The other day I thought to list and assemble some intuitions and questions that periodically pop up in my mind about the position I would term “outspoken atheism.” As a religious professional I encounter on the Internet both militant and outspoken atheists, the former often being nasty and contemptuous of those embracing any religious commitment, especially the Judaeo-Christian position. I find their contempt and cocksureness annoying, but I know it would be fruitless to engage with them and I almost always resist the urge. But it got me thinking, and here are some of my thoughts, hastily assembled.
First, some definitions: I would define an outspoken atheist as not simply a person who does not believe there is a God, or who believes the case to be unproven. which in my view is an agnostic—but one who denies there is a God—whose stance is against the proposition that there is a Creator God whose nature and will is the ultimate ground of morality. To the right of this is the militant atheist who not only holds to the outspoken atheist position, but also advocates for it seeking to unseat any other positions as pathological, ignorant, or otherwise pathetic.
I am not seeking to present here a case for God, or for the Judaeo-Christian worldview to which I adhere. I am only sharing some personal thoughts, scribbled down, which outline some of the issues which, in my experience, outspoken atheists have failed to face with appropriate seriousness or to answer convincingly if at all.
As a beginning assumption, let’s assume that outspoken atheists hold that what is, normally termed “reality” or perhaps “the space-time continuum,” simply is, and developed over the unimaginable intervals of time. Furthermore, there is no Designer to whom we owe gratitude or allegiance.
- In such a cosmos, everything that exists is simply the effects of a random process of time, space, and chance in undefinable interaction.
- Laying aside for a moment the question of where did time, space and chance come from, why and how is there a Reality with which we must deal rather than what we will call the zero state? The zero state from which all allegedly proceeded is not nothingness: it is infinitely less. There would be no “we” to have “nothing.” There would also be no “things” to which “nothing” is a binary opposite [you can’t have no-thing unless a reality exists called a thing]. Thingness and nothingness are a binary pair. In the zero state there would be no thingness, and therefore no nothingness. The category of nothingness can only exist where there is a category of thingness. The zero state is infinitely more barren and stark than mere nothingness. Nothingness is teeming with vitality and fascination compared to the zero state.
- Without the space time continuum there would be no “there there” to be empty. Just as nothingness requires a binary opposite of thingness, emptiness requires a vessel that is empty. The time space continuum is the vessel. But the zero state would be less than emptiness because there would be no space time continuum, no vessel, to be empty. There would be no beginning, no Beginner, and no observing critics. There would be no thought, no reality. There would be no there there, and no beingness to be sought or to be the examiner, no consciousness existent to observe and comment. When people imagine that all that is evolved from mere nothingness, they do not realize what they are saying. They picture empty space, but in the zero state there is no space either, for space is part of the space-time continuum.
- Let’s deliver ourselves from this problem and for argument’s sake, assume instead, in an unfounded manner, that the universe as we know it just is, that the space time continuum is a given for which we need not give an accounting. We will take that as a given. But if the universe as it is is simply the result of unimaginable eras of time, plus space, plus chance, then on what basis do we attribute directionality to the evolutionary process? Why should the interaction of time plus space plus chance yield an evolutionary process that moves in any direction at all? Where does the push come from? From whence comes the programming in the material? Wouldn’t such matter and space be utterly inert? If not, how so? Why is there any movement or progress in evolution and why does evolution move in the direction of more sophisticated development and greater integration, rather than toward entropy or not at all?
- If all that exists is simply an effect of the random interaction of time, space, and chance, on what basis do we regard anything or anyone as superior or worthy of greater care and attention than another? How or why is a human person more significant than a twig, a rock, or a pile of feces? If one says that humans are sentient and intelligent beings, and that is why, on what non-arbitrary basis do we regard intelligence as a measure of worth? The Marquis de Sade argued that whatever is is right because what is is. Therefore, since men are constitutionally stronger than women, it is right for men to dominate women. On what basis would we say he is wrong?
- If all that exists is simply an effect of the random interaction of time, space, and chance, on what non-arbitrary basis do we regard morality as more than just an often-inconvenient hindrance to the free exercise of individualistic autonomy? Why is morality noble and not just a thing to be chosen, ignored, or discarded at will? What gives morality any traction in evaluating a life rather than being simply a system of arbitrary choice and social contract to which one may either opt in or out at will?
- If all that exists is simply an effect of the random interaction of time, space, and chance, on what basis do we attribute a capacity for objectivity to human thought? If human thought is simply an effect of electrical and chemical activity, then isn’t human thought simply a phenomenon like indigestion or corrosion?
- It seems to me that the outspoken atheist position is self-refuting because it fails to account not simply for somethingness rather than nothingness, and not simply because it fails to explain directionality and evolutionary movement in that context, and not simply because it fails to account for the directionality of evolution being upward rather than toward entropy, and not only because it fails to provide a ground for morality that convincingly unseats autonomous selfishness and hedonism, but because such a worldview makes even human thought and all stances, including the stance of outspoken atheists into mere phenomena—in Aristotle’s terms, these are mere accidents in a meaningless reality soup.
I find outspoken atheism to be problematic because it creates far more problems than it solves, as partially outlined here, in my thoughts as a non-philosopher. It is problematic also as no one can or does live consistently with such views and unanswered questions. This reduces the outspoken atheist stance to verbal sparring driven by forces and concerns other than mere logic which is what I in fact often observe it to be. A consistent outspoken atheist could and in my view should be an unprincipled amoral hedonist, that is if he or she elected to choose pleasure over pain. This is so because in a universe reduced to mere mechanics, where personality, thought, values and aesthetics are mere illusions produced by the reaction of chemical and electrical impulses, and where each human’s existence ends in disintegration and nothingness, this is the only attractive choice. And that is precisely what I would choose to be, were I not a convinced adherent of a Judaeo Christian worldview. And I would treat any qualms of conscience as an inconvenience to be overcome as soon as possible.