Saturday, February 27, 2016

A grey haired theist versus a greying atheist

By Mathew Goldstein

Jerry Fogltance is a retired Air Force chaplain and lieutenant colonel.  Several weeks ago the Colorado Springs Gazette published his article Disputing the claims of atheism.

He starts by saying it is equally valid to conclude that either God does not exist or does exist given that science has not proven otherwise.  He then says we should therefore choose to believe that God exist because the atheist position carries the "greatest risk" if it is wrong.

What is needed here is evidence, not proof.  The problem that theism faces is this:  The overall available empirical evidence pervasively and strongly supports naturalism while it sparsely and weakly supports supernaturalism.  This is not about risk.  We have even less evidence that anyone "carries" any divine penalty for what they sincerely believe than we do that there is a deity.  Any deity that imposed such a penalty would be an intolerant, nasty, immoral deity who is unworthy of being worshipped.  I am no more afraid of offending a god I believe does not exist merely by having the properly justified belief that there are no gods than I am afraid of offending God for not being a Catholic instead of a Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, etc.

He then says atheism is a crutch for "those unable to live up to their own moral standards and afraid of being accountable to God."

It is true that we do not always live up to our own moral standards, but our moral standards have nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the overall available evidence favors naturalism over supernaturalism and therefore has nothing to do with whether theism is properly justified.  It makes less sense to fear being accountable to an imaginary God than to fear being accountable to the people that we actually know exist during the time we actually know that we exist.

He then says "The complex forms of the universe reveal that he is personal (an intelligent designer) and the immense size of the universe that he is all powerful."

We have laws of physics which provide naturalistic explanations for most of the known particles and forces.  For example the Higgs particle and gravitational waves were predicted before they were observed. Our universe is indeed immense from our perspective.  But again, this fact fits very well with a naturalistic description of our universe.

He then asserts that "because God is infinite and we are finite, we may never know some of the deepest mysteries of his nature."

It appears to be likely that there can be facts about how the universe functions that are inaccessible to us.  The multiverse may be infinite even though we are finite.  Again, these factual assertions are a good fit with naturalism.

He then says "There are also things in the universe that cannot be explained apart from the existence and creative power of God. None can explain by natural evolution where the personal qualities of humans came from - like love, creativity, the ability to communicate thought verbally, musical expression, moral motions and free will."

Jerry Fogltance, like most theists, simply assumes we have libertarian free will.  He also assumes that the initial condition was total nothingness and therefore our universe must have sprung into existence from nothing.  Those two assumptions could both be false.  Naturalism appears to contradict the notion that we have contra-causal, otherwise known as libertarian, free will.  Naturalism also suggests that total nothingness may be a fantasy derived from human imagination, that existence may instead be eternal.  These are two tentative predictions derived from naturalism.  All of the other human traits he cites are most likely products of the evolution of materialistic life.  Jerry Fogltance, like many other theists, is underestimating what is possible within the confines of a physical and mechanical framework when he mistakenly claims emotions, creativity, verbal and musical expression, are ruled out by naturalism.  Natural forces do appear to be capable of producing us with all of our capabilities.

He then says atheism should be rejected because it "leaves humans without meaning."

Human life per se has absolutely no meaning in the grand scheme of things.  We individually find meaning in the day to day living of our life.  We are here, we breath, move, interact, think, and thusly actualize our potential until we die.  Trying to impose cosmic meaning by adopting otherwise unjustified beliefs about how the world functions is an upside down approach to determining how the universe functions.  This theist epistemology focuses on human psychology and intuitions.  It declares the universe functions the way the theist intuitively prefers that it function to fulfill the theist's psychologically rooted desires.  In effect, using this theist epistemology, theists are themselves trying to dictate to the universe how it functions instead of letting the universe itself dictate to us how it functions.  This incompetent theist epistemology creates false facts which can motivate well-intentioned human misbehavior that causes potentially serious problems for humanity.

He then says that the "atheist idea that death ends it all implies that they [various people who committed large scale crimes] will never be brought to justice for their evil, an idea that is morally reprehensible."  He then concludes: "When, however, humans deny God's existence, their accountability to him, and suppress the inner witness of his laws, evil then has no constraints."

The notion that there must be some ultimate, cosmic scale justice is false.  There is justice and injustice, there is good and evil.  These concepts do not disappear altogether for no other reason then that they do not apply on a cosmic scale in an ultimate sense. 

There is no constraint on what constitutes "inner witness of his laws" since the "inner witness" method for determining true/false facts is indistinguishable from the method of creating fiction.   By listening to ourselves think we can learn about our own psychology but we cannot learn anything about how our universe, that exists independently of ourselves, functions.  The only way to determine how the universe functions is to listen to what the universe itself communicates to us via empirical evidence.  Therefore this "accountability to him" can be the basis for justifying anything since the "him" is imaginary.  This is a big problem with theism.  With naturalism we look to empirical evidence to try to determine what is harmful so that we have a solid foundation for deciding what is ethical.  To prop up God beliefs, theists have human written holy texts containing unethical attitudes and behaviors that cannot be condemned as such, and/or theists have an unconstrained, faith based imagination indistinguishable from fictional fantasy that closed minded believers mistakenly convince themselves they should actively avoid doubting.

A big problem with some of Jerry Fogltance's arguments is that even if those arguments are true they fail to properly justify his conclusion that "I have come to know and be reconciled to the God behind my existence through faith in Christ."  His arguments merely note that under naturalism there is probably no libertarian free will, no cosmic scale ultimate meaning to human life, no complete and ultimate cosmic scale justice or accountability for bad behavior.  Atheists have no hesitation in acknowledging these three points, all of which are irrelevant to any properly grounded decision regarding whether or not any gods exist.

No comments: