Friday, March 19, 2004

The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism

Atheists are currently denying that what they believe about the actions of matter in a universe without God is "pure chance" or "randomly colliding atoms," as their earlier forebears might have boldly and proudly described it. Logical positivism is now decidedly out of fashion. But this is ultimately only semantics and avoidance of the relevant philosophical issues. Natural "laws" (themselves metaphysical abstractions in a large sense, even though they have to do with matter) still have to attain their remarkable organizing abilities at some point. One either explains them by natural laws or by humbly bowing to divine teleology at some point as an explanation every bit as plausible as a scenario which boils down to materialism any way you cut the cake (everything is explained by material processes).

Matter becomes god in the atheist/materialist/naturalist view, as far as I am concerned, and this is patently obvious, because in the godless universe, matter has the inherent power to do everything by itself, which Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, being their ultimate Creator and even Ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

Quite obviously, then, since all these marvels which we observe in the universe are attributed to matter, just as we attribute the same capacities and designs to God's creative power, from our perspective, matter is the atheist's god, in which he places extraordinary faith; more faith even than we place in God, because it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. Yet atheists manage to believe this anyway because they refuse to acknowledge a God behind all the Design. Indeed, this is faith of the most un-rational, childlike kind. It is quite humorous, then, to observe the constant charge that we Christians have the blind, childlike, gullible, fideistic faith, rather than "rational, intellectual, sophisticated" atheists who possess it in far greater measure.

Such belief is, in effect and in substance, closely-examined, a kind of poytheistic idolatry of the crudest, most primitive sort, which puts to shame the pagan worship and incredulities of the ancient Babylonians, Philistines, Aztecs, and other primitive groups. They believed that their silver amulets and wooden idols could make the sun shine or defeat an enemy or cause crops to flourish. The polytheistic materialist is far, far more religious than that: he thinks that trillions of his Atom-gods and their distant relatives, the Cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, of their own power, possessed eternally either in full or in inevitably-unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Deo-Atomism ("belief that the Atom is God"). The omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, ubiquitous (if not omnipresent) Atom (especially trillions of them) can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason which we can understand (i.e., why and how the Atom-God came to possess such powers in the first place). The Deo-Atomist worships his trillions of gods unreservedly, with the most perfect, trusting, non-rational faith imaginable. He is what sociologists call a "true believer."

Oh, and we mustn't forget the Time-goddess as well. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level sufficient to shut up any silly Christian, who is foolish enough to believe in one God rather than trillions. The Time-goddess might be said to be the highest in the ranks of the Deo-Atomist's wonderfully-varied hierarchy of gods, since she is one, rather than trillions (sort of the "Zeus" of Deo-Atomism). One might call this belief Deo-Temporalism.

Deo-Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it "must be" what it is. How is this at all different from monotheism, where certain things are taken for granted as basic beliefs? There is no epistemological difference. The atheist's and materialist's or positivist's or naturalist's religion is Deo-Atomism; mine is theistic Christianity. Matter is their god; a Creator Spirit God is mine. The Deo-Atomist simply reverses the error of the Gnostics. They thought spirit was great and that matter was evil. Deo-Atomists think matter is great (and god) and spirit is not only "evil" (metaphorically-speaking), but beyond that: non-existent. In a certain remote sense, on one level, the Christian reacts to such profound religious belief with the thought, "Who am I to endanger by rational argument such a sublime fideism and Absolute Trust in a Teleological Argument vis-a-vis trillions of Atom-gods? I can only stand in awe of such Pure Faith."

Deo-Atomists may and do differ on secondary issues, just as the various ancient polytheistic cultures differed on quibbling details (which god could do what, which material made for a better idol, etc.), but despite all, they inevitably came out on the side of polytheistic idolatry, with crude material gods, and against spiritual monotheism.

Some Deo-Atomist utterances even have the "ring" of Scriptures, such as an appropriate humility urged in man's opinion of his own importance, because the universe is so large, and we are so small, as if material or spatial largeness itself is some sort of inherently God-like quality. One Deo-Atomist told me that "order is in the eye of the beholder." That reminded me of the biblical Proverbs (perhaps he was the Deo-Atomist equivalent of Solomon).

