The Case for Atheism in 15 Minutes.

The Secular Outpost posted a link to a Christian entry called The Case for Christianity in 15 Minutes (or less), which is pretty pathetic. Wartick uses the excuse that his arguments are supposed to be a summary, not a survey of the field (no word from Wartick, however, on whether he’s out standing in his field). How is that an excuse to present fallacious arguments? That’s like asking me to draw a house in ten seconds, and when I draw a tree, I reply that you only gave me ten seconds.

His first argument is the Kalam argument. I don’t know why anyone would choose such an abstract, unproven argument as their first attempt to engage with someone about Christianity, but it’s a stupid and inane choice. Few choices would have been worse. If I was stuck defending a position as undefendable as Christianity, I’d open by casting doubt on the opposition (I guess that explains the popularity of presuppositionalism and Creationism!). I don’t know what I would say exactly, but the Kalam argument is nowhere near the list of possibilities.

His second argument is the moral argument. At least this is more of an argument under the lines I was just describing, casting doubt on secular morality. Unfortunately it is also nothing more than proof by assertion: objective morality entails that God exists because objective morality requires an objective lawgiver. Moral laws actually come from evolution, not God, so this is trivially easy to refute for any atheist who understands the evolution of societies, or just evolution.

Neither of the first two arguments are arguments for Christianity either, only for theism in general, making their presence entirely pointless. So half the presentation is a complete waste of time.

His third argument reduces itself to “Jesus Christ existed, therefore Christianity is unique.” Even if Jesus did exist (he didn’t, at least not in any Biblical sense), it would still be a completely pointless conclusion. Christianity may be unique but it may be uniquely false. I suppose this argument is meant to be paired with the next one, which tries to prove that Jesus was divine.

Sadly, his “proof” is solely based on the delusion that “[t]he Gospels are reliable.” This is a preposterous statement. He states that the Gospels all tell “the same story,” which only makes any sense if we assume the Gospels are all fictional stories, not stories about real events. If we take the Gospels literally, then there’s no way they are talking about the same story.

Wartick ends by saying: “[t]here is good evidence to think that God exists.” Maybe there is, but Wartick obviously doesn’t have any to present.

Giving a case for atheism presents its own challenge, since there is nothing there to prove. I need to pick a positive position, and naturalism will do, since atheism is merely an extremely narrow form of naturalism. So, can I present a case for naturalism in 15 minutes? Sure (but I definitely can’t do it on one foot).

That means no problem of evil, for instance, even though it’s the most well-known argument for atheism. Besides, the problem of evil is well-known, and repeating it is unlikely to convince anyone.

***

The Case for Naturalism in 15 Minutes.

1. The burden of proof.

Naturalists state that the natural world exists. Supernaturalists state that not only does the natural world exist, but some supernatural entity or entities as well. Because of this, they must present sufficient warrant for us to accept their additional belief about the world.

So far, supernaturalists have failed to present sufficient warrant to believe in any supernatural entity. We do not dispute that plenty of people believe in supernatural entities, or even that they claim to perceive them, but no such entity has been proven to exist using scientific or even basic perceptual means beyond subjective evaluation.

More specifically on religion: if God really existed and was an all-powerful omnipresent entity, then its existence would be as obvious as the existence of the Sun or the stars. The fact that we are still arguing about it tells us that it’s rather unlikely that God actually exists.

2. The history of science.

The proven track record of science at explaining observed phenomena points in one direction, and that is naturalism. There are innumerable examples of science taking us away from supernatural explanations and towards naturalistic explanations. There is no known example of science taking us away from naturalistic explanations and towards a supernatural explanation. If supernaturalism was correct, then there should be no particular reason for science to have the explanatory power it does.

Suppose that God created the universe, the Earth, all life on Earth, and humans. We should not expect to find naturalistic explanations that can completely encompass all of these things, because God’s creative act should be unexplainable by naturalistic causes. The fact that we can explain them naturalistically is a major argument against this creative act.

Some object that God operates purely within the realm of natural law, but that makes God’s creative acts indistinguishable from strict naturalism, making the claim spurious. To claim that God operates solely by natural law is functionally the same as saying God does not act at all.

3. If supernaturalism is “true,” then there is no truth.

Our assumption that some things are true and some things are false depends on the uniformity of nature, i.e. that the laws of nature basically do not change. Because the laws of nature do not change at a whim, we rightfully believe that the Sun will come up tomorrow, that dead people cannot come back to life, or that sticks will never turn into snakes. If such things could happen, we would not survive such changes to the laws of physics and chemistry, and all life would have been wiped out a long time ago.

But if there exists supernatural entities that can cause effects in material reality (a precondition for us to know about their existence at all, and therefore for them to be relevant to any intellectual endeavor), then such belief is unwarranted. We cannot rightfully believe that the Sun will come up tomorrow, that dead people cannot come back to life, or that any stick will not turn into a snake. In fact, all of these things are believed to have happened by people who have faith in the Bible.

If that’s the case, then there cannot be any such thing as truth or morality. In fact, there is no reason to trust our senses at all. Our trust in our senses is predicated on the uniformity of nature. We assume that photons travel in a straight line (barring any gravity wells so strong that they can bend light), that we smell particles that are nearest to us, that surfaces exert pressure on our skin, and so on. If all these assumptions became false, then we would be unable to understand the inputs of our senses, and all attempts at finding knowledge would be futile.

One may claim that supernatural entities act in accordance with their own laws, and therefore are predictable and we can compensate for their material effects. But we only know of natural laws. The existence of supernatural laws is no more proven than those entities themselves. Once we accept the existence of any supernatural entity, we cannot say anything further about how it operates.

Suppose I accept the existence of ghosts. I cannot examine ghosts directly because they are by definition supernatural: all I can do is examine their effects on the material universe. Say I observe a vague apparition of what I think is a person. I may assume that this is the only effect of a ghost, but I have no way of knowing this. A ghost might actually implant a false belief in my head that I am seeing a vague apparition when in fact something different is happening. We only make sense of the supernatural by imagining it as something natural but “ethereal.”

4. Conclusion.

Because of the burden of proof, there is no reason for us to accept the existence of any supernatural entity a priori. Because of the history of science, there is no reason for us to think that evidence for these entities will ever come up. And because of the necessity of the uniformity of nature, we know that the existence of supernatural entities would wipe out any possibility of knowledge, including knowledge of those entities. And if naturalism is true, then atheism, which is a narrower form of naturalism, is also true.

If you want to read more on naturalist arguments and rebuttals, see this web site.

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One thought on “The Case for Atheism in 15 Minutes.

  1. […] while ago I wrote a case for atheism, ostensibly to be made in fifteen minutes (although I didn’t time it, and interpret […]

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