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3/02/2018 7:19 pm  #1


Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

Is there any *really* good defense of atheism that can account for all its difficulties?

1- Cosmological arguments

Basically, when it comes to the existence of the universe or conditioned beings, atheists have to hold either to (a) brute facts, which are literally worse than magic; or (b) that the necessary/unconditioned being responsible for the existence of the universe is itself physical/material and impersonal. But this faces severe problems, such as I) the universe, and every material being, appears to be contingent and in fact scientists often assume it is, II) the explanation for conditioned beings in terms of an unconditioned one can't be merely conceptual, but can't be scientific either (science seems to explain things in terms of conditioned beings and laws), so what could it be if not personal?, III) can't explain the order in the existence of contingent beings, as the theist can appeal to all teleological considerations here which strongly suggest purposeful creation, IV) metaphysical problems, such as material beings having parts which need to be conjoined, etc, V) the possession of all perfections by a necessary, unconditioned being, VI) avoiding necessitarianism/Spinozistic pantheism, etc etc.

2- General teleological arguments

They have to (a) deny final causes or (b) accept final causes. If they accept final causes, they probably have to hold some form of platonism to explain how final causes can be operative before they even exist. Then all objections against platonism would apply. If they deny final causes, they have to accept brute facts about the regularity of the laws of nature and even the mere existence/persistence in existence of things.

3- Fine-tuning

In sum, they have to (a) deny the fine-tuning, or (b) explain it by means of a multiverse or (c) explain it by some kind of necessity.

4- Arguments from eternal truths (Saint Augustine, Leibniz, etc)

Atheists have to (a) reject realism about universals, possibilia, propositions, mathematical objects and truths etc. or (b) accept realism but somehow ground it in either platonism, aristotelian realism, or something evwn more eccentric such as lewisian possible worlds. There are serious problems with all of these.

5- Qualia/consciousness

Presumably, most atheists will want to be materialists, but then they'll have to either accept some kind of eliminativism or reductionism. But then they'll have serious problems with the knowledge argument, the zombie argument, and so on. Otherwise, they'll have to settle for something like property dualism and will have to find a way to avoid epiphenomenalism and to explain how property dualism would be possible (some kind of emergentism). Or they'll have to be something even more eccentric, such as panpsychists. If they accept something like Nagel's view it becomes hard to resist certain teleological arguments, or certain arguments from reason.

6- Intentionality and reason in general

They'll have to either (a) accept that we have an immaterial mind/soul without its being created by God, or (b) somehow explain reason in material terms. a) seems entirely untenable without rejecting the principle of proportionate causality (and therefore accepting brute facts as well), and the idea of an immaterial soul would presumably already be anathema to the vast majority of atheists. If they take option (b) then they need to somehow account for I) our grasp and use of universal and determinate concepts, II) mental causation in terms of propositional content, III) under hylomorphism, our grasp of forms without our minds literally becoming the forms in question, IV) the psychological relevance of logical laws, V) self-reflexivity, or the capacity of our intellect to think of itself as thinking, VI) the reliability of our cognitive faculties under naturalism in a way that isn't self-defeating.

7- Libertarian free will

Granted, many atheists are compatibilists. But if they're incompatibilist libertarians, they'd have to somehow square it with materialism (which presumably most atheists accept). From what I've heard there have been some defenses of materialistic libertarian free will (Rescher), but it could be an additional worry.

8- Objective morality and axiology

If the atheist wants to maintain mechanistic naturalism (as most of them do), it becomes notoriously difficult to hold any sort of objective morality or axiology.

9- Religious experience

They have to hold that all religious experiences are illusory and not veridical experiences of God or a transcendent reality.

10- Miracles and supernatural phenomena

Of course, they have to hold that ALL claims of miracles and supernatural phenomena are ultimately false or explainable in natural ways.

I could just go on and on. A lot of these problems are presented deductively; the issues can also be presented inductively, however. Considering this, can atheism even be a tenable philosophical position? It seems like it faces so many problems in multiple fronts - philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, epistemology, action, ethics - it's even hard to take it as a viable alternative to anything.

Prove me wrong.

