Antiphon and the Jewish Philosopher

A Jewish Philosopher says;

The non-existence of God, of course, defines atheism.

AR: Agreed (it’s actually the non existence of god(s) - atheism isn't just a rejection of the Judeo god, its also a denial of Thor, Zoroaster, and the Easter Bunny, but that may be just quibbling).

Atheists also do not believe in a soul; a soul implies spirituality and an afterlife, which atheists reject.

AR: Again, agreed, though spiritual dualism is not incompatible with atheism on its face (you can be an atheist and hold that the 'mind' is non-material in an empirical sense, ala Aristotle, and then there is the position of epiphenomenalism) , I will however concede that I personally believe the two are irreconcilable conceptually, largely because talk of the soul is ultimately incoherent.

The universe must be eternal since a created universe would require a supernatural creator.

AR: Not so. An atheist can quite reasonably believe that natural processes created the universe, and that it may have a finite beginning and ending completely independent of supernatural explanations. ‘Brane theory' is just such one example of a cosmological theory for the origin of the universe that is not god-dependent, and the fact of the accelerating expansion of the universe to what projects to an ultimate end of cold dissipation is neither inconvievable, nor dependent on any notion of a supreme being.

The universe must function completely automatically since anything else would be by definition supernatural.

AR: If by ‘completey automatically’ you mean 'by natural processes and without supernatural interference’, then you are again correct.

Although many atheists dislike being called “religious”, and think of atheism purely in negative terms as a rejection of God, atheism can be called a religion since it is a specific system of beliefs about God and spirituality. It is clearly a new, positive ideology in itself.

AR: Pure blather. Babies are born atheists. You have to teach them to believe in invisible things, like; Zeus, Santa, racism, etc. Atheism requires no specific adherence to a belief ‘system’ (Buddhists are after all, atheists, as are the secular officials of Communist China – yet they have mutually incompatible belief systems neither of which is derived from its atheism). Atheism is defined by the absence of belief, and hence it is the null or neutral position. Religions are collectives of people who share a common faith. Faith is belief in something in the absence of evidence, and religions are groups of people who share the same faith systems and objects.

Atheism, is precisely then NOT a faith, since there is no faith system or object that is common to atheists. We are defined by the absence of religion, and the reliance on other secular methods for exploring the world.

Naturalism, rationalism, materialism, empiricism, skepticism, secular humanism and scientism are virtually synonymous with atheism.

AR: Again, pure nonsense. Each of the above has a specific definition that, while related to some of the others on the list, does not necessarily entail any of them. For example, you can be a hardcore empiricist and not be a secular humanist, or atheist. The first is a process that is used to analyze the world (the empirical method), the second is a political stance based on a philosophy of humanism, the third is a simple philosophical position. As another example, you can be a materialist, and not be guilty of the supposed sins of 'scientism', a concept you'll note that itself has a variety of contradictory definitions.

For you to equate all of these with the broad category of 'atheism' and suggest they are 'virtually synonymous' is either mendacious or incompetent.

Agnosticism is basically a less confrontational name for atheism. It implies accepting the possibility of an impersonal God, although actually agnostics do not take religion in any way seriously and therefore are little different than atheists.

AR: To a point you are correct, agnostics are in fact a sub-set of atheists in that they do not profess any active faith. I suspect that most who label themselves as ‘Agnostics’ would prefer not to agree with the less popular slur of 'atheist'. This is the difference between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ atheism. That is, the difference between having no position of belief ('weak atheism', or agnosticism), and that of believing all god-talk to be incoherent (strong atheism). Colour me a strong atheist.

The primary rational basis for atheism is the following arguments:

- The Argument from Evil. This argument states that if God exists, no small children would ever suffer since God would not permit that injustice. This was first proposed be Epicurus 300 BCE. [This argument is based on the assumption that man has no eternal soul. In fact, if man does possess a soul, then a suffering child may possess the reincarnated soul of a sinner who is justly deserving of punishment.]

