Monday, December 25, 2006

“The disgusting man says in his heart: ‘There is no God.’” Psalms 14:1



[Baron d’Holbach]

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.”

19 comments:

Cameron said...

JP: Modern western atheism is the philosophy that:

Nature is all that there is.

CH: I prefer 'There are no supernatural entities' myself.

JP: 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.

CH: I'm ok with this list except for the inclusion of 'free will'. Dennet's book 'Freedom Evolves' is a good example of atheist free will, and I've made a similar case for it in your comments previously.

JP: This is also known as naturalism, determinism, rationalism, materialism, empiricism, skepticism, secular humanism and scientism.

CH: Simply wrong. Naturalism, determinism, etc. are all philosophical theories about the world and our epistemology towards it that are atheist in their construction, but none of them entails the other. One can be a sceptic but not be a secular humanist. or be a materialist but not a rationalist.

But lets consider determinism and scientism from your list. If anyone is a determinist who lacks a coherent expression of free will, it is you. Everything has been cretaed by God, She is omnipotent and all knowing, and therefore all actions you might ever consider or take have already been considered and nothing you do can stop it from being so. Sounds pretty determined to me.

As for 'scientism', it is a slur more than the reflection of any actual intellectual component of atheism, one I'm certain you lumped in with the others purely as a means of denigrating them.

JP: This is more than merely a negative philosophy,...

CH: No, it isn't. Buddhists and Randians are both atheists, yet couldn't have more polar opposite opinions about just about everything else. But recognizing this broader conception of atheism would deprive you of your straw man wouldn't it?

JP...but rather atheism makes certain positive metaphysical assertions about the universe. It is a religion in itself.

CH: Nonsense. Atheism is merely the starting point from which genuine theories about the world can be built from. By not having to waste time, effort and energy on theological hairsplitting, these theories can be subjected to testing and their efficacy montiored and adjusted, and as they are subject to such scrutiny they will thrive or perish on their merits. In constrast, telelogical theories have been floated for millenia and yet have not a single success to account for themselves.

JP: Atheism however is unique in being a purely naturalistic religion, while most other religions accept the validity of some natural and some supernatural phenomena.

CH: Pure lunacy. Atheism lacks any supernatural component (by definition) and thus is categorically NOT a faith or religion. You are literally trying to argue that black is white, one can only hope you will avoid all zebra crossings in the future.

Further, Buddhism (one of the worlds great religions, you may have heard of it) does not accept the validity of supernatural phenomenae and insists on exploring the natural world. Let me also add that though I am an atheist, I am not a Buddhist. Recognition of these broader categories would assist you greatly.

JP: The distinction between nature and the supernatural is:

- Natural entities create nothing.

CH: What? Perhaps I should point out the obvious first, YOU are a natural being and you run a blog (which, granted, is not all that creative), but in an even more mundane example, birds build nests. They are natural beings creating something.

JP: 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.

CH: Oh I see, you wish for all things that we currently call 'created' like watches, or cars, or birds nests, to be replaced by the use of the word 'transformed'. You aren't a philosopher, you are a linguistic alchemist. Ah, if only you could transform your lead into gold.

JP: 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.

CH: Incorrect. 'Supernatural' is NOT 'something coming from nothing', it is more properly 'something coming into being by action of a supernatural being'.

'Something coming from nothing' would be an atheist creation story. The cosmos coming into being from nothingness by the will of Chronos would be a Greek creation story, etc.

JP: Atheism is the youngest of the world’s major religions.

CH: Atheism is neither young (the Greek philosophers were almost all atheists) nor a major world religion. It has no holy books. It has no holy men. It has no priests, or priest-craft. It has no churches or places of worship. It is neither a creed nor a morality, but rather is merely a simple philosophical position with regards the question of supernatural entities.

JP: 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.

CH: I'm sure some would.

JP: We have not witnessed in a laboratory a god creating anything.


CH: Nor, I suggest, are we likely to.

JP: 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,

CH: Couldn't he have merely 'transformed' the tumour into healthy flesh?

JP:...or wave a hand and make the earth stop turning.

CH: Cuz, yeah, that could happen. Just last Thursday I was helping guide my wife into her parking stall, and I accidentally stopped the earth's rotation. You probably felt it.

