The other day, I wrote about how New Atheists are the same as the Old Atheists, and in particular, how all kinds of atheists are responding to the failure of all religion to answer basic questions about our existence. I could argue that religion is a font of bad ethics, bad philosophy, bad charity, etc., but because I’m a science guy I wrote about how badly it addresses questions of our origin and nature, and how the major premises of all religions are false.
This has roused the indignant jellyfish of the Discovery Institute, Michael Egnor, who has declared that atheism is a catastrophe for science. The most remarkable thing about his complaint is that I asked a number of questions about key premises of faith, like about the existence of a deity, an afterlife, and why we should believe your particular dogma over another, and he doesn’t answer any of them. He doesn’t even try. This isn’t even an argument.
I ask, “Why should I believe one religion over another?”
He harumphs back,
Because Christianity is obviously true.
I could ask, “How do you know?”
Because it just is.
This is not a productive direction the discussion could take, but it’s what I expect from a Discovery Institute flunky. The details are not much different from my broad outline. So I bring up this basic question in my post:
Why should I believe in any god? We don’t need an intelligent authority to explain the universe…
Of course we need an intelligent authority to explain the universe. The universe is shot through with intelligibility. Nature is governed by astonishingly complex and elegant physical laws, and the laws themselves are written in the language of abstract mathematics. In fact, theoretical physicists must often explore utterly new mathematical theories in order to explain the behavior of inanimate matter.
That’s not an answer. Nothing in that addresses the issue, and when he continues on to babble about the religious beliefs of scientists, claiming that many of them have believed in gods, he is mistaking personal quirks that are irrelevant to question for the facts that support his contention. I could argue that many scientists have been good musicians, but it would not imply that therefore my theory that the universe began with a note on a violin is true; an even more universal truth, that all scientists have possessed nostrils, is not support for my theory that the Big Bang was actually the Big Sneeze. And doesn’t Sandwalk’s list of atheist scientists immediately refute the idea that religiosity is a precondition for good science?
Egnor is simply making a fallacious assertion, and is begging the question. I will reply with a quote from Percy Shelley, published in 1814, which the Intelligent Design creationists will ignore, as they’ve been doing for two centuries.
Design must be proved before a designer can be inferred. The matter in controversy is the existence of design in the Universe, and it is not permitted to assume the contested premises and thence infer the matter in dispute. Insidiously to employ the words contrivance, design, and adaptation before these circumstances are made apparent in the Universe, thence justly inferring a contriver, is a popular sophism against which it behoves us to be watchful.