Considering Atheism

2022 Sep 12

The view that there is no god is atheism. The atheist apparently believes their position even though the proposition is unprovable. note Atheism therefore is a matter of faith (like all opinions about gods).

Regarding belief, the atheist would prefer to say they don’t believe in any god. To them this statement is better than to say that they believe there is no god, which would acknowledge some form of belief about gods.

They say that their position is that gods are imaginary like unicorns. Just like they don’t believe in any real unicorns because of lack of evidence, so they say they also don’t believe in any gods.

However, whether or not gods actually exist, people do believe in gods, and so society has been consistently affected by these gods in human history. This apparent experience with gods is a repeated observation of most humans throughout history. This of itself is a vast body of repeated evidence of some kind about gods.

Therefore, some sort of belief about gods has to have been taken by the atheist in this context. They at least believe their position! And they have chosen to disbelieve in gods, which is a choice of belief. And chosen beliefs are also a matter of faith, even if there is evidence to back the beliefs.

 

This post derived out of a consideration of my own religious perspective and why I doubt atheism is the correct perspective on religious things.

 

There have always been atheists, but up until more recent times, they had been a minority. A big problem for the atheistic view was that many things were inexplicable without a god.

Atheism had particular trouble explaining the existence of living things. Darwin contributed his evolutionary theory into this, promoting the original idea that natural processes (of natural selection & variation) were completely sufficient to explain the whole array of living things. Today then, atheists depend on the modern synthesis of neo-Darwinian evolution to be intellectually fulfilled.

As science progressed through history, its explanatory scope seemed to grow unlimited. There seemed to be naturalistic explanations for difficult things like where the universe came from, natural disasters, the weather, crop failures, etc. Previously, the gods were the answers of last resort for these things. Now science was taking over, and to many people it had the god-like role.

Arguments

Then over the last decades, a more militant variation of atheism has emerged. These atheists make arguments for their position from many things including:

  • morality: "religion is evil" note
  • morality: "the problem of evil" note
  • semantics: "we are all atheists" note
  • philosophy: "just one less god" note
  • philosophy: "I'm just skeptical" note
  • science: "Darwin explains life" note
  • science: "gods of gaps" note
  • hedonism: "I want to live my life" note

This is the argument that if there is no God then we are free to live our life as we like.

Yes, we are free to live our life as we like if there is no God. For many, they want the conclusion, so they choose to believe or act as if there is no God. This may truthfully be the most popular reason for atheism.

But note that this is not an argument from evidence for atheism. It is simply self-justification.

Gods have served as explanation for many things through history as the reason of last resort. With the rise of the explanatory power of science, this value has been reduced. The atheist believes this trend removes all utility for gods, and thus shows gods never were real.

Science has been wildly successful and it answers many questions. And, many atheists are true believers in science’s ability to answer all questions. However, the mistake here is to think that gods serve only as explanatory fallback in the empty and negative spaces. A god’s existence could be displaced by the advance of science only if that was always true.

However, through science there are positive reasons to expect a god now more than ever before. They are based on inferences about things that we do understand well. What we solidly know points definitively to a god.

Just one example: By all uniform human experience we know of only one source for large quantities of functional information that is encoded in digital systems: intelligence. Since the function of DNA is to store this kind of information and DNA encodes a large quantity of information, and intelligence is the only known source to create this kind of information, then we can reasonably infer that an intelligence created the DNA in living organisms. This is part of a cumulative positive argument for an entity that absolutely looks like a god.

Living things previous to Darwin could not be naturalistically accounted for because biological systems absolutely appear designed. (Even Dawkins says it looks designed.) Darwin’s theory seemed to explain the appearance of design by means of natural processes without design.

However, is Darwinian evolution an accurate model of biological origins? This is increasingly uncertain because of substantial problems on the theory do remain and have existed ever since Darwin. Serious examples even as discussed by Darwin are the non-gradualistic appearance of fossils and the sudden appearance of flowering plants. These problems between the theory and the evidence have not gotten better in 150 years; they have actually gotten much much worse.

There is a different model which says biological systems are best explained as the result of being intelligently designed. This model is increasingly providing better explanatory power than neo-Darwinian evolution. Its corollary of engineering-oriented systems biology uses a functional design perspective in working with living systems and is becoming more scientifically fruitful than the evolutionary perspective (which is ultimately random chaos). These is a good reason to doubt that Darwin explained life correctly.

