to study this issue carefully, and ask yourself “Who’s being irrational here?”

My post continues:

The basic argument for God is this: with a naturalistic worldview, we cannot adequately account for all that we know to be true, for example, consciousness, objective morality, [and] the creation of the cosmos.  We can certainly know that these things exist, because their existence is pretty much self-evident.  Or, to put it another way, we know intuitively that we really are conscious, that some things would be wrong even if the authorities said otherwise, and that something other than the cosmos would have to have brought the cosmos into being.  [Here,] “intuition” means: “Our ability to know some things directly, without having to engage in some sort of proof by gathering and analyzing evidence.”

We know that these things are there, but what can adequately account for why such things are there?  Until you can give a persuasive account of why naturalism gives a better explanation of all known phenomena, not just some, naturalism is suspect.

And I would add to the last sentence, “Especially when a more consistent and rational worldview, i.e., Christian theism, is available.”

My post continues:

The naturalist responds, “Yes we can adequately account for these things naturalistically.”  Or at least, he says, we can explain most of them, and anything not explained will either be explained later, when science has progressed, or else is not explainable even in principle.

In this connection, you said:

…at this time, there is no evidence for … a [supernatural] being and no need to appeal to one.

Well sure, a naturalistic explanation that sounds plausible to the naturalist can usually be found, but how does the naturalist know it is the correct explanation?

Only by examining his worldview.  And unless you can give an account of why naturalism is true, your arguments against God all fail (all of your arguments I’ve seen are based on naturalism), and you are left with agnosticism at best.  Real agnosticism, that is, not the agnosticism that is just a disguise for atheism.

I have given elsewhere more detailed arguments against naturalism. There, I argue that naturalism is contradictory, and that it cannot account for some of the basic facts of reality. So you need to give a better answer to the following question: why do you believe naturalism to be true?  Don’t refer to success, or to other authorities: What is your evidence?

I have yet to receive an answer from O’Connor to my main question: How do you know that your naturalistic worldview is true? At her website, some of O’Connor’s fans, but not O’Connor herself, responded to the comment I posted by simply asserting, without attempting a proof, that naturalism is the proper way of interpreting all phenomena.

But an assertion is not a proof. Since I have provided an actual argument that naturalism is not automatically true just because it seems so, and since I have also given specific arguments against naturalism, I would say to an atheist: An actual argument always trumps a mere assertion. So the ball is in your court. Can you vindicate your naturalism?  If you cannot, you should continue to be rational, which will require you to admit that some sort of super-naturalistic worldview must be true. That being the case you will finally be capable of thinking rationally about God.

Oh, and American society need not be dominated by atheistic liberalism, either.

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4 Responses to “Theism vs Atheism: What’s at Stake”

  1. augustine said

    Just out of curiosity, how would you go about proving that your own worldview is true?

  2. I am a Christian Apologist based in India. It has been good to visit your blog today.

    Atheism is the negation of something. As you maintain, any negation requires a corresponding logical proof of it.

    Johnson C. Philip, PhD
    India

  3. shamelesslyatheist said

    “Atheism is the negation of something. As you maintain, any negation requires a corresponding logical proof of it.”

    Your PhD is certainly not in Philosophy. It is the position that there is no god. Since one can not disprove the existence of something, basic logic places the burden of proof is on those who posit the existence of god. This is very basic stuff.

    Since there is no evidence to support the proposition of the existence of god, or anything supernatural, maintenance of the null hypothesis (the default position, which is no gods) is the only rational action.

    As for the blog, the answer is simple: naturalism works! Without it, lightning would still be considered the anger of the gods. Without it, mental illness would still be considered demon possession. Without it, disease would still be considered as having sinned instead of cased by viruses and bacteria. I could go on, and on. Everywhere that both religion and rational inquiry provide answers to the same question, religion always turns out to be wrong. Not surprising when it is realized that religions are attempts to explain the world that their creators did not have the tools to understand. In other words, they guessed, and guessed wrong.

    Thus my question: provide significant evidence that religion actually provides any answers at all that don’t amount to ‘god did it’, which is not an answer at all.

    Why is it that religious people are always so anti-libertarian? If someone is a homosexual, why do you care? No one is trying to make you one. No one is imposing their system of ethics on you, as you are so clearly willing to do to others. But you do not have that right. You never did.