AR: Actually the problem of evil is just the best reason to not believe in the Christian God of omni-benevolence, not necessarily the best reason to be an atheist. Take the following premises;

God is All Good (Omnibenevolent)

God created the universe

There is evil in the universe

Since God created the universe, God must have created evil

Therfore, god being ‘all good’ is logically contradictory and incoherent. That is the problem of evil.

- The Argument from Lack of Proof. This argument states that no religion has provided sufficient evidence to prove its claims. In fact, miracles are so unbelievable that it may be virtually impossible to produce sufficient proof to demonstrate that any miracle has ever actually occurred. This was first proposed by David Hume in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” published in 1758. [This argument is based on the assumption that God does not exist. In fact, if God does exist, miracles could easily take place. Just as he created the laws of nature, he can violate them. In fact, we would even expect God at some point in history to identify himself and communicate with mankind.]

AR: I’m unaware of any evidence that would satisfy claims of the miraculous, and given that the evidence of Santa Claus (the weather bureau faithfully announces his arrival on radar every year, the post office take his mail, etc.) is far greater than that of any miracle, I suggest it is reasonable to conclude that there is markedly less evidence for miracles then there is for Santa Claus. Admittedly, the evidence for Santa Claus is exceptionally poor quality evidence as well, but still of higher quality than for miracles. As to the contention that Hume’s argument is predicated on requiring more than the bible’s say so that something happened is necessarily true – you are again correct. He wants something more than mere ‘because the bible says so’, and so should we all.

- The Argument from Fossils. Fossil evidence allegedly proves that the first 34 verses of Genesis are fictional; therefore Judaism, Christianity and Islam are bogus; therefore monotheism and the concept of an afterlife are bogus. This was implied by George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in “The Epochs of Nature” published in 1778. [This argument is based on poor Biblical scholarship. In fact, the Jewish scholars taught 1500 years ago that earlier worlds existed before Adam. The fossils are apparently remnants of them.]

AR: Wow – and now we enter the realm of the weird. Ok, first and foremost, all of the sciences demonstrate that the early accounts of Genesis are fictional – not just the fossil record. Physics, Biology, Anthropology, Chemistry, etc. effectively all reject the biblical account of creation.

However, just because the sciences make Genesis into a metaphor rather than a true account of creation, doesn’t entail that monotheism and the afterlife are bogus.

They are indeed bogus, but not because the fossil record leads us ineluctably to think so. They are bogus because they are intellectually empty constructs.

The primary emotional attraction of atheism is the absence of all sexual restrictions.

AR: HA! I submit the primary emotional attraction of atheism is liberty from theocratic tyranny, the vibrant sex-life is simply a bonus side-effect of not having pre-medieval beliefs regarding the enjoyment of intercourse. Speaking of which, how's that whole hacking off a piece of your sex organ in the name of God working for you?

Atheists claim that their beliefs are different from other religions since they are completely rational and are simply based on pure logic and reason.

AR: I agree. Atheists are firmly part of the 'reality based community'.

Of course, members of many other religions claim that as well.

AR: And as an atheist I am willing to test the logic of my non-belief against their gobbledygook faith talk any day and any time. For every burning bush in your book, for every angel who is accosted by horny Sodomites, I've got a human footprint on the moon. Loaves and fishes? Science has cured Polio. Healing the blind? Please. I'll see your miraculous sight restoration in the bible and raise you with the sight restorations performed by science every single day at your local hospital. It's over. Every day reality has trumped your legend. You want to know why science and modernity have triumphed so resoundingly? It works.

Don't know what I mean? Try going a few months without that eminently modern and thoroughly non-religious invention toilet paper sometime. Just don't sit next to me.

Atheists must contend that although life on earth appears to have been designed, in fact it is merely the result of chance chemical interactions.

AR: Who says ‘life appears to be designed’? No scientist I’ve ever met.

