Thursday, April 27, 2006

Reason Behind Intellectual Atheism

Jewish Philosopher wrote a post here, that he had emailed to me as well. I'm not sure why I responded to him since he has a poor history of fair discussion but I figured that it couldn't hurt much to give him a response.

I answered:

Your entire understanding of why people become intellectual atheists is way off base. It has to do with seeing the type of world we live in as opposed to one where we'd expect to live if there was a God watching who kept everything just and fair. It has to do with the fact that the afterlife was made up as a cosmic placeholder for God's justice while we have no real evidence to suggest its actual existence. It has to do with the magical and miracle world of the Bible as opposed to the rational and natural law bound world that we live in.

It has to do with the fact that many ancient people wrote their own fantastic tales and the fact that people all over the world - to this day! - are fooled so easily into believing falsehoods and the impossible. It has to do with the fact that one person's supernatural claim is just as valid (or invalid) as any other person's supernatural claim. Once you accept the irrational into your ontological system how can one rationally justify that belief and no other irrational belief?

It has to do with the fact that the god of the gaps is shrinking with every step of scientific progress. It has to do with the fact that religion tends to act as a salve for emotional needs and that few people critically study it. It has to do with the fact that your most likely "chosen" religion is determined by the one you were born into.

It has to do with the fact that while religious leaders and theologians can make all sorts of arguments and apologies to explain all of the apparent inconsistencies with their teachings and holy books in relation to the actual world and internal makeup - the rational mind will eventually hit on Occam's razor and simplify the entire equation by taking theism out of it.

It has to do with the fact that people recognize the power of science and the power of applying the scientific method to any and all questions of the nature of man and the universe. To believe without evidence is irrational. To believe without evidence is faith.


He replied:

All that is very well and good, however I believe it contradicts the history of modern academia.

Correct me if I'm wrong (and I mean this sincerely; please try to provide reliable sources I can check). The academic world was purely Christian for centuries. All the universities were primarily divinity schools. Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Linnaeus were all devoutly religious. Darwin was a theology student. I don't believe he ever earned a degree in biology. Until about 1840, geologists were busy working on "Flood geology".

Today of course that has completely changed. Why?

I think the dinosaurs did it. In 1842, the term "dinosaur" was coined and the realization dawned on the academic world that they had been fooled. Suddenly it became obvious that in earlier times life was entirely different than it is today. That meant, allegedly, that Genesis was fake. Suddenly, the entire culture of the academic world changed.

This could not be proclaimed openly. In many countries, including England, criticizing Christianity was a jailing offence. Darwin never dared admit publicly that he was an agnostic. However from 1842 onward, the academic world began quietly, gradually educating the public into the new doctrine of atheism [or secularism, agnosticism, naturalism, materialism, scientism or whatever you want to call it].

Of course, philosophers went to work creating all kinds of additional arguments to support the new faith, however I think the core was and remains the Argument from Fossils. Everything else is just fluff which no one was every bothered by before.

Some apologies had to formulated also.

Atheists are obviously going to be asked "OK, there is no god. So where did we come from?" The answer fabricated was "Evolution made us." And when asked "Oh, you don't believe in God. So you can do whatever you want if no one is watching?" the answer formulated was "Of course not! I am a humanist."

The way I see it, the essential debate between Judaism and atheism is:

"In your judgment, which argument is stronger: The Argument from Fossils or the Kuzari Principle?" Of course, you know my answer. ;-)



I answered:

You're confusing the historical trends of beliefs in intellectual western civilization and the makings of modern day atheists.

The beginning of the end of faith was something called the Renaissance. Following centuries of living under the stifling and thought controlling auspices of the church, humanity began to rebel and to think freely. Since those early humanists through the empiricists and the later logical positivists people were growing more and more skeptical of traditional dogma. It wasn't as if dinosaurs became understood and then "poof" the whole world changed. The world had been changing for centuries.

Newton, Galieo, Copernicus, etc were indeed religious - but they also weren't cowed by authority. They were empiricists as they looked towards the physical evidence and not what the clergymen told them. This was the same type of thinking geologists would take later on. This was science.

Science is institutionalized skepticism. As more of religion's claims came to be under the scientific view people took a skeptical view of those claims and appealed to what the physical evidence substantiated. It is not faith, in fact, it is actually the opposite of faith.

People being skeptical of religious claims was a natural part of the entire ways of thought that the Age of Reason dominated. Generally the idea was skepticism, to not appeal to authority and to use Reason. Your way of saying that people suddenly became adherents to a new faith and then surreptitiously began to evangelize is false. It was just skepticism. The same skepticism that drove Galileo to take out his telescope and check out the heavens for himself.

