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Some Logical Conundrums for Atheists

Materialism

Bertrand Russell, the greatest atheist of the twentieth century, said, “The only statements that are true are those that can be empirically verified (verified by scientific observation or experimentation).” Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the greatest philosophers of twentieth century, replied, “That statement cannot be empirically verified.”

Hence, to only believe in what can (or will) be proven by science (which basically includes the entire material universe) is a self-contradicting philosophy. Hence, there has to be something beyond the material. There has to be something super-natural.

Truth

If you say, “All truth is relative” (a matter of human opinion) then you are stating an absolute truth. Hence the statement is self-refuting. If you admit that there are some objective truths (true ideas) that do not come from humans, then they could only have come from God, because ideas (truth) can only come from an intelligence (a thinking being).

Thought

“If my thoughts are the result of the random movements of atoms in my brain, then I have no reason to believe they are true. And hence I have no reason to believe that my thoughts are the result of the random movements of atoms in my brain.”

This proves that if our thoughts are caused by strictly material causation then it is impossible for us to know whether they are true. However, if thought is a tool that allows us to grasp objective truth (which can only come from a higher intelligence) we have a basis for believing our thoughts are true.

Creation

If it is illogical to believe in an uncreated intelligent being (a creature that always existed) is it not equally foolish to believe in an uncreated universe (a universe that just always existed)?

Posted: September 16th 2012

George Locke

Materialism

The claim you attribute to Russell is self-refuting, as you say. (I can’t be sure if that’s actually something Russell said/wrote. The only place I find it is in versions of the argument you’ve made, not in any piece of his writing.) Basically, you’ve run up against the problem of induction; after all, science is essentially formalized inductive reasoning.

Science by itself cannot prove that induction is absolutely reliable, but, then, it doesn’t set out to do so. Instead, science gives us confidence in our inferences. Such confidence can be justified with statistical arguments that do not depend on empirical verification (see section three of this article). Even if these arguments are not sufficient, you still can’t infer the supernatural.

Let’s assume we can’t solve the problem of induction. That leaves us with an unsolved problem. There may be a naturalistic explanation we haven’t thought of, or there may not. Unless you can prove that there is no naturalistic explanation, you can’t infer a supernatural explanation. (Even then, there might simply be no explanation.)

But it gets worse. Even if I accept your argument wholesale and admit that the problem of induction is ultimately solved by some supernatural phenomenon, this would not imply theism. You still have the hard work of identifying that supernatural cause and showing that it is some sort of deity. Materialism per se may be in trouble, but not atheism. I don’t think atheists need be concerned if materialism is violated in this way.

Truth

Like you, I find relativistic notions of truth unsatisfying at best, but this “argument” amounts to mere wordplay. You’re confusing “truths” with “true ideas”. Ideas exist in minds, whereas truths are mind-independent. Gravity would work whether anyone had any ideas about it or not.

Thoughts

I believe that thoughts are the result of physical processes in the brain, but these processes are not “random”! The brain is a finely tuned machine whose parts work together in an intricate ballet.

In any case, evolution weeds out brains that fail to perceive the world accurately. Our brains aren’t perfect, but there are sound naturalistic reasons to expect them to work well.

Creation

We don’t know enough to justify belief in either claim, but the theistic option is a much bigger stretch.

This is funny because it’s a direct reversal of an argument against creation. Some people find reasons that the universe should require a creator, but atheists often point out that those reasons (e.g. complexity) usually indicate that the creator also requires a creator. You’ve inverted the form of this atheist argument, which is clever but not particularly convincing.

The bottom line is that we don’t know what caused the universe. Maybe it always existed, maybe it popped into existence, but we don’t know why. What is illogical is assuming that God caused the universe without any evidence or convincing argument. God is a possible explanation, but as explanations go, God is very complex (God is person-like, conscious, intentional, interested in us, etc.). In general, simpler explanations, like an uncreated universe, are much more palatable.

