What Every Atheist Knows: Practice

March 19, 2010 — 1 Comment

Bahnsen

Picking up where yesterday left off, it is still left to defend that in principle, every atheist knows that God exists. The point the atheist is striving to make is that they do not believe that fact to be true. However, it is possible to know something to be true, yet believe that proposition to be false.

Bahnsen lays out the following possibilities, in which I will substitute “p” for “God exists.” Because, as Bahnsen points out, “confidence in ones knowledge is neither a sufficient or necessary condition of knowing, and since claiming to know and knowing can be mutually exclusive of each other,” he finds the following observations are appropriate:

  1. “I am not at all sure that God exists” does not entail that the speaker does not know that God exists.
  2. “I would not claim (I know) that God exists” does not entail lack of knowledge either.
  3. “I am sure that God does not exist” does not imply the truth of falsity of the statement in question. [this can apply both ways, to either “p” or in this case “non-p”]
  4. “I know that God does not exist” is also susceptible to error [again this cuts both ways].
  5. “I think I know that God exists” being a weaker form of 3 and 4, emphasizes the definite possibility of error. (all except brackets from Bahnsen, 93)

Again, it may seem that given the nature of epistemology being intertwined with metaphysics, and how that breaks out above, this charge could be brought against the theist or the atheist. It is for that reason that we need to examine how one can actually validate that they know God exists and therefore order their life accordingly, despite protests to the contrary.

Practice

At best, most atheists appear to give mental assent to the proposition that God does not exist, and can be adept at reciting that in its various forms. In other words, most arguments against God are merely the expression of unbelief not actually reasons for unbelief. That is another point we might take up elsewhere, but the point here is that the disposition to behave consistently with a belief is the mark of its actual genuineness, not the ability to eruditely expound the belief.

Inconsistent behavior can serve very easily to falsify one’s professed belief and indicate an alternative belief (not necessarily, there are exceptions). This applies to Christians just as much as atheists. We brand a Christian a hypocrite for failing to live out his beliefs faithfully, and to a certain extent all of us are hypocrites because of none of us is entirely consistent with our professed beliefs. The reason for this is because believing in God does not entail perfection in any sense, but conversely, a lack of perfection in Christian behavior does not falsify the validity of those beliefs.

What is happening here with regards to atheism is slightly different. Professing atheism and professing it strongly is it itself a behavior and one that can count towards legitimizing that the atheist really does believe that God does not exist. However, what one proclaims the loudest is not the only behavior to take into account, and we all know the maxim, “actions speak louder than words.”

So what evidence is there that might falsify the atheist’s claims to believe that God does not exist? Bahnsen lists but does not expound on the following:

  • Maintaining that one can “know” objective truth
  • Depending on the uniformity of nature
  • Applying moral norms
  • Fearing death

To be honest, I’m not sure how much the last item applies, it too may fall into the category of “known but not consciously known.” I do not personally how many atheists consciously fear death, so I’m going to leave that point alone.

As for the others, I’m not sure how many readers are familiar with a phrase like “the uniformity of nature,” but everything in your conscious experience is based on it. Science is based on it as well, and honestly, one could not conduct daily life with any degree of competence without this assumption. Yet, there is no solid atheistic foundation for such an assumption.

In practice, there is no reason to assume that the future will be just like the past, or that what I experience here in Dallas for instance, will also hold true if I find myself in Florida. (Note: to say that the reason to assume the future will be like the past because past futures have been like past pasts is just to beg the question).  It’s the old philosophical problem of induction, one that even Bertrand Russell acknowledged (but did not trace the implications of it). As a Christian who believes in a God that creates the world and holds it together by His power, I can have justified, true belief that

  • My personal identity will remain stable over time
  • The sun will in fact come up tomorrow
  • If I stub my toe walking out of the room and that experience is repeated later, it will have the same results [i.e. pain]
  • What my senses perceive and gather here in Dallas can be used to explain similar phenomena in other parts of the country (or world)

In other words, I have a valid reason to believe all that, whereas the atheist does not. He may have reasons, but there are not philosophically valid reasons. You cannot build a coherent argument from the assumption of a chance universe developed via natural selection in the absence of God and arrive meaningfully at the conclusion of the uniformity of nature across space and time.

In addition to that, there is no sound atheistic reason to accept objective truth. Or even if one accepts objective truth, it flies in the face of atheistic naturalism to assume that one’s mental faculties are able to recognize it, for nothing within natural selection would have wired our brains to operate on principles of objective truth. Rather, we would be wired to accept things as true via our own reason, not because they are in fact true in an objective sense, but rather because believing them is helpful to our survival.

The belief that God does not exist and that the universe was derived from purely naturalistic means as a premise, cannot support a valid argument with the conclusion that our minds are capable of grasping objective truth (with any certainty, if we did, if would be by chance not by design). I suppose it can, but not without some rather arbitrary premises injected into it. The point would be that the idea that our minds do know objective truth and the fact that we even desire to know and understand things objectively seems to count strongly against atheism. An atheist striving to be “rational” is actually undermining his own position, for in striving to be rational he is behaving in a way that would make sense for someone who believes in God and knows he exists, not for someone who denies both.

More could be said here, and probably will. I didn’t touch on the problem of applying moral norms, but that is mainly because it is inner-related to the problem of knowing objective truth. In the previous set of posts on Christopher Hitchens that came to head in the comments. The problem though was that none of the commentators was able to establish moral norms beyond the realm of just majority public opinion. The reason for this goes back to the clash of authorities and we’ll wrap up with post on that particular point tomorrow.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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