Observations

If Materialism and Naturalism are not true, then atheism certainly isn’t true. Full. Stop.

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19 Responses to Observations

  1. I disagree with you.

    If materialism is not completely true, what has that got to do with whether or not gods do exist? It doesn’t even address whether gods can exist. Even if it were that there is something outside this universe that we know, such a theory does not support the supposition that a god can exist much less that one does.

  2. Allallt says:

    Atheism isn’t true because it isn’t an answer.
    Atheism is ‘rational’ or ‘valid’.
    My atheism, and I do not talk for all atheists, is based on a lack of convincing evidence in favour of the positive claim of theism.

    When arguments for God are demonstrated to be true then atheism is irrational. So theism still has all of its work ahead of it.

    (Not that it matters, you’d have a hard time proving naturalism false.)

  3. jbthibodeau says:

    Atheism is the belief that theism is false. Theism is the belief that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator. How does the belief that there is no such being require that naturalism or materialism be true.

    Atheism is consistent with the existence of nonnatural forces and/or beings; just not the God of Theism

  4. jackhudson says:

    If materialism is not completely true, what has that got to do with whether or not gods do exist? It doesn’t even address whether gods can exist. Even if it were that there is something outside this universe that we know, such a theory does not support the supposition that a god can exist much less that one does.

    If materialism (the idea that is that matter and energy are all that exists) and naturalism (the idea that universe unguided forces of nature are all that exist) aren’t true, then that implies a non-material force outside of the universe can exist. Such a force wouldn’t be bound by space or time as are aspects of the material universe, so it could conceivably (and almost neccearily) be infinite and eternal. This meets at least the minimal requirements of the definition of the divine.

  5. jackhudson says:

    Atheism isn’t true because it isn’t an answer.
    Atheism is ‘rational’ or ‘valid’.

    It is only ‘rational’ if what exists can be explained by that which is material or natural – if not, then by definition something immaterial and super-natural is required.

    My atheism, and I do not talk for all atheists, is based on a lack of convincing evidence in favour of the positive claim of theism.

    I disagree – theism can be derived quite simply by understanding what exists materially or naturally isn’t sufficient to explain what exists materially or naturally. In fact, almost all theism starts here – and unless materialism and naturalism are true, there is no reason to be an atheist.

    When arguments for God are demonstrated to be true then atheism is irrational. So theism still has all of its work ahead of it.

    Theism’s work has been done for several thousand years – disproving it requires a demonstration that nothing is necessary for the existence of all of reality except for matter being acted upon by natural forces.

    (Not that it matters, you’d have a hard time proving naturalism false.)

    There is are plenty of reasons to believe naturalism is false, starting with the understanding that if it is true, there is no reason to believe we could know whether it was true or false.

  6. jackhudson says:

    Atheism is the belief that theism is false. Theism is the belief that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator. How does the belief that there is no such being require that naturalism or materialism be true.

    While the great monotheistic religions define God that way, obviously many religions don’t – Hinduism comes to mind. All that is required is for something to exist outside of the material or natural. Thus if materialism or naturalism isn’t true, then the contention of atheism that no such entities exist is certainly false.

    Atheism is consistent with the existence of nonnatural forces and/or beings; just not the God of Theism

    So you are saying atheism is compatible with the idea of Zeus or Śhiva?

  7. jbthibodeau says:

    Jack Hudson says: “If materialism (the idea that is that matter and energy are all that exists) and naturalism (the idea that universe unguided forces of nature are all that exist) aren’t true, then that implies a non-material force outside of the universe can exist. Such a force wouldn’t be bound by space or time as are aspects of the material universe, so it could conceivably (and almost neccearily) be infinite and eternal. This meets at least the minimal requirements of the definition of the divine.”

    This is a minimal conception of a god. But it is hardly the theistic conception (which insists that God is an all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient creator), let alone the Christian conception. I bet that if we started discussing the Euthyphro Dilemma, you would start insisting that God is, by definition, essentially loving.

    That’s one of the apologist’s neatest tricks: argue for a minimalist conception of God when it is convenient (e.g., when suggesting that Atheism is committed to naturalism) and insist upon a robust conception when necessary (e.g., when responding to the Euthyprho Dilemma).

