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Why Atheism Versus Theism Debates Are So Frustrating

- randau

The two positions "There is a God" and "There isn't a God" shouldn't be both differing positions and premises in the same debate. Because, unless there's just one mutual premise upon which both positions are based there can be no rational debate leading to a meaningful conclusion based on logical argument. Either position stated as a premise would eliminate all argument to it and render the debate moot. So, we have to look deeper for underlying premises of the two positions.

I suggest that the underlying premises in Theism versus Atheism debates are whether or not nature's laws of the universe are 1) supernaturally malleable or are 2) immutably structured. Theism assumes the former (alterable laws) while Atheism assumes the later (unalterable laws). You cannot have a rational discussion if you can't agree on a premise for the discussion. So, unless the debaters can agree on one premise or the other, there's no bases for rational logical debate. Consequently, the debaters talk right past each other and may not even be conscious of the difference in the underlying premise of their arguments. Therefore, what appear to be at the heart of the conflict are the contradicting premises upon which each side bases its arguments.


Premise 1) THE UNIVERSE IS SUPERNATURALLY MALLEABLE:

The bases of this premise in which the laws of the universe are supernaturally alterable (miracles, etc.) derives from ancient times when there were no scientific explanations for natural phenomenon. However, the human intellect was capable of asking why and craved answers. There was no shortage of those willing to offer supernatural explanations for almost any natural phenomenon. Much of the ancient teachings and explanations still pervades today in the form of modern day religions and their sacred books and documents. Their belief systems find refuge in the crevasses of scientific knowledge where questions have not yet been resolved or in areas where it's felt that the scientific explanations can be refuted.

The basic argument here is that the sheer complexity of life and nature demands an intelligence of design by a supernatural intellect. In other words, it could not have happened without intelligent purpose and meaning, i.e., forethought and planning. That is, of course, not a fact, but rather a seductively intuitive opinion based on the limited human experience and appreciation of the vastness of time involved. However, if evolution did happen without intelligent purpose and meaning, it would imply that since purpose and meaning in themselves require intelligence, the concepts of purpose and meaning may be creations of the human intellect and would therefore have meaning only to humans.

On the other hand, if the laws of nature are void of intelligence and the universe is immutably structured, then what of "free will", it must be an illusion. That's hard to fathom for most and therefore might be used as an argument for the malleable universe premise. However, the existence or non-existence of "free will" cannot actually be proven one way or the other.


Premise 2) THE UNIVERSE IS IMMUTABLY STRUCTURED:

This premise in which the laws of the universe are unalterably structured is supported by the evolution of scientific knowledge and understanding of the universal laws of nature. Since science has been able to rationally explain so much about the nature of the universe, it's assumed that those areas still unexplained have either 1) just not yet yielded to scientific investigation or 2) that they may never succumb to our understanding, because either they are beyond the limits of human understanding or 3) the question being asked is itself an invalid question.

Beyond the Limits of Human Understanding:
An example is illustrated by examining the limits of living in a three dimensional world. If we lived in a one dimensional world, the concept of a never ending line would be beyond our comprehension, because we could not perceive a two dimensional circle. Likewise, if we lived in a two dimensional world, the concept of a never ending surface would be beyond our comprehension, because we could not perceive a three dimensional sphere. Living in a three dimensional world, as we do, comprehension of never ending space is difficult, if not impossible, for us because we cannot perceive four dimensional space. Therefore, we may not be capable of understanding some aspects of nature that require perception in spacial dimensions greater than three. However, that does not invalidate the premise that the universe is immutably structured by immutable laws of nature even if some of those laws are beyond human comprehension.

Asking Invalid Questions:
Sometimes answers to questions may be illusive, because the question itself may not make sense. For example, What's north of the North Pole? For a more meaningful and less obvious example, How long did the singularity exist before it erupted into the "Big Bang" that initiated our universe? The singularity is perceived as a point of infinitesimal size and infinite density containing the mass of the universe that exploded and formed the universe as we now understand it. The problem with the question is that if the singularity was all that there was at that time, then there's no way to tell how long it was there before it exploded, because there's no way to measure time. The phenomenon of time requires the relative motion of at least two objects in order to measure it and have any meaning. Therefore, time didn't exist before the Big Bang. So, the question "how long did the singularity exist before it erupted" doesn't make any sense and is therefore an invalid question.

