Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A more comprehensive atheism FAQ

evangelists and atheists

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that I left a lot of unanswered questions in my last entry about atheism. The truth is that I’ve already answered those questions in the article itself and in my responses to some of the comments. I’ll repost some of the answers I’ve already given and try to expound on them

So I don’t offend people whom I don’t want to offend, let me first clarify:
I don’t generalize theists. There is a profound difference between normal theists and evangelists. I have nothing against theists in general. Unlike some of the more hardcore atheists, I don’t claim intellectual superiority over believers. I know a lot of believers who are a lot smarter than me. I think the main difference between atheists and “normal” theists is in their way of thinking, not in their intellectual capacities. Faith is a normal part of human existence. Even the most hardcore of atheists don’t always base their beliefs on empirical data or logic. Faith, though, is a very subjective and personal thing and therefore cannot be used in an argument

Faith can be a gift or it can be a flaw, depending on how it is used. For hardcore evangelists, their faith has become a serious character flaw. They've let their beliefs take over their lives and cloud their judgement
Evangelists tend to be extremely, ludicrously, preposterously fanatical. These zealots tend to be very gung ho when it comes to defending their religion to the point that they become very offensive and very personal. They reject scientifically accepted facts like evolution, make ridiculous claims like the world is only 6000 years old or that the entire scientific community is in a conspiracy to hide evidence supporting the noah’s arc parable. They end every other sentence with “amen” or “praise the lord” or “damnation to you, infidel”.

With that out of the way, let us now proceed to the FAQ

1.)Do you know how the universe began? Do you know how life began?etc)

No I don’t know for sure how the universe or life began. Science itself doesn’t know for certain how the universe or life began. What does that prove though?
There is a reasoning fallacy that is used in almost all debates about god. It’s called “god of the gaps”.. This type of reasoning involves trying to look for holes in science and then claiming that they are proof for god. Most of the evidence for god that evangelists have presented so far are of this nature. Examples of arguments you here a lot in debates: “The miller-urey experiment failed to create life out of non-life therefore god created life”, “You can’t find the missing link from this species to that species therefore evolution is false and god exists”

One major difference between the evangelest’s way of thinking and a free thinker’s way of thinking is that the former immediately assumes that god is the default answer to anything that can’t be answered as of yet.
There is no rule in reasoning that says god is the default answer to anything that science can’t answer. It’s also fallacious to equate what science currently can explain to what actually has an explanation. The proper way of proving the existence of a creator would be to provide direct empirical evidence for its existence or a hypothesis or model for how it operates and then support that hypothesis with direct empirical evidence. As of the moment, God is a conclusion without a working hypothesis.
By arguing that science doesn’t have a conclusive answer for a specific question, you only succeed in proving that science currently doesn’t have a conclusive answer for that particular question.

In science, a particular theory can only be overturned by a more complete and more plausible theory. You can’t overturn any scientific theory with any supernatural theory since, by definition, a supernatural phenomenon or entity cannot be objectively observed, tested and confirmed. Therefore a supernatural theory will only contain unverifiable claims and subjective interpretations without empirical backing

2.) The human eye, brain, etc is incredibly complex therefore they must’ve been designed right?

The argument “complexity requires intelligent design” is problematic since you’ll have to contradict your own argument at a certain point.

Furthermore, complexity naturally arises in nature without divine intervention. I wrote a few posts about the difficulty of differentiating between complexity and design. post 1, post 2

Occam’s Razor is a logical concept that’s used in science in mathematics. It basically states that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. In other words one should not introduce unknown variables that complicate the explanation and don’t make any difference to the explanatory hypothesis.

If the only impulse for belief in god is that he can answer everything that science can’t, then explain how this answer explains everything that science can’t. A hypothesis is different from a conclusion. God is a conclusion without a hypothesis. “God made the universe” isn’t a hypothesis. It’s a conclusion …an unfounded conclusion. An actual explanation would involve more steps.

A sentient, omniscient, perfect, immortal, all powerful being without a first cause or a creator seems to be a more problematic case than an organic, mortal, non-perfect being without a first cause or a creator. So why would the former be more acceptable? You’re basically answering a question with an answer that infinitely eclipses the question it’s trying to answer in scope. This is in violation of occam’s razor. If you don’t know how the complex universe came into existence, why answer that question with an even more complex answer like god, when you don’t even know how it came into existence. >C>D>E>F is an incomplete chain therefore I will add B so it will be >B>C>D>E>F –how does that change anything?

3.) But you’re using common sense logic to refute my arguments. That is invalid ‘cause god is outside logic and common sense?
Says who? Evangelists use faulty common sense logic, such as causality, to argue for the existence of their god but when the same logic is used against them, they say it’s no longer valid. That is not fair argumentation nor is it sound reasoning. This is the most atrocious of appeal to authority arguments. “God is outside logic because I say so”
Science itself is not bound by common sense logic. A lot of phenomena in science are so strange that it’s hard to believe that they actually have empirical backing. Particles being in a superposition of many states or being in more than one place at the same time, time slowing down and mass increasing as you approach the speed of light, massive objects warping the fabric of space, A universe that doesn’t have just 3 dimensions but 11 or more, multiverses, etc. If you talk about general relativity, and quantum mechanics to someone who hasn’t heard of them yet, he’d think you’re crazy. Since science is not bound by common sense logic, you cannot use common sense logic to determine what is or isn’t possible regarding how it could’ve begun and what can happen within it.

