Arguing with Lawrence about matters that don’t require the use of bunsen burners, the Hubble telescope or integrated calculus, is increasingly proving to be more than a bit sisyphean. The guy might be smart on matters scientific, but on everything else, he’s downright incapable of learning. As others have already written on his inimitable incoherence, I will, in this piece, skip his mistreatment of Kim Davis and Planned Parenthood, and concentrate on his central claim, which is that “all scientists should be militant atheists”.
Lawrence Krauss, as you might recall, is the author of A Universe From Nothing, where he purports to have solved how universes can come from nothing, only to say that ‘nothing’ is actually something, and in fact turns out to be a whole lot of something from which universes can emerge. That book itself is enough evidence that this guy is a hack. I mean, if I sincerely proposed that cars can come from nothing, only to say that by ‘nothing’ I actually meant large production assembly lines, I’ll be put into a mental asylum.
I won’t bother to link to his intellectually sloppy diatribe, you can google that for yourself, but let’s allow him to make his case and see if, like he claims, “all scientists should be militant atheists”.
So far as I can see (and, indeed, one would have to look past Himalayas of play-ground rhetoric) his primary argument for the claim is that science does not — indeed, cannot — have “sacred” ideas, as everything should be open to criticism, thusly somewhat precluding, by fiat, subscription to any religious idea. Therefore holding religious views alongside scientific ones (the case for a religious scientist) is to be cognitively dissonant at such an epic scale as to be laughable and worthy of not only dismissal, but outright derision.
Of course, Lawrence makes no distinctions — and is likely ignorant of the distinctions — between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. A fatal error, as we will see.
Since science is the study of nature, it is by it’s very nature methodologically naturalistic in that it needs to presuppose naturalism to work. That is because in science, for every phenomena under study, the required explanans is a natural one, and this axiomatically rules out the supernatural from the getgo. Again, that is simply how science is done, else it’ll cease to work and render us unable to build upon knowledge already acquired. Because a supernatural explanans, unlike a natural one, wouldn’t be within our ability to understand, let alone control, a scientist needs to find natural causes against which he can test and compare other natural facts about our universe. So, every scientist, to do science, needs to adhere to a strictly naturalistic methodology. That is simply what science requires — that scientists, to put it trivially, use the scientific method.
Lawrence, however, does a little sleight of hand, citing that very requirement and extrapolating it to argue for the philosophical position known as metaphysical naturalism, which is the position that only the natural, or in his case, only the physical, exists. This is, needless to say, illogical, since one simply cannot infer from study of the natural that the supernatural does not exist.
So, his conclusion that ‘metaphysical naturalism’ — atheism — is true, or that it’s a view that scientists ought to hold (making them, of course, atheists) is non sequitur.
Or to spell it out in simpler terms (let’s see if you can immediately spot the illogic): As per Lawrence, belief in naturalism is the logical entailment of presupposing naturalism to do science!
Again, here is what he’s saying, further simplified: To be a scientist, you have to believe science is the only way to describe reality.
Or here, again we can go on and simplify Lawrence’s claim until his logical misstep becomes clear to even the most moronic of individuals:
Scientist = Someone who believes science is the only way to describe reality.
Of course one could be pedantic and point out the self-refuting nature of that statement in that it is a statement that purports to describe reality but isn’t itself knowledge that was acquired through science, but let’s overlook such abstract arguments for now.
So far so good?
It is but incumbent then for us to investigate what it means to hold the view that science is the ‘only way to describe reality’. And I’d say the best way to do this is to look at the nuggets of wisdom these “militant atheist-scientists” impart.
On meaning and purpose:
“the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” — Steven Weinberg, scientist; militant atheist.
“[The world] is physical and purposeless” — Jerry Coyne, scientist; militant atheist.
“DNA just is. And we dance to its music” — Richard Dawkins, scientist; militant atheist.
“Nihilism—even my “nice nihilism” is a public relations nightmare. Most of my fellow travellers think that if the scientific worldview saps morality of its truth, correctness, justification.. They might be right. It’s an empirical matter.” — Alex Rosenberg, Philosopher, Militant Atheist.
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” — Richard Dawkins, scientist; militant atheist.
On freedom of the will:
“Sam Harris says the concept of free will is incoherent. Humans are not free and no sense can be given to the idea that we might be” — Paul Pardi, on (scientist and militant atheist) Sam Harris’ book Free Will.
