Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ten Reasons Why Greta Christina Is An Atheist

Greta Christina's post was mentioned on Strange Notions as something that explained why someone would believe in atheism. She lists 10 reason.A bit long but such is life.
1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
Apollo When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a very noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller.
Why the sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.
All of these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the religious explanations were replaced by physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural or religious explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.
Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural or religious one? The number of times humankind has said, "We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it's actually caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul"?
Exactly zero.
There is a bit of a philosophical error here. Things don't have natural explanations or supernatural explanations. Things have both. I am created by God. I am also created by the procreative activity of my parents. Those are not competing explanations. One does not replace the other. In philosophical terms they would be called the immediate cause and the ultimate cause. Finding the immediate cause does not eliminate the ultimate cause. Knowing the sun rises and sets because the earth rotates does not mean God does not give us a new beginning every 24 hours. It tells us how God accomplished this. It does not tell us why. Everything we previously understood about why God gives us such a  rhythm of life still applies.

The wonder and amazement might be reduced. Then again it might be increased. It does become more of a choice. The lack of scientific explanation kind of forces us into awe. The idea of the earth being a big ball 25000 miles around spinning once every 24 hours could awe us but it does not have to. Mentally we can shut it down if we want to.
Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don't have a thorough explanation -- human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the universe -- will be best explained by the supernatural?
Given this pattern, it seems clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can comfortably discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn't understand the world as well as we do now... but that, on more careful examination, has never -- not once -- been shown to be correct.
She continues with the same error of discarding something a natural explanation is known to exist or is likely to exist like we have to choose one or the other. The trouble is the natural explanation does not answer all our questions. It tells us how. It does not tell us why. There is an assumption here that the why question can be left unanswered. That does not work. So atheists end up in nihilism just because it is the non-answer to the why question. They might try and manufacture meaning in some superficial way but they avoid a big answer to such a big question just because natural science allows them to.
2: The inconsistency of world religions.
This one is kind of lame. Just because it is not easy to sort out the various truth claims does not make them all wrong. Many of them can be largely right. One of them can be completely right. 
3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
Again, not really a reason.  People make weak arguments for true things all the time. It does not make them false. Often people just sense God in something or someone and can't convert it into a coherent argument. We have words to describe such things but atheists tend to sneer at those words.
4: The increasing diminishment of God.
This is essentially the same as #1 and is wrong for the same reason. When a farmer prays for rain and it rains God is not diminished by the presence of a meteorologist who can explain what physically happened to produce the rain.
5: The fact that religion runs in families.
 This is kind of like #2 and just as irrelevant to the truth or falsity of a religion.
6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.
Brain in thought The science of neuropsychology is still very much in its infancy. But there are a few things that we know about it. And one of the things we know is that everything we think of as the soul -- consciousness, identity, character, free will -- all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Drugs and medicines, injury, illness, sleep deprivation, etc.... all of these can make changes to the "soul." In some cases, they can make changes so drastic, they render a person's personality and character completely unrecognizable.
Again we are back in #1 territory.  The assumption that a scientific explanation of how something works implies a lack of a spiritual connection. The physical and spiritual dimensions are hugely intertwined. That does not mean the physical won't make sense on its own. It will.
7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.
She gives a link to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. I found their article on Fatima. I would say they completely failed to explain anything. They recited the usual stuff, "mass hysteria and local meteorological phenomena." But their skepticism disappears when deal with these "more tenable" explanations. Like just saying the words "mass hysteria" make it credible that 70,000 people would experience the sun dancing when there was nothing happening. Or maybe asking how 3 children predicted this local meteorological phenomena so far in advance and why the locals were unaware of their own local weather patterns. Catholicism never demands this much willful stupidity. It is quite sad to see such intelligent people who worship reason have to embrace such irrational ideas.

To be sure, many miracle claims are proved false. I think that is her point, that the majority of investigations that something like the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry do end up finding nothing. How often do they just dismiss real evidence and how often do they actually debunk a false claim? I don't know. They are not exactly impartial. The Fatima article proves that. I do think most claims are false. I tend to be a skeptic. Are all claims false? No.

