Defending Reason From Atheism

star_trek_2009I was bothered by Mackie’s dismissal of the first two of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways as “based on antiquated science”, but I am much more bothered by his treatment of the last two.

That is, there is no mention of them whatsoever.

As such, there’s little to say other than to point out the obvious fact that silence is not a refutation. It seems a glaring problem that a book on the truth or falsehood of theism treats only one of these arguments (and touches briefly on another), and it is hard to accept a conclusion drawn in avoidance of the best known and most influential arguments of the opposition.

I hope to have something posted about the Fourth and Fifth Ways eventually, but there is one more thing to be said about Mackie’s discussion of the Third Way.

Mackie offered what was, in my view, a very poor argument. He seemed to be simultaneously basing his case on the idea that the universe is eternal and on that it is not eternal (both objections apparently missing Aquinas’ actual point). But he follows that up with something which (again, in my view) is even poorer.

That is, he claims that we needn’t accept this argument because something can come from nothing.

At least, he would have to claim this for his argument to hold. In reality, he merely suggests this, saying that Hume has shown this to be the case.

I’ve often wondered what modern champions of atheism would do without David Hume. So many of the arguments put forth against theism are based on claiming that Hume has “shown” or “proved” beyond all doubt things that are, at best, highly questionable.

What Hume showed is that, given modern assumptions about reality (most of which are common prejudices in our culture) we come to the conclusion that both causation and inductive logic (which are the basis of science) don’t seem to be rational. What is amazing about this is how slow philosophers have been to see this as a reductio ad absurdum of those assumptions.

Hume’s arguments really should be found on the lips of theists, showing the contradictions and obvious falsehoods one is led to when one assumes that the physical is the whole of reality. Instead, his palpably false conclusions are reported to us as sober truth by opponents of theism.

At least, it seems to me that, if one’s atheism leads one to believe that “something can come from nothing for no reason at all”, one has ceased doing rational inquiry and lapsed into a kind of dogmatism–a simple refusal to question Hume’s premises.

But Hume’s premises are precisely what the debate between theists and atheists is about. They are anything but the agreed-upon starting point that many secularists seem to think they are.

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