Closer To Truth: Atheism

There is an ongoing PBS TV series (also several books and also a website) called “Closer To Truth”. It is hosted by neuroscientist Robert Lawrence Kuhn. He’s featured in one-on-one interviews and panel discussions with the cream of the cream of today’s cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, theologians, psychologists, etc. on all of the Big Questions surrounding a trilogy of broad topics – Cosmos; Consciousness; Meaning. The trilogy collectively dealt with reality, space and time, mind and consciousness, aliens, theology and on and on and on. Here are a few of my comments on the general topic of atheism.

Arguments for Atheism?

One really needs to love and embrace atheism for reasons above and beyond just arguments against the existence of God or any supernatural deity for that matter. Atheists don’t fly planes into buildings. Atheists don’t demand you do this and don’t do that or follow these rituals, or else. Unlike fundamentalist or extreme religious folk, atheists seem to be happy to live and let live. Atheists have arrived at their conclusions via their own free will and intellects; they didn’t have their atheism shoved down their throats by means of any formal indoctrination from an early age. Atheists don’t torture, imprison and execute true believers – those with opposite religious world-views. If atheists treated those of the Islamic faith like those of the Islamic faith would like to treat atheists, there would be hell to pay. I doubt there were too many atheists participating in the Crusades, or more recently in the Northern Ireland theist conflicts. Atheists don’t cause unnecessary stress to others by talking about final judgements or Armageddon or eternal damnation in hell-fire and brimstone. Atheists don’t participate in animal and/or human sacrifices. Atheists don’t concern themselves with what consenting adults do behind closed doors. Atheists don’t phone you up and door-knock your door trying to ram their religious, or rather atheistic philosophy down your throat. In short, atheism is an excellent counterpoint to religion and religious practices. If atheists create doubt in the existence of God, or any god, so much the better.

Atheism’s Best Arguments?

This might not be atheism’s best argument, but if one accepts the premise that the Bible is God’s inspired holy word, that God (working through mere mortals or scribes) penned all Biblical texts, and that therefore the Bible is 100% true and a literal record of God’s achievements as penned by God Himself, then there cannot be any contradictions in Biblical texts for God is infallible. Oops! The Bible is full of internal inconsistencies and contradictions. There are two accounts of the creation that contradict each other. There are two accounts of Noah’s flood that are mutually exclusive. There are accounts of some couple having either no sons or five sons. Accounts of the number of captives taken to Babylon differ in various Biblical chapter and verses. There are accounts of two people existing at the same time and of one having died before the other was present and accounted for. The point is, those who insist the Bible is God’s true word gives atheists some pretty damn good ammo!

Is Atheism a New Faith?

I would have to argue that atheism is a faith or a belief system. Some people have belief or faith in a supernatural deity (or deities). They would justify that faith on what they would term their critical reasoning. They would justify their belief on evidence, or what they considered evidence even if just philosophical evidence. If a supernatural deity (or deities) were ever to be proven, then there would be no need for believers to believe or have faith any more, any more than you believe in or have faith in gravity. Once proved, faith or believe is irrelevant. Some people, atheists, have belief or faith in the non-existence of a supernatural deity (or deities). Atheists would justify that faith on what they would term their critical reasoning. They would justify their belief on evidence, or what they considered evidence, observational, scientific, philosophical, whatever. If the existence of a supernatural deity (or deities) were ever to be disproved, then there would be no need for atheists to believe or have faith in the non-existence of that deity or deities. Their evidence has turned to proof and no further belief or faith is required.

The Rise of Scientific Atheism

I suspect that one of the main reasons for the rise of scientific atheism is to counter the rise, or rather re-emergence, of right-wing fundamentalist, creationist and intelligent design theology. It was pretty much thought that the Scopes Trial (the ‘Monkey Trial’) in 1925 spelled just about the final nail in the coffin of fundamentalism, that the Bible was 100% accurate including all of the science contained therein. The shift away from fundamentalism sort of cumulated in the “God is dead” mantra in the 60’s. However, extreme religious fundamentalism has resurfaced with a whole host of prominent people, including well known politicians as well as the emergence of the Tea Party, thumping their Bibles and using the new technologies of social media and the Internet to get their “Answers in Genesis” (along with a creationist museum or theme park with dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark) message across. There has also been an equally prominent rise in fundamentalist Islam. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction so it is not surprising that those who feel strongly against fundamentalist philosophy or theology will rise to the occasion, and fundamentalism rubs against the scientific world-view the wrong way far more than say an economic world-view. So, we have a rise of scientific atheism and not economic atheism.

Arguing God’s Existence 1?

Never in the history of humankind have so many argued for so long on behalf of a concept (God) that has absolutely so little if any evidence.

Arguing God’s Existence 2?