 

3/02/2018 8:11 pm  #2


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

How are you using the term atheist here? I think the existence of miraculous/paranormal experiences is a good argument against materialism and naturalism, but not all forms of atheism.


Anyway,I tend to agree with you, at least so far as we are talking about materialism. Such a position faces a massive uphill struggle. That doesn't mean one couldn't take it without being completely irrational or uninformed.

 

3/02/2018 8:14 pm  #3


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

How are you using the term atheist here? I think the existence of miraculous/paranormal experiences is a good argument against materialism and naturalism, but not all forms of atheism.


Anyway,I tend to agree with you, at least so far as we are talking about materialism. Such a position faces a massive uphill struggle. That doesn't mean one couldn't take it without being completely irrational or uninformed.

Do you see philosophy taking a more theistic or anti-naturalist route in the near future?

 

3/02/2018 10:15 pm  #4


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

How are you using the term atheist here? I think the existence of miraculous/paranormal experiences is a good argument against materialism and naturalism, but not all forms of atheism.


Anyway,I tend to agree with you, at least so far as we are talking about materialism. Such a position faces a massive uphill struggle. That doesn't mean one couldn't take it without being completely irrational or uninformed.

 
Well, points 1-6 are problems not just for materialism but for atheism as well. Cosmological arguments, teleological, arguuments for eternal truths etc reach the existence of a transcendent, independent, immaterial and personal being responsible for (the existence of dependent beings, order and regularity in the universe, the grounding of eternal truths etc). And as I said with regards to the arguments from reason/soul, even if an atheist is willing to accept that we have immaterial (even immortal) souls capable of abstracting universal concepts, the question about the origin of these souls eventually comes up. Souls would have to be created ex nihilo by a being that has in itself what is present in souls (so, intellect and will), by the principle of proportionate causality, making us conclude the existence of a being that is a very good candidate for the name "God" (and arguments from the soul have been defended by philosophers such as John Haldane and Richard Swinburne). So the non-materialist atheist who accepts that we have immaterial intellects would have to somehow evade their special creation, but that would require them to reject the principle of proportionate causality by affirming some kind of emergentism, which is unintelligible (I am aware there are Christians who defend some form of emergence, but their position seems to me extremely problematic and an admission of brute facts, see fr. Norris Clarke's critique of emergentism in his article on the special creation of the soul).

Consciousness has also been used in theistic arguments. J. P. Moreland defends an "argument from consciousness" for theism both in book and in article form (he has an article defending it in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology). If an atheist takes some kind of aristotelian way out, however, he becomes more open to classical arguments from natural theology.

Other issues are indeed more focused on materialism in general, however. But even then, many religious experiences are theistic in nature. And it is hard to see how atheism could admit even of most religious experiences - not just the theistic ones, but those which might appear pantheistic, for instance. Same for miracles.

Last edited by Miguel (3/02/2018 10:22 pm)

     Thread Starter
 

3/02/2018 10:19 pm  #5


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

Also, I agree atheists (and materialists) can be rational. But I struggle to see how atheism itself, as a philosophical position (and materialism) could be rational. It faces way too many problems. I mean, ffs, some atheist philosophers of religion have built their entire cases upon the acceptance of BRUTE FACTS. It doesn't get much worse than that. If this isn't a telling sign, I don't know what is.

     Thread Starter
 

3/03/2018 6:52 am  #6


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

Miguel wrote:

Is there any *really* good defense of atheism that can account for all its difficulties?

1- Cosmological arguments

Basically, when it comes to the existence of the universe or conditioned beings, atheists have to hold either to (a) brute facts, which are literally worse than magic; or (b) that the necessary/unconditioned being responsible for the existence of the universe is itself physical/material and impersonal. But this faces severe problems, such as I) the universe, and every material being, appears to be contingent and in fact scientists often assume it is, II) the explanation for conditioned beings in terms of an unconditioned one can't be merely conceptual, but can't be scientific either (science seems to explain things in terms of conditioned beings and laws), so what could it be if not personal?, III) can't explain the order in the existence of contingent beings, as the theist can appeal to all teleological considerations here which strongly suggest purposeful creation, IV) metaphysical problems, such as material beings having parts which need to be conjoined, etc, V) the possession of all perfections by a necessary, unconditioned being, VI) avoiding necessitarianism/Spinozistic pantheism, etc etc.