As I said, I don’t know how (or if) the universe began. We don’t have enough information to answer this question. And remember, unanswered questions do not mean goddidit.

(When I say I “don’t know how the universe began”, I’m not disputing our knowledge of cosmology. What I mean is that I don’t know why the Big Bang occurred. The Big Bang did occur, and in some sense that’s how the universe “began”. I just want to be clear that knowing that the Big Bang occurred isn’t the same thing as knowing “why there is something rather than nothing”.)

Posted: October 19th 2012

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SmartLX www

Materialism

Even if Russell was wrong, and something which cannot be proven by science is not necessarily false, it isn’t necessarily true either. There’s no basis for the claim that there “must” be something supernatural.

Truth

You conflate truth with ideas. Ideas can only come from intelligence, but truth can be independent of intelligence as far as we know. For example, if life had never existed on this planet, it would still be true that it orbits the sun. It’s just that no one would know it.

Thought

The movements of atoms and electrical impulses in our brains are not random, or our brains simply would not work. They are in fact tightly controlled interactions, which can be predicted to some extent and then observed in brain scans.

Nobody said we all have to be right about what’s true. Absolute knowledge that most things are true is unobtainable, as long as the possibility of solipsism remains. Everything around us could be an illusion, including the presence of a god that some people think is apparent. However, the world tends to work the way we expect most of the time, maintaining mundane mechanisms such as gravity and reliable arithmetic (e.g. 1+1=2). This means that our brains are at least using approximations of reality which are in some sense correct, even if every individual detail is wrong. A deity is superfluous to this reasoning.

Creation

Whether or not the universe is uncreated, at least we know (inasmuch as we know anything) that it exists. The same is not true of anything matching the description of a god. You’re comparing speculations about the qualities of a known object to the wholesale fabrication of an unobserved entity.

Posted: October 8th 2012

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Blaise www

Although you don’t actually seem to have a question, just a number of arguments you somehow think are powerful, I’ll respond anyway:

Materialism
“Hence, to only believe in what can (or will) be proven by science (which basically includes the entire material universe) is a self-contradicting philosophy. Hence, there has to be something beyond the material.” – This logic is ridiculous. While it is true that in a Cartesian sense, we can never be sure our perception is reality, the fact is that our perception of reality is the only one we have. Therefore, we can believe in the results of the scientific method because it demonstrably works.

However, even assuming that you had found a way to invalidate science, the idea that the absence of science means God exists is pure fantasy, based on no logical, evidential, or even sensible arguments…

Truth

“If you say, 'All truth is relative’...” – We don’t.
“If you admit that there are some objective truths (true ideas) that do not come from humans, then they could only have come from God” – Incorrect. Truths come from reality.
“ideas (truth) can only come from an intelligence” – “idea” does not equal “truth”. Ideas can be true or false, so this is a silly argument.

Thought

Why ever would you think that your thoughts are true? As your arguments demonstrate, your thoughts are scattered and deeply flawed. Ideas and thoughts can be true or false. Only the ones that correspond with extensive observation and logical analysis should be trusted as 'true’, and even then, never absolutely.

Creation

“ is it not equally foolish to believe in an uncreated universe (a universe that just always existed)? “ – Finally, a question! Unfortunately, it is a useless question, because it ignores what we know:

First, we know a universe exists, but gods/universal creators are just hypotheses with no evidence to support them.

Second, we know that there are multiple ways a universe could be created spontaneously, because mathematics has proven they are possible, so even if we don’t know which, if any, of those theories are true, we know they could be. We don’t know that about god myths, which are all either internally logically inconsistent, or too vague to really tell us anything.

Third, we know that it’s very possible that the term “always existed” is meaningless, in a cosmological context, because time has to exist for it to have value, and there’s no proof that time exists outside of human perception. Even if time is objective within the universe we know, we have no proof that it existed before the big bang.

Posted: October 7th 2012

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