JP: Clearly, religion flourishes not because of any evidence, but merely because it offers empty solace to insecure, gullible people.

CH: You said it brother.

JP: 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.

CH: I feel an 'Amen Brother'! coming on...

JP: 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.

CH: Amen Brother! Tell it like it is!

JP: 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.

CH: This may explain why you went to a trained medical professional rather than a witchdoctor for your intestinal blockage.

JP: Of course, members of other religions have questioned atheism’s proofs.

CH: Or simply hung us for apostasy.

JP: The atheistic assertion that “there is no proof of the supernatural” merely means “there is no proof which will satisfy me”.

CH: Actually, it really does mean "there is no proof of the supernatural".

JP: 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.

CH: False. We have evidence that it was created from a singularity, not the same thing as 'ex nihilo'.

JP: Although this event is still shrouded in mystery, it would seem to support the existence of a supernatural creator.

CH: No it would not seem to support a supernatural creator. How does the absence of a creator indicate evidence for the presence of a creator?

JP: 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.

CH: Current cosmology has the universe expanding forever until it is cold and dark. That is hardly a violation of the entropic principle.

JP: 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.

CH: That would be because 'Why must the universe have these things' is not a scientific question. 'Why does X do X' or 'how does X do X', or 'what is X' are scientific questions.

JP: It seems highly unlikely that they all occurred by chance, and without these features life would be impossible.

CH: Drake's equation predicts 1-4 intelligent civilzations for a galaxy of our size. Then consider that there are billions upon billions of galaxies. Even if Life requires everything to be just so, a statistically improbable circumstance for it to happen (right star, right atmosphere, lots of water, etc.) the chances are still that after potentially trillions of opportunities to achieve self organization, eventually, it will.

JP: Therefore, theists conclude, the universe was apparently supernaturally fine tuned to allow life to exist.

CH: Seems like the waste of an awful lot of universe just to get to us. Billions of years of evolution, several comet strikes and global catastrophes to shake things up, and yet it was all for the purposes of arriving at the last 10,000 or so years of human ascendancy? That seems statistically unlikely.

JP: 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.

CH: I guess I missed the part where you an origin of life biochemist, or where you in fact demonstrate even a scintilla of knowledge about organic chemistry.

JP: This would seem to indicate that a supernatural intelligent designer intervened to create life.

CH: Why? How does a lack of knowledge give rise to a supernatural explanation? It's a god of the gaps you have. Only where the boundaries of knowledge are less than perfect or in any way contested can it exist. The good news is that nature has a habit of revealing her secrets, and gradually there are fewer and fewer places for you to hide from the truth - the universe is bigger, older, more complex, and more fascinating than anything your religion ever dreamed.

JP: As far as the fact that Jews consider the world to be 6,000 years old, many do, however I believe they are mistaken.

CH: And if they are mistaken about this, what else could they be mistaken about? How did God let them get this incredibly, mindbogglingly wrong? Indeed, wouldn't it have been more impressive if just once anywhere in the holy texts God had gotten the dating correct? How much more impressive if the Bible had begun with a recounting of how many billions of years it old it is? Or how many planets there actually are? Or even that the Earth orbits the Sun? No, we get a story of apples and serpents and the invention of parental discretion advised. Lame.

JP: 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.

CH: So ancient talmudic texts mention 'worlds before this one' and you conclude they mean 'dinosaurs walked the earth long before you'. Right. Couldn't they have been taking about how they come from an alien world before they arrived here on Earth? That would still be dead wrong, but at least it would be cool.

JP: From a Jewish point of view, even the most terrible suffering of clearly innocent people can be explained on the basis of reincarnation.

CH: I like to think of this as the 'Even if they don't deserve it, they still deserve it' defense of God's evil.

JP: Someone may be suffering in this life for sins committed in a previous life.

CH: And I might be an astronaut from the future here to show you the errors of your ways before global warming makes you and your talmudic scholars extinct.

JP: Furthermore, a seemingly cruel act may be actually kind if one is acting with complete foreknowledge, which of course God has.

CH: Ah yes, the 'Holocaust as growing experience' argument. And they say atheists are fatalistic.

JP: 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.

