Atheism Central for Secondary Schools
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"Creation is not taking place now, so far as can be observed. Therefore, it was accomplished sometime in the past, if at all, and thus is inaccessible to the scientific method."
"It is impossible to devise a scientific experiment to describe the creation process, or even to ascertain whether such a process can take place. The Creator does not create at the whim of a scientist."
Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism, (General edition, second edition, El Cajon, CA: Master, 1985), p. 5
Henry M. Morris was right about science but for the wrong reasons- see this page.
"The quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behavior at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could say: 'The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.' The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE."
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
"Throughout the 1970s I had been mainly studying black holes, but in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went round the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference - the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!"
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
Of course, Stephen Hawking may be wrong.
"We have shown that the substance and object of religion is altogether human; we have shown that divine wisdom is human wisdom; that the secret of theology is anthropology..."
Ludwig Feuerbach "The essence of Christianity"
"It struck me suddenly that to be such a deeply conscious aware human being in life and then to "not exist" is a far more powerful thing than an afterlife or anything God could do..."
Can we prove God does not exist?
"There are actually two ways to prove the non-existence of something. One way is to prove that it cannot exist because it leads to contradictions (e.g., square circles, married bachelors, etc.). The other way is, in the words of Keith Parsons, "by carefully looking and seeing." This is how we can know that such things as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Abimonable Snowman, etc. do not exist."
Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Is a Proof of the Non-Existence of a God Even Possible?"
"The most decisive refutation of Adler's claim that 'negative existential propositions cannot be proven' is the fact that the claim that 'negative existential propositions cannot be proven' is itself a negative existential proposition. If negative existential propositions cannot be proven, then that implies there are no proofs for negative existential propositions. But the claim that 'there are no proofs for negative existential propositions' is itself a negative existential proposition."
Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Is a Proof of the Non-Existence of a God Even Possible?"
So what is a negative existential proposition? It is simply proving that something is not so. It is like saying that it is impossible to prove that there are no pixies at the end of my garden because you can provide no evidence to show that they are not there when no-one is looking etc. This contrasts with the relative ease with which we can prove something is so. It is easy for you to prove that you are reading these words, for example.
"I think that in philosophical strictness at the level where one doubts the existence of material objects and holds that the world may have existed for only five minutes, I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptic orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely."
"Justifying the claim that something does not exist is not quite the same as proving or having arguments that it doesn't, but it is what we are talking about. That is, we need not have a proof that God does not exist in order to justify atheism. Atheism is obligatory in the absence of any evidence for God's existence."
Michael Scriven, "God and Reason" Critiques of God (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1997).
To answer this question I shall start with Leibniz from whom I shall be borrowing a key idea before striking out on my own (or perhaps just on well-trodden ground where many have been before!).
Leibniz was born in Leipzig in 1646 and died in Hanover in 1716. His philosophy has been very influential. He spent most of his life at Hanover in the service of successive Dukes, one of whom became King George I of England. Leibniz was a courtier and diplomat and had a wide variety of interests and abilities including a spot of brilliant philosophy he seems to have just jotted down in his spare time.
Leibniz said there are two types of statements - those which are necessarily true and those which are not necessarily true.
Likewise there are two types of questions (Leibniz did not say this):
"Why do we exist?" is in the 'necessarily foolish' category. Remember the old dictum: "Ask a silly question and get a silly answer."
Necessarily foolish questions cannot produce true answers. Not necessarily foolish questions might produce true answers.
But we haven't finished yet. We have to demonstrate that "Why do we exist?" is in the 'necessarily foolish' category.
As is the case with many words and grammatical constructions the question why? has more than one meaning. Why? is used to ask about the cause of something or it is used to ask about the motive for something and it is often used for a bit of both. So when we ask the question 'Why do we exist?' which question are we asking?
Well, we can't know which question why has been asked without looking at the context and discovering what kind of answer is expected. It's not always that easy to decide!