“..but in the end we are simply federations of molecules, tissues, and neurons whose morphology, physiology, and behavior are determined by interactions between genes and environment..” — Jerry Coyne, scientist; militant atheist.
So, to be a “scientist“, these are, from the horses’ mouth, the logical entailments:
1. The universe is “pointless“, “purposeless“, any meaning we can derive from this “pointless” and “purposeless” universe can only be subjective (“personal” for Jerry Coyne), and ultimately as valid — that is to say, equally as “pointless” — as anyone else’s subjectively derived meaning.
2. We have no free-will — every belief we have and choice we make had been determined by temporally prior states that are essentially traceable to some initial state moments before the big-bang. In other words, it’s all an elaborate kabuki dance, as none of us are free to choose or believe anything.
3. Morality is an illusion; there is no good and evil. These feelings of right and wrong are merely illusory; sentimental predispositions that are the result of our particular evolutionary history.
Yet, suddenly — suddenly! — when it comes to religion, evil suddenly can exist, as long as it’s in the form of religion, of course!
Suddenly, we have purpose; to point out religion is evil.
Suddenly, there are moral absolutes! — religion is absolutely immoral.
And suddenly, meaning can be made to be objective, as the meaning derived from religion is often said by them to be objectively wrong.
And yet, according to Lawrence, we, the indoctrinated sheeple, seem to be afflicted with some debilitating form of cognitive dissonance.
[On evil not existing on naturalism:]
Actually, it does. Just like it does for you. Evil is simply a word you use to describe an action or outcome, such as large amounts of suffering. Just like a theist, we can recognize this suffering and label it.
[On morality as an evolutionary bi-product:]
I don’t understand why theists are so scared of this prospect – the idea that we are responsible for our own behavior and as a society or civilization or species, we decide what is ethical and unethical. If you looked around, you’d see this is already the case, since each country varies somewhat or in some cases, wildly in what they deem lawful.
Religious people subjectively pick and choose what they find to be evil or not in their respective holy books. One Christian might point to Leviticus and say gays are abominations, while another points out that Jesus said to Love your neighbor.
It’s okay, you can think for yourself. I know it seems easier to wish it was all written down in a book, but even that book is written by other human beings who are also writing what they found to be distasteful. They just happened to tell you that their societal or personal rules were backed by an almighty God and you bought it.
On the one hand soda fizzes, on the other, innocent people are killed. You might call the latter “evil”, but on naturalism, there is no ontological difference between the two, they are two ontologically indistinct events that merely have, as you say, different labels.
You might personally find one of those confluence of atoms distasteful. Someone else might not. If naturalism were true, the both of you might as well be arguing about which between chocolate or vanilla is tastier. Because, in the end, it’s merely your opinion that one particular atomical arrangement is better than the other. So the difference between you and someone else who prefers the other arrangement of atoms reduces to merely one of taste. Making every single one of your moral claims extend no farther than yourself.
Which invariably means that you objectively have no business telling others what they should or should not do. Or you could, if you want to, but with the qualification that anyone else’s opinion on the matter is as valid as yours.
And this is why it’s a bit amusing you think your “we decide what’s ethical and unethical” bit is an adequate and clever response. Since with this, you merely rebut your own argument in a manner you did not anticipate: Because if that is the case, then what the hell are you complaining about?
All those immoral things Christians do of which you speak are merely what they’ve decided was ethical. Why is their ethical decisions any less valid than yours when you admit all moral claims are merely what we “pick and choose” and “what we decide”? And if it’s just a matter of us “deciding what’s ethical and unethical”, then morality is simply a case of might makes right, in which case who are we to say someone like Chairman Mao, say, was doing it wrong? After all, he has simply “decided what’s ethical and unethical”.
That above is an atheist catchphrase that seems to never die, despite that it can very easily be demonstrated to be missing the salient point.
We’re not suggesting that people will be raping and pillaging with wild abandon the moment theistic ideas are jettisoned. Rather, we are pointing out the contradiction between what they say and what they believe.
They say they reject theism because of the lack of evidence. They believe absence of evidence is evidence of absence because of a prior metaphysical commitment to naturalism. In fact most intellectual atheists — or the more reflective of them, at least — admittedly subscribe to a naturalism of one sort or another.
