The same bad arguments come up again and again, in conversations between atheists and believers. You’ve heard them all before. They’re almost boiler-plate stereotypical.But these are taken verbatim from recent comments on this blog.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “the way the world appears to our five senses is deeply rooted in our physiological makeup.”
THE APPEAL TO SUBJECTIVITY: Sometimes this argument is paired with the quote from Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” This is why it’s so important to root out subjective perceptions. We can define ‘truth’ as what corresponds to observed conditions. The discussion of what exists, is the basis for any ontological argument.
If we want to remove bias in any perceptual system, like our senses, we need to use controlled conditions, and multiple observers.
Consciousness is subjectivity. But we should try to get as close to the perception of “reality” as we can. It’s like the old story of trying to jump out of an imaginary circle by traversing half the distance to the edge each jump. We never get out of the circle, but we can get infinitesimally close to doing so. Science is imperfect, and the problem of induction still remains.
There could exist a variable, or “state vector” that would represent the entire universe as it “is.” A completely omniscient being would know the value of that state vector. If we call that being ‘god,’ we have the basis for much of what passes for religion. Since humans have no way to ever know the ‘mind of god,’ we haven’t solved anything.
If we instead compare notes with others, and attempt to eliminate our preferences and biases, we can collectively do much better as a group, than we could on our own. The system for doing this is science.
Many people assume science is a collection of knowledge. It’s really a system for the continuous improvement of knowledge. When scientific principles are refined or superseded, people tend to pounce and say “aha” science is contradicting itself. But that’s what it’s designed to do. Deliberate questioning of prior assumptions, peer review, and relinquishment of false conclusions are the essence of it.
It sure would be nice to see this kind of self-correction from religious leaders!
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “I know of no science, theory or fact, that has proven there is no God or higher force of nature.”
PROOF-BURDEN SHIFTING: Science doesn’t rule things out, it rules things in. And by “rules,” what I mean is “establishes with a high degree of probability.” There can be no certainty of anything. Not even with strongly supported theories like gravity. More importantly, there’s simply no way to demonstrate with certainty that anything you can think of doesn’t exist somewhere in the universe. This was discussed in Bertrand Russell’s famous “Teapot” thought experiment. Objective science requires hard evidence to recognize existence. And it doesn’t comment on “non-existence” except to say “unproven.”
There’s no evidence for a supreme being that stands up to any scrutiny. No one’s even defined what such evidence would look like. It’s impossible to even describe the question. Such a proposition is unfalisifiable. If you assumed for the sake of argument that there is a supreme being, you you have to ask what created that being. This sets up an infinite chain of ever more powerful deities, to justify the existence of the first one. In the end, you are still left with a need for some spontaneous causal event to start the chain of god or universe creation. Which theologians sidestep with their “First Cause” argument, which is the presupposition of the existence of god as the very basis of cosmology. Richard Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker” outlines this paradox with respect to a different problem, the evolution of complex life.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “How is believing something with reason and logic a contradiction?”
FAILURE TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN BELIEF AND EVIDENCE: Because belief is a feeling, which is an interior brain state (subjectivity). Reason and logic are skills used to interpret data from systematic (objective) observations. Belief puts subjectivity ahead of evidence.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “What if many people have had similar experiences for many hundreds if not thousands of years and these experiences were recorded.”
THE ARGUMENT FROM POPULARITY: Millions of people are often wrong. If they were not following objective standards, it doesn’t matter how many people had an experience. From personal experience, the world looks flat, after all. You can find hundreds of examples of mass hallucinations, hypnosis, or just plain superstition throughout history. Believing thunder was caused by angry gods, believing disease was caused by evil spirits, or believing human sacrifice was justified to appease gods, are just a few small examples.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “I’m not out to attack anyone or anything, nor do I hope to lower the status of anyone who would take issue with my beliefs”
APPEAL TO DECORUM: The truth of an idea has nothing to do with decorum or lack thereof. It has nothing to do with the status of the person asserting it. Religious apologists commonly say that science is “hostile” or “attacks” religion. But science is neutral. It’s the only system that is not swayed by human emotions. You have to show your work. When it comes to science, something isn’t true because I say so, or even because Carl Sagan said so. It has to be verified by rigorous experiments. They must be repeatable by different scientists, in different places, under different conditions. Whether or not we like the result, it’s either true or it isn’t.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “You have used the word psyche to describe the importance of subjective beliefs and their importance in connection with creativity.”
FAILURE TO SEPARATE ART AND FICTION, FROM MYTHS CLAIMED TO BE REAL: Storytelling, imagination, and art are all respectable and important. These are the realms where we can allow subjective feelings to run wild. We can dream up all sorts of fantasies, and scenarios in literature, or on the screen. This is a highly valuable process, and also has great utility in codifying the archetypes that make up human nature and personality.
This is very different from declaring myths to be real, and the characters in those myths being worthy of worship. “Psyche” as a term, is related to “soul.” But remember that the concept of the “soul” was derived as a means to describe the “animating force” of life at a time when metabolic principles had not yet been discovered.