Atheism vs Theism
Atheism vs Theism
The problem Atheists have with Theists and the premise of God, a Being who is all good, omniscient, omnipotent and eternal, is that they believe that since science and the world cannot prove that such a being exists and since life seems to sustain itself without any external help, then this Being probably does not exists nor can this Being ever be proven to exist. This method of thinking stems directly from a belief, not that science is god, but more that mankind is a self-sufficient, self-reliant being along with the philosophy of materialism and evolution which denies the possibility of soul or the immaterial.
This resulted in the hijacking of science to prove what materialists already believed, that everything is relative and truth exists only if it can be proven by science. This is, as a materialist already knows, an issue that can only relate to the corporeal. The conflict that occurs is many theists belief that there is a truth and it can be known by reason which includes science but also can be discovered using every aspect of the human person. This includes the spiritual, corporeal, and even the emotive aspect of the man.
The another debate in this issue pits the clinging to classical thought by the theists against claim that classical thought is unsubstantiated, old fashioned and that only modern thought is relevant because it is the most progressive. So there seems to be an intrinsic impossibility for a materialist atheist to believe in God because it is diametrically opposed to the dogmatic belief in science, materialism, and man as a creature of nature not of the immaterial.
The Atheists’ beliefs The atheists’ core beliefs have already been brought to attention but in order for a complete argument to take place, a simple overview is not sufficient, so a more in depth analysis is needed to better understand this ideological battle. To be fair to atheists, there is a diversity of ideas and beliefs why God cannot exist. Some of these reasons behind this belief can be simple and unfounded arguments or elaborate systems which argue God out of the picture.
While it would be easy to discredit and disprove the simple arguments, such as “I don’t see God’s involvement in the world and it seems like the world functions on its own, therefore, God doesn’t exist,” there are plenty of arguments that have shown this type of thinking as shallow and wrong. The more significant arguments are the views of atheism include a mechanistic view of the world along with a materialist understanding of the operations of the world.
This is the view, according to Edward Feser, that most serious atheists hold and is responsible for the understanding that God does not exist in the world, that the world is self sufficient and that man is simple a creature of evolution. Of course what follows from this belief is the understanding that man is not bound to anything spiritual or moral since there is no such thing as morals since that entails something immaterial.
They believe instead that morality is either a construct of the mind, which is influenced by Kant, or that morality is the conditioning of the culture to make man feel guilty, which is influenced by Nietzsche. Feser points to the origin of this mode of thinking, explaining that it stems from the removal of the formal and final cause of things of Aristotle’s natural science in which all things have a material, efficient, formal and final cause. When the formal and final cause is removed then people don’t have a final end other than survival nor does anything have a nature or is there a correct form.
What this does is it removes the importance of religion. When there is no afterlife or purpose of a person to be moral then there is no need for God or religion. Feser also claims that once formal and final causes were removed, and then it paved the way to materialism, which, if there is a formal or final cause of things, is the only reasonable understanding of the world. Materialism is the belief that everything can be reduced to their material function and there is nothing outside of empirical evidence. There means there is no soul or spiritual aspect of a human person.
People are given the impression that science can explain everything, but Feser explains that “For the reason science has “explained” almost everything other than the mind is precisely because everything that doesn’t fit the mechanistic model has been swept under the rug of the mind, treated as a mere projection. ” The very essence of today’s atheism is that the world can be explained and if there is something that cannot be explained then they say that science will explain it after we have a better understanding of the object in question.
This belief that science can and will explain everything is held so strongly that atheists become as Feser describes them, “the very thing they argue against” namely, dogmatic and irrational. This is a result of the belief that there is no truth. Science, although it has improved the quality of life and has led to many discoveries, is to blame for a particular mentality that is felt all over the world, that of progress. Along with thinkers like Hegel, who believe that all of history is progress and that everything has been leading up to our point in time today, the mentality within science is that progress is always good.
This is another assumption held by atheists in that they believe that science is progress and if there is progress then the time this progress was a lesser time and held views that were lesser and imperfect. So from this understanding, Christianity and religion in general is old fashioned and wrong, while science is right and the only truth that is, if there can even be truth. It is science that focuses on the efficient and material causes of things. In other words, it is science that ignores formal or final causes. Because of this belief it makes the place of religion irrelevant.
Materialist atheists use science, the study of material objects with their molecular makeup and the like and use what we have discovered by means of science to explain questions of metaphysical nature. Feser explains that “empirical science of its very nature cannot give us the full story about these matters; but metaphysics just is the rational investigation if them. ” Also on the same topic of the separation between religion and science, Stephen Jay Gould explains that “the net of science covers the empirical realm: what he universe is made of and why does it work this way.
The net of religion extends over question of moral meaning and value. ” (Gould p. 522) A conflict has occurred however because as was mentioned previously, when the final and formal cause is removed, then the nature’s of things don’t exist but so does purpose and without purpose then going beyond the what is impossible. Atheists hold central to their beliefs that there is nothing beyond this world and that all operations of the world are contained within it.
