Tag Archives: metaphysics

The Reason to End all Reason?

ignorance-facts-do-not-cease-to-exist-because-ignoredSince Smalley offered a bonus reason in his “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Athiest”, I thought I’d follow suit. Really, I want to address the reason he didn’t give, and that other atheists have suggested in place of his entire list.

That is, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard “There’s only one reason to be an atheist: there’s no evidence that God exists”.

If this were true, it would make things very simple. All we’d need to do is point out moral truth, the existence of non-physical properties of the human mind, the fact that the universe needs an explanation for both its existence and structure, or any of the other evidences for God to wipe away this solitary reason why anyone should ever be an atheist.

Of course, I don’t honestly think there is only one reason an intelligent person might be an atheist, but those that do seem to have wagered quite a bit on its turning out to be true.

But I doubt that those who promote the “no evidence” argument will accept anything I’ve listed as proper evidence. In fact, I’ve had put to me many reasons why they are not. Some of these reasons are thoughtful, most of them are glib, but none of them are valid.

And, so far, all of them are based on the assumption that evidence is always physical.

In trying to figure out what the modern atheist’s problem with these things are, it always seems to come back to that. Whether its “There’s a physical explanation as to why you’d think that”, “Whatever affects ‘our reality’ can be weighed scientifically”, or something else, the bottom line is this idea that we shouldn’t believe something unless there’s physical evidence for it.

Of course, much of the evidence I named was physical, but that’s beside the point.

Put simply, this presumes scientism. We can’t simply insist, without evidence, that all evidence is physical then make proud declarations about what evidence does or doesn’t exist. This is assuming materialism in order to “prove” atheism, making it a circular argument. Rather, we first need to give a reason why all evidence is physical.

But this leads the materialist into a very difficult corner, because there’s absolutely no physical evidence to support the idea that all evidence is physical.

Generally, the response I get is further insistence that I “show” some non-physical things–as if the person asking doesn’t believe a mind, free will, moral truth, or even logical principles exist. What I never get is a bona fide reason to believe that all evidence is physical.

So, summing this up, along with Smalley’s points, we haven’t seen any reason at all to be a materialist. The reasons for belief in God, if they have any weight at all, will be the stronger case.

Of course, I’ve argued (and will continue to argue) that such reasons have substantial weight.


Scientism

I’m beginning to think that scientism is not only the greatest threat to religious belief in our current society, it is also the greatest threat to our discovering any valid philosophy of life.

That is, we seem to be heading back into the late nineteenth century mentality that science will give us all truth about life.

This, of course, immediately brings to mind the reasons why such an attitude failed – as well as the fact that our current optimism seems no more prepared for those difficulties than its nineteenth-century counterpart. The limits of science, the brutality of human nature, and the uncertainty of perception have not changed. I’ve even seen a growing defense of eugenics, as if the issues of corruption and discrimination have somehow been solved.

Rather, it has been shocking to me how many people find themselves unable to seriously question the idea that all truth is physical – that any true statement can be measured by science. Of course, philosophers are quick to point out that this belief, itself, cannot be measured by science and that, consequently, it fails on its own terms.

What concerns me, however, is the speed with which many try to rescue scientism from this self-contradiction. I’ve encountered several methods, all of which are poor, but it is extremely rare that a proponent of scientism seems to genuinely question the idea. I consider this to be extremely dangerous:

“Even the attempt to escape metaphysics is no sooner put in the form of a proposition than it is seen to involve highly significant metaphysical postulates. For this reason there is an exceedingly subtle and insidious danger in positivism [i.e. scientism]. If you cannot avoid metaphysics, what kind of metaphysics are you likely to cherish when you sturdily suppose yourself to be free from the abomination?”

– E.A. Burtt

To simply believe the philosophy one absorbed from PBS documentaries and high-school science classes, rather than understanding the exact nature of the discipline of science, brings a sort of absolute certainty that allows all the judgment, ridicule, and tribalism we see in any fideism.

Rather than insist that the limitations we impose on reality are correct, or claim that the (often wild) extrapolations modern people make from science are automatically valid, let us be open to the idea that physical evidence is irrelevant to many of life’s biggest questions. Simply using the terminology of science does not make science applicable to the question.

As a professed lover of science, I’m offended that people can’t enjoy science for what it is – simply marveling at the insights it gives us – rather than feeling the need to eliminate all other forms of knowing. Is science not amazing enough until we declare our rejection of everything else? Certainly, science itself does not comment on other fields of study.

I find that, while I don’t need to believe in fairies to enjoy a garden, I can equally enjoy it without pausing to eschew all belief in anything which can’t be reduced to physical processes.