Now, of course, with respect to the evidence for theism, I disagree, and that above is fine as far as it goes.
Until they deign to educate us on the immorality of our beliefs. Because the problem is that on naturalism, which is on which their atheism is predicated, good and evil simply do not exist.
What a naturalist sees as evil is really just a confluence of atoms that he happens to find personally distasteful. And he happens to find them personally distasteful because he’s been hardwired by evolution to do so, viz. his feelings of personal distaste, or any opinion he may have on what or what is not moral for that matter, are merely dispositions he had inherited that are the residue of an evolutionary history.
In other words, they are illusory.
He only has these set of moral opinions because they are, by mere chance, what made his ancestors, on the aggregate, survive. It thusly becomes not an objective fact of reality that, say, murdering babies for fun is wrong. In fact we can imagine an alien race having evolved in a way that would make them think that that’s a completely moral thing to do. Or a more terrestrial example would be the members of ISIS, say, who would opine to be moral that which we find immoral. And who are we to say they are wrong? Who are we to say they are evil? After all, these “evil” people are merely acting in accordance with how the atoms that comprise them happen to be arranged, and who, given naturalism, can say that one particular confluence of atoms is to be preferred over another?
So when an atheist-naturalist natters on about the ‘evils of religion’, it is a matter of logic that he might as well be nattering on about his choice of drapery, or about his choice of textile, or about the superiority of vanilla over chocolate. Because religion, or anything else for that matter, cannot possibly be evil in a universe where evil does not exist.
Just saw some guy at the combox of some obscure blog arguing that religion is more dangerous than atheism because — get this! — nobody kills in the name of atheism! The guy thusly proceeded to commit intellectual seppuku then and there by claiming that if anything, Stallin’s mass murder had more of a religious tonality to it, since Stallin was seen by everyone around him to be godlike! So it’s actually an example of religion doing evil! Funny that. Echoing, of course, an argument from the Hitch — although I heard the Hitch say it of Kim Jong Ill not Stallin, but tomeyto tomahto.
If we needed any more evidence that gnu-atheists will readily eschew reason in favor of their own ideological dogmas, this argument from the Hitch, and by extension, the mid-wits that have been smugly bandying it about, will be as good as any. It’s even demonstrably true that the knowledge these people have of that which they expend great effort to criticize (Christianity) barely even rises to the level of Narnia.
Stallin’s drenching of the Russian landscape with the blood of millions can only be because he wanted power, an end he happily worked towards by exploiting the fact that he was seen by everyone as some god-figure — therefore, checkmate, religion! Checkmate I say!
..is what they keep saying. The silly, silly fools.
While the premise is true, the conclusion is not, and is in fact silly, if not outright stupid.
Stallin (Mao, or even Hitler) purged religion because he knew he could only be seen as a god to everyone else if there was none other that existed. Because the first step to becoming god is to get rid of him — Stallin, Hitler and Mao, were cognizant of this. So his atheism can hardly be said to be incidental.
It’s somewhat tangential to the issue, but it’s also quite amusing how easily gnus are able to channel Sherlock when it comes to someone like Breivik, connecting in the most inane and acrobatic way possible his Christianity to his mass-murder. Yet, like what happened recently, when it’s an atheist who does the murdering, suddenly they’re all unable and/or unwilling to either connect the dots or acknowledge there are any dots to connect in the first place.
Of course atheism by itself isn’t sufficient to drive someone to murder, which is why the often-used canard is that nobody kills in the name of atheism. And this is true — for who could kill in the name of a belief that god doesn’t exist? I submit nobody can. However, the belief on which someone’s atheism might be predicated could, as it were, lead someone to think human life to be worth bupkis. And that this is so unfathomable for gnu-atheists is what is so mind-boggling. Philosophically reflective atheists of the past like Nietzsche, Camus and Voltaire knew, and often wrote about, the dark implications of denying that objective moral standards exist, which can only be had on some form of theism. But the intellectual feather-weights of today, who annoyingly (and ironically) refer to themselves as ‘brights’, believe removing religion will turn the world into a land of bunnies and candy.
And they call us superstitious!
Picture, if you will, someone who believes, as Richard Dawkins does, that there is no good, and there is no evil, and that we are all merely bags of flesh who, in Dick’s own words, ‘dance to it’s [DNA’s] music.’
