Atheist Objections


#1

Hello All,

A while back I started a thread concerning the book Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith, I think it got deleted after the servers went down. It has been a year since I read this book, which caused me severe doubt and spiritual turmoil, and I have grown by leaps and bounds since then. I have developed a deep love of Philosophy have studied it a lot closer than ever before. At this point, my studies have made it clear to me that Smith’s book is full of problems on various fronts. Not least of which is the charicature of the First Cause argument. Though there are still points where I could use some further enlightenment. So I’d appreciate anyone with background in Philosophy or Theology to comment on the following objections.

  1. Natural Theology: Smith asserts the following, “To posit the supernatural explains nothing; it merely asserts the futility of explanation…For the atheist, the universe-the totality of existence-is a metaphysical primary and, as such, cannot require an explanation. The natural, knowable universe provides the context in which all explanations are possible, so to demand an exlanation for the universe itself is epistemelogically absurd…Man cannot explain the existence of nature, because any attempted explanation logically presupposes the existence of nature. If removed from the framework of the natural universe, the concept of explanationis stripped of meaning. The universe does not exist for a reason at all; it simply exists…All arguments of natural theology fail, and though they vary in details, they fail for the same basic reason. The structure of each argument entails an inference from the natural to the supernatural-which, in terms of human knowledge, means an inference from the k nowable to the unkowable…Naturalism has the priority over supernaturalism, not because it is the more economical of two explanations, but because it is the only framework in which explanation is possible…the contest between naturalism and supernaturalism is not a battle between two rival modes of explanation, in which naturalism is selected because it is a better or more economical mode of explanation. Rather, naturalism is selected because it is the only possible method of explanation. Naturalism is the only context in which the concept of explanation has meaning.”

  2. Design: Smith further states: "The crux of the teleological argument-and its fundamental error-lies in the assumption that order presupposes concious design (where “order” refers to the regularity in nature). This is demonstrably false. It is true that order exists in the universe, that there is regularity in nature, that entities will behave in the same way under the same circumstances-but it is not valid to infer from this the existence of any master designer. On the contrary, order is simply the manifestation of causality, and causality is a derivative, a logical corollary, of the Law of Identity. To exist is to exist as something, and to be something is to possess specific, determinate characteristics. In other words, every existing thing has identity: it is what it is and not something else. To say that something has determinate characteristics is to say that it has a limited nature, and these limits necessarily restrict its range of possible actions. The nature of an enity determines what it can do in a given set of circumstances…It is a mistake to confuse “order” with “design.” If there is design in nature, there must be a designer, but the same is not true of order. Order does not presuppose an orderer; it is simply entailed by the nature of existence itself…Once we accept the fact of existence, we must also accept the fact that things are what they are (identity), and that they behave as they do in virtue of what they are (causality). The theists choice between chance and design is a false alternative. Because the order of nature is not the result of planning, it does not follow that it is the consequence of mere “chance.” Metaphysically speaking, there is no such tning as “chance.” Occurences do not “just happen” inexplicably, without causes. We speak of “chance” when we are unaware of all relavent factors…The concept of chance is epistemological, not metaphysical. The real alternative facing us in design in the design argument is between natural necessity and supernatural caprice. According to the naturalist, the universe exhibits order because order is one aspect of existence; the two are inseperable.

I realize these selections are a bit dense, but they are some of his more reasonable objections. If anyone can comment on these, or perhaps those who’ve read the whole book can provide some assistence. :coffeeread:


#2

All explanations end somewhere. If you are a materialist then ultimately you’ve got to say your fundamental particles, whatever they are, “just are”. If you are a theist then you end in a being who has always existed, always will exist, and must necessarily exist. However there can be lazy supernatural explanations.

  1. Design: Smith further states: "The crux of the teleological argument-and its fundamental error-lies in the assumption that order presupposes concious design (where “order” refers to the regularity in nature). This is demonstrably false.

