The argument for atheism

For the sake of context to everyone that wasn’t present at the meeting preceding this post; I was at a meeting with some other philosophy-interested people in Berlin talking about critique of atheism, where I was the one on the far atheistic side of the spectra. A great thanks again to everyone that participated, it was truly an interesting and memorable evening.

Now for the continous discussion, this is my answer to this article.

“This world is too damn amazing for largely ignorant beings like ourselves to be utterly dismissive of the plausibility of a higher power.”

The thinking that something that for us feels amazing needs to have some purpose. The question of “why?” where “chance” wasn’t a satisfying answer. This is explained by multiple cognitive biases (if you feel a strong need to argue that you’re not suffering from cognitive biases due to some high intellect or reasoning, please read up on cognitive biases in general first), a study looking specifically at religious belief in relation to cognitive biases can be found here.
This is similar biases that also makes some people think that extraordinary tragic events (natural disasters, terrorist attacks, buildings collapsing, etc.) can’t happen just by chance, or even personal tragedies, like sickness, death of a close friend or family, or something similar. Of course, people are very vulnerable in these situations, and we tend to not be able to reflect rationally in the face of such stressful situations. (More extensive reading on cause and effect biases)

A good way of combating these biases is to just be aware of why they’re happening, and identify them within oneself (otherwise one will look like a hypocrite if one only points out others biases and never reflects upon ones own).

Just because something is the subjective to cognitive biases doesn’t inherently invalidate the thought however. As with logical phallacies, this is not a complete dismissive argument, but one that should imply that arguments beyond “but it very much feel that way”, “we can’t know for sure” or “I’m not satisfied with that answer” is needed. And with Occam’s razor (many interpret Occam’s razor wrongly to mean the “simplest explanation” which is completely wrong, read up on Occam’s razor if this is what you think that means), we can conclude that a supernatural, intentional or in any way agent creator or director of this universe is a less compelling theory than randomness and probability.

I agree that the tooth fairy is a bad analogy (I however still think it’s valid and that the counter argument focuses on nit-picking the specific details of the tooth fairy and that the author doesn’t even try to do a favourable interpretation of the argument, which makes it vulnerable to the exchange of the specifics in the analogy). But then I’d say that the arguments for the blief in God (in the way that that’s the answer to the “why” of the existence of the universe) readily and as logically also are arguments for that we live in a simulation albeit a scientific or an entertainment-driven one, or that the universe was created 5 min ago in someone’s dream. It’s the classic non falsifiable theory structure. And yes, all of those can be interesting philosophical questions and discussions when you’re smoking pot with your friends, I also enjoy them tremendously. But when it comes to organizing ones life around, or have serious discussions about the existence of the universe, there has to be a way to falsify the theory for it to be tested and thus interesting in a scientific manner. And yes, not everything has to be scientific to be interesting and I know many don’t believe everything can be answered by science (akthough I’d argue, that it then, by definition, isn’t natural since everything that exists can be tested and studied, and if it’s supernatural it doesn’t, by definition, exist in the natural world, and if you don’t believe in the natural world, well, I can’t argue with your internal beleifs, but can make the argument that there are cooler supernatural things than God to spend your intellectual energy on, but that’s also highly subjective).

“To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.” – Albert Einstein

This quote from Einstein used in the article could as easily be interpreted to justify that the universe couldn’t be understood by our brains due to the fact that we suck at grasping complex systems (but more attuned to complicated ones) and thus are in need of machines to explain the complex, since computers are tremendously better at complex systems. And no scientist would argue that we’re capable of grasping all and everything at the same time, that’s one of the reasons for machine learning A.I. and artificial neurological networks. We have machines that can explain complex systems today, and they’re getting more and more sophisticated. What Einstein describes is the same feeling I get when wandering in the forest thinking about the immensely complex systems that give rise to something my brain interprets as beautiful, and knowing that it’s possible for us, with time, technological progress and a lot of scientific effort to someday answer more of these questions and discover new ones. The feeling that most tend to describe as “religious”.

The sum of the article was a bit disappointing, since this is the basic to all science already. There is just a language barrier on the words “certain”/”uncertain” and “don’t know for sure”, when it comes to science and everyday language. It’s the same reason global warming deniers use the argument “but scientists aren’t certain that global warming is caused by humans” or creationist call evolution “just a theory”. Scientists know that there’s no such thing as 100% certainty on anything, but, for example on the topic of global warming, it’s just not practical to gamble the existence of the human species on that 1% chance scientists might be wrong. And regarding this, then, yes, even atheists aren’t 100% certain that God doesn’t exist, as we’re not 100% certain that we can’t fly (without any machines to help). But we’re not going to be agnostic about that either and gamble our life on the possibility. And I’m certainly not going to dismiss the pursuit of scientific knowledge about the natural existence of the universe by the unlikelyhood that some agent created it with purpose.

I would also like to top this of with my favorite entertainment on the topic!