Quantcast

«

»

Feb 25 2014

Why we’re atheists

Two long reads for you today: Sean Carroll gives us some post debate analysis, and along the way, explains how modern physics really doesn’t support the excuses of theologians. The video of that debate may be down (but apparently it’s going to be restored at a later date), but there’s a lot to chew on in that discussion.

Second, Kenan Malik explains all the reasons he doesn’t believe in god. The short version: “Only an atheist view allows us to be truly human.” I like it.

27 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    mnb0

    Malik doesn’t ask the question that at least definitely convinced me (I am a 7 on the Scale of Dawkins): “how is an immaterial being supposed to interact with our material universe?”
    More specific: “if theists claim that ‘god loves us’, how is that god supposed to express that love if not by means of behaviour, language, body language and facial expressions?”
    This point comes from Herman Philipse’s excellent God in the Age of Science.

  2. 2
    mjgoold

    To be honest, arguments for atheism kind of bug me.

    Although they disagree on the details, the fundamental premise behind pretty much all religion is that the universe is man-made. (OK, God is technically not human but only in the same sense that Superman is technically not human; he looks and acts the part, so any distinction is more or less irrelevant.)

    This idea is absurd on its face. The only reasons anybody ever gives it credence is because it’s popular or because their parents taught them to believe it, and we’re naturally biased to consider an idea to be more valid if it’s more popular and to believe everything our parents say when we’re children. We can even see the psychological mechanisms that led to religion’s development in the first place— we’re so good at recognising intent that we see it even in randomness, we anthropomorphise and see the world in terms of ourselves, and we have a need to feel “safe” and “special” in a universe that doesn’t care about us.

    We can see the biases that led to religion’s formation, and we can see the biases that make people consider it plausible. Religion is a “known bug” in human intelligence. It’s clearly and obviously false and we’ve identified and documented the reasons our brains might lead us to think otherwise.

    So why does anybody have to defend atheism as if it were some sort of controversial idea? Why does the word “atheist” even exist? It’s not like there are words to refer specifically to people who disbelieve absurd ideas in general. I don’t want to believe that I’m inherently more intelligent or rational than 90-odd percent of the planet, but when people can’t see the obvious even though they know all the reasons they might be inclined to overlook it, I can’t help but consider that conclusion.

    I’m not saying that atheists should stop making arguments— I’m just annoyed that anybody has to.

  3. 3
    SallyStrange

    I liked this quote from the second piece there, by Kenan Malik:

    The difference between believers and atheists in not, then, that one picks and chooses moral values, while the other simply receives them from God. It is that I, as an atheist, accept that values are humanly created, while believers, having humanly chosen what is good and what is bad, then alienate this decision to God, because it seems provide those values with greater authority.

    It’s something I’ve said many times, but that’s a pretty succinct way of putting it.

  4. 4
    David Marjanović

    ^ + 1

  5. 5
    gussnarp

    Carroll versus Craig seems like it could, if Craig were remotely intellectually honest, actually be a productive debate. Of course, he’s not, so it couldn’t. Aside from all his cheap philosophical short cuts and flawed logic, Craig likes to hang a lot of his case for God, if I recall correctly, on the notion that science supports the notion of a First Cause. Which of course, it doesn’t. It seems like Carroll is uniquely situated to disabuse Craig of his misconceptions regarding cosmology. In the end the outcome ought to have been, “Fine, argue your philosophical nonsense all you want, but you’ve got to acknowledge that you’re wrong about the science and stop making those claims.” “Oh, yes, you’re quite right there, I’ll amend that part of my arguments and make correction notes to my writings.”

    If it weren’t WLC a Christian apologist. But it is, so I’m sure he’ll pretend he still knows what he’s talking about and that his premise has not bee shattered by an expert, and if caught out in debate again feign ignorance rather than dishonesty, and then do it all over again.

  6. 6
    gussnarp

    Ah, it’s just as I feared, standard practice WLC:

    In terms of style, from my perspective things got a bit frustrating, because the following pattern repeated multiple times: Craig would make an argument, I would reply, and Craig would just repeat the original argument. For example, he said that Boltzmann Brains were a problem for the multiverse; I said that they were a problem for certain multiverse models but not others, which is actually good because they help us to distinguish viable from non-viable models; and his response was the multiverse was not a viable theory because of the Boltzmann Brain problem. Or, he said that if the universe began to exist there must be a transcendent cause; I said that everyday notions of causation don’t apply to the beginning of the universe and explained why the might apply inside the universe but not to it; and his response was that if the universe could just pop into existence, why not bicycles?

  7. 7
    anteprepro

    So why does anybody have to defend atheism as if it were some sort of controversial idea? Why does the word “atheist” even exist?