CH: Ok, so evil is the result of free will, unless it is actually a lesson from God punishing your entire race for crimes it may or may not have committed in this lifetime. Why, it's so simple I don't know why everyone doesn't instantly agree!

JP: Atheism virtually worships nature.

CH: ?

JP: 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?

CH: Nothing. However, if you believe in a God of the gaps (as you profess, seeking him in cosmological extremes, and seeing in Darwin a straightforward and devastating demolishing of your teleology) then you have a real problem. For as knowledge progresses forward without any assistance from theology (indeed, I suggest that it begins to proceed forward precisely at the point when it drops theology) every question that is answered is one less reason for a god of the gaps to be believed.

The solution is simple, move God away from evidence and retreat back to your cave to ponder the sacred scrolls, knowing your faith has nothing to offer the world that the world has not already rejected.

JP: 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.

CH: Again, Free will isn't really something you believe in, nor does it indicate the presence of supreme being. Quite the opposite, with a supreme being one presumes we would have no free will but to follow Hers - which is hardly free.

JP: 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.

CH: Humans are fallible, so are memories. Memories about the moment of dying? How reliable could they be?

JP: 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.”

CH: Chuckle

JP: n summary, atheism seems be a somewhat bizarre, surreal belief system. The insistence on “nature only” twists their world outlook irrationally.

CH: You mean confines us to the rational.

JP: The entire universe is a machine which somehow functions eternally and automatically, with no creator or designer.

CH: Atheists would only insist on the last part 'with no creator or designer'. The rest is for the astronomers, astrophysicists to explore and explain.

JP: Everything is caused by the innate natural properties of the universe.


CH: Sounds right.

JP: 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.

CH: I am unaware of any atheist who makes this or similar claims.

JP: We ourselves are also robots who have no choice; we just imagine that we do.

CH: There are atheists who believe this, but (and I've mentioned this enough) that doesn't mean it is a feature of atheism. For example, I hold a reasonable belief in free will without supernatural assitance in contrast to your straw man atheist.

JP: 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.

CH: False, false, true, sometimes there is it's a human thing, false, false, false, true, true and false.

JP: Everything just exists, for no reason.

CH: False.

JP: Taken to its logical conclusion, atheism seems to be nihilistic and even leans toward madness.

CH: Sure because following the ravings of illiterate desert dwelling primitives is definitely a step up. And you say this belief system comes with an endorsement of slavery and the death penalty for apostates and homosexuals? Awesome, sign me up.

Henry said...

JP, I am mostly in agreement with you on this one. The evidence is that a descriptive system that leaves no room for supernatural entities is incapable of giving an account of the world as we experience it.

It is a pity you spend so much energy on trying to demolish Darwinism when the real issue is about symbolic representations.

Those of the physical sciences are fine only in so far as their limitations are accepted. Religious systems address and help us to comprehend the fundamental existential issues of which science says nothing and cannot say anything. Science is about exteriority, whereas religion deals with interiority which of its nature cannot be subjected to objectivised experimental method.

I do not agree with your theology of pain being the individual punishment for each individual's past misdeeds. The effect of such misdeeds goes far and wide from past to future.

Orthodox Christianity states that sin is an offence against God and it is God who suffers, since he gives us free will and accepts the risk that entails. And so Christ the incarnate God is killed for all our sins, but in allowing himself to be killed, he is able to rise from the dead and continue to work through the action of the Holy Spirit.

This is not of course a Jewish understanding, but you will no doubt find a very similar idea expressed in a different way in Orthodox Judaism, since Judaism and Christianity are different representational systems. Which we should not allow to be a reason for falling out of love with each other.

Which reminds me that I hope you are continuing to make a good recovery.

jewish philosopher said...

Henry, thank you for your comments and I’m doing pretty well. My surgeon is happy with my progress; however I cannot resume my regular jogging and weight lifting until February. And the scar looks awful, like I was autopsied.

Cameron, I appreciate your comments, however I am a little confused. How exactly do you define “supernatural”? You believe in free will. That seems to imply that you believe that certain events occur spontaneously and unpredictably – that effects do not need a cause. You also seem to agree that the universe was created from nothing at some point in the past. Something did come from nothing. So if that’s “natural”, why isn’t God creating the world and controlling it as He wishes “natural” as well? Where do you draw the line?

jewish philosopher said...