2- General teleological arguments

They have to (a) deny final causes or (b) accept final causes. If they accept final causes, they probably have to hold some form of platonism to explain how final causes can be operative before they even exist. Then all objections against platonism would apply. If they deny final causes, they have to accept brute facts about the regularity of the laws of nature and even the mere existence/persistence in existence of things.

3- Fine-tuning

In sum, they have to (a) deny the fine-tuning, or (b) explain it by means of a multiverse or (c) explain it by some kind of necessity.

4- Arguments from eternal truths (Saint Augustine, Leibniz, etc)

Atheists have to (a) reject realism about universals, possibilia, propositions, mathematical objects and truths etc. or (b) accept realism but somehow ground it in either platonism, aristotelian realism, or something evwn more eccentric such as lewisian possible worlds. There are serious problems with all of these.

5- Qualia/consciousness

Presumably, most atheists will want to be materialists, but then they'll have to either accept some kind of eliminativism or reductionism. But then they'll have serious problems with the knowledge argument, the zombie argument, and so on. Otherwise, they'll have to settle for something like property dualism and will have to find a way to avoid epiphenomenalism and to explain how property dualism would be possible (some kind of emergentism). Or they'll have to be something even more eccentric, such as panpsychists. If they accept something like Nagel's view it becomes hard to resist certain teleological arguments, or certain arguments from reason.

6- Intentionality and reason in general

They'll have to either (a) accept that we have an immaterial mind/soul without its being created by God, or (b) somehow explain reason in material terms. a) seems entirely untenable without rejecting the principle of proportionate causality (and therefore accepting brute facts as well), and the idea of an immaterial soul would presumably already be anathema to the vast majority of atheists. If they take option (b) then they need to somehow account for I) our grasp and use of universal and determinate concepts, II) mental causation in terms of propositional content, III) under hylomorphism, our grasp of forms without our minds literally becoming the forms in question, IV) the psychological relevance of logical laws, V) self-reflexivity, or the capacity of our intellect to think of itself as thinking, VI) the reliability of our cognitive faculties under naturalism in a way that isn't self-defeating.

7- Libertarian free will

Granted, many atheists are compatibilists. But if they're incompatibilist libertarians, they'd have to somehow square it with materialism (which presumably most atheists accept). From what I've heard there have been some defenses of materialistic libertarian free will (Rescher), but it could be an additional worry.

8- Objective morality and axiology

If the atheist wants to maintain mechanistic naturalism (as most of them do), it becomes notoriously difficult to hold any sort of objective morality or axiology.

9- Religious experience

They have to hold that all religious experiences are illusory and not veridical experiences of God or a transcendent reality.

10- Miracles and supernatural phenomena

Of course, they have to hold that ALL claims of miracles and supernatural phenomena are ultimately false or explainable in natural ways.

I could just go on and on. A lot of these problems are presented deductively; the issues can also be presented inductively, however. Considering this, can atheism even be a tenable philosophical position? It seems like it faces so many problems in multiple fronts - philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, epistemology, action, ethics - it's even hard to take it as a viable alternative to anything.

Prove me wrong.

Do you have a link to "fr. Norris Clarke's critique of emergentism in his article on the special creation of the soul"?

1 - I think the atheist could accept a Spinoza type necessary universe including modal collapse. The hard determinists aren't really far from it anyway so I don't so why they would have any intuitive issue. I think this is the atheists best bet over the brute fact option. The question hinges on issues like conceptual/scientific/personal explanations but imo really hinges on the PPC and unemergent intellect and will.

2. Regarding the fifth way, I've always wondered how much of a monkey wrench eternalism throws at it given the Thomistic arguments to God. After all, causes and effects who exist eternally at different times.

3. At the moment I think an atheist is justified in accepting the multiverse. Sean Carroll has produced some models which dodge the Boltzmann brain problem which I think was the main problem.