Here’s a thought experiment if you think we are ‘designed’; Why do we have vestigial organs? What is god’s plan for the appendix anyway? In evolutionary language we can discuss the role it played in our past as a way of digesting plant materials – but we long ago lost that ability and the appendix now serves mostly as a means of collecting deadly infections. Or, how about our tonsils? Male nipples? The Coccyx? Wisdom teeth? Etc. etc.

Lastly, if we were designed, why did God use 99% of the design he used for chimpanzees and orangutans with only slight modifications?

Given enough time and space, anything can happen randomly. [The constructive portion of evolution is totally random; natural selection merely is the destructive part of the process which filters out all organisms unable to reproduce.]

AR: Natural Selection is defined here. Just in case you want to know what it means.

They must also assume that although Judaism is a remarkable religion, it is merely the product of some sort of mass brainwashing which occurred about 600 BCE in Palestine during the reign of King Josiah. The Jews at that time for some reason completely and fanatically accepted as true whatever their king told them, however obviously absurd it was.

AR: I can think that you are wrong in your beliefs without believing you are the victim of ‘mass brainwashing’. Though I am pleased to see you at some level are acknowledging the absurdity of them.

Evolution is not a proof of atheism but it is a crucial apology for atheism. It creates a false impression that atheists can explain the existence of life without an intelligent designer. [Many religious people believe in evolution because they have been deceived by atheists into believing that there is overwhelming scientific evidence supporting it. In reality, while there is proof that life on earth is millions of years old and has changed over time, spontaneous evolution from one universal common ancestor is nonsensical and unsupported by any evidence.]

AR: I have bad news for you, it's now a fact that we can explain the origin of man without resorting to any 'intelligent designer', and the evidence is indeed totally overwhelming.

What is nonsensical is your statement in brackets. Evolution is supported by ALL the evidence. There is no field of science that has thrown any doubt into the theory of evolution (indeed they all in their own way, confirmed it), and you simply can’t do modern biology without understanding how evolution impacts it. But let me take specific issue with your contention that ‘spontaneous evolution from one universal common ancestor is nonsensical’, or rather, let me ask you (since it isn’t clear) what exactly is ‘nonsensical’ about it? All life as we know it is based on DNA, which means the building blocks for everything from Mastodons to bananas to Jewish Philosophers is created by following a common alphabet of instructions in a common code. (Perhaps you don't believe in DNA? Or what it entails?)

So, given all that, what is nonsensical about suggesting that all life has at its core an ancient common ancestor in the primordial mulch of our early planet? In fact, it is exactly the kind of hypothesis that is open to falsification or confirmation by evidence, the essence of 'sensible'.

Humanism and utilitarianism are apologies for atheism. They create a false impression that atheists are obligated to follow a Christian-like code of morality. In reality, of course, if there is no eternal, universal lawgiver there can be no eternal, universal law.

AR: This may shock you, but people behaved ‘morally’ long before the Christian church was around. That is to say, moral codes of conduct are common to all civilizations, and peoples, even those societies that are explicitly atheist or secular. Humanism and utilitarianism are merely secular philosophies that have specific ethics. Interestingly, they both provide logical methodologies for arriving at their moral codes – and hence therein lies their appeal, since both (as well as libertarianism, conservatism, Marxism, etc.) seek to find a path to morality independent of the invocation of invisible super-beings.

Speaking of morality and Christianity, was it moral for God to ask Abraham to kill his son? Or for God to bet with Satan on the amount of suffering that Job could endure at the fallen angel's hands and still fear God more than Satan? Is polygamy immoral, and if so, why, since it's biblically prevalent? How about the stoning of adulterers? The biblical support for the keeping of slaves? Seems to me that if these are legitimate moral questions that the bible isn't always on the right side of, morality is distinct from Judaism and Christianity.

If Man is the highest moral authority then each man can fabricate his own rules, which are as legitimate as anyone else’s. An atheist is amoral.