Note also that evolutionary theory completely fails to explain the origin of life. Abiogenesis is an utter scientific mystery - absolutely nobody understands how life could come about naturally. In fact careful reasoning should lead to the conclusion that life is naturalistically impossible. Therefore since we are living, we can conclude that life came from a non-naturalistic source.

This therefore is a fully blocking impediment to naturalistic living things and to their evolution (because if life never could have happened then there never could have been evolution).

Atheists call themselves skeptics. Like David Hume, they doubt the miraculous (and, therefore, God) because they think it is unreasonable.

However, Thomas Reid (the Scottish Common Sense philosopher) rejected Hume's ideas. He pointed out that true skeptics would doubt everything. For instance, they would have doubts that jumping off a cliff would have an effect on them. They would doubt that other people and things actually exist. Skeptics do not live like this however.

The problem is that all things which we perceive are impressions imprinted on our mind from our senses. Tangible objects and intangibles both produce nothing but mental impressions, and there is no certainty of the differentiation between them. That which the skeptic doubts and does not doubt both produce effects of the same type to their mind.

So in practice, skeptics chose the things they doubt, but also the things they do not doubt. What the skeptic doubts is a matter of their personal opinion rather than evidence. Therefore, this perspective is not defensible, and skepticism is not a basis for a good argument against God.

A philosophical argument by atheists observes that theists discredit most of the gods that have been proposed through history. In many cases a theist only believes in one god. The atheist, so it is said, then is different from the theist by believing in only one less god.

The problem in this argument is assuming that this difference in belief can be represented by addition or subtraction. The atheist thinks they can subtract one god to come to their position.

However, I am certain that the correct operators are multiplication and division. A polytheist has a multiplicity of gods. Getting to monotheism divides this polytheist count by a finite number. However to get to atheism (zero gods) you must divide by infinity, which is an impossibility. To go back to theism (1 or more gods) from atheism (0 gods) again is an impossible factor of infinity.

To illustrate why subtraction is the wrong model, consider some person from history that had substantial influence on the world. If they had not existed in the world to change it so dramatically, was that really only just a simple subtraction of one human from history? No, it is not. Addition and subtraction do not and cannot model persons. Gods are usually considered as persons, and note that as humans, all atheists have been affected in an outsized way by gods.

Subtraction of just one more god down to zero is an idea that fails as a non sequitur.

The atheist says all of us are atheists (or at least partial atheists) because we do not believe in most of the gods that have been proposed through history.

This however is a category error. The definition of an a-theist is one who holds the position there are no Gods. Theists cannot also be atheists. The argument is spurious.

Why does evil exist in the pitilessness of nature and the active depredations of humans against each other? By atheistic thinking, if a god were good and all-powerful then the god should have eliminated evil. Gods, therefore, appear doubtful.

However, in a world where only material things exist then neither good nor evil can actually exist. Evil would at best be a local social opinion and it never would be an absolute. In this context most of the people in history that did "evil" in genocide, wars or other oppression were actually doing good according to their thinking. It was good in their cultural context and for themselves.

And, if there were no god, then there is instead a problem of good. Why should we even expect that there would be any good? We would just be machines in motion doing what we are programmed to do, and morality would be meaningless.

The fact that we know that some things are genuinely good and other things are objectively evil does not come from the atheist position. Therefore, the position fails.


This argument is actually the most challenging one for me. The challenge is not that it is convincing toward atheism (as argued above). It is that the issue demands wrestling to come to an answer for why evil remains in the context of a loving all-powerful god. There must be some purpose here for evil to remain.

I think we can never be certain, but I have come to an answer for myself. The first part would be that god created humans with free will. If we had no option to choose what we do, could our actions ever be called good or evil? Would we not instead be puppets or robots?

Evil is not part of God's nature and so God does no evil. (Because of God's nature, God never chooses to do evil, and rather, God always chooses good.) However, humans also can choose and some choose to do evil, therefore, evil exists in the world.

Free will, however, also enables people to choose for good. So, this free will also makes it be a possibility for humans to genuinely be good. And it gives humans the opportunity to develop personal character. We have free will so we can learn to do good, help people, and work to reduce the evil in this world.

