Atheism and the Question of Truth - Professor L. Figurski invites you to read his books
The natural desire to know can be only satisfied if the person is passionately looking for truth . Somehow we know that life in delusion , illusion and ignorance, must be necessarily false, meaningless and leading to disaster. The most essential distinction between humans and other lower forms of life consists precisely in the fact that man has a mind which in it’s quest for truth is unconquerable . Aristotle’s statement that all man by nature desire to know seems to be true beyond any question. All human history is a gradual development of ideas and visions of reality, because ideas are governing human behavior.
Human beings are known to have been freely and willingly dying for their beliefs and I do not mean here only religious beliefs, but also other strong convictions for which man was willing to die. Since man is not only a self, and the mind , but also embedded in matter and body, he/she is subject to many deviations, and even conscious denial of the importance of seeking the truth. Those hindrances are connected with many powers and institutions in which humans live. Especially in modern times the pressures against honest search for truth are enormous. Everyone is constantly bombarded by political propaganda , commercial advertising, biased mass media , and chauvinistic and corrupted influential politicians. In such situation it is easy to resign from one’s own independent thinking, and follow the accepted political ideology for fear of being ostracized and even persecuted as an enemy of the state, and the interest of the nation, like it happened for example in the Nazi ideology in the XX century.
However the purpose of this article is to analyze the position of new atheism (Richard Dawkins, Lewis Wolpert, Sam Harris, Victor Stenger, Daniel Dennet and quite a number of others) and it’s relationship to the ultimate truth of reality and the atheistic attitude. The basic problem here is the question of possibility of the human mind to reach the transcendent , philosophical truth. Atheism developed under the umbrella of science, which primarily for atheists, became the new idol of our times. The average person is also under the influence of the authority of scientific accomplishments . Many people when they hear the words scientifically proven, accept whatever is announced without any question. The authority of science replaced for many the authority of religion, tradition and even moral values.
The question is very important because there is an absolute unbridgeable gap between atheistic position and the vision of religious person. Religion , to the degree it is true, requires the totality of man’s life: it influences his/her thinking, his/her expectations for eternity , his/her values and his/her way of living this life. In other words, it calls for total, absolute commitment. On the other, hand atheism destroys the power of the human mind to discover the transcendent being (metaphysics) it denies any meaning after death , and it has to establish its own values, purposes and meaning of life. To many atheists, especially existential thinkers, life appears utterly meaningless and absurd ( Russell, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche and others). The appeal to science as a final explanation of the universe and it’s development cannot be justified logically because science on the basis of it’s methods does not deal with the questions of existence , the universal mature of being and the final answer to the question why is there universe at all.
The aim of science is to conquer the natural forces for human purposes . Every scientific theory is therefore provisional and subject to the possibility of change and replacement by a more comprehensive theory. That is why science never will answer the most fundamental question of existence and it cannot therefore serve as replacement of philosophical arguments concerning the nature of final , contingent beings and their existence. Science cannot answer the question why is there a universe at all, why not nothing instead .
The basic arguments for existence of a transcendent infinite being are as follows :
1. The first cause of existence of a universe of contingent beings (The Aristotelian concept of a First Mover).
2. The inference from contingent existence of all finite beings to one First cause creative of all contingent reality.
3. The purposefulness and regularity observable in the universe both in the inanimate world and especially the living world developing in the process of evolution shows the validity of the teleological argument pointing to some cosmic intelligence responsible for the nature and structure of all finite beings man included.
The three above arguments are not all but the most obvious pointers to some sort of infinite transcendent being, perhaps not only as First Cause but also as a personal reality self-hood and freedom and intelligence.
Dawkins and the other new atheists do not show in their writings that the metaphysical arguments mentioned are not sound. Certainly, Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” does not show it. He stresses again and again that science is the complete explanation of the phenomena of nature. By science Dawkins means the theories of development of the universe but primarily the fact of Darwinian evolution relative to the appearance of man. He does not explain why there is life or evolution of life. He simply assumes that this is how it is and that is enough. If one takes him seriously, then man is nothing else but a little higher developed great ape . The intelligence of humans would then be only somewhat different from the intelligence of higher primates but same in kind. This approach is really abolition of man as man . For man, so understood, is not really a person with symbolic language , ability to think abstractly and to develop philosophical understanding of reality. He/she remains within the borders of scientific method where transcendent activity of the mind to reach towards the absolute is simply denied at least according to Richard Dawkins.