  4. Mats said

    Shamelessly Atheist says:

    Your PhD is certainly not in Philosophy. It is the position that there is no god.

    Yes, it’s the affirmation that there is no God anywhere in the entire universe or outside of it, nor has it ever been One. It takes a huge amount of faith to subscribe to that.

    Since one can not disprove the existence of something, basic logic places the burden of proof is on those who posit the existence of god. This is very basic stuff.

    The problem of course is that affirming that God does not exist anywhere, at anytime is not mear “suspension” of belief: it is the dogmatic assertion of something. Having that in mind, one can ask: “What makes you think that there is no God anywhere in the universe?” Your question would be something like “Well, I have no evidence.”
    Then the question is not a matter or not existing anywhere, but only that you don’t have the evidence that you think it is required.

    Since there is no evidence to support the proposition of the existence of god, or anything supernatural,

    How do you know there is no evidence? Have you checked everything that there is to know? Have you ever been in PLuto? Perhaps there’s evidence there, You shouldn’t say that there is no evidence. YOu shoudl say that you personaly haven’t found any “evidence”. Lots of other people have found it.

    maintenance of the null hypothesis (the default position, which is no gods) is the only rational action.

    But atheism is not the “default hypothesis”. It is the affirmation of a negation.

    As for the blog, the answer is simple: naturalism works!

    No it doesn’t. Naturalism can’t explain the origen of life, for example, nor can it explain aesthetics, morality and other thigns that we know they exist.

    Without it, lightning would still be considered the anger of the gods.

    It was not because of the belief in naturalism that peopel found that answer for the cause of lightinings,

    Without it, mental illness would still be considered demon possession.

    Mental illness is one thing, demon possession is another.

    Without it, disease would still be considered as having sinned instead of cased by viruses and bacteria.

    Those are not mutually exclusive.

    I could go on, and on. Everywhere that both religion and rational inquiry provide answers to the same question, religion always turns out to be wrong.

    Depends on the religion. For sure, whenever the atheistic religion claims to have the answer for something it alwyas turns to be wrong. On the other side, whenever God says that He nas the answers for sopmething, He is Always Right.
    See for example on the issue of the origen of life. The atheistic religion, defying all logic and common sense, postulates that life came from non life. Science has dismantled that religious belief decades ago, but atheists still cling to it as a life saver.
    God, on the other hand, said that He created life on Earth. The scientific evidence agrees that living systems do bear the evidence of Intelggent Design. This is just one example. I could go on and on and show how naturalism fails everywhere it claims to have the answer.

    Not surprising when it is realized that religions are attempts to explain the world that their creators did not have the tools to understand. In other words, they guessed, and guessed wrong.

    I think you are talkng about the atheistic religions now. The Christian religion does have the answer for the cause of the universe.

    Thus my question: provide significant evidence that religion actually provides any answers at all that don’t amount to ‘god did it’, which is not an answer at all.

    Replace “God did it” for “evolution did it” and you have the corner belief in the atheistic religion.

    Why is it that religious people are always so anti-libertarian?

    Depends on what you mean by “libertarian”.

    If someone is a homosexual, why do you care?

    YOu mean, apart from the fact that it is harmful TO THEM and to the soceity at large? Apart from the fact that there are homosexuals who seek to be contaminated with AIDS, thus creating a health problem in a society? Imagine the number of husbands who caught AIDS from a homosexual “fling”, and then came home and passed it to his wife.
    Being against homosexuality is a health issue also, not only a religious one.

    No one is trying to make you one. No one is imposing their system of ethics on you, as you are so clearly willing to do to others.

    Actually, the homosexuals DO want to impose their filthy lifestyle on others. They want to come to OUR schools ant use OUR money to say that THEIR “lifestyle” is just as healthy as the normal God-ordained sexual activity (one man and one woman in a monogamous marriage).
    Adding to that, as we saw to the vandalization of Christian buildings after the good people of california voted for Proposition 8, they don’t want others to have the freedom they claim they want for themselves.
    If they want to have sex with other men, or women with other women, it’s their call, but when they want to come to the public arena and indoctrinate kids in favor of their immoral sexuality, using public money to do that, then we (christians, blacks, mormons, and many others) can say “Enough is enuogh!”

    But you do not have that right. You never did

    I have the God given right to speak out against things that I don’t agree with. Homosexuality is harmful for the practicioner and for the society. The medical, psychological and sociological evidence confirms it.

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