Evolution didn't develop as an apology for atheism. If you've ever read Darwin's works you'd see that his theory was based on many studies and observations. Darwin was a devout theist as he composed it in his mind. It was just his understanding of the evidence he collected that brought him to the conclusion that it did. Skepticism plus evidence is science.

Proper science is minimalistic. Understand that and you'll understand why there are intellectual atheists today.

29 comments:

Ben Avuyah said...

This quote is from his website..

>>[Many religious people believe in evolution because they have been deceived by atheists into believing that there is overwhelming scientific evidence supporting it.]

It's hard to argue with the "conspiracy of science" folks. They are coming at the world from a bizare angulated point of view that is difficult to grasp in the first place, let alone debate.

You see a group of people called scientists are trying to trick them for malicious reasons.

Jacob lives in a world in which all of evolutionary science, (which includes most of biology as well as numerous other fields), is a vast conspiracy against the religious masses, and he is one of the few, standing on lofty perch, that is smart enough to see through the illusion.

When you walk through the college bookstore and see a text on geology, you probably just offer thanks that you won't have to be memorizing rock strata this semester. But to Jacob this book is a polemic of attack, designed by ill intended scientists with an agenda to end -his- religion. And it contains, not observed data and best fit interpertation, but a twisted series of lies, in which he, the central character of all things around him, is being tested to lose his faith.

He and his coreligionists are under attack from this entity that desires to subjugate their reasonable faith with a series of formulated hoaxes designed to break their system of belief.

It is almost imposible to coax individuals from that point of view, especialy when it involves a slow tumble off of their pedastools.

Enigma4U said...

I agree with Ben wholeheartedly(and wish I could write as well).

Opie, you're wasting your time and considerable talent by arguing against a closed mind. If you don't set some ground rules, such as acknowledging that close to 100% of the world's biologists accept evolution and therefore it cannot be a conspiracy, you are grinding water and gasping wind

Simon said...

It's time we went on the attack - why are we trying to defend rational ideas from feeble-minded ignorants who only want to believe what they have already decided?

The whole god ideas is deeply flawed. By trying to argue over the evidence for a god's existence you are only adding weight to their argument, not yours.

Would you spend time seriously debating whether the moon was made of cheese?

One of the basics of religion is that the religion providers assures his client his religion will give him an advantage over those who don't subscribe to it.

One of those advantages is - a meaning.

"If we just die and vanish, what is the point of life?" They ask, with the appearance of wisdom.

Then they hit the dumbfounded with "God created you and if you're good you go to heaven, so you life wasn't a waste after all."

To me, this is the biggest weak spot of sales-pitch. Yet we rationalsist are sidetracked by the unprovable existence argument - they're on pretty solid ground.

So their god created us simply to worship him and go to heaven?

How exactly does that provide any meaning to life. It seems entirely aimless to me. Simply adding an extra life? How does that work?

It's nonsense

Orthoprax said...

Ben, Enigma,

I know, I don't know why I do it. Arguing with this guy is like trying to eat jello with chopsticks.


Simon,

"So their god created us simply to worship him and go to heaven?
How exactly does that provide any meaning to life. It seems entirely aimless to me. Simply adding an extra life? How does that work?"

I think I covered this issue in a past post, but that was months ago. The answer that I can give you is that such a conception is indeed juvenile and nonsensical, but a more sophisticated religious belief can include meaning and God without even mentioning the afterlife.

Anonymous said...

Of course most of society were coaxed in believing evangelical mythology's, based on superstition and ignorance. Its, however puzzling that atheism seems almost completely non-existent in the pre-scientific era. For it doesn't take a scientist to believe that we are here by chance, and our consciousness is an illusion and really no different than any other meter that exist.

I often wonder why couldn't these people except the truth of reality that "you have no purpose or meaning"?

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"Its, however puzzling that atheism seems almost completely non-existent in the pre-scientific era."

Atheism is typical of a severe skeptical outlook and so it requires an environment that allows that kind of freethought. Ancient Greece had its fair share of atheists too.

"I often wonder why couldn't these people except the truth of reality that "you have no purpose or meaning"?"

That is not a necessary aspect of atheism and furthermore it's hardly a self-evident truth.

