USS Clueless - The Theist responds

Stardate 20030507.1858

(Captain's log): In broad terms, some atheists claim that atheism is actually a scientific fact and can be proved, thus demonstrating that atheism is different from any other religious belief. They contend that atheism is true where all religious beliefs are false delusions. Other atheists, myself among them, know that it isn't possible to prove that there are no deities. It might be possible to prove that some particular deity with certain characteristics doesn't exist but it isn't possible to produce a blanket proof that there are no deities whatever. To demonstrate that, I proposed the Theory of Fred the apathetic god, and showed that there's no way for us to tell whether we live in a mechanistic universe or one produced by Fred.

In yesterday's post I referred to "proof atheists" who contend that atheism can be proved to be true, and "belief atheists" who think that atheism is a belief. I am a "belief atheist". I make the following statements:

I believe that there are no supernatural beings and no supernatural influences on the universe. Everything we experience is a manifestation of the physical properties of the universe and the interactions of the mass and energy and various forces which are part of the universe. Sometimes those interactions are fantastically complex, but I nonetheless believe that this does not prove any kind of supernatural intervention.

Since atheism is a belief for me, I can not prove that I'm right. Indeed, I have little interest in trying, since I'm not evangelistic. I became an atheist for good and sufficient reason, but I am content to let others make their own decisions.

Activist atheists, including those who make the strong claim that atheism is actually scientific and can be proved, are eager to claim a form of exceptionalism for atheism relative to any other form of religious belief; they want atheism to be seen as somehow better, more plausible than any other. In a sense atheism is exceptional since it's the only religious belief that eschews supernatural influence, but I do not make any claim that it is superior to any religion and I do not think of myself as being morally or intellectual superior to those making other choices, solely because I became an atheist.

I mentioned yesterday that non-atheists were more likely to encounter activist atheists, and that they commonly form their opinion about atheists from them. There are zealots among theists as well, and those are the ones most likely to seek out and try to save any atheist they learn about. (Thus it is that the zealots from both sides often find each other, and they deserve one another.)

I've gotten my share of responses from various kinds of theists over the years, including in my mail for this site. The arguments range from dreadfully misinformed, to obnoxious, to outright deceptive, to the thoughtful and well informed. But it tends to the lower end of the scale because thoughtful and well informed theists are more likely to respect my decision and not try to convert me.

There are common objections from some that science "proves" that the mechanistic view of the universe is impossible because what we see around us would not be possible. There's a pretty standard set of arguments which are less than impressive, mostly focusing on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the Heisenberg Principle. Given the fact that I've heard essentially the same arguments many times from many people, I can only conclude that there's some central source of such comments where these people hear them, and then parrot them to me, and usually what they prove is not that science is wrong but that they don't actually understand it. Often that's because they use some sort of English-language summary of the principle and try to apply it rigorously, in ways which are invalid. I do not propose to deal with such objections in depth here; I'll just review them.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a favorite of anti-evolutionists. Since the Second Law says that disorder will increase, how could evolution create every more complex organisms? It's because that isn't what the Second Law says. It refers to the overall degree of disorder in closed systems, but an open system can increase in order without violating the Second Law, and life is an open system, not a close one.

Sometimes you hear comments to the effect that certain events in Quantum Theory are altered as a result of "observation", and there will be a claim that this implies that intelligence is actually a basic force in the universe. This will be cited against my own belief that thought is a property of brain matter and that the "mind" has no independent existence. It is indeed true that in Quantum Mechanics that the act of observing a particle in certain ways causes wave functions to collapse, but the mistake here is to assume that "observe" implies intelligence. In actual fact, machines can do it and so can certain natural conditions. There's no requirement for a mind to be involved.

A broader category of objections are part of the overall concept of "intelligent design" and start with an observation that in some way or other the situation we see seems just too good to be true. Thus it must have been the creation of a God, and thus it implicitly proves that God exists. I received an example of that in the mail today, from Steven:

I am a Deist. I know Fred exists. The difference is that my Fred designed everything. He does not need to watch because he already knows what

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004