Of course, in Deo-Atomism, each person is gods too, because he is made up of trillions of Atom-gods and also lots of Cell-gods, so there are lots of gods there indeed! When you get trillions of gods all together in one place, it stands to reason that they can corporately perceive the order of which any one of them individually is capable of producing. So within the Deo-Atomist faith-paradigm, this makes perfect sense. But for one outside their circle of religious faith, it may not (just to warn the devout, faithful Deo-Atomist that others of different faiths may not think such things as "obvious" as they do). The Deo-Atomist manages to believe any number of things, in faith, without mere explanation.

In other words, the "why" questions in the context of Deo-Atomism are in and of themselves "senseless." And the reason why that is (i.e., for the Deo-Atomist), is because the question impinges upon the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Deo-Atomist possesses. If the question of "Why does God exist?" is senseless, then it follows straightforwardly that likewise, the question, "Why do the Atom-gods and Cell-gods and the Time-goddess exist and eternally possess the extraordinary powers that they do?" is senseless, meaningless and oughtn't be put forth. One simply doesn't ask such questions. It is bad form, and impolite in mixed company. We know how sensitive overly-religious folk are.

Instead, we are asked to bow to the countless mysteries of Deo-Atomism in humble adoration and awed silence, dumbstruck, like the Magi at the baby Jesus' manger, offering our "scientific" and "philosophical" allegiance like they offered gold and frankincense and myrrh. The very inquiry is senseless and "intrusive." And so rational examination is precluded at and from the outset. It is, indeed, an ingenious, self-contained system: hopelessly irrational and self-defeating; ultimately incoherent, of course, but ingenious and admirable in its bold, brilliant intellectual audacity and innovation, if nothing else.

In other words, it is an immensely enjoyable game to play, like much of modern philosophy-cum-religion. Deo-Atomism might go by many names, but when the rubber meets the road, it is all pretty much the same: Boundless Faith in Matter-gods, Cell-gods, and the Time-Goddess.


CD-Host said...

This was funny. If you are up for it I'll play.

I've actually joked my two gods are entropy and gravity. And I get what you mean by Deo-Atomism, and I can live with it. Time for me is a property of the universe, space time expansion. So it is a child deity of entropy. I'm not sure what you mean by "cell god" I'm gathering probably something about evolution, but I'll let you expand on that one before commenting.

Why do the Atom-gods and Cell-gods and the Time-goddess exist and eternally possess the extraordinary powers that they do?"

Atoms exist because as the energy density of space decreases (cooling) the density expresses itself with the creation of matter, which is a concentrated form of energy and mostly empty space. Further cooling causes this baryon matter to pul together into lower energy hydrogen plasma structures.

The directionality of time exists because of entropy. Most reactions are reversible but entropy creates a directionality to time.

I'm defining the extraordinary powers as gravity: i.e. the ability of mass to attract other mass. And why that exists... I have no clue.

The property of entropy exists, essentially because of the central limit theorem. That continuous random sampling over enough samples causes a deterioration towards a mean.

As for eternal possessing their properties, they don't.
Atoms can only be stable long term at certain heat levels. For many years the universe was too hot for atoms. And based on current estimates of the size, and energy of the universe around the year 10 trillion the universe will start getting cold enough that we are going to have net proton decay.

Dave Armstrong said...

The point of the piece is to show that atheists have at least as much faith as theists. All of these marvelous things are believed to have come about without a God, and no one can ultimately explain why or how it began. That takes faith. It's no more reasonable than believing in a God Who is eternal and non-material, as the ground of everything.

CD-Host said...

I don't see anything I wrote, that requires faith. The things atheists believe in are empirically observable via. infinitely reproducible experiments.

For example my version of this crucially depends on an expanding universe. Curved space-time is proven to the point that everyday technologies from microchips to GPS make use of the equations from general relativity. You don't need faith in general relativity to believe in it. The Friedmann equations drop right out of the general relativity equations and have been known since 1922. From red shift, and Hubles observations we had empirical confirmation of an exanding univers. Recently we've been able to get a full model the universe at 380k years with cosmic microwave background radiation. We know what the
universe looked like when the nuclear age started.

There are thousands of nuclear power plants operating all over the world, no faith is required to believe that nuclear processes can emit energy and the equations for nuclear emission are correct.

I don't see how I'm demonstrating any sort of blind faith. I'd even argue that things like neo-logical positivism / analytic philosophy that underly most atheists are fully defendable.