God might exist, but the evidence for God’s existence is minimal at best. Still, absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. However, when compared to other ‘supernatural’ beings, evidence for the existence of God is just about last cab off the rank, compared with say the existence of Santa Claus. I mean there are millions of images of Santa. God lacks in the mugshot department. Santa has been seen and photographed talking to and holding young children in department stores and shopping malls around much of the world. The kids would so testify to Santa’s bona-fides. Why doesn’t God do that? Has God something against kids? There are numerous sightings of Santa on street corners collecting money for charity. Why doesn’t God do that? The other proof of Santa’s pudding is that gifts appear under the Christmas tree signed “with love from Santa”. God appears aloof from Christmas despite the alleged religious connection. Then there is the Easter Bunny. Every Easter there are reported sightings of the Sasquatch or Bigfoot, oops, sorry, large bipedal rabbits. And where do all those Easter eggs come from? They didn’t come from God so God apparently is aloof from Easter too, despite the apparent religious connection to God. To complete the Holy Trinity, there’s lots of evidence for the Tooth Fairy. Firstly, authority figures (parents) testify to the Tooth Fairy’s reality. Secondly, and of greatest importance, coins of the realm supernaturally appear under kids pillows. You’d think God might be willing to part with some spare change in exchange for some tooth enamel. God really doesn’t care to associate with kids. So, if we can argue the existence of God based on little or no evidence, we certainly should argue the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy based on way more substantial evidence. And don’t get me started on the massive amount of evidence that exists for the reality of Sherlock Holmes and Captain James T. Kirk!

Arguing God from Human Uniqueness 1?

What on earth makes anyone think that human beings are unique? We may have vastly greater social development, but vastly greater isn’t the same as unique. Humans may have superior mental capabilities but that’s not the same as unique. As the late Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan argue in their book “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are”, there is absolutely nothing 100% unique about the human species. Sure, we can pat ourselves on the back about being king of the mountain with regards to this trait, or we are top of the pops with respect to some other trait, but when you slice and dice things, those traits differ from other animal species by matter of degree, they don’t differ absolutely. Our differences are relative. The only exception just might be human only concepts involving a relatively few abstractions, like the supernatural and an alleged soul and an afterlife and a sense of history, but all of that is just part of our superior mental abilities, not unique mental abilities. And least we forget, each and every other animal species is king of the mountain with respect to some trait or other. It really is time human beings ceased being so absolutely up themselves. In fact that just might be a human uniqueness! And in any event, uniqueness doesn’t translate of necessity as a gift from God. It could just as easily be a gift from Mother Nature via the normal processes of biological evolution and natural selection.

Arguing God from Human Uniqueness 2?

What I see here, and in similar “Closer to Truth” segments on the question of human uniqueness, is a human interviewing humans about humans. There would seem to be some sort of obvious bias operating here. Humans arguing about human uniqueness have an obvious reason to pat humans (and therefore themselves) on the back. In short, I get the decided impression that humans are totally up themselves. This discussion will only become a fair and equal discussion when animals are asked the same question about their uniqueness versus human uniqueness. What a tale that might tell! To date, we are getting just one side of the story – the human version. Okay, I know that the other side of the coin isn’t able to be aired, at least not yet, although communication between man and certain animal species is improving all the time. However, until such time as the animals can speak on this program for themselves instead of having humans put words in their mouths, I will reserve judgement about just how really special we are.

Arguing God from Causation?

If God is the cause of all causes, then how does one explain various laws, principles and relationships in physics, actually quantum physics that are alleged to have no cause? Some say the creation of our Universe, the Big Bang event, had no cause because it was just one of those quantum things that happen from time to time for no rhyme or reason. Radioactive decay apparently happens for absolutely no reason at all. Nothing causes an unstable nucleus to go poof and achieve stability. Quantum tunnelling is another case in point. An electron releases a photon and drops to a lower energy level for no apparent reason. If something happens for no reason, without causality, then there is absolutely no need to postulate a god to cause something that in fact has no cause. If causation is evidence for God, then lack of causation is evidence for the lack of any God.

Arguing God from Morality 1?

Morality has nothing to do with God. I’ll argue that morality is a natural evolutionary state via having watched behaviour in my cats. I assume that my cats have never read any religious text that preached or outlined morality or moral/ethical concepts and that they also have no actual mental concept of morality or what it means to be moral or what a deity is. Now I’ve usually owned a pair of cats and for some reason the two have tended to absolutely hated each other. They’d sooner have a cat fight than lick the tuna off a tuna-fish sandwich. However, without exception, I’ve always seen them call and observe a truce whenever one was sleeping, eating, or going to the bathroom. You’d think that if one cat had it in for the other then it would be prime time to attack when the other was sleeping or otherwise occupied with filling what was empty or emptying what was full. But no. There is some sort of natural morality that has evolved in that two cats who would otherwise fight will give their jaws, paws and claws a rest when one or the other is attending to a biological need. So, there is a degree of morality or moral behaviour in my cats but that does not translate into an argument for a God.

