Monday, November 30, 2009

Atheism

The new atheists like to claim that religion is evil, that if we can only eliminate it from the public discourse, our most pressing sociological problems will infallibly evaporate.

Leaving aside the unreasonableness of the position for the time being, the atheist really has a massive problem with his position: there is no possible meaning that can adhere to concepts like right, wrong, good and evil within the assumptions of atheism.

At base, atheism is materialism. And in materialism, there is no self-consistent framework within which one can make value judgments; "good" and "evil" are nonsensical terms if the cosmos is all that there is or will ever be. Whatever happens happens; it is neither good nor evil - it just simply is.

When the dictator orders the destruction of an entire people group, that is not "evil;" it is simply evolution in action. In evolution, the only real purpose for anything is to pass on your genes to the next generation. The most efficient way to ensure that this happens is to eliminate all effective competition. To commit genocide is only evil from the perspective of the doomed people group. There is no God to whom the genocide will give account; if he escapes the justice of man, he escapes completely.

The atheist can point to no purpose, no possible meaning to and for anything. Yes, he can assign whatever subjective meaning to his life and actions that he wishes to, but what of it? Such "meaning" is, ultimately, meaningless. So what that the atheist believes his life has meaning, that he arbitrarily assigns purpose to his actions; the cold, materialist universe pays no mind, does not care. The universe does not care when the atheist suffers unjustly. What happens to him, at the end of the day, is random, meaningless, noise. No reason. Nothing. And when he dies, all that he is dies with him.

Sure, he can pass on his legacy - but what of it? Legacies are ephemeral things, most often ignored, sometimes squandered, at times openly repudiated. In sum, the atheist only has his weak, short, pain-filled life, and then eternal nothingness. One bare decade later, and almost assuredly he will be completely forgotten. Certainly in a millennium. Without controversy in one million years. All he was, all his accomplishments, forever, irrevocably lost. And ultimately, when the materialist universe ends in either fire or ice (depending on which theory of gravity carries the day), nothing - absolutely nothing will remain - not only of the atheist, but if anybody.

When the stars have all burned up their nuclear fuel and spin in the utterly dark, eternally cold depths of space, slowly losing all momentum; long after even the last of the behemoth black holes have completely evaporated away through Hawking radiation; when all matter has ceased to be on even a quantum level by the inexorable and ever-increasingly-accelerating expansion of space itself; for an eternity of eternities, all the atheist's fears, hopes, accomplishments and those of every other living soul throughout all time will mean, forever and ever, absolutely nothing.

Within the atheist's worldview, then, nothing can ultimately be good or bad - for the precise reason that nothing will mean, nothing can mean, anything.

When the child dies in agony that's just life. When the rapist gets away Scott free, that's just what happens.

There is no God; crap happens. Deal with it by ignoring it, or sink into irremediable despair.

To assign categories like right, wrong, good and evil to anything, he is forced to borrow intellectual capital from outside his worldview, since his has no self-consistent apparatus for dealing with such.

18 comments:

Chas Warren said...

The author cannot imagine a universe in which categories like right, wrong, good and evil exist without the presence of an omnipotent, omniscient superbeing, therefore God is real.

Leaving aside the unreasonableness of this position for the time being, the author has a massive problem: there is no switch in the atheist’s head that can be arbitrarily togged between “belief” and “disbelief.”

In other words, belief cannot consciously be decided. Of course, feigning belief is possible. However, an omniscient God would know that you were pretending, and would have known 10 trillion years ago.

mike macon said...

...which response fails completely to answer the fundamental problem the author points out - namely, that the atheist has no apparatus from within his worldview with which to assign value judgments given the ultimate meaninglessness of all things within a materialist universe.

The author also notes with no small fascination that the commentator has (predictably and completely unsurprisingly) no meaningful response to the author's point concerning that very meaninglessness.

Chas Warren said...

God might exist. A whole plethora of gods might exist. In your worldview, the existence of God or of gods is necessary for categories like right, wrong, good and evil to have meaning.

