Thursday, March 24, 2011

Let us not underestimate...


I have been gone for a while now, and I apologize to all my readers.  My long break was brought on by an unusually painful sickness and prolonged by brainstorming about changes I might make to improve the blog (and laziness).  The once-a-week routine, however, will now resume.

I have been doing quite a bit of reading recently, and the entirety of this reading has had its feet firmly planted in a very faithfully theistic position.  While I miss agreeing with everything I'm reading, as well as learning more about arguments against theism (and its widely accepted moral superiority), I figured it was time to give the other side its turn.  This blog post, therefore, will not necessarily be an attack on theology but rather a commentary on the intellectual God/no God issue, as it has been presented to me by Team God.  

I assure you, I have not singled out the simpletons or intellectually lacking representatives of Team God (although I did recently engage in a reading of Ray Comfort's You Can Lead An Atheist To Evidence, But You Can't Make Him Think, which was finished in one evening, and luckily so; I feared I may be losing intellectual integrity simply by exposing myself to such a book, which, given its title, I foolishly expected to actually present evidence- Comfort did no such thing).  Anyways, to serious matters.  Recently I have been reading the popular book, I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, by apologist extraordinaire Frank Turek.  Turek, despite his flaws, did hold his own very well against Christopher Hitchens in a 2010 debate- I might even say Turek did a better job on arguments for a deistic God.  Another recent book is The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski, who I haven't been following very much until the reading of his book.  Berlinski proclaims himself to be an agnostic- odd for someone who speaks with such conviction about the soul- but he enjoys going after the Four Horsemen and their scientist colleagues every bit as much as more religious critics of the New Atheism.  (Just a quick note here- I use the phrase "New Atheism" simply as a name; I do not think there is really anything "new" about this atheism, I simply believe that this is a new, and more popular, resurfacing of atheism.)  Josh McDowell, Dinesh D'Souza, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and the always-enjoyable William Lane Craig are among the other New Atheism critics who I wish to say a few words to.  I have found a couple common sentiments among the counter-atheist movement that I feel I should address.

#1.  Do not single out halfway intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins and claim that they speak for the entire atheist movement.  Many atheists do not claim such dogmatic beliefs as Dawkins, and many do not fall for the false dichotomy of science versus religion.  Science is only opposed to religion when religion begins making claims that are scientifically verifiable, such as "God created the world 6,000 years ago."  This only addresses the generally silly fundamentalist view of a theistic God that most theologians cast aside once they have received ample education in both philosophy and science.

#2.  We do not have to disprove God.  You must prove God.  The existence of a theistic deity does not become the default belief by logic simply because it has been around for a long time.  By claiming that something like consciousness is not yet explained by science, and therefore it is the product of a deity, you are helping to reinforce this false science/religion dichotomy.  A question's answer is not "God until answered by science."  This is elementary logic.

#3.  Proving the necessary existence of an attribute commonly associated with God, if this is ever done, does not prove God.  Example: "The universe is contingent; it arose from nothing, contrary to the laws of nature; therefore, something outside the universe caused it- a supernatural, uncaused cause.  There, I have just proven God."  Problem: eternal/supernatural does NOT equal God.  These are commonly attributed to God; they are not, however, all that God is.  The property of eternity, for example, does not include the property of omnipotence by necessity.  I have yet to hear any reasonable, coherent philosophical argument for the existence of a being that necessitates omnipotence, omnibenevolence, or omniscience (although, of course, I cannot claim to have read all the great theologians in their entirety yet).

#4.  Redressing the "God of the gaps" argument does not lend it validity.  I just recently witnessed Turek doing just this in his latest book.  If current science cannot account for consciousness, then it cannot account for consciousness.  It is, as of now, a mystery.  Someday we may find the answer.  Until then, however, this mystery does not prove any sort of deity; in fact, the existence of a deity does not even come close to being a rational or remotely reasonable explanation for consciousness.  Let us not forget to use Occam's Razor.

#5.  Do not claim that science cannot say anything about God, and then proceed to say that there is evidence for God written throughout science.  Either there is physically observable evidence for God or there is not, but do not continue flip-flopping whenever it is convenient for your argument.

I must not get carried away here.  This is not simply a spiritual war; it is a cultural and political war as well.  Religion has a frighteningly large effect on politics; it has always had a large influence on culture in America.  As with any confrontation that involves human beings, neither side is perfect.  We should not ignore the flaws of Team No God.  There are some things I'd like to say to specific players on my side of the field.

#1.  Dawkins:  This issue is not as easy as you think.  It is not black and white.  Religion is not simple stupidity.  It cannot be displaced with science.  The teaching of religion to children cannot be labeled child abuse by default.  Above all, do not put science above logic and philosophy.  Logic and philosophy are what science is built upon.  I do agree with many of your conclusions; your methods, however, show a definite lack of philosophical education.

#2.  Hitchens:  People's actions do not disprove God.  People do terrible things because of religion; however, to truly argue against the proposition of God, we need to enter the realms of logic and philosophy.  Arguing from people's misdeeds is simply an appeal to emotion.

#3.  Myers:  Do not attempt to give greater meaning to the term "atheism".  We are still trying to dispel misconceptions about its actual definition; this will only result in more confusion.  If atheists choose to hold particular beliefs, they may use other words for such beliefs.  Atheism should continue to be nothing but the lack of a belief in God.

A general observation:  In this issue of utmost importance, neither side seems to be taking the other one seriously.  The popular New Atheists seem to think religion is incredibly silly, stupid, and to be regarded with complete impunity, and that anyone who believes it is either stupid or crazy.  Berlinski, Turek, Dembski, and their ilk seem to think that atheism is nothing but scientific arrogance and a rejection of good philosophy that leads to social Darwinism and Nazi-esque eugenics.  Both sides need to be taken seriously and examined more closely.  I'd love to see more atheist discussion of Aquinas or Kierkegaard, and I'd love to see more theist discussion of serious atheist literature such as Jason Sobel's Theism And Logic.  Let us get a little more philosophical; it's quite the question to wax philosophical about.