Arguing God from Morality 2?

You cannot argue the existence of God from morality if God Himself isn’t moral. In fact not only isn’t God moral, God is absolutely immoral; God is evil incarnate. Anyone who doubts how absolutely evil and amoral God is should check out Deuteronomy 20: 16-17. For some reason the word “genocide” springs to mind. So, perhaps one can argue the existence of God from immorality.

Arguing God from Design 1?

Intelligent design? You have got to be kidding! Take the apex of God’s creation, the human being. If you look at how the human being is designed, you would have to conclude God failed Anatomy 101. You have redundancy in the kidneys, two eyes and ears, two legs and arms, two lungs, etc. but wouldn’t it be nice to have two hearts (like Doctor Who), one of the really essential organs of the body. If your baby’s head is too big for the birth canal, well you know who to blame for that design fault. Our bipedal gait, without benefit of a balancing tail (making us unique in the animal kingdom), has one big flaw – you can easily fall over and do yourself a mischief. A really intelligent design would have been to give us four legs (much better balance) and two arms. A common ailment – your bad back. Well, again, you know who to blame for that. Then there is your useless appendix and tonsils which do however serve another useful function – keeping medical doctors employed. Now here’s a real killer, literally, the union of your windpipe and your throat. There are common cases, it has probably happened to you, of foods and liquids going down the wrong way; sometimes people choke to death. Good design that one! Lastly, what about placing human reproductive structures either between waste elimination organs, or as part of the same structure. Do you think God could have done a slightly better job? As I said, if God designed the human body then God failed Anatomy 101. Speaking of another oops, if God created woman (Eve) from Adam’s rib, then Eve inherited 100% male genetics and thus Eve should have also been male, in fact probably Adam’s clone.

Arguing God from Design 2?

Moving along into the vastness of the cosmos, there would appear to be a vastness of waste, a waste of space and resources. I’d argue that anything else in the cosmos apart from our own Milky Way Galaxy is surplus to our requirements, assuming the cosmos was created and intelligently designed for us, the apex of His creation. We clearly need the Sun, and the Moon is nice too, and the larger gas giants like Jupiter help absorb and deflect those nasty comets and other solar system debris that could impact Earth. A lot of stars are essential, or at least were essential, for the building blocks of our solar system, Earth, and eventually us were forged in ancient stars that went nova and supernova and seeded the galaxy with star-stuff. We are that star-stuff. But anything out beyond the stars in our own galaxy has no effect on little old us. So those billions and billions of other galaxies, and all of the space that is required to house those galaxies, are irrelevant as far as we are concerned. All we need is a three-bedroom house on a quarter-acre block, not a mega-1000 bedroom apartment complex where 997 of those bedrooms are sealed off and which we can never reside in. So, why did God build that mega-1000 bedroom apartment complex? If we are the be-all-and-end-all of His creative abilities, all of that additional galactic stuff out beyond our own galaxy is a waste. To waste space and resources is hardly what I would call intelligent design. The two possible answers are firstly that God doesn’t exist and thus can’t be blamed for all of those billions and billions of other galaxies, or there are other intelligent extraterrestrial life forms in those other galaxies that require their own galactic neighbourhoods, but as far as they are concerned, our Milky Way Galaxy is irrelevant and immaterial to their needs.

How Should We Think about God’s Existence?

On the other hand, how should we think about God’s non-existence? Let’s play the “What If” game. What if God doesn’t exist; never has, never will. God is just a figment of our imagination. God was made in the image of man. The reality of God is pure and simple wishful thinking. What if that were true? What if we knew that to be true in no uncertain terms? Well for starters trillions of dollars that have been spent and therefore wasted on religious infrastructure and on all sorts of religious artefacts and texts would have been better spent. Millions of people would not have spent entire lifetimes in study of and preaching about something with all of the reality of Santa Claus. Countless millions would not have been imprisoned, tortured and executed for no reason at all. Without the concept of a God to complicate our lives, countless religious-themed conflicts, even actual warfare, coupled with the resulting countless dead and destruction in the billions of dollars would have been avoided. The whole insane notion that “God is on our side”, from nationalism to sporting teams, would never have applied. There would be greater equality between the sexes. Countless animals (even humans) wouldn’t have been slaughtered or sacrificed in honour of God. Brother wouldn’t have fought against brother, or father against son. There would be more rationality in the world without belief in miracles and prayer and angels and demons and heaven and hell. People would find more constructive things to do on Sunday morning and save up all their donation money for other worthwhile causes. Billions of people wouldn’t have been brainwashed or indoctrinated into what really are cults. The entire insanity of Christmas and Easter, especially Christmas, would be eliminated from the calendar. Can you imagine how much stress that would eliminate? I’m sure readers can come up with many more “What If” examples.