Richard Dawkins believes rather that our “morality” has been changing and that the Old Testament God is “will not be adopted as a literal role model by anybody you or I would wish to know. ” He means that social norms have been changing and that our morality can be explained through science of culture and society, not dependent on God or scripture. Dawkins continues saying that other aspects of the Christian religion are in conflict with science. He claims that the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven is false and assumes that heaven is a “physical reality – how else could the physical body of a woman go there?
” Dawkins brings this up to make the point that everything is under the realm of science; he even goes as far as to say that the “sudden injection if an immortal soul in the time-line is an anti-evolutionary intrusion into the domain of science. Dawkins’ point is that there is not a separation of religion and science; metaphysical claims are even under the claims of science. In the case of the mind, Dawkins and others believe it can be explained. And even though there is religion, it is a simple social construct to control the ignorant.
Their truth is that science can explain everything even prove that a metaphysical world cannot exist. The Theist’s Side The theists fall back on something a little different, tradition. Now contrary to atheist’s beliefs, theism does use reason to justify keep God in the discussion but also to keep other metaphysical claims. Christianity has an understanding that the world is a transitory with God as its creator. From an understanding that God is creator, it is reasonable to expect everything in nature to abide by a law, to be ordered and have the ability to be understood.
Also from the tradition of the philosophers of history, this belief has been thought over and many rational arguments have been made in favor of theism. These arguments even came from antiquity. Plato and Aristotle gave many arguments defending the immaterial. Both philosophers believed that the soul was immaterial and that all life had a soul or rather, the soul was the life giving principle. Now along with the idea of the soul, Aristotle provides an in depth account of the four causes mentioned earlier, namely material, efficient, formal, and final.
This encompasses all aspects of substances. This provided a very thorough description of life. From the four causes, it gave reason to the nature of things and that there is a definite correct way of acting for any particular thing. So with the four causes, especially the formal and final cause, man now has a purpose and a proper way of acting. In other words, man then must have a morality it must adhere to. This morality has been lived out by people before philosophy influenced people; it is pre-science and therefore more “natural” to man.
The fact that it is backed up by metaphysical observations only strengthens the argument for theists. Natural science, the understanding of the natural world is something lost upon atheists. It is essential to the proper understanding of this life to understand that there are, in fact, natures. As Feser puts it, “admit formal and final causes into the world and at once you are stuck –with God, the soul, and natural law. ” This natural law is also vital to an understanding of life on earth as well as an understanding of the human person.
While atheists struggle with an understanding of how the mind works (not the brain), have a very weak argument for morality, and have no argument for why anyone should have rights or respect shown to anyone, the theists however, have strong, well founded arguments for these very things which come natural to everyone. A theist understands natural law as participating in eternal law, this gives natural law authority. It is something which all men must abide by. Natural law is the respect and dignity which all men are due. It is what assures man that he shouldn’t kill one another.
Robert Adams even uses this principle of the morality from natural law as a proof of God’s existence; he claims that “the moral rightness and wrongness consist in agreement and disagreement, respectively, with the will or commands of a loving God. ” There are many laws within natural law that when broken are recognized as going against natural order, granting men the authority under God to rebel against whomever or whatever threatens to take away the privileges given by natural law. It is how we understand concepts of justice.
This follows from the fact that God is just and any disobedience of this law is seen as unjust. God is the foundation of morality; natural law is the foundation of morality. Along with natural law, the theists also are able to give a better account of the mind. It is held that the mind is immaterial; it is directly tied to the soul. When the body dies, the soul continues on and we retain our “mind” because we retain rationality in the afterlife. In the same way Aristotle believed that the soul is the life giving aspect to all creatures and plants, so the human soul is also responsible for the mind and the intellect.
Otherwise if the materialist view was to be accepted, we would have a similar thought process to any other intelligent creature without rationality. The mind is also responsible for the specific function of contemplation. No animal, even with a larger, more advanced brain would ever be able to understand concepts such as justice, peace, and generosity, it must be related to the form that humans have and the soul which humans have been given. This goes so beyond any physical aspect of our bodies that to confine the mind to ability within the brain seems foolish.
Even the ability to learn concepts is a mystery. J. J. Haldane provides an analysis of the topic and explains that some concepts, especially early on, must be taught. Someone must have taught concepts to people. The example he gives is the example of a cat. One might see a cat and understand the concept of cat, but what if one had never seen a cat? It would be necessary to explain the concept of cat to that person, after which the person would be able to recognize a cat if he saw one. The same applies to all concepts.
Now the tricky part is, if evolution is taken back to the origin of man or even if God created man, then how did man learn all of these concepts? Haldane’s solution to the question is that God must have been responsible, regardless of whether evolution is responsible for man or not. The reasoning behind this is that God must have taught the 1st man all these concepts which he could then pass down to his children. While this explanation requires an open mindedness of the listener, it is very plausible and would account for many of the questions that atheists still deal with today.
So Who’s Right? So while some might claim that there isn’t even a right answer and that choosing to be an atheist or theist is just personal preference. However, according to the theists, there is truth and there is a right answer. As for atheists, while some of their positions were explained, they still have gaps within their arguments. When confronted with these gaps, it seems that atheists are unable to provide an answer other than resorting to science which asks how and why, but not “that” something is. As mentioned earlier, there is the question of morality and why people act as they do.
