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

From: Chris Cogan (
Date: Thu Jan 20 2000 - 22:09:21 EST

  • Next message: Chris Cogan: "Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?"

    > I have found this discussion, largely between Stephen E. Jones and Chris
    > Cogan, to be interesting and helpful. I will say that Chris' arguments
    > strike me as largely inspired by Aristotle, and while I am partial to
    > Aristotle's methods and judgments, I don't find Chris' arguments against a
    > certain version of theism convincing -- particularly his discussion of
    > substance and contingency, which is confusing. (Chris' Aristotelianism
    > be a corollary to his Objectivism, although Ayn Rand's allegiance to
    > Aristotle is highly selective and restrictive.

    As is my allegiance to Rand and Aristotle.

    I regard Existence as a metaphysical and epistemological primary. *What*
    Existence is (or what it is that actually exists) is a different question. I
    simply take a minimalist position here, which, so far as I can tell at
    present is a kind of naturalism (though not all forms of naturalism are
    minimalist). Jones is plumping for a theory that seems to serve no cognitive
    function that is not more elegantly, cleanly, simply, and less drastically
    served by alternative naturalistic theories.

    Non-naturalism seems to be simply a waste of time and mind. Even if we could
    prove that abiogenesis and macroevolution are impossible on Earth, would we
    need a non-naturalistic alternative? No. As I pointed out, contrary to
    Jones' claim, naturalism does not imply or require evolution. Evolution is
    natural to it, but not necessary. He would also have to disprove a multitude
    of *other* non-naturalistic theories. But, so far, even invalidating
    abiogenesis and macroevolution has proved to be too much for the
    "Intelligent Design" folks. The best they have done is point out what was
    accepted all along: That we can't be absolutely certain that abiogenesis
    occurred or that macroevolution is just longer stretches of

    One way to approach the issue of whether non-naturalism has a real basis is
    to ask: What kinds of empirical facts would *require* a non-naturalistic
    explanation (not merely a novel or very unusual *naturalistic* explanation
    that might require going beyond present understanding)? I can't think of
    any, and I doubt that anyone else can, either. In fact, in order to help
    clarify the issue -- and possibly resolve it conclusively -- I challenge
    anyone to come up with an imaginable set of empirical facts that would
    *require* a truly non-naturalistic explanation. Alleged facts offered by
    Jones (such as the supposed resurrection of Christ) certainly don't do it,
    since I can *easily* think of a few naturalistic alternatives to
    non-naturalism to explain this resurrection (even if I were able to accept
    that there is any strong evidence that Christ existed and that the
    resurrection occurred).

    Another way to approach this issue is to ask: If there's a non-naturalistic
    explanation, what explains *it*? Jones wants a designer. Fine. What explains
    the designer? Did it *evolve*? I hardly think Jones would find that theory
    acceptable. Did it *always* exist (infinitely)? If so, then why could there
    not be *naturalistic* life that always existed (from a prior big bang
    universe, or from outside what we take to be our universe now, perhaps) and
    that came and "seeded" our planet and left an as-yet-undiscovered machine
    that occasionally "tweaked" genes to produce the apparent macroevolutionary
    effect? If the alleged designer did *not* always exist, then how did *it*
    come to be? Obviously, it can't evolve if Jones rejects real macroevolution
    as such, so it must have been created by yet *another* designer. This
    obviously leads to a *very* pernicious infinite regress (into ever
    more-sophisticated designers).

    Thus, at some point, he has to say something like, "Okay, this is the *last*
    designer I'm going to postulate. This one was not designed. Nor did it come
    into existence. It just always was and is and will be, *period.*"

    But, is this really any better than the naturalistic theory Jones is
    attempting to refute and replace? Even if we had *no idea at all* as to how
    macroevolution worked, and even if we absolutely excluded naturalistic
    designers, we'd *still* have to say that the theory of evolution was
    *vastly* better than any such monstrous alternative. After all, which is
    worse: A *currently* unanswered question about *how* macroevolution
    occurs -- or a theory that postulates, as the only alternative, that there
    is an incomprehensible infinite being who has always existed and who is
    itself completely inexplicable in *principle*?

    It is considerations such as these that make Jones' claim that I don't care
    about *evidence* for my (tentative) belief in macroevolution so ludicrous.
    Macroevolution is to be preferred precisely because it sticks so *closely*
    to the evidence of genetics, geology, paleontology, physics, chemistry,
    climatology, computer modeling, ordinary biology, animal and plant breeding,
    morphological topological matching, the evolution of antibiotic resistance
    (via the development of new genes) in bacteria, and so on. The
    non-naturalistic designer theory is to be rejected because it basically has
    no support from *any* of these fields of study.

    Consider this: Johnson wants people to reject naturalistic evolutionary
    theory essentially *merely* because he hasn't seen macroevolution. But he
    wants us to *accept* another theory without any *positive* evidence at all,
    but primarily on the basis that he hasn't seen macroevolution. Well, I
    haven't seen electrons, either, but I have all kinds of reasons for
    believing in their existence. I *don't* have any evidence to support the
    alternative non-naturalistic theory that there are no electrons, but that
    there *is* an "Electron God" who, as needed, produces the *effects* that
    *would* be produced *if* electrons existed.

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