What Do New Atheists Actually Believe?

Discovery Institute has Michael Egnor asking this question…
What Do New Atheists Actually Believe?

And he has some specific questions…

1) Why is there anything?
2) What caused the Universe?
3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?
7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
8) Why is there evil?

Well, here are my answers…

1) Why is there anything?

We don’t know.

It’s not that this question is nonsense, it’s simply that we don’t have access to the data that would answer it. From a philosophical perspective we have no firm response to the solipsist. The best we can do is say that what appears to be the case most forcefully to our minds and senses (given our senses might be an illusion of the mind) is that the material world is so convincing that we might as well use it as a model for reality until we figure out a better one that actually fits with those facts that the ‘apparent’ material world imposes on us.

For example, if we were entirely mental phenomena (or a single phenomenon) why can’t we get past the apparent material death of another mind (or my illusion of another mind)? The material non-supernatural explanation fits this and many other problems so easily that it’s a sufficient model for now.

The rest of the answers are given with respect to this point of view.

2) What caused the Universe?

We don’t know.

So far we, and our instruments, haven’t had physical presence far beyond our solar system, and in person not beyond the moon. So, all our observations of this universe are restricted to theories based on remote (in time and space) observations. Some theories have mathematical reasoning to lend them some weight. But really, we don’t know.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

We don’t know. We’d need to resolve problem (2) to get any further with this. We observe regularities, but we can’t explain them in any deep sense.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature…

We don’t know.

This is philosophy going beyond the bounds of available or accessible knowledge and is more akin to theology.

Specifically, do final causes exists? Well, if we could answer some more questions on causality that would be a start. But then we come up against the same problem of accessibility of the data. And, the question isn’t clear on the meaning of the term ‘final cause’.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Given (1) this can only be answered in atheist materialist terms, and within that context the understanding of matter and how life is just a formation of matter in action, and from there on to evolution. I’ll keep this short, but would be glad to expand on request.

All matter responds to interaction with other matter. Things bounce. At some basic levels we have explanations for this – such as the coming together of atoms of my skin with those of the table, where despite that fact that atoms are mostly space, the electric and nuclear forces stop atoms merging or flowing through each other. At yet deeper levels of understanding the particles may be disturbances in fields. I’ve no idea why there are fields.

Basic life is complex formations of matter. We still don’t know anything concrete about the beginnings of life, abiogenesis, but the basic hypothesis is that early replicators began the process – try thinking of something like growing crystals, though even this seems an inadequate analogy. The problem with all of this, life, is that we only have life on this planet to examine, that the origins are in the distant past, and anywhere the same process began spontaneously it would be consumed by local chemical reactions or organisms.

Form there, simple single cell life forms react in very complex ways compared to simple elements and molecules – but their responses to contact with other inanimate matter and other living organisms is basically physical and chemical. They go around bumping into stuff, and when they do, chemical reactions on their surfaces give rise to further activity.

Complex cells formed by the combination of different single celled entities – i.e. mitochondria. Complex multi-cellular organisms formed cohesive bodies and functionality was subsumed to different organs. In a soft celled multi-organ organism think of the combination like a turtle and its shell. The inner soft and delicate organs don’t need protection from the environment if outer organs are dedicated to that task – e.g. skin.

So, at this stage we have complex systems, of which one component is a nervous system that co-ordinates activity for the organism as a whole. Not all organisms use this approach – e.g. plants. But there seems to be a relationship between the motor capabilities of the organism and the complexity of its nervous system.

Given that one aspect of the nervous system is to respond to the environment in order to direct processes in the organism, and to direct it’s motion, required to find food, one natural outcome is that the organism should be able to detect itself. No point in eating your own arm is there. And this is the basis for self awareness, which most organisms have to some degree if they have a nervous system that samples the environment.

Mammals have multi-mode senses – sight, hearing, touch… And these need co-ordination if they are to be useful. The chicken egg answer is that complexity of nervous system and co-ordination of senses probably evolved together, each effecting the development of the other.