Even Atheists believe in some sort of morality even they do not wish to call it by its name. Feser cleverly points out that “An atheist or naturalist can believe in morality – that is a psychological fact – but he cannot have a rational justification for his belief – that is a philosophical fact. ” It is impossible to limit the natural drive for morality in people. Again, “where morality was concerned, Kant’s aim was to show that there is just something in the nature of reason itself that requires that we be moral. ” This seems
foolish to believe that something material explains something as complicated as human emotions and the free will to do good or bad and the consequences it has on the person itself. Feser points out that the understanding of modern atheists of morality is a conditioning itself, all of modern philosophy tries to prove that everything can be contained by science, even the topic of morality. He is convinced that this is due to a rejection of formal and final causes. He explains that “the bottom line is that by abandoning formal and final causes, modern philosophy necessarily denied itself any objective basis for morality.
” This points to how modern philosophy has gotten to this point and it is simply that modern philosophers have ignored the question of whether there are formal and final causes and have considered the topic as irrelevant. What this means however that “First, the modern “mechanistic understanding of the natural world has led to problems, paradoxes, and absurdities that are far more egregious than anything the scholastics were ever accused of. Second, Aristotelian formal and final causes are simply unavoidable if we are to make sense of modern science and reason themselves.
” Now as has been shown, theists hold on the Aristotelian views of formal and final causes not only does it make sense, but it provides a foundation for a host of other arguments. These arguments cannot be explained away by science, Feser points out why, which is because “empirical science of its very nature cannot give us the full story about these matters; but metaphysics just is the rational investigation of them. ” to make a further point, as has been suggested, it seems that an atheist’s account of the mind is also insufficient as it is a series of poor and confusing arguments which try to prove the existence of mind within a person.
Feser claims that the reason for the misunderstanding of the mind by atheists is that it is “the denial of final causes that most clearly poses an absolutely insurmountable obstacle to any attempt to explain the mind in purely material terms. ” What this means is that with this understanding of purpose for the human person beyond survival, then there is new meaning to a person’s life and that each person should and ought to work to fulfill this purpose. If not, then it is impossible to explain the mind sufficiently. The reason for intellect, the purpose of the mind, is contemplation but also to use reason to become virtuous.
Once morality is believed to exist, then it follows that morality should be followed but the only way to do that is to form habits of virtue, which is only possible through the mind. It also hints at the soul, which is also taken to exist in that it is the principle of life but more specifically, nothing corporeal could be the principle of life or “every body would be a living thing. ” More specifically, Aquinas explains that since the intellect has an operation apart from the body “per se” then we must conclude, therefore, that the human soul, which is called the intellect or the mind, is something incorporeal and subsistent.
So according to Feser, the only way to solve this problem that the atheist’s have of the mind, is to “return to the Aristotelian –Thomistic conception of the soul as the form of the body, having certain immaterial operations but nevertheless “interacting with the material world as formal rather than efficient cause. ” Feser also hints at there being a need to be intellectually honest about some of these arguments.
Since many Atheists have ignored the arguments or Aristotle and Aquinas, Feser has been calling for them to actually refute them and that instead of wanting something to be true and trying to argue for it, to instead accept truth as an objective reality and something to be sought after. The point that Feser wants to make is not to “determine whether this project was good or bad, but rather to emphasize that to a very great extent it was a desire to further the project, and not an actual refutation of Aristotle, that moved modern thinkers away from his metaphysics. The agenda determined the arguments rather than the other way around.
” This is ultimately the solution to the question to atheism because it seems as though Atheism is artificial, Denys Turner implies that atheism has to be ‘worked at or practiced in his article “How to be an Atheist. ” It is the mentality of trying to convince others that your reality is truth instead of being receptive to truth as the classical and medieval philosophers were. The difference of today is that theists are receptive to the truth while atheists try to invent or create the truth. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Feser, Edward, The Last Supersition. P. 192.
[ 2 ]. ibid [ 3 ]. Feser, 173 [ 4 ]. Gould Stephen, Philosophy of Religion, 3rd ed. P. 552 [ 5 ]. Dawkin, Richard. Philosophy of Religion. P. 560 [ 6 ]. ibid [ 7 ]. ibid [ 8 ]. ibid [ 9 ]. Feser, 176 [ 10 ]. Adams, Richard. Philosophy of Religion, p. 246 [ 11 ]. J. J. Haldane, J. J. C Smart, Atheism and Theism [ 12 ]. Denys Turner, Atheist Tapes, BBC Productions [ 13 ]. Feser, 219 [ 14 ]. Feser, 217 [ 15 ]. Feser, 219 [ 16 ]. Feser, 184 [ 17 ]. Feser, 173 [ 18 ]. Feser,193 [ 19 ]. Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologicae 1, 76, 1 [ 20 ]. Aquinas, I, 76, 2 [ 21 ]. Feser, 199 [ 22 ]. Feser, 175.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 22 November 2016
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