Monday, December 25, 2006
Modern western atheism is the philosophy that:
Nature is all that there is.
Nature is a complete, closed, eternal system. Nothing is popping in from the outside to change anything or to create anything. There was no creation and there are no miracles. There is no soul, no gods, no free will, no afterlife, no ghosts, no fairies, no witches, no magic, no boogey man, no Santa Claus and no leprechauns. There is no supernatural; there is only nature.
This is also known as naturalism, determinism, rationalism, materialism, empiricism, skepticism, secular humanism and scientism. This is more than merely a negative philosophy, but rather atheism makes certain positive metaphysical assertions about the universe. It is a religion in itself. Atheism however is unique in being a purely naturalistic religion, while most other religions accept the validity of some natural and some supernatural phenomena. Judaism, for example, accepts the fact that the vast majority of events in the universe occur in a certain pattern – nature. However on very rare occasions God may suspend the laws of nature – with a miracle. In addition, the creation of the universe and of life was supernatural. Both natural and supernatural have their appropriate spheres.
The distinction between nature and the supernatural is:
- Natural entities create nothing. They may be transformed from one state to another; from liquid to solid, from alive to dead, from matter to energy, however natural entities never create something from nothing. Supernatural beings, especially those called gods, often create something from nothing. See the first verse of the Bible for a classic example. Some thing coming from no thing is supernatural.
- The behavior of natural entities is governed by their internal, inherent properties. Everything, from a quark to a galaxy, from a gnat to a whale, is a robot, working on automatic pilot, motivated by natural properties which have existed eternally. Supernatural beings, for example a god or a person with free will, behave unpredictably and spontaneously. Even the most comprehensive knowledge of nature could not predict their next choice. An uncaused effect is supernatural.
From a historical point of view, 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.
Atheists will argue that other, supernatural, religions are evil since they encourage violence over silly theological issues and they distract bright young people from the study of science, which has true practical value. Of course, it could be argued that atheists might also find plenty to fight about – witness the conflict between the USSR and Mao’s China which nearly blossomed into a nuclear war. Our short experience with atheistic states, from Lenin’s Russia to North Korea, has not shown them to be particularly pacifistic. And even the USSR was not a very great beacon of scientific discovery.
The primary proof of atheism is that there is no evidence of the supernatural. We have not witnessed in a laboratory a god creating anything. We also never see religious leaders who are clearly, repeatedly able to change the known properties of nature – for example, touch someone who has a brain tumor and cure him, or wave a hand and make the earth stop turning. Clearly, religion flourishes not because of any evidence, but merely because it offers empty solace to insecure, gullible people.
It is clear that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are false, since they teach that the universe is 6,000 years old although we now know that it is far older.
Also, it is clear that a Judeo-Christian god who is all good and all powerful cannot exist, since if he did, he would prevent innocent people from suffering.
In addition to this, it would seem that 200 years of atheistic science has helped mankind more than thousands of years of efforts by shamans, witchdoctors and other religious leaders. The life expectancy and the quality of life of most people have increased hugely since atheism was born. The success of atheists would seem to indicate that atheism is right.
Of course, members of other religions have questioned atheism’s proofs.
The atheistic assertion that “there is no proof of the supernatural” merely means “there is no proof which will satisfy me”. However it can be argued that atheists have raised the bar of proof far higher than is reasonable. True, there maybe no priests who can command the earth to stop turning. However, we do have scientific evidence that the universe was created from nothing 15 billion years ago. Although this event is still shrouded in mystery, it would seem to support the existence of a supernatural creator.
The eternal functioning of any dynamic physical system seems to violate the law of entropy. According to atheism, the universe is some sort of cosmic perpetual motion machine.
Many cosmologists have noted that we know of no natural reason why the universe must possess all the qualities needed to produce stars, elements heavier than helium and planets. It seems highly unlikely that they all occurred by chance, and without these features life would be impossible. Therefore, theists conclude, the universe was apparently supernaturally fine tuned to allow life to exist.
In addition to this there would seem to be no properties inherent in basic chemicals which could cause them to automatically form complex self replicating machines – in other words, to form life spontaneously. This would seem to indicate that a supernatural intelligent designer intervened to create life.
