Morality Without Religion - Franz de Waal
An Atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a god or gods. The critical characteristic is belief. Anyone who does not have an affirmative belief in at least one god is an Atheist. Beliefs are a result of knowledge, experience and feelings. While beliefs can change, they are not the result of a willful process. One either has a belief or doesn’t. One cannot decide whether or not to have a belief. Faith is a belief maintained without supporting evidence or in the face of controverting evidence. Atheists do not have faith in god because they do not believe that any god exists. Hard Atheism, also known as Anti-theism, is the affirmative belief that no gods exists.
There are many gods that people have worshiped. Everyone is an Atheist with regards to gods in which they don’t believe, for example, Zeus, Thor, and Huitzilopotchli are worshiped by very few people. People are not born believing in god. Typically, people are born into a family that worships a particular god or gods and taught the culture, history and texts associated with a religion. One may or may not be convinced to believe and worship in the religion. Atheists may have been born into Atheist family, never convinced to believe in their family’s religion or converted from a religion to Atheism. The transition from religious to Atheist may take many years and go through many stages of belief, for example, from not believing in the hierarchy of a particular religion, to not believing in the doctrine of a particular religion, to not believing in a particular form of god, to not believing in any form of god. Atheists may be assumed to be immoral or evil in a religious community. Many people who are Atheists have not told their family, friends and co-workers that they are Atheist because of the social repercussions, from ostracism to death, of being an Atheist in a believing community.
An Agnostic lacks knowledge. An Agnostic Atheist does not believe in god because they do not know that god exists. At least one god either exists or does not exist. Whether or not one wants a god to exist does not affect whether or not a god actually exists. An agnostic atheist has not been convinced that god exists because of a lack of evidence that any god exists.
In a debate, the theistic claim that there is a god carries the philosophical burden of proof because it makes an affirmative claim that god exists. Many theists believe that there is evidence for god based on religious texts, subjective experience or the apparent design of the universe. However, texts are written and interpreted by humans. Fictional religious figures may be mistaken for historical figures. The appearance of known locations or historical figures in a religious text do not guarantee that the text is true in its supernatural claims. The feelings and behaviors described by believers as evidence of god can be felt and experienced by non-believers in ecstatic states, including talking in tongues, or as a result of mental or physical impairment. Also, the apparent design of the universe and life is explainable by the alternative hypotheses of the Big Bang Theory and Evolutionary Theory. The Big Bang Theory explains how the universe developed from the explosion of a singularity. How the physical constants of the universe were determined is not known. Some posit that they may have been determined by chance given a multiverse of infinite universes, but this is currently speculation. Evolutionary Theory explains how life adapts to its environment over generations. The mechanism of how life arose, Abiogenesis, is not fully understood, but is under investigation.
In science, a theory is not simply an idea or speculation. A theory is an explanation of a phenomenon in the natural world confirmed based on repeated observation and experimentation subjected to peer review. Peer review is when other experts in a subject review evidence to determine if the appropriate methods have been used and analysis have been done to provide credible evidence. If a phenomenon is not well known or understood but someone has an idea of how it may be explained, then a hypothesis may be put forward, but it will not be accepted as theory without rigorous testing. If there is no known explanation for a phenomenon, then one can choose to try explore possible hypotheses or say, “I don’t know.” Just because something is not known does not mean that god can be assumed to be the explanation. There may be an explanation in the natural world that has not yet been discovered or understood. Existing theories can be overturned or modified based on new evidence, but it is rare that an entire theoretical framework is disrupted. More often, additional hypotheses are put forward and tested at the limits of a theory, modifying or enhancing specific explanations within a larger theoretical framework.
A Gnostic Atheist claims to know that gods do not exist. However, the universe is so large and we have such a limited view of it and what may be beyond it that it is impossible to truly know that god does not exist. If there is a being with access to the fifth dimension, that being would appear to have the qualities of omniscience and omnipotence and possibly the powers often ascribed to gods. It may have the power to create in our four dimensional world the way that we create drawings and sculptures in two and three dimensions. However, even if such a being exists, it is unlikely to be alone and it must have originated somehow, which would also be a study of the natural world, just an aspect of it that we don’t normally experience, like quantum mechanics at the atomic level. There is no reason to worship such a being other than out of fear and ignorance. If such a being exists, then we should try to communicate with it and understand it. However, there is no evidence that any such being exists.
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Reasonable Faith Podcast
In the lecture, Something From Nothing? A conversation with Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, author, and Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and Director of the Arizona State University Origins Project, which sponsored the event, discussed physics, chemistry, biology, politics and religion. Although Krauss asked most of the questions, he also discussed the topics. The core arguments are as follows.