    So that we can reach mutual understanding, we need to have an agreed upon conception. That is why I began my comments explaining what theism amounts to. Do you reject my characterization of theism?

  8. jackhudson says:

    This is a minimal conception of a god. But it is hardly the theistic conception (which insists that God is an all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient creator), let alone the Christian conception. I bet that if we started discussing the Euthyphro Dilemma, you would start insisting that God is, by definition, essentially loving.

    I think you are confusing the ‘theistic’ with the concept of God held primarily by the three monotheistic religions – theism doesn’t require that. And when the Euthyphro Dilemma was first formulated the monotheistic formulations of God as understood by Jews, Christians and Muslims wasn’t even a consideration – Plato had in mind the ‘gods’ as conceptualized by the Greek mythologies. So while it’s true that I as a Christian believe God is Love, that understanding of God isn’t necessary when contrasting theism with materialism and naturalism.

    That’s one of the apologist’s neatest tricks: argue for a minimalist conception of God when it is convenient (e.g., when suggesting that Atheism is committed to naturalism) and insist upon a robust conception when necessary (e.g., when responding to the Euthyprho Dilemma).

    Actually, I would say the opposite is true – atheists tend to attack weaker concepts of God. For example when they claim science has given us explanations for certain natural phenomena like lightening, so therefore God is unnecessary. That may make Zeus unnecessary, but there is still plenty of room for the Christian conception of God as designer of the universe, life, and human nature.

    But all of this is rather irrelevant to the fact that if some entity can exist outside of nature and matter, it is by definition a supernatural entity – and there is no reason to believe atheism is true.

    So that we can reach mutual understanding, we need to have an agreed upon conception. That is why I began my comments explaining what theism amounts to. Do you reject my characterization of theism?

    I think the definition as proposed by this atheist is suitable to the conversation at hand:

    “To put it simply, theism is a belief in the existence of at least one god – nothing more, nothing less. Theism does not depend upon how many gods one believes in. Theism does not depend upon how the term ‘god’ is defined. Theism does not depend upon how one arrives at their belief. Theism does not depend upon how one defends their belief.”

  9. jbthibodeau says:

    This is simply an inaccurate conception of theism as it is traditionally understood (at least in the academic study of the philosophy of religion). That someone on a website somewhere explained theism in this way is quite irrelevant. (Check out the wikipedia entry on theism, for example; not that it is authoritative).

    But let’s agree that ‘theism’ might be a bit of a squishy word; it can mean different things in different contexts. The same would be true of ‘atheism.’ And ‘atheism’ in many contexts (I would say most academic contexts, at the very least; but put that aside) means the rejection of traditional theism (i.e., the brand of theism believed by the traditional theistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and that other one). That is, atheism is the belief that there is no omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving creator.

    The most important and compelling argument for atheism (thus understood) has nothing to do with the claim that God is a superfluous hypothesis. Rather, it is the problem of evil. And the problem of evil is an argument against the existence of a very specific God: the God of traditional theism.

    Now, to repeat my point, an atheist (i.e., someone who rejects traditional theism), does not need to believe in naturalism or materialism. These things have nothing to do with the rejection of belief in God.

    I would be perfectly happy if we introduced a new term for the belief that I am describing (though I have to say that I think that many atheists would self-describe precisely as I have suggested). So, we can call someone who believes that there is no all-loving, omniscient and omnipotent creator a nontheist. I hope it is obvious that nontheism (thus understood) does not require that naturalism is true.

  10. Justin says:

    It appears there are more sects of atheism than I had previously thought. Any time you try to pin down an atheist on beliefs, you get a different answer.

  11. jbthibodeau says:

    Justin,
    That is ridiculous. If there are multiple versions of theism (which there are) there will be multiple ways of denying theism.

  12. jackhudson says:

    This is simply an inaccurate conception of theism as it is traditionally understood (at least in the academic study of the philosophy of religion). That someone on a website somewhere explained theism in this way is quite irrelevant. (Check out the wikipedia entry on theism, for example; not that it is authoritative).