That’s a good argument against “Natural theology” and some modern brands of creationism. St Auguustine sorted all this out back in the fifth century when he scolded the literalists of his day for insisting on a six-day creation. “Meaning” supposes conscious intent. If you assert that life has “meaning” then you would normally presume an intelligent creator. If you assert that it doesn’t then fair enough, but there are implications.


#3
  1. there’s little to comment on here, except to note that he’s just stipulating that natural explanations are the only possible kind. why should anyone believe that? similarly, he’s just wrong that any explanation of X presupposes the existence of X; but even if he wasn’t, how would that in any way logically preclude an explanation of X’s existence?

  2. order may not be the same thing as design, but a sufficient degree of order is good evidence of design. like the order in the computer in front of me.


#4

The first point strikes me as deeply confused. You can show this with extreme hypotheticals. It’s easy to imagine some irrefutable evidence for supernatural theism – imagine the astronomers point their telescopes to some heretofore uncharted patch of the sky and discover a stellar formation spelling out, in perfect calligraphy, the full text of the Bible. Or make up whatever scenario you want that would be unimpeachable, crystal clear evidence. Any reasonable person would conclude, if presented with such a scenario, that this would constitute overwhelming evidence for the existence of a supernatural sphere. Yet once one accepts this point in the abstract, the argument presented in your quote collapses. Now we see that everything turns on the nature of the available evidence and the quote’s effort to dismiss the posibility of natural evidence for the supernatural on the ground that it inherently “explains nothing” is simply incorrect. And I think there are, in fact, excellent reasons to infer supernatural agency from facts of the universe (such as the fine-tuning of the physical constants, etc.).

I would offer a response to the second point as well, but I honestly can’t follow what the author is driving at there.

Best regards,

CThomas


#5

I pretty much agree with what everyone else has written. Just a couple more comments:

First paragraph: is just wrong. Arguing from the natural to the supernatural does not mean from the knowable to the unknowable; it means from the known, physically observed to the inferred non-physical. We do the same thing all the time when we infer the existence of minds in other people, based on our observations. Inferring the existence of other people’s minds outside our own is a type of implicit cosmological argument. Inferring the existence of a non-physical Creator from observation of the physical creation is similar, but on a larger scale. To be able to logically infer the existence of something makes it “knowable,” not unknowable.

Second paragraph: I think he has a point if this is applied, for example, to Paley’s “design” argument. But Aquinas’s fifth proof is a teleological argument, not a design argument; they are not the same thing, as he seems to assert here. Aquinas does not argue for “design” in nature; he argues for an intelligence behind nature because of the observed ends and purposes (teleology) in non-intelligent nature.

Third paragraph: seems to be just a statement of faith in materialism. If description of quantum particles turns out to be accurate, I’m not sure he even has a scientific point anymore. If it turns out not to be accurate, it won’t matter much to the Christian, since we never thought metaphysical freedom was based on particle activity, anyway. :slight_smile: In other words, Christians believe that all events DO have a cause—it’s just that in some cases, the “cause” is the free, uncaused choice of the acting agent. That’s pretty close to some events happening “without cause,” in Smith’s phrase.


#6

Yes, it seems this is the only fantastic leap of logic which Smith is not willing to make.

Peace,
+N


#7

Hello All,

I just wanted to clarify what I think Smith is trying to say, which gives me a bit of trouble. First, in terms of Natural Theology, it is self defeating, if not self-contradictory, to demand an explanation for nature since nature is our only point of reference for explaning anything.

Secondly, the order and regularity of the Universe are necessary for an explanation of anything. The Law of Identity requires that things have determinate characteristics in order to identify them, thus explain them. If order did not exist, then nothing would be explainable, and thus unintelligable/unkowable. Theistic claims that the order in the Universe requires an orderer “begs the question” of that the order requires explanation, which it cannot since the order itself is necessary for an explanation to be possible.

These seem to be good points that raise doubts as to the validity of Natrual Theology and Teleology/Design.


#8

I’ll apologize in advance because I haven’t got a good answer for you, though I’d like to. If its worth anything, I think the path you’re on is a good one; what I mean is I think its important to understand the philosophical/empiric objections to faith so as to be able to offer some kind of answer and grow in one’s own faith.