    Because religion is “normal” i.e. popular. In a world where believing in ghosts was the default belief, we would have a word for those who were skeptical of the proposition, and those people would be expected to explain themselves too. It’s basically privilege in action.

  8. 8
    anteprepro

    I said that everyday notions of causation don’t apply to the beginning of the universe and explained why the might apply inside the universe but not to it; and his response was that if the universe could just pop into existence, why not bicycles?

    If this were a just world, this would haunt Billy Lane wherever he goes from now on. But it isn’t, and The Lane Craig has already managed to slip and slide out of being associated with his approval of divine genocide. But at least we know he is a complete and utter amoral dumbass.

  9. 9
    woozy

    Malik doesn’t ask the question that at least definitely convinced me

    That’s because:

    Malik divided the arguments into three types. 1) Why God isn’t necessary 2) Why God isn’t likely and 3) Why God is bad. You questions are of type 2 and Malik purposely concentrated his talk on arguments of type 1 (which lets the common sense aspects of type 2 take over).

    For if one doesn’t acknowledge that God isn’t necessary and decides that one chooses to believe in God, coming up with alternative explanations to counter his improbability is rather easy. Take you

    ““how is an immaterial being supposed to interact with our material universe?”

    for example. Well, once you accept a thinking immaterial being can “exist”, it isn’t particularly hard to imagine it floating in and out of materialization at will. It’s kind of silly and there’s no good reason to be believe it but it’s really no different than magic, ghosts, demonic possession, spirits speaking through birds, or the universe speaking through the baby Buddha while it rains rice during his birth. (Okay, the last example doesn’t fit my argument but I couldn’t resist.)

    Once you accept that God doesn’t have to exist, the idea of an immaterial being flitting in and out of materialism collapses under its own silliness.

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    Isn’t being material part of what “exist” means?

  11. 11
    woozy

    if the universe could just pop into existence, why not bicycles?

    Is it just me or does this not make any sense? I mean if a bicycle popped into existence it would be the universe, wouldn’t it? What am I missing?

  12. 12
    woozy

    Isn’t being material part of what “exist” means?

    Only if you are a materialist…

    And here come the dragons….

  13. 13
    Dhorvath, OM

    Bicycles aren’t the whole of existence? I want a refund.

  14. 14
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    Bicycles aren’t the whole of existence?

    Not until they evolve engines.

  15. 15
    Dhorvath, OM

    Surely they have, it’s a two legged contraption that takes multiple fuels, produces a variety of waste products, and often runs slower before a journey is complete. Perfect evolution, just gettin’ by, eh!

  16. 16
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    I’ve owned far too many motorcycles, on which far too many journeys ended in Push mode, to be able to honestly disagree.

  17. 17
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    if the universe could just pop into existence, why not bicycles?

    Well, you see, here is where religious “logic” is self-defeating. Someone should ask WLC “prove that bicycles don’t pop into existence”. And then, when he says nobody has ever seen it happen, tell him “that’s just a theory”. And about the universe being created, he should be asked “were you there?”

    Only if you are a materialist…

    Anyone who uses Occam’s Razor is necessarily a materialist, pending demonstration of proof of the existence of something which is not material.

  18. 18
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    I keep asking theists howcome a complex, intelligent being is allowed to be uncaused, but the universe itself isn’t. Oddly, I’ve never yet been given an answer to that.

  19. 19
    Rob Grigjanis

    I would ask Craig how he squares his rejection of Minkowski space (i.e. his belief in an absolute space and time, and a preferred frame of reference) with the success of special relativity and relativistic quantum field theory (e.g. the Standard Model), but he has already given an answer;

    such a view, if taken metaphysically seriously, entails a tenseless theory of time which comes with a very high and, I think, unacceptable, price philosophically and theologically.

    Wanking trumps reality.

  20. 20
    woozy

    Someone should ask WLC “prove that bicycles don’t pop into existence”. And then, when he says nobody has ever seen it happen, tell him “that’s just a theory”. And about the universe being created, he should be asked “were you there?”