B. Spinoza said...

In addition to the Greeks, the ancient Asian's also had their atheistic beliefs such as Buddhism and Tao philosophy.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

Why are you positioning scientists as the group of people who disprove or fight against the God concept?
Is it because scientists use Occams razor? is it because the rules of science don't allow for belief without rational proof?
But will you also put a computer scientists in the fight against God? How about Economists or actuaries? They too are guided by strict logic.

The ONLY connection i can see is that science explains the origin of species (a very tough sell IMHO, yet a nice try)i.e. science trys to explain the complexity of life with the Evolutionary model.

Yet you have so eloquently pointed out in one of your previous posts that the complexity of the world still mystifies you to the extent of saying that you believe in a God. (I have my reservations to this approach, one of which we discussed on that post).
So for you the scientists have failed in this one issue where i can see them putting up a direct fight with God.

But even for those that accept the scientists answers to complexity there is still so many more issues for proving or disproving God that is totally unrelated to scientific issues. It's philosophy pure and simple.

So first off let's stop talking science let's talk philosophy.

Secondly, would anyone say that Aristotle and all the philosphers before and after him (excluding the religious philosphers) were biased thinkers? don't think so.
So why are you claiming that it is a latter day phenomena?


in sum, scientists should have hardly any say (if at all) on the God question.
The true contenders have been rational all along.

Just me said...

Ortho: With all due respect to Ben, Enigma, et al, I for one, think there is value to articulating your position (as you have done so elequently). True, there may be very little chance of "convincing" the likes of Jacob, but the value, I think, comes from being able to cogently express the argument for the sake of others, who may be swayed by your words.
ROJ

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

I didn't say scientists, I said science. The scientific method requires that one have rational support for a belief.

The same can be said about the methodology of some of the ancient Greeks, and others, as well. But since the Dark Ages it has been the scientific method or its precursors that have lead to today's intellectual secularism and doubt.

Orthoprax said...

Just me,

Yeah, I guess there is that. Though when I was writing to him I wasn't planning on posting it. That was more of an afterthought.

dbs said...

I, for one, am grateful for ‘jewish philosopher’. Without him, many of my friends would not believe me when I try to explain what fundamentalist jews (sometimes) think.

Anyway, it was an interesting discussion and some great writing (on your part, at least). I don’t want to disparage anybody here, but really, it is hard to take ‘phil’ seriously. It is one thing to contend that it makes sense to believe something, but it is another to argue that all those who don’t believe what you do are being duped by a global ‘yetzer harah’ inspired plot.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

My question is, why do you call it scientific method? Why not call it the business (mans) method? Wouldn't you agree that businessmen throughout the ages were completely rational? Wouldn't you agree that all business people have always taught their children the importance of sifting truth from fiction in order to make money? Or, how about calling it the 'detective method'?
Why all this glorification of Science?
For crying out loud i would venture a guess that Ocam (of razor fame) was a philosopher, not a scientist.

I'm not trying to nitpick here but this whole 'science, scientist, and scientific method' seems to be completely our of whack.

Scientists should have a right to talk about god as much as economists, which amounts to null.

Let the scientist be busy with the microbe in his test tube and leave God for the Philosophers.

It all happened because of one issue (i would even dare to call it a minor one) namely the theory of Evolution. The theory of evolution as an explanation for the origin and complexity of the species is rightfully scientific turf. But it went all downhill from there, the Church assumed that it would eradicate this theory which challenges one of the many "proofs" for a Godly Creator, but in the end it boomeranged, the masses started making evolution the linchpin for disbelief in God, an unforunate misconception.

The concept goes that evolution has shown that "Intelligence" is not needed in order to have this complex world. But if we will anaylise the definition of "intelligence" (human or Godly) we would see that intelligent design is a silly argument proving a silly God (i.e. a very primitive notion of God)

Not satisfied with the roll these scientist played in the God debate via the Evolution Theory, they started considering anythin and everything related to the God question as fair game, nothing could be farthere from the truth.

Then again this above point is a fine philosophical point, and we can't blame the scientist for not grasping it.

Phil said...

"It has to do with the fact that the god of the gaps is shrinking with every step of scientific progress."

For every gap that's shrinking, a new one is expanding. Analogy: As telescopes reach further and further into outer space, old questions get answered and new ones appear.

Phil said...

Simon asked: "So their god created us simply to worship him and go to heaven? ... It's nonsense"

Orthoprax responded: "The answer that I can give you is that such a conception is indeed juvenile and nonsensical"

Is Orthoprax criticizing the people Simon is criticizing, or is he criticizing Simon for raising a strawman argument?