The universe began from the Big Bang about 4.5 billion years ago and encompasses everything that we can observe. We don’t know what happened before the Big Bang. The laws of physics that we experience in this universe may be an accident of the creation of the universe among many other universes. Empty space has energy, enabling the creation of particles from nothing and causing the continuing expansion of the universe. If the energy were larger, the universe would have expanded too quickly to create galaxies. If the energy were smaller, the universe would have collapsed.
We evolved in this universe, so these are the laws of physics that we experience and observe. We live in a special time when we can observe the universe almost from its creation and, therefore, include that information when developing scientific theories. In the far future, the universe will have expanded so far and be moving away from us so fast that we can no longer observe other galaxies. At that time, we will once again appear to be the center of an endless void.
Hydrogen, helium and Lithium were the elements created in the Big Bang. All the other elements are created in stars. 100,000 galaxies can be observed in a dime sized hole in the sky. Our galaxy alone contains hundreds of billions of stars. One star explodes every 100 years per galaxy. About 200 million stars have exploded in our galaxy. This is an illustration that rare events happen many times over a long enough time scale. The atoms that make up most of our bodies come from exploding stars.
Life began about 4 billion years ago with the first self-replicating molecules. The mechanism for creating self-replicating molecules using a precursor to DNA is not known, but is under investigation. The diversity of life took off with the Cambrian Explosion about half a billion years ago. About 25 million years ago, humans share a common ancestor with other primates. Humans are more closely related to chimpanzees and orangutans than gorillas. We are in a great period of extinction; more than 99.9% of species are extinct. What appears as design in the structure of life often reveals flaws upon closer inspection, like the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the appendix, and is explainable by evolution. While evolution has been observed and there is a wealth of evidence in the fossil records, there are still questions to be answered. However, the God of the Gaps argument is a fallacy. Just because an answer is not known does not mean that one can say that God did it. We have trouble understanding the immensity of the universe and observing evolution because we were influenced by natural selection to have a brain that observes events in a relatively short life span of about 100 years , which does not allow us to personally observe many rare events and making them seem improbable or impossible without the outside intervention of a God.
Krauss and Dawkins also discussed political implications of science and atheism. They felt that an astrophysicist who believes the world is 6000 years old should not be teaching, a doctor who doesn’t believe in evolution should not be practicing, and a politician who has extreme religious beliefs should not be elected. Holding strong beliefs that contradict available evidence indicates that one’s reasoning skills are impaired and one should not be trusted as a professional. There are no certainties in science, only the probable and improbable. The universe looks like there is no God, making God extremely improbable. If there were a God, there wouldn’t be a point to science.
In the Reasonable Faith podcast, A Universe From Nothing?, William Lane Craig, a well-known Christian apologist, responds to excerpts of Lawrence Krauss lecturing on his book, A Universe From Nothing. Craig uses Leibniz’s argument for the existence of God. Why there is something rather than nothing is the first and most fundamental question. Because there is something rather than nothing there must be a necessary being whose non-existence is impossible and this is sufficient reason that anything exists. This metaphysically necessary being is God. Nothing is the absence of anything. The quantum vacuum that Krauss describes has the potential to create the universe and is, therefore, something. The potential for the universe lies in God. Without God, the universe must have existed forever or popped into being uncaused, neither of which is possible. A transcendent reality or eternal, contingent universe must exist.
Science only deals with existence and can’t explain non-existence. Science frequently gives counterintuitive answers. We shouldn’t accept absurd ideas. What is something or nothing is the realm of philosophy. The conceptual distinctions of philosophy are needed to answer these questions. Nothing is used as a label for the quantum vacuum, but it has properties, so it cannot be nothing. After the collapse of verificationism, that held that only sentences that can be verified are meaningful, naturalized epistemology arose, which holds that you shouldn’t try to work out fundamental questions, rather you should work out a world view based on the teachings of science. Science professors think that they have the answers to the fundamental questions. Philosophy of science reflects on the meaning of science and determines philosophical presuppositions of science. Science is the confirmation of conclusions already reached on the basis of philosophical argument. Scientific theories have limits of application, which are discovered by where they fail.
The question of why something exists must be addressed. Krauss’ theory brings up the questions, why didn’t the quantum vacuum spawn the universe sooner and what was the beginning of the quantum state? Theology tells us what God and Jesus are like. Even if not empirically testable, predictions are given. There must be a transcendent, non-physical reality that brought the universe into being.