Also, Cameron, the objections which I have raised to atheism I believe are more than merely a few “gaps”; trivial questions which atheists will surely soon answer. I believe that they are huge problems which demonstrate that atheists are out of touch with reality. True, as an Orthodox Jew, I must deal with the problem of fossils and of small children with their legs amputated. However, as an atheist, I think you have much larger problems – for example, where did everything come from?

The atheistic explanation for belief in the supernatural is that ignorant people are foolish, gullible, etc. and therefore made up all kinds of silly stories. I contend on the contrary; our universe is simply not comprehensible without involving the supernatural.

Cameron said...

JP: Cameron, I appreciate your comments, however I am a little confused. How exactly do you define “supernatural”?

CH: A violation of the laws of nature would qualify. It must be something that could not have a natural explanation - or even a theoretical natural explanation. The earth being stopped in its orbit around the sun by a raised hand/command would qualify.

JP: You believe in free will.

CH: Yes I do.

JP: That seems to imply that you believe that certain events occur spontaneously and unpredictably – that effects do not need a cause.

CH: Not at all. All effects have a cause. In any common sense example of free will where a choice is made you'll find cause and effect. For example, I chose to drive to the store today. There is an effect (I was at the store), a cause (I drove there), and a free will choice, (I chose to go to the store today - whereas I might have easily chosen otherwise). Note that nowhere in this example is a supreme being or supernatural agent required.


JP: You also seem to agree that the universe was created from nothing at some point in the past.

CH: The fact of the matter is that astrophysics is still a young and developing field, and while we can speak of what the universe was like fractions of a second into its existence, we have difficulty discussing what occured or existed prior to that. In part because the very nature of space-time is forged in the first fractions of a second of existence, rendering our language for what happened prior to that inadequate.

That said, I have every reason to expect that the advancement of scientific knowledge will continue to progress to provide a more complete answer (quantum gravity theory? string theory? brane theory?).

In other words, when it comes to what existed or didn't prior to the Big Bang, I am comfortable saying 'I don't know'.

JP: Something did come from nothing.

CH: Like I say above, that is not at all clear. In brane theory the collision of two hyper dimensional 'branes' results in a release of energy that creates the universe. In common big bang theory, the existence of a 'singularity' containing all the mass and energy of the universe compacted to an infintesimally small space existed ooutside of (or before) space-time. Now I'm not willing to commit to a particular origin theory at this stage, but I am willing to commit to an origin that is 'naturalistic' in explanation - one that will not require a 'hand of god' to start things in motion.

JP: So if that’s “natural”, why isn’t God creating the world and controlling it as He wishes “natural” as well?

CH: Simply put we have ample evidence of the universe's existence and history up to the Big Bang - theories based on the evidence of astronomy, physics, chemistry, and astrophysics. None of that evidence contains anything related to 'god' or supernatural beings. So an explanation that relies on the addition of such an irrational super being for explanatory or philosophical purposes isn't itself rational.

JP: Also, Cameron, the objections which I have raised to atheism I believe are more than merely a few “gaps”; trivial questions which atheists will surely soon answer.

CH: And I think I dealt with each one individually. I am more than happy to address an specific example you wish to raise where I don't adequately address what you see as a problem with atheism.

JP: I believe that they are huge problems which demonstrate that atheists are out of touch with reality.

CH: Unsurprisingly, your texts also commit you to this position.

JP: True, as an Orthodox Jew, I must deal with the problem of fossils and of small children with their legs amputated. However, as an atheist, I think you have much larger problems – for example,
where did everything come from?

CH: I see no more problem in not having a definitive answer as to the origin of the universe than I do with a lack of specific knowledge about what is below the surface Titan. In both cases I am confident that science will eventually provide an answer, and in neither case do I think theologians will beat them to the punch.

JP: The atheistic explanation for belief in the supernatural is that ignorant people are foolish, gullible, etc. and therefore made up all kinds of silly stories.

CH: Not at all. History is filled with very smart people who weren't foolish but who nevertheless held incorrect beliefs about how the world works. Mesmerism, Lysenkoism, Lamarckian development, viral pan spermia, etc. were all notions very smart people held to, but that were nevertheless incorrect.