What it comes down to for me personally is that, while its true that philosophical arguments for faith are grounded in what we see in nature, we can still ask the question, why nature to begin with? Why does anything exist at all? The fact that we’re conscious that it didn’t necessarily have to be this way causes me to think that the answer can’t simply be, “Nature just is.” To me that seems like it could only be good enough for insects, or any non-sentient beings who must simply accept their existence and react to their circumstances without even having any real understanding of any of it.

To me, the fact that we’re aware of this principle of existence gives the idea of an Infinite Existence from which all finite existence must have derived a certain concrete grounding in my mind.

As we all know, most modern scientists are pretty convinced of some variant of the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe, a theory which holds that this universe must have had a beginning, and that before that beginning, there was, according to most cosmological theorists, absolutely nothing.

Now, I realize that as theists we must acknowledge that even if the “Steady State” theory were still in vogue, that this universe is in an eternal state of existence, we would still say that the universe itself doesn’t contain the reason for its own existence. But, seeing as we have a rather solid grounding in our empirical observations that lets us point to a “start” of the universe, this once again suggests to me that it didn’t have to be.

And if it didn’t have to be, then why? The universe just came into existence of its own volition? When it didn’t even exist to begin with? This hypothesis has always seemed way too fantastic to believe, much more outlandish than faith in God.

I realize all this has probably already occurred to you so I’m sorry if I wasted your time; someday I hope to make further progress in this realm of philosophy.


#9

What I was trying to get at is that I think Smith’s characterization of the the universe as the “totality of existence” and the “primary metaphysical constant” begs the question, if something can exist, then isnt’ *existence itself *(infinite existence) the “primary metaphysical constant”?

Further, metaphysics deals in the realm of abstract thoughts, ideas, causality and ultimate truth. If Smith is going to claim that to make inferences from the natural to the supernatural is to go from the knowable to the unknowable, then it seems inconsistent to claim that the atheistic, empiricist approach to philosophy that he is taking can do the job any better.

If Smith is approaching reality from the standpoint that we can only know through the senses, and it would seem that he is, since he calls the universe (the first thing that is immediately apparent to us through the senses) the “primary metaphysical constant,” then what is he doing making assertions that enter into the realm of abstract thought? For one thing, empiricism is only one school of thought, and not an altogether timeless one at that.

If natural phenomena is all there is, then Smith and Co. have no business making claims that are connected to “metaphysics.” How can there be any ultimate truth in the realm of abstract ideas about causality and such if the only reality is composed of physical parts? In such a paradigm it would seem any analysis would be completely meaningless, including this one.


#10

These are good responses. The “primary metaphysical constant” you refer to is “being” itself (“existence” is, believe it or not, a separate concept). So even if being is what we have to begin with (“being” as opposed to “non-being”), the existence of this universe, as opposed to its non-existence, requires some kind of positive explanation. Further, the universe is contingent, which raises the question: “Why this type of universe and not a different type?”

So even if nature is our initial point of reference, logical inference based on observations of nature can go beyond it. (This also implies that humans themselves are not completely “natural,” but that’s another thread topic.)


#11

As an interesting point, an argument from design and a teleological argument are not identical.

An argument of design works by analogy (a watch has a maker, the universe is like a watch, therefore the universe has a maker), whereas a teleological argument argues that because things act for an end that they are directed by an intelligence (telos means, “end”).

They are different arguments. I hope this helps you think more clearly.

It seems to me that the, ‘watchmaker’ type design arguments may fail if we can account for order otherwise, but it by no means dooms teleological arguments which are not based on order, but on things acting for ends.

-Rob


#12

Anything that has being, has a reason for being. There is no begging the question involved; the question is already there. The answer to that question depends upon whether or not that natural being (what ever it may be) is capable of explaining itself. If not, then it logically demands something completely outside of itself to explain it. If you hold to the rules of logic, then you must except that every effect needs a cause; therefore if the nature of that being does not allow anything of a similar nature to exist outside of itself, we have to, by the rules of logic, assume that the cause must have a different or higher “rule of being”; and so one is forced to infer the invisible, un-natural or supernatural, so far as it is a “necessary” cuase; because that is the only logical possibility available.