    You are confusing WLC with Ken Ham. To be fair Craig never falls to the “were you there” and “it’s just a theory” arguments. In fact, I don’t believe (although I could be wrong) Craig is an anti-evolution creationist at all. But he seems to fall into the “Well, it’s patently absurd and not worthy of consideration” to assume, well, of course there’s a first cause and of course it’s transendent, and, in the case of bicycles popping into existence, that, of course, “a universe” is one thing that can begin and a bicycle is something else entirely. Which makes me wonder, in all seriousness, if he is assuming that there is some intrinsic “universe-ness” to “universes” that he distinguishes from bicycles. He seems to imply that Carroll and his ilk are all suggesting that “universes” can all pop into existence willy-nilly but of course these “poppers” will scoff at the idea of “anything else” popping into being. Well, um, why make that assumption? I don’t see it. Now a bicycle is far more designed and complex than the universe in its first 10^23 seconds of its existence was but ignoring that, I don’t see what this “universe-ness” is that Craig is assuming makes it so that “only universes” pop into existence. Seriously, see nothing wrong with just about anything “popping into existence” and whatever properties, entropy states, gravitational constance or whatever it has even if it’s simply a bicycle (well a lump of inanimate metal seems more likely) would be a “universe”.

    Anyone who uses Occam’s Razor is necessarily a materialist,

    Yeah, but that’d make God, by tautology nonexistent. (1. God is immaterial (a general assumption) 2. Only material things exist, ergo….) Which make this entire issue of discussing arguments such as “how is an immaterial being supposed to interact with our material universe?” utterly moot.

  21. 21
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    @19, Rob Grigjanis:

    Wanking trumps reality.

    Well, of course. It’s philosophy.

    @20, woozy

    You are confusing WLC with Ken Ham. To be fair Craig never falls to the “were you there” and “it’s just a theory” arguments.

    Actually, IIRC he has used variations on “it’s just a theory” before. And besides, this is a distinction without a difference; WLC and Ham — Lane Craigs and Ham, wasn’t that a Seuss book? — both argue in bad faith. If you read the linked blog post, you’ll see that WLC repeatedly refused to address counterarguments, and instead just reiterated the claims which had already been dealt with and defused. That means he and Ham are both dishonest religious shills; classifying them doesn’t mean one is better than the other.

    (Come to think of it, the whole refusal to abandon Boltzmann Brains as an argument, even after this had been successfully countered, was presumably on the grounds of “that’s just a theory.” Of course, WLC probably isn’t honest enough to admit that he was doing something bad in the first place, but if he were to explain why he kept doing that, the only justification which even sounds plausible is “these theorists make up all kinds of nonsense and can’t be trusted”, which is just a variation on “that’s just a theory”.)

  22. 22
    woozy

    I would ask Craig how he squares his rejection of Minkowski space (i.e. his belief in an absolute space and time, and a preferred frame of reference) with the success of special relativity and relativistic quantum field theory (e.g. the Standard Model), but he has already given an answer;

    such a view, if taken metaphysically seriously, entails a tenseless theory of time which comes with a very high and, I think, unacceptable, price philosophically and theologically.

    Wanking trumps reality.

    That’s just so…. weird.

    Remember when you were six years old? And you lost countless hours of a sleep wondering “Well, if everything has a beginning there must be a beginning to all the beginnings? What came before that? But could things go on forever? That doesn’t make sense either.”? (Or was that just me…) Malik traces this to Aristotle and the Unmoved mover, which, albeit imponderable, apparently must exist. And lo and behold, it *does* exist as a “tenseless theory of time”. Something *had* to exist (or we had to have an eternal universe). This *IS* Aristotle’s “‘god’, not as an entity to be worshiped, but as ‘a supreme and eternal living being’”. It’s a “single” Minkowski space. We *found* it! Shouldn’t we be happy?

    But, instead Craig calls this “a very high and unacceptable price”. As opposed to a “transcendent” outsider complete with complex intelligence yet no frame of reference? *That* is a reasonable and affordable price?!?!? External, inaccesable and refrenceless?

    He’s just weird! You can’t look at a paradox, decide it’s paradoxical, then utterly at random choose one of the two inconsistancies to support and then claim it isn’t an inconsistency. And finally when the paradox is resolved, you can’t outright declare the price is too high. Weird. Weird. Weird!!!

    (When I was six I lost a *lot* of sleep over these things.)

  23. 23
    Reginald Selkirk

    Malik: “The human condition is that of possessing no moral safety net. No God, no belief in God, no amount of ethical concrete, can protect us from the dangers of falling off that moral tightrope that is to be human.”

    Generally a good read, but the closing metaphor is a strange one. A tightrope walker generally does not derive comfort from the thought of concrete.

  24. 24
    mikeyb

    Two quick thoughts. Say we accept the following premises:

    - the universe (muliverse, whatever) had a beginning
    - the universe is fine tuned to permit life

    What does this imply about god

    -precisely nothing

    Having a beginning doesn’t imply a transcendent cause of any sort. Spontaneous chance quantum effects could potentially make a universe for example (as has been proposed in multiple forms). Some pre-existent unconscious unknown ur-mechanism (call it god if you like) could be the ultimate cosmic umpf to the universe (multiverse). An older idea is that the universe can only have the laws and constants it has, just as the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference can only be pi.