4.) If you don’t believe in god and it turns out there is a god, the outcome would be infinitely worse than if you believed in a god and it turns out that there is none.
Pascal’s wager is one of the most overused of evangelist arguments. The problem with pascal’s wager is that it assumes that there are only two possible realities (a.) god doesn’t exist b.) The god that you’ve chosen to believe in, exists. It fails to take into account humanity has multitudes of other religions. In addition to all the gods of the major religions of the world right now, there are also the gods of ancient major civilizations, Gods of small tribes, gods of small groups, the various interpretations and various possible interpretations of each religion. Plus the infinite number of other possible gods that may also exist that we don’t know about. If you happen to choose the wrong religion, you’re as damned as any atheist. Your chances of winning when the odds are infinite is nil so there’s no point in betting.

5.) conditions on earth are too well suited for life. Isn’t that proof for design?
The fact that in the vast, seemingly infinite expanse of the universe, a planet somehow had the right conditions for supporting organic life is not testament for design. Most of the rest of the universe is hostile to life as we know it.
Life on earth is so adapted to conditions on earth because life adapts to its environment. Who’s to say what other conditions it can thrive in. On earth, life flourishes in environments that were once thought to be inhospitable to life. From temperature extremes, to extremely acidic environments to extremely radioactive environments etc. It’s not like earth precisely hit a magical number that life requires since life can be quite flexible in its requirements

6.) The answer you’re proposing is just a theory not a law therefore it’s just based on presumptions.

Theories don’t always become laws as they acquire more supporting evidence. In science, theories and laws are two different concepts. Laws are more like descriptions of observed phenomena that may be used to predict similar phenomena while theories are explanations that are based on proven hypotheses verified by detached groups of researchers. The law of gravity is a description of gravity while Einstein’s theory of general relativity is an explanation for it.

7.) The second law of thermodynamics states that everything becomes less organized overtime. This proves the existence of god since things don’t naturally organize themselves.

Anyone who observes the world around him would know that this just isn’t true. Nature has a way of organizing itself and it requires no divine intervention. A human embryo doesn’t get less organized over time, it becomes more organized and complex through natural processes. The formation of the symmetrical crystalline patterns of a snowflake, snowflakemolecular organization, natural land formations etc. All of these happen without devine intervention
Entropy, in thermodynamics, is the amount of useable energy in a system.The second law states that the entropy in any closed system would always increase overtime. The entropy in Open systems though can decrease since they can export their entropy to their environment. If you as a little fetus were not able to receive enrgy from an external source, which is your mother, you would not develop into whatever you are today if you stopped receiving energy from external sources like food, you would continuously degrade as described by the second law. The earth is not a closed system so one cannot argue against the development of life in it using the second law

I’ve written a longer post about entropy and the second law here

9.) Are you a scientist? What makes you so confident about your claims.
I am a science enthusiast but I’m no scientist. One good thing about science is that nothing is based on pure conjecture. If I made any erroneous scientific claims here, you may double check and then try to correct me. Science neither affirms nor refutes the existence of god. I do not claim that it does either but basing on current data and scientific extrapolation, the conclusion that there is a god cannot be justified

10.) Why do you reject all things supernatural
I reject supernatural explanations. I do not consider them explanations at all. If an explanation for a supernatural phenomenon were to be found, it would cease to be supernatural since by definition, a supernatural phenomenon is one that is unexplained and unexplainable
A Supernatural phenomenon, is either just a natural phenomenon for which the explanation hasn’t been found yet or something that was made up by overactive imaginations

11.) There is proof that certain events described in the bible actually transpired and that certain people described in the bible actually existed. Isn’t that proof that the bible is historically accurate?

Mythology almost always involves a certain amount of facts. I would not consider it far beyond the realm of the plausible that the Jesus Christ of the bible may have been inspired by an actual historical figure. But even if Jesus Christ did indeed exist, that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that he was the son of a supernatural entity

12.) Are you an atheist because you feel god has disappointed you?/Do you hate god?

If you’re a Christian and you’ve really read your bible then you’d know that the god of the old testament is one mean brute. But his immoral, sadistic, xenophobic, homophobic qualities do not make the case for either his existence or nonexistence. Whether god is evil or good is irrelevant to the question of whether he exists or not.
No I’m not mad at god and my disbelief in him has nothing to do with my opinion of his morality. It just doesn’t make sense for someone to hate something that he doesn’t believe exists?

Closing comments:
I am atheistic to the concept of a higher supernatural creator as most people are atheistic to concepts like fairies or bogeymen. Most adults would scoff at the idea of such fantastic creatures but if scientific proof for their existence were found, I’m sure they’ll believe as well. My position on God is the same. One can never have complete certainty on anything. Atheists can never say for certain that there is no God. The same way that evangelists can’t say for certain that life and the universe itself could not have arisen without divine intervention. Since one cannot be certain that the universe couldn't have arisen without divine intervention, one cannot justify logically or scientifically god’s existence without direct proof for its existence. But since no one can be certain of god’s nonexistence, there is always a possibility that he/she/it exists.

One may use either end of this to justify his or her beliefs. I, though, prefer the explanation that is based on current facts and derived using the scientific method. But to each, his own. I believe that we should respect each other’s beliefs. I respect theists as much as I respect any atheist. But that respect quickly crumbles when they start spouting creationist propaganda I think the best justification for god is that your belief in him makes you a better person. If you think that by believing in a higher being, you become a more productive and happy person, then believe. No one can argue with you on that on that ground.

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