Once something starts acting outside the barriers of nature, it is no longer nature, and therefore cannot be moved or controlled by the rules of nature; such a being is completly beyond the grasp of such laws. The nature of the universe implies that there is more to the world then the natural world, and some atheist philosophers even admit this, but then dismiss it as an illusion. Since the order and the intelligibility of are universe cannot explain itself, it needs an explanation that exists outside of its self; and it is no surprise that when we are forced to explain such things, taking them to their logical conclusions, the only reasonable explanation is a supernatural mind. In short, if there is a Law, then there is a Law-Giver; not just because that is something we would like, but because the mere existence of Laws and rules imply as much.

The philosopher that is of the atheist bias, who says that such things needs no explanation, knows that inferring a logical explanation to things that lie on the borders of reality can only lead to one place and therefore decides to ignore the question by being Agnostic or making empirical science a religion. They exalt evolution as a good example that one must be strict with logic and reasoning, and that one must never infer something “unnecessarily” about nature “if” it can be logically explained by nature. I agree and respect this philosophy, but the principles evolution deals with only one sphere of reality. In order for evolution to occur, reality has to have certain rules in place in order for evolution to be a possibility when given a specific situation and circumstance.

The empiricist has taught me not to jump to conclusions, but they have not given me any reason to think that nature has the answer. There are rules in this universe; these rules exist on the outer shell of reality and control everything within its grasp. Explain the rule. I think you will find that any attempted to explain those rules will require you to go beyond the sphere of their existence, since you need to go out side of them to logically explain them; that’s if you respect the law of Cause and Effect, with out which there could be no universe and no logical effect.

It seems to me, that the philosophical atheist will take logic only as far as it doesn’t point to something more, and of a different nature then the universe. On the other hand, there are those who are open-minded as well as empirical, and are not afraid to put faith in the obvious. But I would say that there are people who generally find it hard to believe and I sympathize; but I only believe this to be the case because they lack the proper education in logical reasoning or do not have access to the proper information, being that they presented with false depictions of theistic arguments or caricatures. On top of that we are constantly bombarded by naturalist indoctrination, which claims( with out any logical reasoning at all), that to belief in anything more then nature, you would have to be insane or stupid. This ideology alone presents a big obstacle agains’t reasonable belief; as I well know, because I to use to be atheist.

Do you want to know more?


#13

Would this mean that, in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the longer the universe exists the less explainable it becomes? I’m kind of a philosophy noob, so be gentle with me if this is a goofy question.

Peace,
+N


#14

I’m listening


#15

You want to know more!:eek: ehhh…okay; let me first look in my book of logic…yeah:o , eh hem;) , hearrrr it is!:smiley: Under the philosophical regulation code “296”, i must, by the law of Logic, ask you to forfill a requirement before we transverse into the realitys of the infinite:

Can i please first get an “a-okay” that you fully understand what i have presented to you in my first post; and maybe any objections you might have before we move on. :slight_smile:

Peace.


#16

Actually I thought you were referring to your own story of conversion from atheism to believing in God. This is what I initially had in mind when I said I was listening, as I’ve always been interested in hearing people’s personal stories. However, if you want to expand on your first post, then my answer is yes, I think I managed to get a fairly decent grasp of what you said.


#17

Greetings,

You need to understand that “BELIEF” is a choice a person makes as an individual. Either you choose to believe in God or you choose not to believe in God. When dealing with atheism you deal with people who chooses to not believe in God.

My duty as a Christian is NOT to prove that God exists. My duty as a Christian is to live my life in obedience to God, and to be a witness to others.

So how does a Christian handle the objections presented by an atheist? There is only one way, and that is to prove them wrong with Scripture, but will they listen? Most likely not. It all comes back to “CHOICE”. What you believe is by your own choice that you make.