JP: I contend on the contrary; our universe is simply not comprehensible without involving the supernatural.

CH: And I contend that supernatural explanations are inherently incomprehensible, whereas the natural explanations are not only comprehensible, but testable.


Where do you draw the line?

jewish philosopher said...

So you’re saying that if I would stop the earth’s rotation by waving my hand, that is supernatural because it “does not possibly having a natural explanation”. If however the entire universe pops out of nothingness one day, as you believe it may have, that could be perfectly natural. Why?

Also, as I understand you, you believe that people are capable of behaving entirely spontaneously, and no matter how perfect my knowledge would be of your genes, childhood experiences, environmental influences, etc. I could never predict what you’re going to do five minutes from now. Why not? Do you have a God given soul? And if not, how are you different than any computer, other than being perhaps more complex and also apparently containing more programming bugs? ;-)

I defined “supernatural” very precisely: Things coming from nothing and effects without causes. You don’t like that definition because of the absurd conclusions it leads to, however I don’t see what your substitute is.

Cameron, you’re a slippery fellow. I think that for you, atheism means simply discarding any religious ideas you personally don’t like. That’s up to you; however I wouldn’t consider that to be the most strictly logical attitude.

Henry said...

Atheism is ultimately not a sustainable intellectual position, as some of the twentieth century's most respected atheistic philosophers ultimately conceded.

As an orthodox (Catholic) Christian, I don't need to worry about fossils or horrible things happening in the world, as belief in the literal word of scripture is not part of the system and the latter are to be expected.

And scar will gradually dwindle to just visible.

The Atheologist said...

Jewish Philosopher,

From what I have read on your blog, I believe that you are the first Fundy Jew I have come across. Most of your beliefs and statements have all been shot down years ago. It sounds like you have stolen a lot of them from Fundy Christians or are making things up as you go along.

Please tell me that your blog is a satirical one. If it is then I apologize.

jewish philosopher said...

"Most of your beliefs and statements have all been shot down years ago."

I would love to see you try to shoot something down, baby. Bring it on.

The Atheologist said...

I don't have the time or the patience. Go visit my friend Bacon,
if you want to look like a fool.

jewish philosopher said...

Or the knowledge. Very lame, very lame.

The Atheologist said...

Satire then, sorry about outing you.

Cameron said...

JP: So you’re saying that if I would stop the earth’s rotation by waving my hand, that is supernatural because it “does not possibly having a natural explanation”.

CH: Yes. I use 'supernatural' not to mean 'without cause' (and in the example, you waving your hands is the cause of the earths cessation of rotation), but to mean 'of supernatural causation'.


JP: If however the entire universe pops out of nothingness one day, as you believe it may have, that could be perfectly natural. Why?


CH: I guess it depends on what you mean by 'pops into nothingness' and how bothered you are by that conceptually. In quantum physics particles 'pop into existence out of nothingness' and then promptly annhilate one another. At the event horizon of black holes, the black hole traps one particle as it is 'created' and pulls it into it's mass, the other particle now escapes annhilation and radiates away from the black hole - this is referred to as 'Hawking radiation'.

So we have a real world theory (one that is testable) that predicts exactly what you are asking for; the creation of 'something from nothing'.

Now while noting that this is true about particle formation near black hole event horizons, doesn't tell us directly that this sort of quantum event is what started the universe in motion, but it does give us reason to think that a creation 'ex nihilo' is neither supernatural, nor impossible.

JP Also, as I understand you, you believe that people are capable of behaving entirely spontaneously, and no matter how perfect my knowledge would be of your genes, childhood experiences, environmental influences, etc. I could never predict what you’re going to do five minutes from now.

CH: I wouldn't say 'never predict', because I think we can routinely predict what others will do (though not 'perfectly'). For example, I can predict that if I call someone 'stupid' they could reasonably feel insulted. This level of prediction is available to us without resorting to a catalog of my genome, environmental influences etc. However, you are correct in that even if we did have a perfect catalog of my previous influences, we wouldn't necessarily have a way of predicting what a person will do given a novel situation or problem. Sure our genes will influence us, and our reason will be available to us, but the circumstances of the moment will also have an influence, and in the end we will still be making a free choice - whatever it's degree of predictability.


JP: Why not? Do you have a God given soul?

