The Atheist Experience is back after a few weeks of involuntary hiatus! Yesterday we had an unusually contentious show with a lot of people calling in to argue vigorously. Near the end, Matt declared someone to be “The best caller EVER!!!” thanks to his uncanny ability to answer his own questions, as in these two bits of dialogue:
Russell: “So let me get your story straight. Your mother was on the brink of death, and then she was fine. And that’s proof that God exists.”
Russell: “Okay, what do you call it when a person is perfectly healthy and then drops dead? Is that proof that God does not exist?”
Caller: “No, that’s just proof that whatever happens to that person happens.”
Matt: “Congratulations! You get the caller of the day award for being honest and answering your own question!”
Scene 2 (one minute and one change of subject later):
Caller: “Why is God not real?”
Russell: “Do you believe in unicorns?”
Russell and Matt: “Why?”
Caller: “Because… unicorns are fairy tales, and it hasn’t been proven that there is one.”
Matt: “You ARE the best caller EVER! You can answer your own questions every time!”
After the show, I answered some email exploring topics that we’d touched on that day, and I thought I should share it.
Your beliefs, or lack thereof, are based on what you perceive to be empirical evidence. Have you been shown empirical evidence that god (or gods or higher beings) do not exist? All you’ve got is proof that you are alive (to the best of your knowledge) and that life is going to cease as you know it, and have had to and must continue to pay taxes until the end of this heretofore called life.
Instinctually, fine. But give the devil its due…
BTW, I’m playing devil’s advocate, insofar as I can.
In the absence of evidence, not believing that something exists is the default position. Near the end of the show, I asked a caller if he believes in unicorns. He replied “No, because unicorns are fairy tales and it has not been proven that there is one.” Even though that caller did believe in God “on faith” (i.e., without any evidence), he did not feel the need to justify his lack of belief in unicorns any further. He didn’t need to provide additional evidence that there are no unicorns. He just said, as we would, that there isn’t evidence FOR them.
There is a philosophical principle known as Occam’s Razor. It states that once you take all the available information into account, the simplest explanation is generally the preferred one. That doesn’t mean that another explanation can’t replace it if new facts become available. However, if somebody insisted on me believing that unicorns exist, but said I had to take it on faith that they do, non-belief is still the default. The position “Yes there are unicorns” and “No there are not unicorns” are not equally good.
Do you agree with that, or are you going to start believing in unicorns now?
This is the second letter:
Towards the end of the show, you said something to the effect of “God is uncaused, therefore it’s not illogical to think the universe is uncaused.” Forgive me if I’m misrepresenting, but I can see why some ID-proponents use this reasoning to assert both are an equal matter of faith. Hoping you can elaborate more.
The situation LOOKS symmetrical, until you take into account the fact that what is really in question is not the origin of God, but the existence of God in the first place.
The existence of the universe is not in question. It’s right here. We’re in it. Neither theists nor atheists dispute the fact that there is a universe. But the existence of God is not established.
Now theists say “There has to be a God, because God is a necessary condition for the universe to exist.” Why? Because “Nothing can exist unless something caused it, and nothing causes itself.” But then they go on to say, as the caller did, that “God is the alpha and the omega, he was uncaused and doesn’t need a beginning.”
The problem is that it flatly contradicts the premise of the argument. If NOTHING can be uncaused, then God (being something) can’t be uncaused either. If something (such as God) CAN be uncaused, then that invalidates the reason why God supposedly “must” exist.
Was the universe uncaused? We have no idea, of course. But the universe definitely exists. So which is harder to swallow? That a universe (which definitely exists) is uncaused? Or that there is a previously undetected, unevidenced being who is greater and more powerful than the entire universe, with super-intelligence, who answers prayer and meddles in six billion lives, and THAT thing is uncaused?
There are other possibilities, of course. For example, the universe may be caused by something else uncaused, but it is in no way god-like, and has no intelligence. Or it’s caused by something in a previous universe, which is caused by a previous universe, and so on, and there is no first cause. I’m not proposing that any of these possibilities is “right”, but only that lacking an explanation does not force us to invent a super-intelligent hyperbeing unless we have any other good reasons to think that there is one.