It seems a natural progression that when an organism gets to a certain degree of complexity this self-sensing can include sensing the very internal processes of the nervous system itself. In us this isn’t complete, since there’s a big part of our sub-conscious nervous system of which we’re not aware. But basically subjectivity is simply what it appears like when an organism senses it’s own nervous system in action.

6) Why is the human mind intentional…

(5) pretty much answers this.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artefact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

It’s a subjective (see 5) conceptual product that has evolved in a social sense, but is based on biologically evolved feelings of empathy and sympathy.

See here for more detail.

8) Why is there evil?

There isn’t, in any objective sense, any more than there is moral law (see 7).

Evil is simply a classification of behaviour that humans typically ascribe to the behaviour of other humans.

Sometimes it can be conflated with suffering generally, such as the consequences of natural disasters, but that notion is only the concoction of those religious people who think natural disasters are associated with demons or with divine retribution. Remember this?

The floods that have devastated swathes of the country are God’s judgement on the immorality and greed of modern society, according to senior Church of England bishops.

Religiously induced stupidity.

We don’t ascribe the term ‘evil’ to things that animals do which if performed by humans would be classified as evil. This is again due to the confused thinking of the religious who think that humans have some special gift, or some special place in the universe, or some special relationship with some god or other, and that some or all of these misconceptions give special meaning to human actions we generally disapprove of.

Perhaps the main point I’d want to make in all this is that theists are in exactly the same position as atheists for a lot of the fundamental stuff. They don’t know. But what they do is make up an answer with no substantiating data and claim that to be the case. They think that the combination of ancient tradition and pseudo-profound language gives credibility to their view, but it really exposes their gullibility to ancient stories from a time when such ignorance was excusable for lack of any reasonable data.

There has been no evidence for religious claims that can be substantiated by third party examination. All subjective personal claims about religious experience have plausible explanations in a materialist world view, where various results of brain sciences can replicate or account for those experiences.

4 thoughts on “What Do New Atheists Actually Believe?

  1. Really interesting blog just found you from a blog you posted a comment on. At work at the mo but I will hopefully remember to come back here and comment as you seem like a good guy to chat with! Sadly im not a Notts County supporter or I would gloat haha :PTake care

  2. Hi Dan,Thanks for dropping by. Yes, being a Man City supporter is a real article of faith. Liked your blogs too. Just left comments on the D'Souza v Loftus debate.

  3. My answers;

    1) Why is there anything?

    2) What caused the Universe?
    Why did you ask both questions? Isn’t this question exactly the same as the last question only less vague?

    3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
    Why wouldn’t there be?

    4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
    You know Science has advanced slightly since Ancient Greece, right?

    5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
    Because… we’re living things. Duh. How else wouls living things see things?

    6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?
    I don’t think that’s a real question. It’s way too pretentious and wankey (to clarify; by “wankey” I mean the similar too or with the quality of or similar too wankers or the act of wanking I.e. masturbation) to be a real question. I think some Theist just strung a bunch of pseudo-philosophical words together in the hope that we would be too confused to notice it means nothing.

    7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
    Dawkin’s theories on the evolution of altruism.

    8) Why is there evil?

    Overall, these questions were stupid. They were not designed to learn anything about us, they were designed to “stump” us. Way too many theists are under the impression that you can “win” debates without ever actually convincing anyone of anything, and if an Atheist can’t answer a question, you “Win”.

    They really can’t tell the difference between “oh my! That question was so good I cannot answer it! well, guess i’ll reconvert to Christianity then” and “…What the hell was that? Are you high? What is wrong with this religious idiot? That made NO sense!”

    These questions aren’t even the worst example I’ve seen of this. So far, that would be “Presuppositionalism”. Next they’ll be arguing against the use of Language at all or something.

    1. Hi, welcome.

      All perfectly reasonable answers.

      On presuppositionalism – that lies behind ALL theistic claims. If they weren’t asserting the presupposition was correct they wouldn’t be theists, and wouldn’t be relying on the presupposition.

      It relies behind all revelation claims – they have to presuppose god to do the revealing, and then make things worse by question begging by having the revealed word assert the god that’s doing the revealing of the word. Hence …


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