CH: Nope, no soul. I do have a brain - the seat of my conciousness ("Minds are what brains do" - Minsky), reason, etc.


JP: And if not, how are you different than any computer, other than being perhaps more complex and also apparently containing more programming bugs? ;-)

CH: The first difference is that a computer is an intelligently designed item. I, in contrast, was evolved by natural processes. There are others but that first begets them all.

JP: I defined “supernatural” very precisely: Things coming from nothing and effects without causes.

CH: Yes, you did. And as you can see that is not the correct definition. You are free to argue that creation ex nihilo requires supernatural agency, but you are not free to assume it in your definition of supernatural.


JP: You don’t like that definition because of the absurd conclusions it leads to, however I don’t see what your substitute is.


CH: I don't like that definition because it is inaccurate and only offered by you because it was self-serving conceptually.

JP: Cameron, you’re a slippery fellow. I think that for you, atheism means simply discarding any religious ideas you personally don’t like.

CH:: I can't think of any religious ideas I like. Not because I think they are inherently harmful, but because they are ultimately wrong.

Henry: Atheism is ultimately not a sustainable intellectual position, as some of the twentieth century's most respected atheistic philosophers ultimately conceded.

CH: Uh, like who? The only de-conversion myth I'm aware of occurred when Antony Flew redacted his position from hard atheism to hard agnosticism with a hint of wistfulness for pantheism. None of the big leaguers has recanted that I'm aware of (and I studied under four of them, Charles Martin, Kai Nielsen and the Bakers).

Henry: As an orthodox (Catholic) Christian, I don't need to worry about fossils or horrible things happening in the world, as belief in the literal word of scripture is not part of the system and the latter are to be expected.

CH: Which is you and I are in agreement Henry. The most dangerous thing a religion can do is place itself in the position of opposition to reality.

Henry said...

Freddy Ayer for a start

jewish philosopher said...

"I use 'supernatural' to mean 'of supernatural causation'."

So atheists do not believe in the supernatural and supernatural means anything they don't believe in. This leaves atheism with no meaningful definition at all, making it therefore impossible to contradict.

Why can't I say that God, the soul and the afterlife are "natural"? They are part of the total reality of all that exists and I have solid evidence to prove it.

Henry said...

I like the first two paragraphs, but sometimes you spoil a good case by over-stating. I don't doubt it myself, but is just not possible to say there is solid evidence to prove God, the soul and the afterlife. These things have to be believed on the basis of evidence of what has been revealed to others - for instance, through religious tradition - and on one's own experience of the matter, through the grace one has received. They cannot be demonstrated to another as one might demonstrate an experiment in physics. We are not dealing with that kind of knowledge. This is a very old debate, of course.

jewish philosopher said...

Personally, I only believe in making major life decisions based on evidence and logic. And to me, there is just as much evidence for Orthodox Judaism as there is for the dangers of smoking or the identity of my parents, for example.

Tone said...

JP: 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.

I say: No free will?? You're being quote insulting, I have free will. There is no answer for every question you have, non-secularists label that with god, that's weak minded and giving up.

JP: 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.
I say: Atheism as a religion, I don't buy that. You have a problem in seeing absolutes, "you're for the war or Iraq or your for terrorism", same mentality. I'm anti-religion, I don't hold atheism as a religion.


JP: The distinction between nature and the supernatural is:
- Natural entities create nothing.

I say: Yeah, god is the all knowing, all being, boogeyman in the sky who created everything... Whatever...

JP: - 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.

I say: Again, this whole 'atheists have no free will' is insulting sir, apologise. I think we can all agree that we've seen people give up their free will to blindly follow religion. They tick us all off because they don't think about it. I've stated time and again that I believe the world is completely chaotic.

JP: From a historical point of view...
I say: Blah blah blah... It's not a religion.

JP: 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.
I say: Yes, religion goes against scientific curiousity.
WOW, you came 'this' close to 'Godwin'ning himself. Let's skip both sides blaming wars on the other side, that's governments, take people. Take picketing, religious people are far more likely to be public assholes to shout out anyone they don't like, Marilyn Manson to abortion doctors.

JP: Clearly, religion flourishes not because of any evidence, but merely because it offers empty solace to insecure, gullible people.
I say: Hallelujah Brother!! And you go on to play the Devil's advocate...

