Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?

From: Chris Cogan (
Date: Wed Jan 12 2000 - 15:44:08 EST

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    Subject: Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*? (was Bertrand
    Russell--Way off Topic)

    > Reflectorites
    > On Mon, 10 Jan 2000 21:54:34 -0600, Chris Cogan wrote:
    > [...]
    > >CC>Why theists think atheism has or implies a nihilistic pit is something
    > >have never understood.
    > [...]
    > The real question is not whether atheism is good or bad, but whether
    > atheism is even *true*
    > I was recently watching the video "Atheism versus Christianity" where a
    > leading US atheist, Frank Zindler, debated a leading Christian apologist
    > William Lane Craig.
    > Craig defined "atheism" as "the view which asserts that God does not
    > exist".
    > Then Craig asked Zindler the question: "What is the evidence that atheism
    > is *true*?"
    > Craig pointed out that it was not good enough for Zindler to argue that
    > there is not enough evidence to prove that God *does* exist. If atheism is
    > to be accepted as true, then atheists must show that God *does not* exist.
    > Zindler repeatedly tried to sidestep Craig's question, even trying to
    > redefine atheism out of existence as effectively agnosticism. Needles to
    > say, Craig won the debate, even in the opinion of some atheists in the
    > audience!
    > So maybe our resident atheists (e.g Chris and Susan, and any others) would
    > like to make the case for atheism by answering William Lane Craig's
    > question: "What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?"

    Atheism, as such, is mere non-belief in a God (under typical definitions),
    so the question, as Craig states it, is *mis-*stated (this is, I believe a
    typical tactic of Craig's, though it has been some time since I bothered
    with him, so I may have him confused with someone else).

    However, as you indicate, there are other forms of atheism. Agnosticism is
    one. Another is agnosticism with a *presumption* (not an actual claim) that
    God does not exist. This form is the strongest form that does not implicitly
    require some sort of argumentation. The stronger form is the claim that God
    does not exist. This form, unless it is merely an overstatement of the
    previous form, *does* make a "positive" claim about what exists or doesn't
    exist. Therefore, it does involve a burden of proof.

    But, the proofs vary according to specifics of the God defined. Some Gods
    can be dispatched with a simple argument from evil, others by arguments from
    internal contradictions implied by the definitions, still others by the
    ultimate meaningless of the definitions (that is, they sound like
    definitions, but, upon closer examination, are seen to be incoherent, or
    free of specific concrete by reference to which it might be said what they
    actually might be), and so on.

    I have yet to see a strong variant of the Christian God that is not
    logically contradictory or defined in such a way as to be meaningless.

    But, there is a fundamental problem with nearly *all* variants. It is this:

    The God is alleged to be *the* primary existing thing, and to be in "total"
    power over what exists. Yet, this God must be made of something, of some
    sort of substance (or "substance" if literal substance is too strong). This
    substance must have a metaphysical status of its own, or it cannot be said
    *really* to exist except as a contingent attribute of, state of, process in,
    or thing made of, something else (and that something else would then be the
    *real* primary existent substance -- or at least one step closer to being
    the primary existent substance).

    But, *whatever* God is made of, *it* is metaphysically prior to *Him* (if
    not also *temporally* prior to Him). He did not create it. He did not create
    Himself. But, if this basic substance is primary, then God is not really
    God, at least by some definitions, because it is what He is made of that is
    metaphysically primary, not He Himself. This disproves the existence of a
    certain type of God, but the difference between this type of God and
    standard types is too small to be significant, at least in this context
    (though, oddly, it has implications for theistic morality).

    Clearly, as a "perfect" being (such are the allegations, anyway), God must
    be the epitome of perfect order and structure for such a being. There cannot
    be, in God, the kinds of "design" flaws that we find throughout ordinary
    living organisms. He must be a *perfect* example of form following function,

    But, Houston, we have a problem. Such a God could not, obviously, have just
    popped into existence by magic from nothing. Nor can we imagine such a thing
    just always existing. Such a being would have to be *constructed*. It would
    have to be *designed*. And yet, prior to its existence, there could not be,
    by definition, *anything* to do the designing.

    No, we cannot argue that perhaps He *evolved*, because, prior to His
    existence, there could not be *anything* to provide an environment in which
    such beings could evolve.

    Let's see: He can't just pop into existence already fully formed. He can't
    create Himself from nothing. He can't evolve. As a specific being, he can't
    be metaphysically primary. He's clearly the product of *infinitely
    intelligent design* but also absolutely without possibility of *being*
    designed, because, by definition, there cannot be a prior existing thing to
    do the designing (and who would therefore be the real God, in any case -- a
    God just as in need of design as the one we started with).