    You’ll have to take that up with the atheist I quoted, Austin Cline who appears to be somewhat of an authority on the issue. Nonetheless, it if we accepted your definition of theism, we would have to conclude that Hindus (or Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Mayans, etc.) weren’t theists!

    But let’s agree that ‘theism’ might be a bit of a squishy word; it can mean different things in different contexts. The same would be true of ‘atheism.’ And ‘atheism’ in many contexts (I would say most academic contexts, at the very least; but put that aside) means the rejection of traditional theism (i.e., the brand of theism believed by the traditional theistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and that other one). That is, atheism is the belief that there is no omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving creator.

    Well certainly when New Atheists discuss the issue they are generally attacking the monotheistic ideas of God, but I am not sure that fact really changes anything I said.

    The most important and compelling argument for atheism (thus understood) has nothing to do with the claim that God is a superfluous hypothesis. Rather, it is the problem of evil. And the problem of evil is an argument against the existence of a very specific God: the God of traditional theism.

    I am not sure what you mean by ‘traditional theism’ – obviously the ancient Greeks were around before Christians and had a concept of God, which I suppose would make the Christian idea less ‘traditional’ – I assume you mean the Western Judeo-Concept of God here. And the problem of evil (whatever you imagine that is) may be a stronger argument – but it doesn’t contradict the assertion that atheism depends on materialism and naturalism.

    Now, to repeat my point, an atheist (i.e., someone who rejects traditional theism), does not need to believe in naturalism or materialism. These things have nothing to do with the rejection of belief in God.

    Repeating your point doesn’t of course prove your point. If you can arrive at atheism without resorting to materialistic or naturalistic arguments, then you would have a point.

    I would be perfectly happy if we introduced a new term for the belief that I am describing (though I have to say that I think that many atheists would self-describe precisely as I have suggested). So, we can call someone who believes that there is no all-loving, omniscient and omnipotent creator a nontheist. I hope it is obvious that nontheism (thus understood) does not require that naturalism is true.

    So just to be clear, would you contend a Hindu is a nontheist? What about believers in Zeus, Isis and Oden?

  13. jbthibodeau says:

    So, your point is that there is no such thing as someone who does not believe in an all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient creator?

    Or is your point that there are such people but that they have to believe in materialism and naturalism? If that is your point, then you need to provide an argument. Because there is nothing about this belief that requires that either naturalism or materialism be true.

    Your argument is that you can’t believe that there are no gods without naturalism and materialism. I think that this is false, but that is not my point. My point is that you can reject belief in God (as described, i.e., the omni-God of traditional theism) without having to accept naturalism and/or materialism. Nothing you have said suggests that this is wrong. That is, even if it were true (which I don’t think it is), that you can’t disbelieve in all gods without naturalism, that doesn’t imply that you can’t disbelieve in God without naturalism.

    By the way, Hindu scholars do distinguish theistic versions of Hinduism from non-theistic versions. The theistic version contain belief in a personal supreme being; non-theistic ones (such as some versions of Vedanta) do not. But the non-theistic Hindu traditions still believe in some kind of divine reality, just not a personal God.

  14. jackhudson says:

    So, your point is that there is no such thing as someone who does not believe in an all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient creator?

    No, my point is that someone could believe this and still be a theist. Like a Hindu.

    Or is your point that there are such people but that they have to believe in materialism and naturalism? If that is your point, then you need to provide an argument. Because there is nothing about this belief that requires that either naturalism or materialism be true.

    I said what my point is above – atheists believe there are no gods, of any sort. If one can be an atheist and still believe in Zeus, then atheism doesn’t mean much.

    Your argument is that you can’t believe that there are no gods without naturalism and materialism. I think that this is false, but that is not my point. My point is that you can reject belief in God (as described, i.e., the omni-God of traditional theism) without having to accept naturalism and/or materialism. Nothing you have said suggests that this is wrong. That is, even if it were true (which I don’t think it is), that you can’t disbelieve in all gods without naturalism, that doesn’t imply that you can’t disbelieve in God without naturalism.