4. Propositions and possibilities may be the trickiest in my view. I don't know enough about the debate over universals but some like Smolin have put forward some interesting accounts for mathematical objects that don't result in God (at least at a glance anyway).

5. I actually think Aristotelianism helps with this the best for the atheist. The question is whether they can accept the core concepts needed to explain consciousness without using ones that entail God.

6. Given PPC I think the atheist is in quite a spot of bother regarding reason.

7. This seems to be dependant on other issues. I don't see why an atheist emergentist cannot help himself to agent causation and free will.

8. An Aristotelian atheist could though. Quentin Smith put forward a moral theory that was reminiscent of Natural law. I need to read more about how the atheist platonists get on with morality. It is possible for an athiest to accept the core platonic/aristotelian metaphysics and reject the arguments for classical theism. The atheist could always (as most do) reject objective morality.

9. I've always found it a weak argument

10. Given an atheistic background I don't think there are many miracles that can be brought forward which have strong enough evidence to overturn the atheists prohibitively low prior probability.

So I think the issues are going to lay with 1, 4 and 6.

 

3/03/2018 7:06 am  #7


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

Aren't there Thomists who disagree with the fine-tuning argument on the grounds that it presupposes a view of the laws of physics that is mechanistic or horribly vague? By contrast, the common-sensical views of the laws being rooted in existing objects that Thomism accepts would seem to throw some water on the premise for the fine-tuning argument that the laws are somehow fine-tuned.


In other words, Thomism seems to reject the very existence of the laws of physics if we conceive them as being an occult force or something positively  "out there"  so-to-speak which the Fine-Tuning argument requires to even get off the ground.


 

 

3/03/2018 8:31 am  #8


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

10. Given an atheistic background I don't think there are many miracles that can be brought forward which have strong enough evidence to overturn the atheists prohibitively low prior probability.

But surely they don't get to decide for themselves what is acceptable evidence. They have to set generally acceptable standards. I don't know about miracles per se, but I agree with C. D. Broad, Stephen Braude, and many others that any unbiased person who studied the findings of psychical research would almost certainly accept it as evidence for something beyond the purely material. Of course, such evidence disproves materialism, but what it means for all atheism is less clear.

 

3/03/2018 9:19 am  #9


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

10. Given an atheistic background I don't think there are many miracles that can be brought forward which have strong enough evidence to overturn the atheists prohibitively low prior probability.

But surely they don't get to decide for themselves what is acceptable evidence. They have to set generally acceptable standards. I don't know about miracles per se, but I agree with C. D. Broad, Stephen Braude, and many others that any unbiased person who studied the findings of psychical research would almost certainly accept it as evidence for something beyond the purely material. Of course, such evidence disproves materialism, but what it means for all atheism is less clear.

No but I don't think the atheist has to discredit the *direct* evidence of a hypothesis (miracle, psychical whatever) in order to reject it if the prior probability is so overwhelmingly low. The direct evidence will need to be very strong to overcome the priors.

I'm not aware of the work of Braude etc so can't comment but with these issues it has to come down to the specifics. There may well be extremely strong evidence which *by itself* is enough to show materialism/naturalism/atheism Or whatever the case may be.

In most cases, some kind of hypothesis can be provided to account for the data even if another hypothesis is much more expected on the data. But if the prior probability is extremely low for the leading hypothesis, it won't be clear which one to prefer.

In responce to Miguel, if you just show an atheist evidence for a miracle *without giving him good reason to give some plausibility to a theistic worldview beforehand!* then the evidence needs to be incredibly strong by itself. I don't know of any miracle claims that have evidence which clearly and obviously rules out every naturalistic hypothesis. There is always room for doubt.

Of course, I'm not accusing Miguel himself of taking this approach. But, taking each point independently, I don't think miracle claims are any issue for atheists.

 

3/03/2018 10:23 am  #10


Re: Is there any hope for atheism as a philosophical position?

I mostly second what Callum and Jeremy have said, other than that I think Infinite regress (like in Hume-Edwards objection) is better option for Atheist than the brute fact view, for countering Cosmological argument. 

 

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