Wow. Today Markus has a big one for us, and since it’s so big, I’m going to break it up to answer it…
Message: Dear Erick,
Here are some of my thoughts and questions I have on your recent blog posting: “God, morality, religion and evolution?” My apologies if you have already answered my question(s) below in another post, but a quick search could not find anything related.
A bit about myself to give you some context. I am a Christian, a theologian, and a pastor, but I am most certainly open to the insights of science. For example, in my post below, my questioning is not about the validity of evolution (I fully accept I am a highly evolved hominid), but related to epistemology.
You give your reason for being an atheist as follows:
“… it’s because I have a love affair with the truth. I believe that the hardest thing for anyone to do, is to see things as they are and not just how they wished they would be. This means that when faced with the truth of something, even if that something is unpleasant, I am compelled to accept it.”
It is your notion of “truth” that captured my attention. Most of us will agree that there is some form of “truth”, or the ability to acquire rational knowledge about the world, no matter how slippery that truth may be to pin down.
Hi Markus. Thanks for the intro. Lets get down to business.
But as a theist (maybe leaning towards panentheism), I would like to ask you, an atheist, is your love affair with the truth not a delusion? What truth are you speaking about? You speak about truth as if it really exists (I agree it does), but I question the epistemological grounding of your “truth”.
When I say “truth” I mean that which aligns itself the most with reality, that which is grounded in fact. For example, it is true that if you are on the earth, and you drop a ball, it will fall. It is true that if you cross the street directly in front of a car, you will get hit. It is true that the half hour before a lunch break is longer then the hour of the lunch break itself. (okay, maybe not that last one. lol )
You have faith that your atheism is true. You have faith that your ability to reason gives reliable knowledge, and is not mere epiphenomenal froth. You have faith that the world around us is rationally intelligible. Why? Why do you believe that your subjective experiences, opinions or knowledge is in any way real or reliable?
You are wrong here. I don’t have faith that atheism is true. I have a reasonable expectation that it is true. Faith is most often defined as “that which is hoped for but not seen.” It is belief without evidence. “Reasonable expectation” is based on evidence. For example I don’t have faith that my light switch in my bedroom will turn on, I have a reasonable expectation that it will based upon my understanding of how light switches work plus previous experience with them. If it doesn’t turn on I know it’s because of some type of mechanical failure. All evidential. I hold that the rejection of theism is sound because of the lack of evidence on the theists part. I do not accept faith as a reasonable way to determine existence. I believe that my experiences are reliable until such time that they are not. If you do not believe that the world around us is rationally intelligible then there is no point in having this discussion. The question of theism is based upon the assumption that both parties believe that existence has a rational explanation to it.
From a purely naturalist perspective, evolution on its own has no concern for truth, cognitive processes, or your atheism. All our mental faculties, beliefs, etc. are seen as evolutionary spandrels and exaptations, the product of blind processes or chance. But then should we not take this to its logical conclusion? I mean, the very same chance that produced our minds, certainly it should also randomly produce mental phenomena? In fact, your atheism (and my theism) is just a method of “natural selection” to propagate genes. (And research shows that religious people have more children than atheists – is this merely a sign of reproductive fitness? 😉
The point is, our cherished beliefs, opinions or knowledge appear to be a means to an end (selfish genes/evolution), and not an end in itself. It is something that can only be haphazard or random. Truth has no ontological status or inherent quality about it. Why then, should atheism (or theism) or any form of knowledge be deemed reliable and true?
If there is no God, or Ultimate Reality, that is, an objective quality about our world that is not subject to random and blind processes, then any notion of “truth” is a massive exercise in self-delusion. So is our experience of the “I”, intentionality, responsibility, and personal agency. We are puppets manipulated and deceived by the strings of physics and evolution.
My question to you is: how does atheism ground, support, or defend the existence of “truth”? Truth presupposes a universal, super-arbitrary standard that cannot be obtained from nature.
Again the question of theism starts with the assumption that existence has a rational explanation to it, and that reality is that which exists despite our observation of it and that the truth of that existence can be understood rationally. If your contention is that one can not know the true nature of reality because of subjective observation, then you have subsequently removed yourself from the discussion of theism. (this is why more often then not philosophical discussions end up going no where)
Well Markus, I’m not sure if I answered your questions to your liking, so if you have more questions on the subject feel free to ask in the comment section below. I’ll do my best to expand on my answers there. Thanks for joining us.