JP: Of course, members of other religions have questioned atheism’s proofs.
I say: Many do not and they are often shamed for even mentioning atheism. Being vocal about atheism would be uncomfortable in many situations, it's very taboo.

JP: The atheistic assertion that “there is no proof of the supernatural” merely means “there is no proof which will satisfy me”. However, we do have scientific evidence that the universe was created from nothing 15 billion years ago.
I say: Wrong. 'no wording to satisfy me...' There is definitely enough evidence for me to conclude that there is no god. The universe was NOT created from nothing, I'd like to see your source on that.

JP: 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.
I say: More bad science. :roll: You don't even sound like YOU believe what you're saying here. At least you recognise that entropy is a LAW and not a theory, but you fail to demonstrate knowlege of the difference between a law and a theory and to understand that law's must ALWAYS be taken into account. LAWS are observations that are fully accepted by the scientific community, theories are not. Theories have some doubt to them, like religion.

If there is a god, he'd violate natural law with his supernatural powers, reversing entropy by creating energy/mass.

JP: 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.'
I say: Whatever, the weak mind believes those simplistic lies. I don't know how many TV shows I've seen showing the births of stars and galaxies. Yes, it was all by chance and to me that's beautiful, we are frail and nothing.

JP: 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.
I say: More weak minded blame god escapism. Lighting strikes, unfiltered sunlight, volcanic forces, meteors into chemical goo, create amino acids that make proteins that organise into a cell, etc. Energy + chemicals + time = strange things WILL happen. Billions of years.

JP: 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.
I say: Oh god, more bullshit. The only part where evolution is unknown is 'The missing link'. Evolution doesn't have to become more complicated, it leads to SURVIVABILITY. Again, this guy doesn't take into account that this takes longer than a lab experiment. There are also aberations from cross breeding (the jackass is a 'new' species) and radiation. Birds wing/feathers have been traced back to lizard legs/scales. Evolution can lead to a SIMPLER plant or animal.

JP: 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.
I say: Noah's ark, for example is not supported by science. (Funny, that's natural selection with Noah playing god, blasphemy!) The bible doesn't detail animals well enough to be a record for comparison.

JP: 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.
I say: Reincarnation... original guilt reincarnated. I do believe we help create our surroundings and we can be victims of our own circumstance.

FINALLY!! He Godwins himself, I felt it would be a matter of time!! Game over.

JP: In regards to the success of atheistic science, this proves nothing about the truth of their religion. Atheism virtually worships nature.
I say: The term 'virtual' is a serious red herring, a weak word that does not hold water in a debate. Point striken from the record. Again, you're all caught up with that atheism=science crap. Science is science. An atheist scientist does not study an african frog and consider his disbelief in god as a reflection of his findings.

JP: 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.
I say: Again, I have free will, you're being insulting sir, I won't stoop to call you a derogatory jewish term (I don't know any, but I'm creative.) Near death experience? I'm skeptical of those just because the body is under so much trauma, corridors and such sound like blacking out to me, I can see room for dreams as the body loses consciousness.

JP: 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.
I say: WTF? This is drivel.

JP: 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.
I say: In summary, Judaism seems be a somewhat bizarre, surreal belief system. The insistence on “god only” twists their world outlook irrationally. The entire universe is a machine which somehow functions eternally due to a creator or designer. Everything is caused by the god.

And again, with the free will bullshit and more insults. This is just more open ended praise to god, or whoever you want to put your faith in. Me, I like plates of spaghetti and pirates.

JP: 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. Taken to its logical conclusion, atheism seems to be nihilistic and even leans toward madness.
I say: You can publish crap like this but I am not so low as to tell Jewish jokes. What a jerk!!

Your final paragraph is more insulting garbage. You do not understand the other side of your argument and have in conclusion embarrassed yourself. Get off the web, 'philosopher' my ass, just another jerk with a blog. This essay would be great for the non-thinking jewish lemming, but it's not for public consumption.

jewish philosopher said...

Dear Tone, I appreciate your very lengthy comment. Regarding the issues of free will and the Deluge, I have dealt with them on other posts, here and here.

About creation from nothing, here are a few quotes.

Please let me know if you have any more questions.