In regards to the development of complex life from simple life, Charles Darwin in 1859 proposed that simple life does indeed possess natural properties which will transform it into more complex life. He speculated that since organisms tend to have numerous, diverse offspring and only a minority who are best able to survive will reproduce, therefore, naturally, simple life will transform itself gradually into more complex life. The truth of this claim however is highly questionable. Critics point out that no new, clearly more complex life forms have ever been produced in the laboratory using this method of random variation and selection. In the fossil record as well, more complex forms are more often found in newer strata than in older strata, however that is all that can be said. There has never, even once, been discovered a minutely detailed “audit trail” clearly showing a new limb gradually developing through thousands of small random variations, even in marine fossils where preservation is fairly good. Therefore, while atheists see Darwinian evolution as being a huge vindication of their beliefs, many members of other faiths brush it off as baseless atheistic propaganda. They might contend that the repeated appearance of more advanced life forms indicates repeated supernatural intervention in natural history.
As far as the fact that Jews consider the world to be 6,000 years old, many do, however I believe they are mistaken. Ancient Talmudic commentaries mention worlds before this one. There is actually no conflict between fossils and the Bible. On the contrary, each helps us to understand better the other.
From a Jewish point of view, even the most terrible suffering of clearly innocent people can be explained on the basis of reincarnation. Someone may be suffering in this life for sins committed in a previous life. Furthermore, a seemingly cruel act may be actually kind if one is acting with complete foreknowledge, which of course God has. If someone would have known what Adolf Hitler would eventually become, would it have been unjust to strangle him in his crib? Having said that, I think that most people’s suffering is actually of their own causing, even from a natural point of view. If someone drinks until he becomes homeless, if he abuses his wife until she leaves, if he drives without a seat belt and becomes a cripple, that’s hardly God’s fault.
In regards to the success of atheistic science, this proves nothing about the truth of their religion. Atheism virtually worships nature. Therefore many atheistic scientists are smart people who have devoted their lives to studying nature and many have been very successful. Let’s say there would be a religion which worships cars – The Church of Jesus Christ NASCAR Driver. This religion had millions of members. Would it surprise us if these “Carologists” would end up over many years designing, driving and demonstrating some amazing cars? Would we then become convinced they are right and start worshiping red sports cars and looking forward to our afterlife in that great dealership in the sky? Roman legionnaires who worshiped Mars surely had incredible success in their day. The Mormons today are the world’s greatest genealogists and archivists. Some Orthodox Jews are great Talmudists. Some atheists may be phenomenal engineers and doctors. So what does that prove?
Also, our feeling of self consciousness and of having free choice would seem to indicate that we do have a soul and free will. We intuitively know that we are not merely robots. In addition to that, millions of people have experienced brain death yet afterwards remember having been conscious throughout the entire episode. This seems to indicate that we do have a soul independent of the body.
In essence, the atheist stands in the middle of this universe which is literally teeming with evidence of supernatural activities past and present and insists “No, I don’t see anything. There is no proof here.” Claiming "nature is all there is" is little different than claiming "our solar systems is all there is" and then ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
In summary, atheism seems be a somewhat bizarre, surreal belief system. The insistence on “nature only” twists their world outlook irrationally. The entire universe is a machine which somehow functions eternally and automatically, with no creator or designer. Everything is caused by the innate natural properties of the universe. In the unlikely event that we fully understood them, we could reconstruct everything which has ever happened and predict everything which will happen, out to infinity. We ourselves are also robots who have no choice; we just imagine that we do. There is no meaning and no purpose, no judge and no justice, no morality and no ethics, no good and no evil, no soul and no future beyond death, no choice. Everything just exists, for no reason. As Shakespeare (Macbeth Act V Scene V) put it "Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." Taken to its logical conclusion, atheism seems to be nihilistic and even leans toward madness.
Considering the flimsiness of the logic supporting atheism, and the mind bending weirdness of its beliefs, it’s interesting to speculate about why this religion has become somewhat popular. My theory is as follows: As a general rule, people think about God and spirituality only as much as they need to. We really, deep down, don’t like God. Spirituality runs counter to people’s natural arrogance, lust and laziness. If we can avoid it, we will. People who are poor, who are not very intelligent, whose lives are out of control, feel a strong need to pray for help and to hope for a better hereafter. For this reason medieval Europe was extremely pious. People who are affluent, educated, intelligent, young, healthy, male, etc. feel little or no need for the solace of prayer and ritual. The American and European college campuses are natural homes for atheism. Poorer countries will usually have few if any atheists. Atheism is in most cases just an attitude of “I don’t feel any emotional need to think about God, so I won’t.”
I think atheism is not really based on “I see no proof of the supernatural.” but rather “I feel no need for the supernatural.”
Posted by jewish philosopher at 6:22 AM