I mentioned this yesterday, but (as I try to keep my posts short) didn’t point out one of the more obvious problems facing the materialist in opposition to religious belief: determinism removes the force of its proponents’ attempts to persuade.
Materialism entails determinism (the idea that we aren’t actually in control of our actions, but are simply moved by chemical reactions in our brains). It’s already been said that this undermines rationality (thus undermining any argument the materialist can give), but it also gives the theist another response to anything the materialist might say.
That is, that she was determined to believe in God.
In fact, Rosenberg (a kind of evolutionary determinist himself) seems to make this same observation.
We won’t shake any [Religion]. There are so many, they are so long-lasting, that false religious beliefs must have conferred lots of adaptive advantages on believers. (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. 111)
Here, Rosenberg seems to be pointing out the rather obvious fact that, if determinism is true, it is unlikely that religious belief will ever disappear from humanity.
Still, I think he should have gone further. As he’s already pointed out that materialism undermines belief in moral truth, he’s been reduced to arguing that he and his fellow atheists will behave morally without any rational reason to do so.
I don’t doubt that, of course, the atheists I know tend to be very moral people. But Rosenberg seems to have missed the obvious conclusion: that theistic belief could be defended on the exact same grounds. Really, the only difference between the two, on his own perspective, is that the pattern of his brain states led him to embrace the one and reject the other.
And this seems to describe the overwhelming majority of materialists I’ve encountered. For all the moral outrage we’ve seen directed at “religion” in recent years, the loudest voices are themselves claiming that their outrage is no more rational, nor otherwise defensible, than the beliefs they decry.
That being the case, it is hard to see why so many materialists have insinuated that theists are morally and rationally obligated to abandon theism. If the theist is determined to believe in theism, this seems an unreasonable demand.
All this is to say that telling people that they should reject the idea of God’s existence, among other things, presumes that human beings are capable of rational thought.
In my view, if materialism contradicts trust of our rational faculties, so much the worse for materialism. What strikes me as strange are those who think “so much the worse for rational thought”. Stranger still are those who think this, then act scandalized by the idea that theists aren’t being rational.
But, of course, this assumes that materialists are right to say that theism is irrational, or that determinism is true (or that any of its more strange claims are accurate). I don’t see any reason to think materialism is true, and several reasons to think otherwise.
But that is another topic.