This is a challenging answer, not a comfortable answer, but it is an answer.

The atheists claim that most of the evil in the world has come from religion because of religious wars and other violence or oppression. They point to wars such as the Crusades; they note the French Inquisition and the Salem witch trials.

However, of all wars throughout history, only about 10% were for religious reasons. Maybe 3 million people died from the Crusades, about 6000 died from the Inquisition and about 20 from the witch trials. Of course these are bad numbers, but they are absolutely trivial compared to deaths from secular conflicts.

This is because in communist countries in the last century, anti-religious forces caused more than 100 million deaths. This is more deaths than by all religions together throughout all history. Although there are some stories of what life was like in those places, we will never know the full level of oppression there. And it was anti-religious atheism which motivated this evil.

So, evidence falsifies the opinion that religion has been the primary cause of evil in this world. The history of the last century showed that fully non-religious power systems were as evil by the metric of human oppression and more evil by the metric of human deaths than all religion-associated power systems combined throughout all history.

(See some good answers about religious deaths, a review of a general account of deaths, accounts of deaths in general where religion just isn’t substantial at all)

I acknowledge that there are some arguments for atheism that are challenging. Many of them however, seem to be clever usage of words and only knock down theistic straw men. (That is, they don’t knock down arguments that a knowledgeable theist would actually make.) Atheists making these arguments assume theism only derives support from negative arguments.

Of course arguments for theism include negative ones, but there are very strong positive arguments as well. These include arguments based on physical evidence and on solid rational thinking. (See Book: Return of the God Hypothesis)

Fitness

To the atheist, atheism apparently has a significant thing going for it: a lack of universal oversight and accountability. If someone escaped by atheism from a bad religious context (such as one which had evil authority structures), this aspect of atheism could be a good thing. However, I think that instead of this indicating atheism is more correct, it simply indicates that atheism is individually for them less wrong.

That is, for some people there may be aspects of atheism that are less evil than some religions. And if the person is living in a culture that values good morality and they get along with this culture, then they can individually get benefits from atheism without experiencing too many of its problems.

However, atheism does not make cultures that value good morality. If a culture becomes anti-theist (such as it was in many communist countries in the 20th century) then the real evil of atheism comes alive and eats the powerless ones of its own people. (See the "religion is evil" note above.) When atheism rules, the deep evil of the spiritual position comes into power.

This is because like as is articulated for the biological world in Darwinian evolution, atheism provides no justification to value any person's life other than their own. To the degree they can get away with it, in atheism it is each person for themself, survival of the fittest, winner try to take all. This does not make a strong culture or a strong nation.

An irreligious populous then only thrives when living a culture that comes from religion. For example, the cultural air we breathe in the West comes from Christianity.

  • Safety in products, transportation, civil engineering, medical devices, etc comes from the proposition that every person is inherently entitled to care and reduced risk. This comes from the Judeo-Christian idea that each person is inherently valuable because they are made in the image of God. It does not come from atheism.
  • Science came out of Judeo-Christian culture which trusted that God as a lawgiver made a law-like world. (See Science and the Lawgiver.) God also made people to be rational like him, and therefore our thinking could be trusted. Atheism's Darwinian idea would have us as random accidents of nature, and why then should we believe that we have the capability to reason to objective truth? As Darwin said, "Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?" Why should an atheist think they have a mind?
  • The logical conclusion of atheism and its Darwinian thought is that we as humans have no more value than a rat or a pigeon because we all came to be by the same careless process. This idea creates despair in many people, and they give up, sometimes killing themselves. This product of atheism severely reduces fitness.
  • The idea of good or evil (which culture depends on) does not come from atheism. (See the "problem of evil" note above.)

So atheism depends on religion to be able to participate in a culture that values rationality and care for people. It cannot come to it out of itself.

Therefore, if the Darwinian fitness idea can be imagined to lead to truth, it must be indicating that atheism is not truth because its fitness is lower than that of religious thought.

Take-aways

I find the arguments for atheism are not convincing. However I find rationales for theism do resonate deeply. And theism has substantial fitness advantages over atheism.

2022-09-12 updated 2022-12-27   © 2023 Larry Grove