The Presumption of Existence
Of all of the misconceptions of atheism, the largest is the idea that atheists believe that there is evidence of a non-existence of the God(s) discussed by humans. This is something that should carefully be examined, in order to explain exactly what atheism is. I think of atheism as a lack of belief in the existence of powerful, supernatural entities. This comes from a realization that the teachings humans about the God(s) don’t match the observations that we see in nature. There is no case for God, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be one. It’s a case that has yet to be satisfactorily made.
It’s a case, of course, made with a presumption of truth. It is a case made so early in the lives of children of religious people that most people who are religious view doubts in light of the course or validity of religion; but rarely do the doubts extend to the existence of God. They are more likely extended to re-developing a definition of what God “is” than of whether or not God exists. The belief remains solid in them even if they have to continually re-define It so that it either matches or hides from the gradual eroding by scientific discovery of the way that nature works.
We have, in a few short centuries among the intellectual elite, moved from a concept of God that is actively involved with a physical effect in the way that nature works:
As mentioned before, Crick confided to Professor Robert Shapiro(10)that he personally wasn’t really sold on the theory, and his real purpose in espousing this new theory was to get people to drop all previous theories that they held as true (such as the chemical soup theory, and the mutation theory, etc., all of them built on the idea that live matter can evolve from dead matter, which he held can’t be true) and give them an idea which they can relate to, such as unmanned rockets with live bacteria in them, to hold on to. Not that he really believed this story, but it was to help people understand that this world could only have developed from live matter. So even though in public Crick says that he still believes his theory to be “reasonable,” in private he told Shapiro otherwise.
Despite the protestations of the more traditional religions, we are now in the position of placing God beyond reach of human understanding. Therefore there must be a God, because we don’t “get it.”
To put it another way, believers and agnostics can be defined as people who think that God is not a silly question, but rather one that our experience demands of us. Believers have faith there is an answer: God, “the mystery of wisdom which we know of but cannot begin to understand,” as McCabe put it. Agnostics say they don’t know whether there’s an answer, though they want to keep asking.
So, second, how can God be talked of? It’s called the negative way, or the apophatic – saying what God is not. Whatever God might be, God is not visible: God’s invisible. Whatever God might be, God cannot be defined: God’s ineffable. Nothing positive is said. But nonetheless something is said of God. Similarly, the often forgotten motivation for the formulation of doctrine is the aim of not dissolving the mystery of God. When Christians say God is three in one, they assert what they take as a meaningful contradiction. And that’s the point. If you accept it, you accept a mystery.
God is now a mystery, a question with value to people who are used to presuming the existence of God, but unable any longer to rely on the evidence of Creation to assume the Creator. Instead, God is now being accepted as being there without “being” there. I find the question unnecessary, myself. I find it that I no longer need the question of the existence of God necessary for my search for meaning, justice and hope in my life and the life of the future. And I certainly don’t find it necessary to try to disprove God. I don’t think that atheists are actually in the defensive position on this. I think that we are receivers, that we are waiting for substance that we haven’t seen other than in teachings.
By shedding my assumption that God exists in whatever form, shape, function or name, I am not disproving God. I don’t feel like I need to. I think that believers are in the defensive position, in that they must provide more in order for me to accept their beliefs as anything more than dependence on the teachings of their societal norms.
Or silliness such as this:
1. The scientific process was invented by and depends on intelligence. Testable, uncontradicted evidence, in diverse areas of life, confirm that it takes intelligence to make something intelligent, to make artificial intelligence, or to increase intelligence/knowledge.
“…we might expect that the reasoning abilities that natural selection has given us would…not lead us
to the wrong conclusions.” – Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
“…all physical theories…break down at the beginning of the universe.”
– Stephen Hawking.
2. Mathematical infinity, singularities, and the “Big Bang” defy the laws of nature, showing scientifically that super-natural qualities, like God’s infinite nature, can exist.
3. All laws and processes, man-made or otherwise, have common meanings: Laws cause physical regularity; Processes are a sequence of actions, changes, or functions, etc., towards an end. Thus, since man is made of “dust” and therefore a part of the natural process, human and animal creativity, processes, and lawmaking can be tested to determine the origin of the universe.
4. A human creator/designer/lawmaker is intrinsically present during the design process, but is not intrinsically detected when observing their completed design or manufacturing process. Thus, one can’t use an undetected Creator to disprove a Creator.
New hypotheses/proposed laws: a) Something intelligent is caused by something intelligent, b) Laws are made by an intelligent lawmaker. c) Laws are enforced/maintained by a law enforcer. d) Processes, systems, and machines have a designer. e) Designers/lawmakers/enforcers are not intrinsically detected when observing their design or manufacturing process, yet are intrinsically present during the design process. f) Designers leave tell-tale signs like assembly instructions and manufacturing processes. g) The simpler the process, relative to the rational complexity of the outcome, the more intelligent the designer. h) Laws imply a reduction in complexity. Thus, whatever is making/enforcing our laws of nature is more complex than we are.
I am not sure where the proposer of these hypotheses/laws gets the idea that only something intelligent can cause something intelligent, why laws of nature must be made and enforced by an intelligent lawmaker, etc. All of what are labeled here as laws and hypothesis are presumptions and presuppositions by someone who doesn’t see how it can be done otherwise. Missing is the question of how this is known and how these are demonstrable. The logic seems natural if one assumes there is no other way to see things.
But in all these, one can start with the simple and build to the complex in series of leaps and bounds, fits and starts.
Atheism isn’t about disproving God, it is about no longer caring if we search. It’s about not needing God to be happy. You miss the gist.
And I would like to tag this comment from Jason Rosenhouse’s Evolutionblog by zackvoch:
I’m not certain that `religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions’ at all, certainly not beyond conjecture. If I interpret your next sentence correctly, you claim that science gives us the `is’ in order to inform the `ought’, but not the `ought’ itself. I would agree, but I would also add that the `ought’ can be provided in a secular framework of ethics just as well without the baggage and problems inherent in systems based on revelation. This point seems to have already been addressed in the comments (kudos to Galen Evans@4), so I won’t go into detail. You seem to have treated science as though it were the entirety of a secular worldview, which is a mistake.
If I misinterpret your post, forgive me, but I’m taking the latter part to mean that religion is necessary for the answering of these questions to the exclusion of secular systems, though it is quite possible that you meant that religion is just `one way’ of going about it. For the former case:
I am always bothered by this type of comment, given that it implies a basic inability for humans to discover ethics or appreciate beauty without an associated religious belief. Firstly, the claim is factually false, but further still, it belittles humanity to sub-bestial idiocy and hopelessness. As Hitchens would say, `it attacks our deepest integrity.’ Further, unless you claim that a given religion is true, you have already admitted the capacity of man to create answers to such questions, presumably satisfactory ones by your reckoning. Then, we need only trim the religiosity off and preserve the ethics, that is, `break the chain and cull the living flower’. Else, we have non-answers or false answers. This type of argument only holds if a given religious worldview is true, only then are correct answers separate from any secular system attainable.
In the latter case, that religion is but `one way’ and not `the only way’, we should ask if religion is the `best way.’ Again, such a claim would require the truth of the religion, else, we need only the ethical virtues and may safely discard the rest of the religion. But here, our evaluation is entirely secular and the religion becomes, yet again, unnecessary decor.
Point being, we’ve already taken the baby out of the bathwater.