AR: Atheism is not a commitment to total moral relativism. Buddhism is compatible with atheism, but it is by no means an ‘amoral’ philosophy. Likewise, libertarianism, liberalism and a host of other political philosophies satisfy the human need for rational ethical rules that promote a stable society and yet don't rely on supreme punishment or reward for enforcement.

If nature is indeed all there is, nature has no moral preferences.

AR: Atheism is perfectly compatible with saying there are moral preferences. It is perfectly reasonable to believe that ‘killing is wrong’ for secular ethical reasons. Further, there is every evidence that moral faculties are universal to human societies. How did the ancient Greeks arrive at a functioning democracy (albeit limited in scope) with respect for the rights of its citizenry without the benevolent guidance of Christian thinking? Obviously they did so in part because acting morally and abstaining from barbarism isn’t dependent on being a Christian.

An atheist can, and often will, honestly say “I am nice to people because doing so makes me feel good and helps me to be successful.” However he cannot say “I am nice to people because I am morally obligated to do so.” In practice, this is not often too relevant. Most people are ethical because of societal pressure or personal temperament, not fear of God. However on the other hand, active participation in modern Christianity or Judaism does seem to be generally therapeutic and aids many people in leading more peaceful, sober and productive lives.

AR: Says who? The divorce rate for all of us runs about the same. How is Judaism or Christianity ‘generally therapeutic’? Sounds like a placebo effect to me. Anyway, let me say this so we are clear;

“I am an atheist, and I am nice to people because I am morally obligated to do so. Also, I like people in general. Even those who practice bad philosophy'.

See? I just said it.

Higher Biblical Criticism, or the Documentary Hypothesis, is one atheistic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. It assumes the existence of several "mini-Pentateuchs" during the First TempleSecond Temple era. This is a very unbelievable and complicated way to account for a few apparent redundancies and contradictions within the Pentateuch. After all, how did those earlier mini-Pentateuchs suddenly disappear without any trace? Were Jews the victims of national amnesia? I think the trend today is to assume that the Pentateuch was pretty much completely the product of an anonymous scribe in the court of King Josiah and he simply needed a better proofreader. era, which were then combined together into the full Pentateuch in the...

AR: If you say so, but given your record for creating atheistic strawmen to knock down, you’ll forgive me if I will remain doubtful of your conclusions.

Two groups of people seem to include the highest percentages of ideologically committed atheists: scientists and Communists.

AR: I’ll let atheists take credit for the former (science actually works), but not the latter.

Scientists frequently choose their profession because they are atheists to begin with. Atheists believe that nature is all there is and therefore atheists have a natural attraction to science which is the intensive and systematic study of nature. Just like most Talmudic scholars are theists, most scientists are atheists. Scientists have given a great deal of prestige to atheism however atheism is not scientific.

AR: Nothing much I disagree with in the above, except the final sentence. Atheism is compatible with science – perfectly so since science is the practice of methodogical naturalism, specifcally excluding supernatural explanations and searching only for natural ones. If every electricity experiment had to have included considering variables like, Thor's mood, or the proximate distance from Mt. Olympus, no science could ever have been done. Here's the thing, science works - that is produces repeatable and 'sensible' results, precisely because it ignores all the supernatural fluff you want to peddle and concentrates on what is materially testable.

There is in fact nothing atheistic about science itself. Modern science actually strongly supports religion in many ways. Biology demonstrates the complexity of life and therefore supports Intelligent Design Theory.

AR: Pure baloney. The first part, 'Biology demonstrates the complexity of life', is correct. However, there is no evidence anywhere in biology that supports ‘intelligent design’. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Not one paper in biology on the subject by a respected journal. Not one experiment proposed. Nor is there an understanding as to what something that is 'designed' in biology would look like - not even in theory. It is in the end a completely religious argument (not unlike ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ the answer to which by the way is 'all of them'. Probably saved you a few years of study on that one. Your welcome).

Cosmology has discovered the Big Bang, which implies the existence of a supernatural creator.