    I appreciate your point, but I assumed you were attempting to contradict the point of my post – if you are conceding the point of my post, we can discuss other points if you want. But it seems what you are saying is that one can reject certain aspects of God as presented by the three monotheistic religions (actually I wouldn’t necessarily include Islam in this since Allah doesn’t share all aspects of the Judeo-Christian God) without resorting to materialism and naturalism, but even if this is true it is irrelevant to my main point.

    By the way, Hindu scholars do distinguish theistic versions of Hinduism from non-theistic versions. The theistic version contain belief in a personal supreme being; non-theistic ones (such as some versions of Vedanta) do not. But the non-theistic Hindu traditions still believe in some kind of divine reality, just not a personal God.

    Sure – they are in effect pantheistic in that the universe has some underlying order in which one can operate. A universal divine order which assumes karma whose understanding is revealed through the Vedas is a replacement for the Western notion of God, not an argument for atheism.

  15. jbthibodeau says:

    I think we might be getting closer to agreement, but I am puzzled by this statement: “No, my point is that someone could believe this and still be a theist. Like a Hindu.”
    Yes, such a someone could still believe in some divine reality, but I think that it would be very misleading to say that he was a theist.
    But just as certainly, someone can believe that there is no all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient creator and also not be any kind of theist (traditional, poly, pan, or otherwise). That is, someone can believe that there is no God and not believe in any other god (however conceived). This does not require belief in either materialism or naturalism (even if we accept your (false) premise that the belief that there are no gods requires belief in materialism and naturalism).

    By the way, if we assimilate pantheists with traditional theists we are doing a disservice to both.

  16. jackhudson says:

    I think we might be getting closer to agreement, but I am puzzled by this statement: “No, my point is that someone could believe this and still be a theist. Like a Hindu.” Yes, such a someone could still believe in some divine reality, but I think that it would be very misleading to say that he was a theist.

    First off one thing you should know about me is I am somewhat persnickety when it comes to language. Given that ‘divine’ is derived from that Latin ‘divinus’ or ‘of a god’ one would have to conclude the concepts are at least related – I would argue when we describe something conceptually as divine we are relating it to something akin to God. So not so misleading.

    But just as certainly, someone can believe that there is no all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient creator and also not be any kind of theist (traditional, poly, pan, or otherwise). That is, someone can believe that there is no God and not believe in any other god (however conceived). This does not require belief in either materialism or naturalism (even if we accept your (false) premise that the belief that there are no gods requires belief in materialism and naturalism).

    The point is that one can believe in a god, and not believe in an ‘all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient’ god – multitudes of people have. If one believes in a god (or even the divine I would argue) one is not an atheist. The arguments for not believing in such are today invariably materialistic and naturalistic.

    By the way, if we assimilate pantheists with traditional theists we are doing a disservice to both.

    You are qualifying terms – I wasn’t assimilating pantheists into ‘traditional theists’ – I was just pointing out they are both ‘theists’.

    But you are making this much too complicated. I have reasons for believing in the existence of God. They include personal experience, a historical record, observations of nature and human nature as well as philosophical justifications. I also find materialistic and naturalistic explanations of the human experience inadequate. Why do you, as an atheist, think I am not justified in holding my beliefs?

  17. jbthibodeau says:

    Well, I think that saying both pantheists and traditional theists are both theists does obscure some major differences. Yes ‘theist’ occurs in both names, but that is the result of the vagueness of the word ‘god.’ (‘God,’ by the way, doesn’t strike me as vague, at least not nearly as vague as ‘god.’ God is the name of the deity of the traditional Western monotheisms.) I want to quote Peter van Inwagen here, but I can’t find the right passage. In The Problem of Evil he says something to the effect that people in theology departments who say things like “God is identical to the entirety of existence” are really just announcing their atheism. Yes, van Inwagen is being somewhat obtuse here,but I still think he has a point. If you think that the universe is God (as Einstein supposedly did), then you don’t have much in common with a Roman Catholic.

    But regardless the terms are problematic and we are better off articulating the differences than uncritically using the terminology.