I understand the argument. It seems, to me, to be begging the question. In your worldview, it is already assumed that God exists. God provides you the ultimate definitions of good and bad. Working from that implicit assumption, the atheist is indeed bereft. Crap happens, and one day my neurons stop firing forever, and I am no more.

This alternative seems unappealing to you. It doesn’t to me. I don’t ignore it, nor have I sunk into irremediable despair.

My dog nurses her puppies and cleans them and loves them without any concept of God. Myriad species of animal do the same. However, if we ever discover another sentient species -- on this planet or another -- it wouldn’t surprise me that they had developed a supernatural mythos to give meaning to their naturally evolving behavior.

This supernatural mythos isn’t evil, necessarily. If we eliminate it from the public discourse, I doubt that our most pressing sociological problems will evaporate. Man is pretty good at conjuring delusional and destructive philosophies. We would just invent another.

Robert said...

Mike.
I work in Neonatal ICU. I am an atheist. I have seen children die in agony. All the while the family gathered round praying until some pass out from exhaustion.
What I see is either god killing a child of the faithfull, or god not intervening. Or the more rational conclusion; there is no god at all.
I work to keep premature babies alive and comfortable. I don't have to believe in a man made god to know it is a good thing to do. It is inate to most of our species. A trait of natural selection and evolution. It makes sense.
I reject god because it doesn't make rational sense to me to believe in what I have read in the bible. That makes me feel good and I think there is value in it.

mike macon said...

However, none of that answers my twin points.

(1) For the atheist, there is nothing which is truly consistent within his worldview which gives him a truly objective standard for concepts like right, wrong, good and evil. Even horrific things like genocide, from a purely atheistic, evolutionary point of view, cannot be universally considered evil; it is, in the whole, simply the outworking of the genome seeking to perpetuate itself.

Which brings up my second point:

(2) There is nothing within atheism which is consistent with its own worldview which gives any actuality to purpose and meaning. In other words, if the cosmos is all there is, then at the end of the day nothing - absolutely nothing that we do means anything, ultimately. Long after the heat death of the universe, given the presuppositions of materialism, there will be nothing and no one to remember and to carry on any legacy; no choices we make echo very far beyond our own tiny spheres, nothing we do matters.

mike macon said...

You cannot know it is a good thing to do. Not without borrowing intellectual capital from outside of your worldview.

In an atheistic universe, who cares if the children live or die? You may save some...who will themselves die. And in terms of the theorized age of the universe, not only do we occupy the last hundredth of a percent of the total time the universe has been in existence, but even all the time from the initial point of creation until now is utterly nothing in comparison with the endless expanse of ages upon ages which loom before us.

Eventually, in an atheistic universe, dark energy will win; the universe will continue to expand at an increasing rate. One day in the relatively near future, space will have expanded to such an extent that the nearest galaxy to our own will barrel out beyond the point where its light can no longer reach us (space itself between us now expanding faster than light itself). For a few billion years, any intelligent creatures still left in our galaxy (which by then will have collided with Andromeda and likely one or two other galaxies within the Local Group - making it likely that our solar system will have been ejected from the galaxy and will be doomed to wander in cold darkness) will not know that there was once a vast universe to behold on a dark night. Over a bit more time, and the expansion of space will overtake the stars themselves. Then, the planets within whatever solar systems might then be inhabited will fly apart. Then, as space continues to expand, the planets themselves will disintegrate...then the atoms within individual objects...then even down to the quantum level, no structure will remain.

But that is not the end; space itself will continue, forever expanding, an impossibly cold, incomprehensibly empty, limitless expanse of absolutely, utterly nothing. Forever.

And in terms of the universe as the atheist is forced to understand it, when faced with the stark reality of it all, nothing you do matters. Nothing you do will survive much beyond you. It certainly won't survive for much long after that.

In the full scheme of things, there is no purpose, there is no meaning. You are no better than the man who kills children - given your atheistic, materialist assumptions.

mike macon said...