AR: The Big Bang was deduced first by an astronomer and then later supported by physicists with evidence found in the natural world, not' discovered' by cosmologists. Further, the Big Bang does not necessarily imply a supernatural creator, any more than the opposite case for an eternal universe would necessarily imply one.

Indeed, it specifically does not imply the Christian god as supernatural creator (go back and re-read Genesis – then read any cosmology text on the big bang – you’ll be hard pressed to make the two fit in any meaningful sense).

A greater understanding of creation can lead to a greater love for the Creator. Great skepticism must be used when dealing with scientific proofs of evolution, since scientists are naturally inclined, if not to fabricate evidence, to slant the evidence toward their religious beliefs. [See “Icons of Evolution” by Jonathan Wells for some examples.]

AR: Sure, now I get it, it’s all a conspiracy of scientists.

Let me ask you something else, if you were diagnosed with cancer, would you go see an atheist oncologist, or depend on your local rabbi to pray you to health?

Communists believe that no organizations should be active in society other than the Party and therefore they support atheism.

AR: I’m not sure communists would put it that way, but I’m not interested in defending communism. They are not equitable to atheists. They have in fact, a comprehensive (and flawed) ideology that is secular (you may have heard of it before, its called ‘communism’), but even if all communists were atheists, that doesn’t mean that all atheists are communists. Nor is the presence of a political ideology like communism necessarily incompatible with religious belief, I use the liberation theology of Christian Marxists in South America as an example.

Outside of the scientific community and Communism, atheism is not too popular. Few countries have an atheist\agnostic majority and most have few atheists at all. Because atheists tend to have a low birth rate, it would seem likely that they will remain a small and perhaps shrinking minority.

AR: You wish. Church attendance in North America is still in steep and steady decline. The only churches for which this is not the case are the Southern evangelical churches of the US – who are explicitly cannibalizing other less activist churches for membership. Religion has been on a steady decline of influence throughout Europe as well. Eventually, the evangelical movement will run out of converts willing to tithe themselves to the apocalyptic cool-aid they preach, and a dampening of the general publics religiosity will continue.

Various levels of materialism and skepticism have always existed, especially in ancient Greece, however true, modern atheism is a fairly new religion, which originated in 1770 in Paris. James Thrower in “Western Atheism: a short history” p. 105 to 107 credits Baron D’Holbach as being “probably the first unequivocal professed atheist in the Western Tradition” with the publication of “The System of Nature”, anonymously in London, in 1770. Atheism began gaining wide popularity following the publication of “Origin of Species” in 1859. Atheism is the youngest of the world’s major religions.

AR: Atheism is not a religion. It is the absence of supernatural belief. Go back and re-read your own definition. You got it right the first time.

The rise of modern atheism seems to have been stimulated primarily by three factors:
- increased wealth in Europe, caused by greater trade, exploration and imperialism after about 1500, has meant less need for the comfort of religion
- the intensive study of fossils, beginning about 1780, has convinced many people that the Bible is bogus
- the publication of “Origin of Species” in 1859 convinced many that the teleological argument for God’s existence is incorrect.

AR: I attribute the rise of atheism to something else we philosophers call ‘The enlightenment’. You may have heard of it, though given your predilection for forcing the ‘Origin of Species’ into the picture as an atheist manifesto (it isn’t anything of the kind, but then, I doubt you’ve even read it) I am inclined to think you have chosen to remain ignorant of it.

The popularization of the Internet since about 1995, which includes many websites promoting atheism and promiscuity, would seemingly be a great step forward for the spread of atheism.

AR: Atheism will spread because all faith systems are rotten to their intellectual cores. They contain no ‘truths’ that can be verified, make no evidentiary claims that can possibly be pursued and insist on a host of incoherent claims (bushes that talk while burning, angels, demons, hell, heaven, people rising from the dead, father figures waiting for us in a paradisical afterlife, lakes of fire, etc.)