    I suggests that this argument pretty well eliminates the possibility of any
    true God existing. There are, of course, numerous ways to *try* to
    resuscitate Him, but I don't know of any that come close to working.

    Why does this work? It works because the "standard" concepts of God all
    define Him (as the pronoun suggests) as some sort of mind. What I have done
    is point out that, *whatever* He is, He must have a substantial basis of
    some sort (or end up being metaphysically *identical* to perfect
    nothingness) and that it is not possible that He either *always* existed
    (i.e., infinitely) or that he merely popped into existence fully formed.
    Logically, God *does* require a designer; we can't resort to naturalistic
    explanations in this case, and we cannot logically just accept the existence
    of such a perfectly constructed being as a logico/metaphysical primary (it
    *requires* an explanation).

    I believe all logically possible prospective ways of dealing with this
    predicament either fail outright or lead into yet *worse* predicaments, or
    lead into further iterations of the same predicament (i.e., designers
    requiring even *more* perfect designers for their own existence, etc.).

    This line of argument, and the general incoherence of all mainstream
    "concepts" of God lead me to the conclusion that, not only do we not know
    that God exists, not only may we *presume* that He doesn't exist (until
    Craig or someone comes up with a sound argument), but also that we know that
    He does *not* exist.

    Of course, something like theism could still be salvaged by merely
    redefining "God" to make Him a supreme being in a much less demanding sense
    (one who evolved from earlier beings many trillion trillion trillion
    universes ago, perhaps, and who is only *extremely* powerful, etc.). From
    *our* point of view, we could not tell the difference (unless He told us, of
    course), so nearly all of the alleged facts of Christianity could be saved
    (along with the similar alleged facts of thousands of other religions). But,
    somehow, I don't think religious folk are usually willing to settle for a
    possible God if His power, etc., must be limited. They'd rather have their
    current Gods, even though He can't possibly exist. That is, given the choice
    between a logically possible God who doesn't quite measure up to their myths
    and a God who measures up to their myths but who is logically impossible,
    they will nearly always opt for the impossible God. Faith does not care much
    about logic (to understate it considerably).

    And yet, such a "lesser" God would be just as good for us, in objective
    terms, as any God ever proposed. For example, he might provide us with souls
    that are revived in something akin to Heaven, he might answer prayers, he
    might appear in people's visions and carry on conversations with them, he
    might smite the heathens such as myself, and so on. If he didn't let on, and
    if people managed to avoid lines of argument such as mine above, he could
    play the role of any variant of the Christian God without any human *ever*
    detecting that he was not *truly* a supreme being in the sense Christianity
    and other religions usually use.

    So, a question arises: Given that we mere humans could never tell the
    difference, it's obvious that, for explanatory purposes, such a "lesser" God
    would be *exactly* as good as *the* (alleged) God, *why* do Christians (and
    others) insist on a God that imposes an insuperable burden of proof, that is
    *infinitely* more than is required by any known facts (even if we assume
    that *some* sort of god is required), and so on?

    The answer I think is that such a God, though impossible, and though a
    massive violation of the principle of Occam's Razor, and though generally
    logically needless, is nevertheless more "religious." People like the idea
    of an infinite being, an all-powerful being, an all-knowing being, etc. The
    use of such descriptions gives the typical God an "aura" of being *the*
    final answer to all questions, *the* ultimate basis in metaphysics, etc. It
    gives people the *feeling* that they have finally "arrived," that no more
    thought is needed. The use of such terms also gives people an excuse for the
    apparent incoherence of the idea of God. Since, by His basic nature, He is
    supposed to be "beyond" or "outside" of our natural world, we have an
    instant excuse for the fuzziness of claiming the existence of something that
    is a mind and yet existentially powerful, is immaterial and yet exists, etc.
    It is a wonderful example of, and excuse for more of, what I call
    "Rationalistic Claptrap" (the sort of fog-based "reason" of people like
    Descartes and Plato).

    In my next post, and directly relevant to the topic of this list, I will
    propose a "micro-god," to account for the rich diversity of life on Earth as
    we know it today. I will do this to point up both major flaws in ID theory
    and to emphasize a point related to Occam's Razor in relation to evolution.

    But, for now, my answer to the question, "Is atheism (in the strong sense)
    *true*?" is: "Yes. Standard Gods *cannot* be metaphysically primary *as*
    Gods, and they *cannot* exist without either being designed or evolved, both
    of which are definitionally excluded."

    The *evidence* that atheism is true is thus inherent in the very *idea* of
    God (as normally defined). QED

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