8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
Gianttwister_2Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. Many of them have a more "saved if we do, saved if we don't" quality. If things go the believer's way, it's a sign of God's grace and intervention; if they don't, then, well, God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don't understand, and it's not up to us to question his will. That sort of thing. No matter what happens, it can be twisted around to prove that the belief is right.
That is a sure sign of a bad, bad argument.
Popper Here's the thing. It is a well-established principle in the philosophy of science that, if a theory can be supported no matter what possible evidence comes down the pike, it is a completely useless theory. It has no power to explain what's already happened, or predict what will happen in the future. The theory of gravity, for instance, could be disproven by things suddenly falling up; the theory of evolution could be disproven by finding rabbits in the pre-Cambrian fossil layer. These theories predict that these things will not happen; if they do, then the theories go poof. But if your theory of God's existence holds up no matter what happens -- whether your friend with cancer gets better or dies, whether natural disasters strike big sinful cities or small God-fearing towns -- then it is an utterly useless theory, with no power to either predict or explain anything.
I agree with here that most of these things don't make good arguments for Christianity. So what? We are not trying to come up with a theory that can predict experimental results. That is what science does. Religion is not science. That does not make it false or useless. It needs to be evaluated on its own terms. We are not constantly trying to revise our religion. We want something that won't throw us into spiritual crisis when we hit a physical crisis. If only want a faith makes you immune to bad outcomes then you are bound to be disappointed.
9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.
Our understanding of the metaphysical world is exactly in the place it's always been: hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred text and which set of spiritual intuitions is the right one. We haven't come to any sort of consensus about which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. We haven't even come up with a method of deciding which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. All anyone can do is point to their own sacred text and their own spiritual intuition. And around in the squabbling circle we go.
All of which clearly points to religion, not as a perception of a real being or substance, but as an idea we made up and are clinging to. If religion were a perception of a real being or substance, our understanding of it would be sharpening, clarifying, being refined. We would have improved prayer techniques, more accurate prophecies, something. Anything but people squabbling with greater or lesser degrees of rancor, and nothing to actually back up their belief.
This is a real strength of Catholicism. It does improve and clarify over time. Many religions are based on a revelation that has ceased. That can be of some value. It can give us timeless truths. The trouble is knowledge of the physical world is growing fast. It can cause us to question whether some of these timeless truths were understood correctly. How can we be sure? Religions that have no new revelation don't have a good answer. This includes bible-only Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.

Catholicism does improve and does clarify God's revelation in relation to modern thinking. For example, modern thinking led a lot of people to believe that contraception and female ordination must be OK. Reproductive technology has change. The role of women in society has changed. Certainly the traditional teaching on these issues needs to be reviewed. The magisterium was able to clarify for us that those prohibitions remain in force.

On a more positive side Vatican II clarified for us that salvation outside the visible church may happen. That protestants can be seen as separated brothers rather than merely heretics. That Jews should not be blamed for the murder of Jesus. These are modern ideas that the magisterium clarified were in fact improvements to the faith.
10: The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God's existence.
SlashCircle.svg This is probably the best argument I have against God's existence:
There's just no evidence for it.
No good evidence, anyway. No evidence that doesn't just amount to opinion and tradition and confirmation bias and all the other stuff I've been talking about for the last two days.
And in a perfect world, that should have been the only argument I needed. In a perfect world, I shouldn't have had to spend the last month and a half collating and summarizing the reasons I don't believe in God, any more than I would have for Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The first question I would ask is what sort of evidence is she looking for. If you are talking about physical evidence then I would wonder why. Sure there are some miracles that offer some physical evidence. They have their place. Still looking to prove the existence of God just from the physical is quite strange. It is really setting yourself up for failure.

We don't believe in God based on one thing proving God exists. We believe because everything proves it. The transcendent comes into our life over and over from all directions. Everything time we experience beauty or love or death. When we reflect on life. When we are wronged. When we are inspired.

There is a spiritual sense we have. We know when something or someone is touching our soul. We trust our physical senses not because can prove them reliable, we can't. We trust them because they are the best source of information we have. Our soul sense is the best source of information about the spiritual world. We don't need proof God exists any more than we need proof we are not a brain in a vat. It is simply the rational thing to believe.

No comments:

Post a Comment