Sure Atheists get to be more clear-headed about sexuality than Christians do (Onan anyone?), but that isn’t equitable with ‘promiscuity’.

Japan and Scandinavia are cited as successful societies with very high proportions of atheism, however North Korea and Vietnam could be cited as counter examples.

AR: The atheism of Asian countries has a different origin than the atheism of Scandinavian countries. Scandinavian countries are properly thought of as being ‘post-Christian’. Denmark still has Christianity as its official state religion, but in practice the society has evolved to being fiercely secular. In contrast, Japan’s history shows us they have long experience with ‘atheist’ belief systems that are not related to Christianity at all. Buddhism, Confucianism, etc. all influence the Asian countries in ways that are not comparable to the post-Christian secularism of Scandinavia. Further, consider the post-communist atheism of the Czech Republic (where a majority of citizens declare themselves to be atheists, but no longer have any truck with ideological communism), the enforced secularism of Turkey, or the secular multi-culturalism of my own country, Canada. There is no parallel to be drawn between these nations other than their insistence that someone's delusion of an invisible overlord isn’t the best way to determine the supreme law of the land.

Atheism would seem to have a significant negative impact on its adherents and on society when one considers that active participants in modern day Christianity and Judaism exhibit lower levels of criminal behavior, substance abuse, depression and suicide than their secular neighbors. (Orthodox Jews may have the best statistics.)

AR: Now you are just making shit up.

On the positive side, many great advances in modern technology and medicine have been created by atheists. But since modern technology includes many extremely effective weapons systems, some of which threaten the existence of life on earth, its real net value may be questioned.

AR: Question the net value of science the next time you need a root canal. Seriously. Go ahead, you can bitch about the weapons systems but only if you don't go to the dentist.

You can use science to create anaesthetics or nerve gas. Science tells you how to forge iron, and you can hold science responsible for the swords so long as you are giving science all the credit for the plowshares. Do you have clean potable water treated by chemicals to remove parasites where you are? Just wondering.

Since atheists tend to be solitary they do not have many children. This is one of the main reasons for the low birthrate among Caucasians, who seem to be heading gradually toward extinction. For example, Bangladesh has a larger population than Russia.

AR: The fastest growing population of atheists is in India. The largest officially secular country in the world is China. Atheism is not a cultural or religious phenomenon because atheism is common to all cultures as a rebellion against its dogma.

One may generalize that the more atheistic a society is, the more technologically advanced it will tend to be, however also the more unhappy and infertile. The wisest strategy may be to enjoy the social and emotional benefits of religion while at the same time enjoying the technology created by atheists. Many people do just that.

AR: You have hit the nail on the head here, science is good for many things; creating comfort, active economies, creating wealth, curing disease, creating weapons to protect ourselves from our enemies, creating actual knowledge etc. Whereas, religion is good for…making you feel better. Just like Santa Clause does for kiddies. Or what Marx said about the masses and their favourite opiate.

When atheists have full political power, as they did for example in the Soviet Union, they tend to be extremely intolerant of other religions, just as adherents of most religions are when they have total control of the government.

AR: Human nature at its best. 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. Atheists aren’t immune from any moral disease of humanity. That said, Europe, Canada, Australia, represent actively secular tolerant societies, so it's not like secular countries are exactly hellscapes. Compare them to some Abrahamic religious countries you should be so proud of, like say, Iran, or Pakistan where everything is perfectly fine thanks to the imposition of divine law. Or perhaps you prefer that period before the Enlightenment? You know, when the church was the supreme authority, and all knowldge flowed from it? You know, the 'Dark Ages'.

Atheism has its own revered visionary founder, Charles Darwin, and sacred scripture, “Origin of Species” [like the Bible, few read it]. It has its own code of behavior which comes in two flavors – Communism and humanism. There has been an effort to create atheistic congregations, in the Society for Ethical Culture, however most atheists are too self-centered to be part of any society.

AR: Darwin is hardly a beacon of philosophical atheism. He is however, one of the most important thinkers ever, not for any contribution to atheism (which is frankly meager at best), but for his contributions to science (impossible to calculate).