While William Lane Craig makes some good points, his arguments fail to convince. The meaning of what is being researched is critical, but philosophers are not the only professionals who can create definitions. Scientists excel at defining how and what they are observing because it is critical to developing a testable hypothesis which can ultimately become a theory. Nothing is the absence of everything. Mathematically, nothing is represented by zero or the null set and, physically, by the quantum vacuum in the universe or whatever came before the universe. Space, time and gravity were created in the Big Bang. Whatever came before the universe is unknown. If Craig is right that God created everything, there was not nothing then because God was there. Either way nothing is what it is defined to be by common understanding.
That scientists think that they have all of the answers to fundamental questions is patently false. Krauss and Dawkins admit that they don’t know how the Big Bang and the first replicating molecule started. It takes humility to admit that you don’t know something and spend your life researching to figure out the answer. Well trained scientists understand there is never a 100% certain answer, only a range of probabilities that measurements and the current state of research are correct. Craig misunderstands a disdain for faith, belief without evidence, for arrogance. The ultimate humility is being able to admit that one doesn’t know, rather than assuming that one is correct in one’s belief because of a feeling.
Theology has no direct evidence of God or Jesus. Philosophers try to define God into existence, but that does not impact reality. The Judeo Christian God is likely to be as real Zeus or Thor and Jesus of Nazareth as a rabbi with supernatural powers may be as real as Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Myths can provide moral lessons, but without evidence they are only stories to be interpreted, not ultimate truths.
Even if God is real, Craig would need to answer the same question of origins. What made God? Saying that the universe must have a first cause, but God doesn’t is special pleading. Craig says that he is open to learning more about the universe, but there must be a transcendent, non-physical reality. Let’s say that there are additional dimensions as expected in string theory. If there are beings that can access other dimension as well as our own, they might be able to interfere in our affairs in ways predicted by religion. However, even if that were true, that would not make them worthy of worship. It would make them extremely powerful beings, a natural part of the multiverse, against whom we have no defense, worthy of our fear and curiosity, only seeming omniscient and omnipresent because of their access to additional information and dimensions, but more likely capricious and angry like Yahweh or at best a trickster like Loki or giver of knowledge and technology like Athena.
A moving story of Christian deconversion
Christianity Before Christ in Africa - Dr. John Henrik Clarke
God’s God - Darkmatter2525
- My beliefs are based on the best available evidence, logic and reason. I care more about the truth than being satisfied and not being anxious. A scientific theory is a framework of well supported facts which have been tested, not mere conjecture. Faith is the acceptance of a conclusion without evidence. I have no faith. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to be believed and it is the responsibility of those who make a claim to provide the evidence for the claim. There is no reliable evidence of the supernatural. I do not believe in God.
- Humans are fallible. Our senses are limited relative to the total spectrum available. Our brains often misinterpret our senses and can create hallucinations. People lie intentionally and because they believe their fallible brains. Personal experience without external validation and corroboration is unreliable. Although authorities may help determine and interpret evidence, my beliefs are not based on the number of other people who believe them and do not depend on any particular authority to confirm them.
- I don’t know everything. I don’t know how the Big Bang happened and life started. No one knows everything. That something is unknown does not mean that a consciousness explains what is not known. The unknown is not currently known, but may be discovered or explained in the future. I may change my mind. Current conclusions may be modified based on new evidence or the discovery of flawed reasoning.
- I am a single being, produced through the process of evolution, on a planet circling a star among billions of stars in a galaxy among billions of galaxies which began from the Big Bang and have a reality outside my mind. I am extremely lucky to be alive at this time in this place. I don’t celebrate holy days. Every day in my short life is precious. My purpose is whatever I make it to be.
- There are consequences to my actions in this life. My impact on the world is primarily through interaction with others. If I hurt others, I will not be respected and will be more likely to be hurt by others. Hurting others intentionally when it can be avoided is evil. If I help and enjoy myself with others, I can develop a circle of friends who will enrich my life and help me when I am in need. Living my life in a way that develops me mentally and physically and helps others is good.
- I cannot leave this planet and it and my ability to live on it may be destroyed in many ways. The Earth will be destroyed in the death of the Sun. The Universe is expanding and heading towards a heat death. I will die. When I die, my consciousness will end and my body will disintegrate. My intellectual products, physical creations, and the impact that I have had on others are the only things that will survive me. Humans must continue to explore space and understand science to survive or avert the end of the Earth and the Universe.
The Internet: Where Religions Come to Die