    In any event, it seems that you want to talk about something slightly different, namely why I think that belief in God (an all-loving creator) is unjustified. Well, that was never my point, though I am happy to discuss it. There are basically two reasons. By far the most important is the argument from evil. I find the various problems arising from the existence of evil in this world to be fairly decisive evidence that God does not exist. Second, I think that there is no reason to believe that there is a omnipotent, omniscient person who created the universe. I don’t think that the scriptural texts that traditionals theists revere in any way prove or even suggest that God is real. I don’t see any reason that such a being is required. (Let me qualify: I am not convinced by the Cosmological argument, for example. However, even if I was, there is nothing about the argument that requires the existence of a creative agent, let alone an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful person who also inspired the Bible and incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth). So I don’t see any reason to believe in God (which, by the way, doesn’t mean that I don’t see any reason to believe in any kind of divine reality).

    I am certainly willing to get into this more if you want. I am enjoying our discussion.

  18. jackhudson says:

    Well, I think that saying both pantheists and traditional theists are both theists does obscure some major differences. Yes ‘theist’ occurs in both names, but that is the result of the vagueness of the word ‘god.’ (‘God,’ by the way, doesn’t strike me as vague, at least not nearly as vague as ‘god.’ God is the name of the deity of the traditional Western monotheisms.) I want to quote Peter van Inwagen here, but I can’t find the right passage. In The Problem of Evil he says something to the effect that people in theology departments who say things like “God is identical to the entirety of existence” are really just announcing their atheism. Yes, van Inwagen is being somewhat obtuse here,but I still think he has a point. If you think that the universe is God (as Einstein supposedly did), then you don’t have much in common with a Roman Catholic.

    Perhaps not, but we aren’t contrasting different theisms, but theism with atheism. But I am not sure it is totally correct to say pantheists of all sorts merely do this. The idea of karma, which pervades many pantheistic religions, implies an order that supersedes mere natural law, as do ideas of reincarnation and universal consciousness. They are saying more than merely ‘God is identical to the universe’.

    But regardless the terms are problematic and we are better off articulating the differences than uncritically using the terminology.

    Language is often difficult, particularly when people attempt to argue by definition, but I am speaking from the perspective of what arguments people who call themselves atheists use to justify their atheism.

    In any event, it seems that you want to talk about something slightly different, namely why I think that belief in God (an all-loving creator) is unjustified. Well, that was never my point, though I am happy to discuss it. There are basically two reasons. By far the most important is the argument from evil. I find the various problems arising from the existence of evil in this world to be fairly decisive evidence that God does not exist.

    First I need to note you didn’t actually answer the question – I pointed out my reasons for believing, and why those don’t justify belief. Obviously you have reasons for being an atheist, but none of those reasons seem to contradict my reasons for believing – namely personal experience, a historical record, observations of nature and human nature as well as philosophical justifications and the inadequacy of materialistic explanation.

    But with regard to this first point I would ask is how you know evil exists in the first place? How do you identify evil?

    Second, I think that there is no reason to believe that there is a omnipotent, omniscient person who created the universe. I don’t think that the scriptural texts that traditionals theists revere in any way prove or even suggest that God is real.

    I am not sure exactly what you’re saying here – I don’t think the texts prove the existence of God (nor are they intended to), but obviously they suggest He as real as much as any account suggests something is real. Obviously the authors of those texts thought God was real. And there is certainly much more in the actual history that those texts chronicle that suggest this. What would argument against them be since they are very plain accounts?

    I don’t see any reason that such a being is required. (Let me qualify: I am not convinced by the Cosmological argument, for example. However, even if I was, there is nothing about the argument that requires the existence of a creative agent, let alone an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful person who also inspired the Bible and incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth). So I don’t see any reason to believe in God (which, by the way, doesn’t mean that I don’t see any reason to believe in any kind of divine reality).

    What specific problems do you have with the Cosmological argument and arguments suggesting the need for a creative agent in the originating of the universe, life, and human consciousness?

    And I do appreciate the even tone you are taking here.

  19. Tristan Vick says:

    Theism cannot be derived from a failure if material naturalism. Metaphysics would be the logical alternative, but this says nothing on the existence of a god or gods.

    A godless metaphysical reality could exist, after all. Kant made this point clear in his critique on metaphysics.

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