Atheist heroes tend to be; Socrates, Voltaire, Camus, Kierkegaard (an atheist Christian), Nietzsche, Hawking, Dawkins, Sagan, Asimov, Clarke, Dennett, Huxley, Russell, Hume, Flew, Mencken, Mill, the CFI, etc. etc. Darwin is on that list, in part because he provided an expanation that he knew would not be popular with the church on human origins, but his writings on atheism is extremely thin. He is a hero for atheists because of his intellectual honesty in the face of seemingly intractable theocratic unfavour, but not for any teleological coup d'etat.

As evidence, Darwin wrote vastly more about the reproduction habits of snails than he ever did about god or atheism. 'Origin of Species' is not a philosophical text.

Atheism is of great interest to Orthodox Jews because in recent decades, if an Orthodox Jew chooses to convert to another religion, that religion almost invariably is atheism. This is not surprising when one considers that among Caucasians world wide, atheism is rapidly growing today.

AR: in other words, when an Orthodox Jew comes to his intellectual senses and abandons his faith, he tends not to make the same mistake again by jumping to another faith. I call that progress.

In my opinion, atheism is clearly a false religion since, aside from being based on weak arguments, it cannot plausibly account for the existence of the universe, the existence of life or the history of the Jewish people.

AR: Hunh? Since when does atheism have to account for any of that stuff? If you want to discuss what you think is so ‘weak’ about the arguments for atheism I’m all for it. But atheism doesn’t have to spend any energy explaining the life of the Jewish people, the origins of life on earth, or the origin of the universe. The first is a sociological and historical question, the last two are scientific. Atheism is compatible with both history and science, but it is not identical with them.

As with members of any other religion, it is almost impossible to debate with committed atheists. Especially if you are young and single, atheism is fun. Atheism means living a life with fewer rules and atheists will grasp at any excuse to hang on to that. “God made me? No, evolution made me.” “The Torah was given at Sinai? No, King Josiah wrote it.” “Orthodox Jews are morally superior to atheists? No, they are just better at covering up their crimes.” It’s impossible to get beyond the wall of total denial.

AR: As an atheist I can tell you I have no opinion one way or another on the Torah, Mt. Sinai, or King Josiah, nor do I feel the need to commit to one, anymore than I feel the need to declare a favourite among Santa’s reindeer (ok, you got me, it’s Blitzer, truth be told. Once we added the bbq sauce, he was perfect). As for the notion that I hang on to my atheism because ‘there are fewer rules’, there are indeed fewer rules. I’m not bound by dietary restrictions that are nonsensical (as the ‘Pulp Fiction’ reference goes; ‘Pork tastes good, bacon tastes good.’), nor do I feel bound by half of the ten commandments (1-4 and 10 can all go as far as I’m concerned), and the parsimony of my belief system is indeed a strength for me. So I guess I'll agree. Atheism is less complicated than invisible super beings.

Ultimately, it’s a very strange philosophy – believing that all men are merely soulless robots, created spontaneously from simple chemicals (through a gradual process which took a few billion years), functioning automatically until they stop and disintegrate. There is no such thing as choice or personal decision.

AR: I am not a Cartesian dualist (I don’t believe in the soul), but then, spiritual dualism is an incoherent proposition, and one I would happily debate with you. We are not however, mere ‘robots’ as you say. Daniel Dennet (a high functioning atheist if there ever was one) has written extensively about how free will is compatible with atheism and evolution (see his work: ‘Freedom evolves’), so to suggest we atheists are deniers of free will is simply wrong. But let me turn the tables on you with regards to the question of free will.

If God is; omnipotent, and all-knowing (omni-prescient) then, it logically follows that any decision we make, He knew we would make it in advance. All choices we make are therefore predestined by God, and no human free will is possible (we are all simply following God’s plan). Even those who choose atheism are predestined to do so, and God has condemned us knowingly to hell before we were ever born (which also brings us back to the problem of evil). There is nothing conceptually compatible between a supreme being with omnipotence and human free will.