Do not misunderstand my point; I am not saying that the atheist cannot comprehend and is incapable of acts of great selflessness and good.

My point is that he has no apparatus consistent with his worldview for explaining why such things are truly good - since there is no possible apparatus within his worldview for even defining what "good" is in an absolute sense.

The atheist is forced to reach outside his worldview and borrow intellectual capital from others in order to even frame the question.

Robert said...

I will continue to do my acts of great selflessness and compassion. If you or your loved ones come into my ICU I will give everything I have to keep you comfortable and alive. If you die or suffer and I have done everything in my power to help you, I will offer comfort to the ones you leave behind. I have no need to label that. It is what I do without any influence from the god you assume exists and I am sure most probably does not. Great cosomological tangent you went off on by the way. I am sure that intellectual capital is all yours and bible based.

mike macon said...

I very much believe that you would, yes. And I would and do thank you for it.

However, you are left with the base fact that you are completely unable to account for such altruism within your atheistic world view.

Again: If the cosmos is all there was, all there is, and all there will ever be, what does it matter whether you are a good person or not? And what possible bearing on reality does your own personal, subjective definition of "good" have?

Hitler believed he was doing good. Based on the assumptions of materialism alone, you have no way of saying he wasn't - except only that he failed.

After the last of the suns in the sky burns out, long after even the mammoth black holes have given up the ghost, there will be a mind-numbingly endless expanse of nothing - and what, precisely, will it matter what you have done and how you have lived? What possible point is there in it all?

My contention is that, from within the worldview of atheism, there is none.

Chas Warren said...

This sounds similar to a claim that Doug Wilson has been making for years.

I understand your point, really. However, I don't care that nothing ultimately matters. When I experience love or compassion or hatred, it feels real enough, without borrowing apparatus from anyone.

I don't care how the human behaviors that we label "good" evolved; that they evolved is enough. Of course, I have an academic interest in these things, but none of the answers that I devise will ever be more than intelligent conjecture, and I'm okay with that, too.

I don't need an omniscient frame of reference, and I honestly don't understand why you do.

By your definition, for something to be "truly good," it apparently must have the imprimatur of God. That seems to me entirely circular. You haven't demonstrated that such a thing as "truly good" even exists, yet you define it with reference to something else that might or might not exist.

As for myself, I will settle for "merely good."

mike macon said...

Which demonstrates the fatal weakness of your position.

For you, "good" is entirely subjective. A thing is good because I feel it is good. Talk about circularity.

Given, however, that argument, Hitler was not wrong. Pol Pot was not wrong. The sociopath is not wrong. For them, what they do feels real enough. So why are they wrong, but you right...?

And again - ultimately, none of it matters. Everything - absolutely everything - is ultimately pointless.

You may be able to live with that ultimate, existential meaningless and pointlessness. But you must also own the consequences of it - including the bare fact that, given the above, you cannot with any real authority say that anything anyone does is truly wrong, truly evil.

My point, at the very beginning of my blog post, is that the "New Atheists" love to claim that religion is inherently evil - or at best, really bad. However, to say so they must borrow concepts from outside their worldview.

I believe we have amply demonstrated this to be very much the case.

Robert said...

To borrow concepts outside of ones world view doesn't make the basis for the other worldview valid. I can use the word good and still not be convinced there is a god.
You have mentioned Hilter twice so far. remember that Nazi Officers belt buckles Read "GOTT MIT UNS". GOD WITH US. Their borrowing of god did not validate their possition any more than borrowing the word good from possible religious origins invalidates an atheist worldview.

Chas Warren said...

If your nameless sociopath solicited volunteers, would his actions still be evil? I'll answer that in a moment.

Following your logic, if God told a member of your congregation to murder his family, then it would be perfectly acceptable. You can't object that God wouldn't so that, because he has done it before.

If all it takes is God's imprimatur -- if there is literally no other requirement -- then any atrocity that God might command would be "good."

Now back to my nameless sociopath.