    Fine tuning of course can be explained by the multiverse/cosmic landscape via string theory. But fine tuning may be due to other physical mechanisms we are currently completely unaware of so cannot even conceptualize at this time. Similarly, fine tuning may reflect a misunderstanding of fundamental physics, in which for example, a future physics will explain away the cosmological constant problem as a misunderstanding that was never actually there to begin with. There have been other examples in the past like Lord Kelvin’s alleged proof that evolution could not have happened because the sun could not have been around long enough for life to evolve, which has been rendered obsolete by nuclear physics.

    But even after the end of all this we want to posit some sort of god, which revelation should we believe – what makes Jesus compelling and not Allah, Zeus, Scientology or the woo of Deepak Chopra? How are we to know? Of course we can do pseudo-historical analysis and ‘prove’ the resurrection story can only be explained if the really happened. But by the same logic we can also prove that alien spacecraft landed in Roswell. And how are we to know that all the revelations of the gods have been satanic lies meant to deceive us. Perhaps the actual god has yet to descend on earth to proclaim his revelations and his holy book in a future time. How do you distinguish profound personal revelations from drugs, tricky demons, stress, sleep deprivation or oncoming dementia or schizophrenia. I don’t know.

    I’ll stick to evidence based reasoning and exclude revelation. That either makes me an agnostic or atheist depending on your definition.

  25. 25
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    Posted this on my blog a few minutes ago, then realised it’s quite pertinent to the conversation here (though maybe a bit flowery-prosed):

    Imagine that you are alone in a void. You have always been alone in a void.

    You’ve never experienced any sensory input which didn’t arise from your own body.

    There is no light—not a single photon—so you have never seen anything; even your own body. The very concept of sight is, therefore, completely alien to you (as is the concept “alien”). You might have noticed the movement of your eyes against your eyelids, but that’s just an odd sensation arising from your own body; you have absolutely no reason to suspect that those twitchy bits can perform any useful function.

    You’ve never felt anything external to yourself; there is nothing external to yourself. Not the wind, not the pull of gravity.

    Smell, if it existed, would be airborne and is therefore unknown, as is most sound, though the beat of your heart has been a never-ending background to your life. You don’t notice your heartbeat, though: it is merely an unacknowledged, ever-existing fundamental property of the universe.

    No up, no down, no left, right, back, forward, hot, cold. In an unchanging world, no past nor future. Your body is your entire universe, and the idea that anything might exist outside it unthinkable. For the very good reason that nothing has ever existed outside it. You don’t even have the concept “outside it.” How could you have?

    All this might seem a bit boring, but don’t worry. Even the concept “something to do” is completely outside your experience.

    Experience is outside your experience.

    Let the consequences sink in. Your intelligence would mean nought, in the face of never had anything happen to stir the slightest thought. Imagination means nothing; there’s nothing to build the simplest narrative upon.

    Think about it for a while. You are the inhabitant of a single, unchanging, never-ending, featureless moment.

    Let it sink in.

    ————————————————————————-

    According to the most widely-held creation story, such a creature came, uncaused, into existence, and imagined—and then imagined, and employed, a way to create—time, galaxies, stars, planets and moons; sex, plants, people and polyps; water, rocks, land and clouds; gravity, Brownian motion, chlorine and cats, and even the light to see them all by.

    A creature which had no way to form the concept “other,” managed to invent morals, worship, love, hate, satisfaction, sadism, sarcasm and supplication.

    And you think the Big Bang seems far-fetched?

  26. 26
    simulateddave

    Daz @ 25 …

    Yes, this. Believers throw out words like “immaterial, transcendent, supernatural” and then expect us to not think about what it could possibly mean to be an immaterial conscious entity with no external environment and no source of information. “Pure consciousness” they say. Conscious of what, exactly?

    You can’t begin the creation with “Let there be light!” To say or even think that thought, first you would have to invent four words. How do you invent words without first inventing either sound or symbols? How do you invent a symbol without first inventing vision, and how do you invent vision without first inventing light?

    Even if you accept the necessity of an ultimate first cause of material reality (and I’m not persuaded of any such need), assuming that first cause is consciousness raises all sorts of conceptual problems I’ve never seen anyone even try to address.

  27. 27
    Snoof

    Daz @ 18

    I keep asking theists howcome a complex, intelligent being is allowed to be uncaused, but the universe itself isn’t. Oddly, I’ve never yet been given an answer to that.

    The general excuse there is that the universe is complex, whereas god is simple.

    No, really.

    (I never said it was a good excuse.)

Leave a Reply