Now, do you think that someone who literally believes all that can somehow manage to believe human life to be worth more than jackshit?!
Unfortunately, it is not the God of classical theism but a demiurge that we find modern atheists most concerned with. A demiurge would not be the source of all existence, but merely a cosmic craftsman, or, as it’s more conventionally understood, a being — an intelligent designer — simply endowed with superhuman powers not unlike the characters inhabiting comicbooks and theaters.
The analogies skeptics use give them away. This god, to them, is no different from the tooth fairy, father christmas, zeus, or any of the other thousands of gods now in the dustbin of history. None of them seem to understand, much less have written about, the God as understood from the scholastic age to Aquinas. And writers like Dawkins, Sam Harris and the Hitch, can only reasonably claim to have laid out arguments against a demiurge, a cosmic and malevolent despot, who has not a whit in common to the God of Aristotle.
Intelligent people rightly find illogical the proposition that such a being (or beings) exists. And the problem is that both the religious and the skeptic have little time to parse through the metaphysical obscurities — or, as Dennet would say, “deepities” — of theology in order to get a better conceptual framework with which to view God. Unsurprisingly they are left ill-prepared to see Him as nothing more than a divine tinkerer, or, more famously, as Paley’s watchmaker. This is why we often see a theology that is more akin to that of Pat Robertson and Kirk Cameron than to that of Alvin Plantinga or Edward Feser; this is why we see intelligent design theorists claiming that irreducible complexity points to divine handiwork; this is why we see Christians and skeptics alike who think Darwin’s theory to be theism’s coup de grace.
The ill-informed religious laymen will keep providing the skeptics with strawmen to burn down, it seems.
I fear it will take a lot to upset this cycle of attack and defense of these army of strawmen. Especially in this age of twitter and facebook, where information must be bite-sized, and therefore almost always ephemeral and useless, to be worth listening to. Scarcely anyone has the time, nor even the aptitude or desire, to read theological treatises on religion that expound on the God of the old scolastics. While much of the abled seem content to resigning themselves to their ivory towers.
I have no doubt that we Christians are at the losing end of a cultural war. And I fear that in a post-Christian era, once the illogic of humanism becomes apparent (since a humanism predicated on naturalism needs to eschew the annoyingly amorphous concept of objective morality, without which the whole humanistic enterprise can be said to be floating on thin air) morality will be Nietzschean in its manifestations.
Which is to say the shit will hit the fan.
Can we, as Christians, really even doubt this? — it has all been written.
But hope springs anew, since it has also been written that every knee shall bow. So perhaps even the most Dawkinsian will, at some point — and whether he desired it or not — bend.
So, perhaps, a less charitable, smug, seemingly juvenile yet inarguably fitting response to the skeptic would be to say, in the words of Vox Day:
‘You can do it now, or you can do it later. But bow, you will.’
People often think that if someone — a scientist, perhaps — is able to adequately explain the manner by which particular mental states occur in the brain, then they’ve successfully called into question whether those mental states are objectively what we suppose them to be, if not outright proven they aren’t. They can’t be real, apparently, because they were the result of such and such neurons firing, or because of such and such materialistic explanations of how similar mental states occur. This is wrong-headed, of course, as it commits the genetic fallacy. Needless to say, what makes it doubly annoying is the fact that the people who make these logical fallacies claim to have lost their faith as a result of ‘rigorous thinking’.
So this atheist ex-pastor who wrote this blog post a friend of mine shared on fb is claiming, among other things, that the experience of the holy spirit — any ‘God experience,’ in fact — is merely a series of neurological events in the brain that’s been set off by some manner of hypnosis. This makes him conclude that it’s all superstitious foolery. I mean, it can’t be real — how can it be? — since we’ve got an adequate, step-by-step, causal account (from the words spoken by the evangelist to the very experience itself of the audience member) of how the experience came to be.
The problem here is that I can use that same kind reductionism and tell this guy he doesn’t actually love anyone; “Look, you don’t really love your wife — those are just the neurons firing!”
“Also, no, you’re not hungry — that is, again, just these other set of neurons firing!”
And reductio ad absurdum.