Atheism, on the other hand is predicated on there being no supernatural beings. Hence, we are not predestined to do anything, and are free to make decisions. I submit then that atheism is philosophically compatible with free-will, while theism, is not.

Our “free choice” is merely an illusion. No one is good or evil since all behavior is automatic, not chosen. If someone shoots a hundred children he is no more evil than a tornado or a tsunami; his brain chemistry and environment caused him to do it. Can anyone really believe that without, as Nietzsche did, losing his mind?

AR: You have now openly confused atheism with moral relativism. Not that surprising given the way you have mistakenly characterized atheism throughout your piece. Lastly, Nietzsche lost his mind because he had syphilis, a known material cause for his deteriorating mental state. If you believe in spiritual dualism, then how do you account for the interaction between the physical world (his syphilis) and his ‘mind’? How does the virus affect the spirit world anyway?

I look forward to any response you care to make.



jewish philosopher said...

Very interesting and thank you for the trouble.

I'm just curious. Science works so therefore atheism, the religion of scientists, must be true. However had you lived in ancient Roman, you could just as well have decided that ancient Roman technology works so let's worship Jupiter.

Cameron said...

Very interesting and thank you for the trouble.

AR: You are very welcome.

I'm just curious. Science works so therefore atheism, the religion of scientists, must be true. However had you lived in ancient Roman, you could just as well have decided that ancient Roman technology works so let's worship Jupiter.

AR: Your logic would work, but only if the premise (atheism is the 'religion' of scientists) were true.

However, because your premise is mistaken - atheism is the absence of religion, not a religion in and of itself, let alone 'the religion of scientists', the argument fails.

Science works because it is independent of Jupiter and Christianity, Shiva and Moses, Zoroaster and Venus. It will work the same in Russia under marxists as it does under Japanese Buddhists as it will for frozen Canadians. It will even work if you believe in Christian God, or do not.

Truth exists in the natural world, and science is how it is revealed.


Pantokraterix said...

I'd like to see a list of all weapons makers and their religious affiliations, please.

And while we're at it, how about a study of the Borgia popes? Isn't the pope "infallible"? I can't remember if incest is in the Bible. If it was, then I guess they're off the hook.

I think I'd like to name my daughter Lucrezia.

Red Five said...

Wow - Where does one begin? Well as one lacking in the clearly excessive amount of free time available to AR, the answer is to begin with one or two comments on a portion of this extensive and provocative discussion.

There may well be more important or controversial topics raised in the post, but here is a brief question off the top of my head to get the ball rolling.

If atheism is the absence of belief, how do we know if babies are atheists? We certainly cannot profess to know what their emerging brain wave patterns represent in terms of thought content, espcially as they lack a language construct around which to form said content. But can we say that a baby does not have any inherent belief? Depends perhaps on how one defines belief. Certainly they possess the "belief" that they are hungry, or wet, or tired etc. If by belief, however, we mean to say "faith", do we know with certainty that a growing child, unexposed to any concept of religion, will not come to believe or develop faith in something independently?

More on this later, but another common argument which I'd love to hear AR expound upon - One often hears the atheist challenge the believer to "prove" that God exists. Aside from the fact that the nonexistence of "God" is as you put it, the "null" condition, can one prove that God does not exist? Or conversely, why is it incumbent on the postulator to prove that which is postulated unless one postulates the nonexistence of something. Are we content to say that stating something does not exist requires no "proof", only stating that something does exist requires proof? While we're on the subject of proof, provide proof of the existence of a specific emotion, say "love" - prove that love exists...

Finally (for now), if one believes that the natural and scientific processes of the universe are, in fact, God, do we not agree with one another and argue simply over semantics? You call it natural law, and another calls it God, are those incompatible?

More from the Devil's Advocate (whose advocate??) later...