[Turing] Atheist Answer #5

[Turing] Atheist Answer #5 July 5, 2011

This post is part of the Ideological Turing Test Challenge. Go to the tab above for an overview and remind yourself of the voting and commenting guidelines here.

What’s your best reason for being an atheist?

Anything which is true is known by the senses and also at the same time explained by reason. Experientially or experimentally, there is no test for God. Rationally or logically, all definitions of God fail.

The first scientific experiments by Empedocles 2500 years ago showed that air is a substance: it has weight. Then, 400 years ago, Galileo launched the scientific era. Evidences and proofs for atoms, electrons, positrons, black holes, bacteria, genes, DNA, all of it, often the proof came ahead of the theory to explain it. Other times, the evidence was found to validate the theory. Despite advances in knowledge, there is no experiment to show the existence of God.

Rationally, none of the arguments for God withstands inspection. If God is omniscient then he cannot be omnipotent and vice versa. If he can “do anything” then he cannot be constrained by prior knowledge of what he will do; if he is unconstrained, then he can have no prior knowledge of his actions. It is a cliche to ask: If God is omnipotent, can he make a stone so big he cannot lift it?

Most basically, the universe cannot have had a creator. The universe – no matter how many dimensions or alternates or parallels – is all that was, is, and will be, the sum total of existence. To have created existence is to have been outside of it. That which is outside existence does not exist.

What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to believe in God? If you believed in some kind of god, what kind of evidence would be necessary to convince you to join a particular religion?

Best of all, it would take direct, personal experience, a “road to Damascus” moment that was undeniable to me on my own terms. I would not expect to be able to explain it to anyone else – and I would not care if I could.

(This could explain why there is no proof for God. Those who have direct personal experience need no further proof; and they do not care to convince others. But that would call in to question those who do. This is another contradiction in the theory of God: how do we know God’s will? Unreconcilable claims are too easy to find.)

Second best would be a general demonstration of a miracle not debunked by Penn & Teller or Uri Geller. It would be something like all the guns in the world melting.

To pick a particular religion on God’s terms, God would have to make his wishes known, like melting all the guns on Easter Sunday starting in a big circle from the Saint Peter Basilica. If it started from Canterbury or Salt Lake City, that would be a different message.

When you have ethical and moral disputes with other people, what do you appeal to? What metric do you use to examine your moral intuitions/cultural sensibilities/etc?

I serve on a couple of community boards. People disagree. In disputes with other people, I appeal to their self-interest. If I have a different goal, I try to show how my suggestion will meet their needs.

Reason and evidence are the only modes of proof. Rationalism and empiricism must complement each other for a point to be true. When something is good, it is good all the way around; and it suggests other good actions and ideas. When something is bad, it fails on many levels, in many contexts. I test for logical consistency and completeness and physical evidence of the consequences.

Why is religion so persistent? We have had political revolutions, artistic revolutions, an industrial revolution, and also religious reformations of several kinds, but religion endures. Does this not suggest its basic truth?

People are not that smart. It takes time for old ways to change.

A couple of Ice Ages ago, we might have a genius every three generations. Now we have clubs full of them. With billions of people living more than two or three decades, we have more intelligence. (The “Flynn Effect” – James R. Flynn based on the research of Richard Lynn – says that our general IQ is increasing about 3% per decade.) Not surprisingly, when you put “atheism on the rise” in a search engine, you see that religion is falling away. Add agnosticism and similar wavery non-beliefs and the numbers are larger.

And religion is becoming more sophisticated. A few years ago, I read a dissertation for a doctorate in divinity on the nature of angels. It made the Bible seem like a chorus of “Jesus Loves Me.” Long ago, people had crude but fixed ideas about gods and goddesses and their relationships to thunder and plants. Now, their God is the “First Principle” or an “Unmoved Mover” or “the Soul of the Universe.”

Basically, religion is evaporating among those with active intelligence, even though the tradition persists among the ignorant.

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