Why is the sun hot?
When we ask a question of this kind we are normally concerned with causes which stem from the laws of physics. We expect an astrophysicist to give us an answer - or at least tell us he has an answer that we cannot understand!
Why are you late?
This question is also normally concerned with causes. It might produce an answer such as: 'I had to wait a long time for a bus.' However, if the question was really intended to mean 'Why are you late again?' we would understand that motives were being looked at and a causal explanation would not be accepted. In this case a better answer would be 'I'm sorry I'm late - I shall try to improve my attitude towards punctuality.'
Why did he do that?
This question is clearly connected with motive but is also susceptible to cause e.g., 'He had an excess of alcohol in his blood.'
Let's go back to the first question again:
Why is the sun hot?
Nowadays we are content to leave answers to this type of question to the astrophysicists - confining ourselves to the occasional program about astronomy on TV. This is because we know that questions of this kind are susceptible to causal explanations. But in the days before science this was not so (presumably this helps explain why the meaning of the word 'why' - which predates modern thinking - is blurred between two definitions). A causal explanation could not be imagined and so a motive was looked for which requires belief in a Creator(s). If we believe in god(s) questions of this kind are imbued with a sense of motive and produce the answer 'Because God wanted it that way.' This is why science is seen to be eating away at religion.
It is anyway the case that human beings in general suffer from a kind of paranoia - tending to think that events around them are connected with them in some way. My favourite example is in a children's book. The story is about a lonely owl who is grateful to the moon for following him everywhere he goes. Think about it! The moon really does follow you wherever you go! Now you have a friend too!
We can easily see how cause and motive have been confused by the owl because he sees the world from his own self-centred point of view and does not understand why the moon appears to follow him. He thinks he is the centre of the universe and if something happens to him it must have a reason. (This viewpoint is very common in religion, for example when something bad happens it must be 'God's punishment.') When the owl's understanding of causes is limited this reason takes the form of a motive. The world around him has an emotional impact on him and so he looks for an emotional cause (a motive) for whatever he cannot understand.
In this way hurricanes, earthquakes, car accidents etc. are seen as 'God's Will.' (Motive). To give it a historical perspective - Constantine, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, became a convert to Christianity because he thought the Christian god helped him win a battle. This is definitely self-centred and shows a manner of thought that looks at the world much more in terms of motives rather than causes.
So the question 'Why do we exist? is really an emotional question expecting an emotional answer. It does not make sense to ask emotional questions about factual things so the question is not a reasonable one in the same way that it is unreasonable to ask why cats are not dogs. This means that any answer will necessarily be false because the question is necessarily foolish (see also above). This is a related theme: Where do you think that evil comes from?
For the atheist the existence of the universe is motive-free. Take away the motive and you take away the god(s).
See also What is the answer to the causative question Why does the universe exist? below.
Is there a counterargument to this?
Inevitably there is. Essentially it requires God's Will to be involved in everything that happens in the universe. Every vibration of every molecule is the result of god's will for which he has an unknown motive. Then every question why? becomes a question of motive and not a question of cause.
This is a lot to swallow, even for a theist and puts up some intractable problems.
1. If everything is God's Will right and wrong (morality) disappear entirely and we find ourselves with a universe which is as neutral to human subjectivity as is the atheist one (See: Where do you think that evil comes from?). If I do a bad thing it is god's will just as much as if I had done a good thing. It is still possible to remain a theist in this situation (e.g., by believing in an uncaring or even an evil god) but in Superman and Clark Kent I discuss some of the reasons for religions being otherwise.
2. Theists find themselves having to modify the impact of God's Will on the universe and they do this by distributing the motive for events (god's will) in two directions:
3. Theists' claim that god is omnipotent is hard to maintain in these circumstances. The only answer given is that how this is done is a mystery which we, as mere human beings, could never hope to understand. Of course, if we were made in god's own image and likeness god must have made us with one hand tied behind his back, or we would be able to understand such things. (See future article 'Is god rational? coming later this year). Certainly, the theist claim cannot be based on rationality so no motive can be given to the existence of the universe on rational grounds.