I've often made the same argument myself regarding the atomic theory of matter (matter is composed smallest units that are non-decomposable) vs. the continuous theory of matter (matter has no smallest unit, everything is decomposable). Virtually everyone I meet believes absolutely in the atomic theory of matter and dismisses the continuous theory out of hand. About 1% of them have any non-faith based reason for doing so, for the other 99% it is really nothing more than an appeal to authority.

But... and this crucial. Scientific authority has established itself, because of a long track record of successful technology. The computer I'm using to type this respons works as proof in and of itself of most of the claims that an evolutionist Jan 7, 1912 would have asserted in his argument with a creationist from Jan 7, 1912.

I don't agree that believing in the empirically observable infinitely reproducible is no more reasonable than believing in the non-observable non-reproducible. I'd say that's almost axiomatic epistemology. The things I can be most sure of are those things which continuously verify themselves.

Dave Armstrong said...

Right. Same-old same old there. The faith lies at the presuppositional level. You can't absolutely prove the fundamental axioms of science. I've written a ton of things about philosophy of science . . .

CD-Host said...

I'm surprised you as a Catholic are using the Reformed presuppositional argument. I don't agree Van Til, that it is just presuppositions. I think you can derive logical from empiricism and once you have logic + observation you have analytic philosophy.

I had thought that with this post you were going to go to the "positivism is a presupposition" but rather argue that given analytic philosophy that Christian divinities are more consistent / involve less presuppositions than Deo-Atomism.

CD-Host said...

I'm going to expand a bit on my Van Til point.

Assume for a moment that I have philosophical / theological systems A, B. C.... L many with their own special revelations. Let G represent the truth, the system that actually corresponds to actual reality.

For the Reformed, man is fundamentally depraved it makes no difference if he cannot determine whether G is in fact true, in his natural state he's going to reject G anyway and pick one of the others 100% of the time. It is only if a supernatural event occurs and his will is overpowered that he is going to accept G.

Catholics though reject this idea totally, CCC 50-58 and argue that truth of God is apparent in all systems and to all people. G is not arbitrary choice but a follower of A, even using the presuppositions of A sees G as "true". And in the same way B even using the presuppositions of B sees G as true.

I can't see the choice of presuppositional system being arbitrary, is consistent with the notions like natural law. Is divine law arbitrary or is it an extension of eternal law which is self evidentially true? The fundamental claim of the Catholic church is that it is (small c) catholic. I'm enjoying reading your articles on Calvin right now (ironically enough), where you are attacking Calvin for making points like this which contradict centuries of Christian teaching.

Dave Armstrong said...

No, I'm not espousing Van Tillian presuppositionalism. I argue against that. I was making a general point, and, like you said, I believe that positivism requires unprovable axioms.

I'm just not in the mood for atheist arguments at the moment, because I've done so much of that. No reflection on you! I hope you stick around. Perhaps we will hit on some particular thing that we both want to talk about and have the motivation to do a whole debate. I think it would be fun.

I was hanging around atheists a lot a little over a year ago and it was fun for a while until things got personal among a few of the folks, and that always turns me off because then good will to discuss is lost. But several of them were nice all the way through.

At one meeting I did a presentation where it was myself and about 15 atheists in a room. That was great fun! I immensely enjoyed myself that night.

Then we had one guy to my house at a group discussion, where he argued the case for Jesus' nonexistence. So that night it was he and one other atheist and about 6-8 Christians.

CD-Host said...

(part 1)
I understand cycles. I go through cycles of interest myself. And I fully agree with you on how much bad behavior poisons debate.

OK well I've been picking topics from your website. I've noticed a few things:

1) I think the guy who was arguing for Baptists succession, Landmarkism, did a terrible job. You presented the standard counter argument the one many Baptists today, who believe in English Separatist origins, would present and he folded in ignorance.

I'm kinda a moderate on this believing in the core of both Separatist origins and Landmarkism. The plus is I can defend something like Landmarkism in a way I think you would find historically sane, "While the specifics in classical Landmarkism are a bit off, the general idea of Christian primitivism are quite correct."

If the defense you quoted was the best you've ever seen for Landmarkism you've never debated it.

2) In a similar vein the argument that "look for church Jesus founded"

I think there are multiple good anti-arguments here that generally ignored like:

a) Ellen White's position that the only church Jesus founded was the Jerusalem church, and that was the church he explicitly ordered destroyed so that it would not become an idol (Landmarkism).

b) Bultmann style gnostic origins.