I read the Bible, and I choose to believe what the Bible says is true, and therefore, I live my life according to God’s instruction. There are many people who chooses to not believe what the Bible says is true; that’s their choice.

In the name of Jesus,

Ken


#18

My conversion was a bit bland, and was provoked by serious emotional torment; it was only in my deepest darkest suffering that I considered the reality of God and Christianity. In short I had absolutely no knowledge of the Logical arguments that were given for the existence of God; my conversion was purely a selfish desire to ease my suffering. It had nothing to do with wanting to be good or saintly. When I was baptized catholic, I cried; but not because I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, rather it was because I felt no presence at all. I was in hell.

See, you have to understand; before my pain, I couldn’t care less if God existed; I sought only to satisfy my five sense’s; and my life style was basically animalistic and hopeless. But then the pain came. I was a dog, and not a very happy one at that. God gave my life meaning, and eased the pain. That’s was the only reason why I believed in him; I couldn’t care less about the moral teachings or the wise words of Jesus.

A few years in to my faith, I began to doubt my beliefs and lose faith. I stopped going to church. The thing is, I never use to read the bible or any of the apologetic works of my Christian brothers; I was only interested in getting healed. But the iron claws of doubt tore through my faith when I was exposed to and began reading a lot of atheistic literature and naturalistic points of view. If it was not for the fact that I suffered an unbearable pain of the mind, I would not be a Christian now, and neither would I have begun to study my faith and read into many apologetic works, looking for a way out of the heartless abyss of a Godless reality. My existence was empty and meaningless. Looking at my wrists, I saw tempting delights such as the feeling of warm blood pouring from freshly sliced wounds, revealing the comforting arms sweet death and ignorance. My faith was not helped by the fact that I was living with a mother who vehemently hates the Abraham Religions (She especially rejects Catholicism) and is a Socailist-Maxist. I was truly in a pit; I was clawing at those cold slimy walls of doubt, desperately seeking the light, like a dying moth seeking the sun.

My pain forced me to study, looking for some reasonable reason to believe; faith alone was not enough for me anymore. I wanted to be a real Catholic with a real reason to believe. St Aquinas,
Augustine, my priest, William Lain Craig, and many great writers and speakers such as Peter kreeft, helped me to have faith again.
Slowly but surely I was reclaiming my faith in the face of the evolution and God controversy and many other negative influences. I thank God that philosophers like these exist and sites, such as this one, exists; otherwise, if I had to make a choice between having a blind faith and Atheism, I would have simply been Lost to God, quite possibly forever.

People tend to think faith is blind; but I assure you, even though I was pushed to believe by pain; I could have never maintained such a belief, and neither the Christian lifestyle, with out the support I received and the life changing wisdom I received from actually reading the bible for a change! The wisdom of scripture is an important reason why I have faith, because i would not have known such logical and wise things by being an “Atheist”. Atheism has no real fruits to offer me. I think thats saying something.

Thanks for reading; I know it’s a bit negative and deep, but it’s the honest truth.


#19

You really do put that rather well, IamOdd4God, and certainly charitably. But, as someone who has never felt Belief or felt any need to feel it in my entire life, I am not so sure if it’s a ‘choice’ per se. Even among the most rigorous and inquisitive scholars, and the most willing followers, some people seem to be inclined to Faith and some simply do not seem to be so inclined. I often wonder if our minds actually work differently sometimes, or perhaps the same stimuli trigger a slightly different set of responses among those who Believe and those who do not.

I never chose to disbelieve, nor to believe in a deity. The entire question makes precious little sense to me, honestly, and not from a lack of wit or imagination either. Hopefully though, given our kind wishes towards one another, this need not make us enemies.

Ah, and freesoulhope - I know all too well the mental and emotional extremes that pain can drive one to. That your conversion felt ‘bland’ actually sounds quite interesting to me, and rather solid and positive, as opposed to some kind of dramatic revelatory episode. Still, I am curious how it feels to you now and over time.


#20

Thank you, I’m glad I was able to read this. Sometimes the stuff that is negative is the most important.


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