Philosophy begins with the wonder of the fact of existence analyzed on the metaphysical level . Without this attitude there is no philosophy. If one refuses to use the power of the human mind then one commits a mental suicide One refuses simply even to seriously ask the questions and becomes an agnostic or skeptic. As Frederik Copelston remarked in his famous discussion on God’s existence with Bertrand Russell: “If one does not sit down to the chessboard and makes the first move one can never lose the game.” One can add here: neither can one win it.
Even if science would explain every detail in nature and how it all works in the whole universe known to man , it would not answer why there is a universe or why there is such a universe and not another. Neither would it explain the dynamic nature of the world developing from sub atomic particles to molecules, to primitive living forms , to the multiverse of life, to the rudiments of animal intelligence, to self consciousness, abstract intelligence and free personality of humans. So much can never be denied and it is enough to guarantee that the argument of the First Cause , the Prime Mover and the Cosmic Intelligence are valid pointers to the existence of God.
Richard Dawkins seems to believe without any hesitation that Darwinism implies the following : (a) there is no evidence for God , (b) no life after death and (c) no foundation for right and wrong or ultimate meaning of life. (d) people really have no free will.
If we take Dawkins statement seriously we would have to believe that nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and not reason produces reason. It is obvious that for Dawkins the Darwinian theory of evolution is a complete universal explanation of any problem whatsoever.
The central question here is the definition of truth and it is the fundamental problem because outside of truth we have only ignorance, deception, and delusion of all kind. The first thing to notice is the crucial distinction between facts and interpretation of fact , explanation of facts or proving facts. All relationship between mind and reality is a form of mutual interaction . The scientific method, so popular in our times is a philosophical assumption because it cannot be proven scientifically. Consequently rejection of metaphysical reflections is also an unproved assumption. It denies the minds the natural ability to make the fundamental questions of existence intelligible and somehow valid as arguments for a transcendent being.
Here we have very many positions beginning with uncritical acceptance of whatever is given in the society and the mass media, through the skeptical attitude of the agnostic who affirms that any knowledge of the ultimate question is not possible, to the scientific attitude and finally to philosophical metaphysical reflections. Methodical realism accepted in those present reflections is an accepted definition of truth. It assumes intelligibility of the realm of being and penetrability of beings to the human inspection and analysis. Truth therefore will have three basic characteristics :
(1) Conformity of the concepts of the mind to what the facto is real.
(2) Intrinsic coherence.
(3) Consistency and ,
(4) Acceptance of both deductive and inductive thinking conforming to the laws of logic. The mind is not a passive faculty but it is both active and passive .
Search for truth requires methodical effort of the whole mind and a serious commitment to the importance of truth in human life. At the base of any problem whatsoever in human life there always lies a question of value . Without fully expressing the attitude of the mind to reality we all know that truth is of fundamental and absolute value. Any other position leads to living in semi –darkness and a mental suicide.
Evolution of different forms of life including humans is by no means hostile to the belief in a transcendent deity . The concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest leaves out many fundamental philosophical problems completely untouched:
(1) Matter is not eternal as it was believed for many centuries because astronomy and physics itself proves the beginning of the universe.
(2) Natural selection is in itself not productive of new species but it eliminates the less adapted , and it is important to remember that before there are the fittest there had to be first the fit, that is the beginning of life .
(3) The biological increase in complexity from the most primitive living cell to the phenomena of man does not explain the appearance of consciousness, self-consciousness , the human personality and the nature of the human mind.
The concept of evolution understood in his own way by Richard Dawkins does not provide evidence or sound arguments. It is a dogmatic , philosophical assumption. The whole philosophy of people life Dawkins and his friends ultimately is based on sheer unproved belief that nothing exists but only matter in movement.
If one accepts this first assumption then of course any talk about mind, spirit, purpose, intelligibility, moral values are of course automatically rejected. However it remains nothing but sheer assumptions not a valid interpretation and explanation of reality. If the arguments mentioned here for the existence of God are valid - and no one ever proved that they are not valid – then there exists a transcendent First Cause , Omnipotent Creator, One Prime Mover , Immaterial, Intelligent Personal Being and this to use the words of St. Thomas: All call God.
Miller, Kenneth R. Findings Darwin’s God. A Scientist’s Search for Common ground Between God and Evolution Harper, Perennial: (New York, 1999)
Strobel, Lee, The Case for a Creator, Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God, Zondervan: (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2004)