I tend to see Catholicism as, depending on how you want to count, originating in the 2nd to 3rd century not the first.

2) I think the guy who was arguing with you regarding church property didn't make his point clearly and the whole thing was much more muddled than it needed to be. I believe the reason was his Republicanism got in the way of his Protestantism so he wasn't willing to just come and say what he meant, "In a state church, church property belongs to the state not the denomination and the state is free to reallocate that property however it sees fit. State churches are departments within the government, and as such they aren't capable of owning property in the sense of a private entity."

And I agree with that. I think you would have had a far better discussion, with a Democrat Protestant. I think it might have helped explicate that the debate was fundamentally political and secular not religious.

I also think the guy failed to distinguish between Renaissance ethics and his own values, since he wants to see himself as more contiguous with Luther than he is. He should have had two separate lines.

3) I'm reading your critique of Calvin's Institutes right now. I'm finding lots of places where I think you miss the thrust of his argument, either agreeing where I don't think you should or failing to see connections he's making. The problem is that I fully agree with your basic position that Calvin is a self contradictory mess when it comes to church authority and tradition. The primary goal of the magisterial Reformation was a failure.

So I'd call the likely result a discussion than a debate. My points are going to be no, no... Calvin isn't saying A, though if he were I agree with your counter case. Calvin is saying B, which is also wrong but for entirely different reasons. :)

CD-Host said...

(part 2)

4) The legitimacy of the English Reformation. I think this hits on many of the themes of the German Reformation, but without the complexity being caused by the fact that German isn't a well functioning state. So politically it is cleaner and less prone to having to argue complex details. The downside in terms of additional complexity is religiously the whole thing is more muddled because Henry VIII is a narcissist, in the clinical sense a bad Catholic not a Protestant. As Mary said of his inconsistency, "He burns one and marries another".

Elizabeth is a more interesting case in that she adopts what will become the Protestant position, refusing any sort of persecution for belief, "make windows into men's hearts and secret thoughts"

5) Feel free to throw some possible topics out yourself, where you are looking for a foil.

Dave Armstrong said...

I guess I am wondering what the purpose and goal of debate is, if you don't have a particular Christian position you are advocating / defending, that you actually espouse yourself.

Most debates I do are exercises of comparative truthfulness and plausibility.

I'm not sure what you believe yourself. It seems to me that debate makes the most sense if one is advocating a position, and then discussing with someone else why one's own position is superior to the other guy's: in other words, "why x rather than y is true, or the true Christian worldview."

So I'd like to ask you:

1) What are you trying to accomplish in a possible debate with me?

2) What particular worldview do you seek to defend? You said somewhere that you were an atheist? But also that you had an interest in theosophy (?). That is a little unusual itself . . . sort of a unique combination.

CD-Host said...

This is an apologetics blog. I'm showing up because I'm in the mood to read and discuss your apologetic arguments. Why would I need some motivation beyond that? If I felt like discussing race horses I'd be on a different blog.

But if you want something where I'm not taking a position, well this debate was one where I agree with the view. I even redefined your topic to match my beliefs. The whole gravity / entropy thing was me taking your topic and making it match my position. That wasn't coming from your post, that was coming from my beliefs.

I don't get why you have spent years formulating a bunch of arguments if you don't want to argue these positions. Is it you who would rather be discussing race horses?

I wasn't looking to defend a worldview. I have an untroubled relationship with atheism. I don't have the slightest doubt your god doesn't exist. I'm here looking to address specific historical and moral questions which are far less broad than an entire worldview.

My opinions about the existence of Yahweh are unlikely to change to in a discussion, that is a waste of time for me. On the other hand my opinions about the evolution of Luther's thinking is likely to change in a good discussion. You seem to have read more Luther than I have, and seem to like to write about him. If I'm wrong and you don't like discussing Luther then I find it odd you would have written this gigantic blog. But OK.

Dave Armstrong said...

I do defend positions, but it is against those (by and large) who have a particular Protestant view, because I'm trying to show that the Catholic view is more plausible than any Protestant one.

In other words, I have an apologetics purpose beyond simply historical questions (interesting though they may be).

But you are interested simply in historical opinions beyond the question of whether they support Protestantism of some sort.

That's far less interesting or motivating to me.

There may be some topic where I am "in the mood" to debate, but we haven't touched upon one as of yet.

Part of it is that I am immersed presently in working on my latest book and haven't debated much at all, other than politics lately.