There may be other invalid questions related to the prior discussion about if there's more than three dimensions to the universe. For example: Where's the end of the universe? What's beyond the ends of the universe? How big is the universe? These may all be invalid questions that make no sense if there is more than three spacial dimensions to our universe.


GOD AND AN IMMUTABLY STRUCTURED UNIVERSE:

Choosing as a mutual premise "The Universe is Supernaturally Malleable" would deny the "strong" Atheist argument that God(s) "could not" exist and would render that debate moot. However, choosing "The Universe is Immutably Structured" as a mutual premise would "not" deny a Theist argument for the existence of God.

Theism can accommodate science, but not visa versa. Theism could selectively claim that particularly convincing scientific discoveries are merely exposing God's mechanisms of creation which have been designed into the universe. On the other hand, Science cannot accommodate Theism by accepting any of it's religious proclamations without verifiable or overwhelming scientific evidence. Because, that is the basis of science. Theistic argument could go so far as to proclaim that God created an immutable structured universe and then just sat back and observed how it evolved.

At which point the only difference between the Atheist and the Theist would be in the existence of a God that is relegated superfluous and irrelevant to the immutable universe. The Atheist would deny the existence of God rather than maintain the concept of a superfluous and irrelevant God that explains nothing about or has any influence over what goes on in the universe. On the other hand, the Theist would claim that God is necessary to provide a reason why and an explanation of how the universe was created, even if it's just what caused the "Big Bang" in the first place. But for the Atheist, there need be no reason why the universe exists and the question would just shift to why and how God came into existence, which is a much more intangible question. The Atheist would prefer to relegate the question of what caused the universe to start (Big Bang) in the first place to one of the three categories alluded to earlier: 1) not yet scientifically determined, 2) beyond the three-dimensional limits of human understanding, or 3) the question itself may make no sense in a more comprehensive understanding of our universe.


CONCLUSIONS:

Though there can be many "perceived" truths/realities, by definition there can be only one actual truth/reality. Theists may be holding on to their belief system because of a subjective desire or need to have a supernatural father figure looking over them and/or an existence after death to avoid the perception of non-existence. Where as, Atheists apparently lack those needs and therefore reject the existence of God on the objective basis of there being no scientific reason to do otherwise. Neither, Science nor the Atheist may subjectively include entities that have no explanatory need to exist. Atheists have learned to accept the idea of non-existence after death, since there can be nothing to fear when you no longer exist.

If there can be no agreement on a mutual premise, then the premises themselves become the argument making rational discussion or logical debate virtually futile. However, if it were agreed to accept a structured universe of immutable laws of nature as a mutual premise, both Theist and Atheist belief systems could logically coexist, provided they agree that God has no interaction with that universe (whether or not he created it). Thereby, the Theist is free, without contradiction, to believe in God and existence after death (in heaven or in hell) which have no interaction with the immutably structured universe of the living.

So, even with an agreed upon premise of a structured universe with immutable laws of nature, it appears that there can still be Godless Atheist and God worshiping Theist perceptions of the same universe neither of which contradicts the shared premise. Thus, demonstrating the futility of Theist versus Atheist debates.

The "Free Will" Paradox:
This separation of God and the living universe of immutable laws of nature which he created would have significant consequences on religion as we now know it. Prayer and the Bible would become meaningless and obsolete since God has no interaction with the living universe. But, since there can still be an existence after death in God's heaven or Satan's hell, there would need to be some criteria by which the selection is made based on one's behavior during their life.

But, this would require "true" free will on the part of humans in order to make any punitive sense of conditional entry into heaven or hell based on their life behavior. However, in a structured universe of immutable laws of nature, "free will" could not exist except as an illusion resulting from extreme complexity in the evolution of human behavior ...and that's a paradox.

Of course, one could always say that God is sorting out the good apples from the bad ones and putting them in heaven or in hell, even if they do only have an illusion of "free will" and therefore should not be held responsible for what they may develop into. Much the way we'd treat the sorting of real apples. But, if humans ought not be held responsible for their personal development, what's the point of a "punitive" Hell to punish them?

Ironically, if a "truly" free will did exist in humans living in a structured universe of immutable laws of nature, their "fee will" would, in itself, be a supernatural Godly attribute and humans would have become their own God.

Published:
  2002-03-25

Categories:
  Atheism, Theism

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