Nameless Sociopath: "Yes, Your Honor, I killed them. But I do have their signed consent forms."

Congregant: "Yes, Your Honor, I killed them. But I was commanded to do it by an invisible, omniscient, omnipotent superbeing."

Who sounds more insane?

If only God mandates what is "truly good," then anything can be justified as according to His will.

Murder becomes okay if God wills it.

I would much prefer to find my definition of goodness in an evolved response than in the whim of an invisible, omniscient, omnipotent superbeing.

Robert said...

Mike,
I had never heard of Calvary Chapel so I googled and holy squabble. I think if an organization I was involved in had that many scandals I would bait the atheists for fellowship too. Sheesh.

mike macon said...

>>To borrow concepts outside of ones world view doesn't make the basis for the other worldview valid.<<

It does when those concepts are at odds with the worldview itself, yes.

In atheism, there is no ultimate purpose, no ultimate reason, no ultimate meaning, no ultimate anything beyond the cosmos - therefore, the atheist is at a severe disadvantage in trying to grapple with the concept of real "good" and real "evil."

If atheism is true, then nothing we do ultimately matters. If the cosmos is all there is, then trillions of years after the heat death of the universe, when even the cosmic microwave background radiation has evened out to absolute zero, when entropy reigns supreme, when there is nothing at all except perhaps exotic quantum field fluctuations, then all our petty actions, concerns, fears, joys, triumphs will be shown to be ultimately meaningless and pointless. Who cares that I have lived a good, exemplary life? In the scope of the vastness of time it matters absolutely not at all.

mike macon said...

Common problem of any organization.

The in-house problems of the group I identify with, however, fails to alleviate the epistemological problems I point out in my blogpost.

Keep your eye on the ball...

mike macon said...

A weakness in one worldview does not mitigate a weakness in another.

The theist has his own hurdles to jump.

You have not successfully cleared the ones I had originally brought up in my blogpost.

mike macon said...

Now to your specific argument, "if God told a member of your congregation to murder his family, then it would be perfectly acceptable. You can't object that God wouldn't so that, because he has done it before."

Leaving aside the assertion in the last statement for a moment, you have not demonstrated an inconsistency within the theistic worldview. If God were to so command, then your conclusion would follow. That is essentially not in the slightest inconsistent with the idea of a God to whom we have to answer.

You have not, however, demonstrated how a concept of "good" and "evil" which keeps to the presuppositions of materialism can remain consistent with the atheist's worldview without stepping outside of it.

Now returning to the assertion in the last statement I cited above: No, God has not commanded anyone to murder his family. Abraham was told to offer up his son Isaac, but was also prevented from carrying out the offering; and Abraham recognized that this had been God's intention all along and realized he had been acting out prophecy in advance when he called the place where it went down "In The Mount Of The Lord It Shall Be Seen." It actually happens to be a rather profound prophetic pre-enactment - but that wouldn't make sense outside of the Christian worldview.

Nonetheless, it isn't in the slightest incompatible with it, either. I don't have to reach outside of my worldview to examine and understand it.

God certainly commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites. Brutal, yes. Barbaric, unquestionably. Are there explanations which make sense? Yes. But again, still not inconsistent within the worldview.

One of the assumptions of the worldview is not that whatever God does is good; it is rather that God does whatever is good, that He cannot be inconsistent with Himself, with His nature. We may not understand all the exigencies of any given act of His, but we do know that ultimately there are reasons behind them which do not violate His essential nature.

Again, note: does not violate the presuppositions of the worldview.

My point from the beginning is that the atheist, in order to make "sense" of actions, in order to assign purpose and meaning, he has to reach outside his worldview to do so, for the simple fact that in atheism, there is no ultimate anything beyond the cosmos itself, and the cosmos simply does not care. Your actions, your dreams, your fears, everything you are ends with your last breath.

Given that, it doesn't matter in the slightest what I do or don't do. It might matter to me...but so what? I'll soon be dead and forever gone, so what possible real, objective meaning does it all have?