The existence or non-existence of the universe is a factual thing. If there were no universe we could ask why there was not with equal legitimacy. It would not be susceptible to a scientific explanation but nor would it be explicable in terms of motive. (Science can only explain the universe in terms of cause and effect so it cannot explain a first cause. But there may be no need to explain a first cause: see Stephen Hawking, 'A Brief History of Time' and quotes opposite.)
Note: The Moslem religion teaches that monkeys are reincarnated men who are being punished for living evil lives - so perhaps this religion would allow monkeys free will.
What is the answer to the causative question Why does the universe exist?
Stephen hawkin suggests that there is no need to look for a first cause (see quotaions opposite), but even if we do need to find a first cause - is this a problem? I do not think so.
At some stage (if not all stages) the universe must involve the existence of diverse phenomena (if not all phenomena) which just 'are.' When a meteorite collides with the Earth it is because both objects are at the same place at the same time. Although this coincidence can be explained (or potentially explained) by science ultimately they collide because they 'just are' at the same place at the same time in the same way that other objects 'just aren't.' The universe has no sense of direction from beginning to end (or 'round in circles' if Hawkins is right). The universe is not constructed that way - it is chaotic - and things could easily have been different without breaking any of the laws of science.
We can accept that this is the case without invoking Divine Intervention. In the same way the causative question Why does the universe exist? can be answered satisfactorily with the answer Because it does.
If the universe existed without ourselves in it we could ask Why do we not exist? but I expect we would feel silly for doing so because we do exist and can't reasonably ask the question. At the same time we can hardly protest at our existence in a universe in which we are capable of existing - it's not such an improbable thing.
Does the mind exist independently of the universe?
This idea was developed by Descartes (amongst others) who somehow managed to get from this point to prove that god exists - hence its inclusion in the discussion here.
A number of prominent thinkers seem to have thought of the possibility that perhaps the universe doesn't really exist at all and that the mind is the only reality. They can seem to be right. The only reality for a drug addict may be the world he inhabits while under the influence of the drug - but reality does catch up in the end. It is true that perception is the result of a mental process in the way that these words exist in your mind before you read them - making your perception of their meaning possible.
Our ability to discover reality has many parrallels with the process of learning language (built on our genetic heritage) during which we gradually acquire agreement (with varying degrees of accuracy) between the language world in our heads and the language world that surrounds us - enabling us to interpret what is being said, and to respond to it. In other words we discover reality by interacting with it using our mental faculties.
Descartes defined the situation when he proposed the statement 'I think therefore I am.' He felt the only thing he could be sure of was that he existed - everything else could just be the product of his mind. Descartes did not say 'The universe provides me with a context in which to think therefore I am.' Without the universe Descartes would have been unable to think so his conclusion was incorrect. After all we do know that the reality of the universe finally caught up with him becasue he is dead. We might suppose that this and all the other things that we know are just the product of our imaginations but might suspect this makes us a good deal brainier than we thought we were - just think of all that maths we learned at school! What Descartes should more properly have concluded is 'I think therefore I know that I am' as opposed to a stone that cannot think and therefore does not know that it exists.
The presence of the mind is a natural consequence of the processes of the universe. It is only the fact that we think and imagine ourselves to be wonderfully at the centre of the universe that we imagine that there is something special about it. Historically, we have been at great pains to insist that animals cannot think or experience consciousness (Eugene Marais writing in 'The Soul of the Ape' suggested a fascinating alternative theory back before WW2). We have been predisposed to deny the existence of thought in animals because this poses a threat to the special status we give ourselves.
Is there something special about the mind? No! And we can hardly be surprised that we live in a universe that produces the capacity for thought because we can think.
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