Of course, the more reflective will say, ah, but those neurons firing just is what we call love. Or those other neurons firing just is what we call hunger. But so can the silly chap who says he just experienced the holy spirit; he can likewise say that those neurons firing just is what happens when you experience the holy spirit!
I don’t even for one nano-second doubt that most, if not the overwhelming majority, of these claims to have experienced the holy spirit are nothing but a result of some kind of group hypnosis. I myself am skeptical of a lot of these claims. I think evangelists like Benny Hinn are frauds, and the people epileptically flailing-about around his pulpit have been duped, pretty much in the covert manner this ex-pastor describes. But to claim to have ‘debunked’ all ‘God experiences’ because you were able to give an account of how other experiences that can be mistaken for the genuine one can occur is just shoddy reasoning. Nobody but the sufficiently unintelligent is of the mind that people aren’t capable of being misled. And that people can be misled is the trite conclusion of this ex-pastor’s kilometric blog post.
My agnostic friend Andy, whom I’ve informally debated recently regarding matters of religion, is a mensch.
Here’s a nice article of his that I’ve read where, I’m happy to say in small part because of our previous discussions, he seems to have more than slightly altered his view on Christians.
It’s definitely worth a read:
The camper is content to select one side and entrench himself there, but the true seeker does not allow himself to be trapped, and is willing to reconsider and doubt whatever is his current position. A true seeker is not attached to labels but is relentless in his pursuit of truth. In the end, I do not aim to be a staunch defender of theism, atheism, agnosticism or whatever. I only aim for the truth, whatever it is, and wherever it may bring me.
It’ll be a long-shot, but hopefully, in a few years time, Andy will be writing a testimony akin to that of sci-fi author John C Wright, below:
Rest assured, I take the logical process of philosophy very seriously, and I am impatient with anyone who is not a rigorous and trained thinker. Reason is the tool men use to determine if their statements about reality are valid: there is no other. Those who do not or cannot reason are little better than slaves, because their lives are controlled by the ideas of other men, ideas they have not examined.
To my surprise and alarm, I found that, step by step, logic drove me to conclusions no modern philosophy shared, but only this ancient and (as I saw it then) corrupt and superstitious foolery called the Church. Each time I followed the argument fearlessly where it lead, it kept leading me, one remorseless rational step at a time, to a position the Church had been maintaining for more than a thousand years. That haunted me.
Second, I began to notice how shallow, either simply optimistic or simply pessimistic, other philosophies and views of life were.
The public conduct of my fellow atheists was so lacking in sobriety and gravity that I began to wonder why, if we atheists had a hammerlock on truth, so much of what we said was pointless or naive. I remember listening to a fellow atheist telling me how wonderful the world would be once religion was swept into the dustbin of history, and I realized the chap knew nothing about history. If atheism solved all human woe, then the Soviet Union would have been an empire of joy and dancing bunnies, instead of the land of corpses.
I would listen to my fellow atheists, and they would sound as innocent of any notion of what real human life was like as the Man from Mars who has never met human beings or even heard clear rumors of them. Then I would read something written by Christian men of letters, Tolkien, Lewis, or G.K. Chesterton, and see a solid understanding of the joys and woes of human life. They were mature men.
I would look at the rigorous logic of St. Thomas Aquinas, the complexity and thoroughness of his reasoning, and compare that to the scattered and mentally incoherent sentimentality of some poseur like Nietzsche or Sartre. I can tell the difference between a rigorous argument and shrill psychological flatulence. I can see the difference between a dwarf and a giant. (bit.ly/1kXSEI6)
Vocal new atheist critic of religion, Steven Pinker, in his article Why Is There
“Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its
cultural institutions has made us nobler. In fact, our ancestors were far more
violent than we are today.”
In Guangdong province, a child was run over twice and was subsequently ignored by dozens of passers-by until an unlikely hero in the form a 57-year-old trash- picker finally stopped to help. (See video here)
This staggeringly horrific incident should be a reminder to all of us to take seriously the iniquity of human nature, and to doubt the naively optimistic claims of people like Steven Pinker who are committed to the belief in the inevitability of society’s moral progress.
But this is, in the end, the only recourse for the naturalist atheist who can’t have faith in God; he must have faith in man. Yet, if there’s anything of value at all to take from history, and from books like Golding’s Lord Of The Flies, it’s that one must always, by default, adopt a more inauspicious view of human nature.