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

"My question is, why do you call it scientific method? Why not call it the business (mans) method? Wouldn't you agree that businessmen throughout the ages were completely rational?"

Yes, all that is correct. It could just as easily be called the detective method and so on. The difference is just that science is typically interested in the natural world rather than business or unsolved crimes. That being the case I refer to the scientific method when describing the rational way one comes to understanding the natural world. Then, I think you'd agree, many conceptions of God provide certain likely conditions of what the world ought to be like and of which comes under science's purview.

Orthoprax said...

Phil,

"For every gap that's shrinking, a new one is expanding."

True enough, but I think you might agree that this can't go on forever. Looking for God in the gaps of ignorance is a poorly conceived strategy.


"Is Orthoprax criticizing the people Simon is criticizing, or is he criticizing Simon for raising a strawman argument?"

Both :)

Shtern_Zeyer said...

Is business not part of the natural world?

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

Depends how you are understanding the term. The difference is that you're not going to find a business exibit in the museum of natural history.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

So the reason why science is more related to the God question than business is somehow connected to the fact that the Museum of Natural History is not about business.
How so?

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

Because God is found (or the effects of God are found) (or the claimed effects of God are found) in the natural world.

The Museum of Natural History is an example of the kinds of things science studies, rather than what business studies - i.e. the natural world.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

"Because God is found (or the effects of God are found) (or the claimed effects of God are found) in the natural world."
Exactly!! and this natural world includes Business and Mortality Tables just as much as it includes Biology. Or, does God specialize in one field only?


"The Museum of Natural History is an example of the kinds of things science studies, rather than what business studies - i.e. the natural world"
A very roundabout way to tell me what science studies. I'm sure you're not trying to take 'Business' out of the natural world regardless if in certain contexts the word 'natural' refers specifically to science.

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

"Exactly!! and this natural world includes Business and Mortality Tables just as much as it includes Biology. Or, does God specialize in one field only?"

Science is not just biology. I was referring to the entire spectrum of sciences that study the natural world in how it works and its fundamental, well, nature. These subjects touch much more on God's believed effective realm than does business.

Why is is that the subject of God comes up so often when discussing the physics of the universe and hardly ever when figuring out a business plan?

Shtern_Zeyer said...

"Science is not just biology."

Oops you're right, it's also physics, so?

"I was referring to the entire spectrum of sciences that study the natural world in how it works and its fundamental, well, nature."

You mean physics, right? I'll ask my initial question again. Why is ascertaining the interaction of molecules or atoms or elctrons or leptons or quarks any more Godly than ascertaining interaction of human beings in a marketing analysis?


"These subjects touch much more on God's believed effective realm than does business."
Give me an example, other than the argument for God by virtue of design, which the evolution model has challenged (unsucsessfully, in your previous 'God post' opinion).

Also, ask any believer in God where God interacts more? In quarks or in human destiny? But that's neither here nor there.

In sum my original question still remains why in Heavens name do scientists have the right to debate the God question any more than the economist or market analyst? (bar the ID issue)

Let the professinals deal with it, i.e. the philosophers.

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

Is God's existence a fact that can be determined through observation and/or experimentation?

If yes, then science has a claim on it. That's all I'm saying.

And I think most people would agree that it is so.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

Just a minute there, why does the observation have to be in the realm of science.
It just so happens to be that the famous 'four proofs for God' are
1-ontological argument,
2-first cause argument,
3-moral argument
4- and ALSO the argument from design.

I happen not to agree to these arguments (the way I understand God there is no need for any convoluted arguments, it is very self evident) but the point i'm making is that it is NOT a science question unless you consider morals or 'first cause' as a scientific issue.

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

There may or may not be these other ways of determining God's existence, but that's not relevant here.

If you agree that there is a possible scientific way of determining God's existence (or at least conceived versions of God - I can't speak for your personal version) then science can talk about God's existence.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

It is very relevant here. Because although science can possibly eliminate the 'design proof' there still are many other proofs that are outside the realm of science. So the scientist is by a far shot not the professional to make the final call on God's existence.

So what that the scientist says that in his field there is no proof of God, or so what if the market analyst claims that in his realm there is no proof for God, there are still so many other proofs to consider.

Please note that I have told you all along that the one 'argument of design' proof is where science has a right to join the fray, but that's where it ends.

Orthoprax said...

Shtern,

Ok fine, then I'm not sure where we disagree. As I even had said elsewhere on this topic, science does not say categorically that God does not exist, only that the idea has not been shown to be a necessity.

Science can only talk about science and science can say that as far as science is concerned God's existence is in question.