Saturday, August 07, 2010

Atheism Is Not a Religion?

Many Christians respond to atheistic ridicule by saying that atheism is itself a religion. Michael Saporito, who blogs at "Symptom of the Universe," claims that atheism is not a religion. He writes, "Atheists state there is no god – there is nothing to find or prove there – believers say there is a god – show us some proof. The essential difference between atheists and deists and theists is that the latter two operate on faith and the former do not."

Let me pause for just a moment. It is a common diversionary tactic of atheists to say that the burden of proof rests on believers. After all, no one can prove a negative. But that is like saying, "I cannot prove there is no forest; I simply deny it exists. All I see are trees, therefore it is up to those who believe in a forest to prove its existence." I contend that the burden of proof rests on those who, despite everything they know about science and the laws of physics, insist the universe came about through mere natural processes. Whether we're here because of spontaneous generation, or because some unknown force, for some unknown reason, acted in some unknown way to alter the state of matter that already existed from eternity past, atheists have got a lot of explaining to do.

Mr. Saporito goes on: "The religious will deny proven knowledge such as carbon dating, which proves the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, not 6000 years old which is believed by many because an uneducated writer penned it into the bible a few thousand years ago. Evolution is another scientific truth that has been proven over and over again. Recently life was started from scratch in a laboratory."

Let's look at the issue of carbon dating. First of all, it can only be done here on Earth. One cannot perform carbon dating on a star, an asteroid, or another planet because those objects do not have the same conditions found here. Secondly, based on our current understanding about the decay of 14C and its ratio to 12C, carbon dating could only possibly date the Earth to tens of thousands of years at most. Many other assumptions must be made in order to extrapolate a figure like 14 billion.

The idea (i.e. preconceived notion) of a universe that is billions of years old is required if one is to buy into the theory of evolution. I stress the word theory because it is not, as Mr. Saporito insists, a "scientific truth that has been proven over and over again." For one thing, it cannot be subjected to the scientific method. No one can observe the process, much less repeat it so that it can be empirically tested. So unless Mr. Saporito has access to a working time machine, I will conclude that he is simply making another assumption.

He makes another leap of faith in saying that "life was started from scratch in a laboratory." My guess is that he is referring to the experiment conducted in March of this year at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, in which scientists "created" a microbe with an artificial genetic code. To imply that this is, in any way, a glimpse into the evolutionary origin of all life is a bit of a stretch. If anything, it only reinforces the concept that life of any kind requires a designer, someone establishing all the necessary conditions for that life to exist in the first place.

While trying to make the case that atheism is not a religion, Mr. Saporito demonstrates just the opposite. Rather than follow the dictates of logic and reason to support his position, he resorts to blind faith to make his point. So, if religion can be defined simplistically as a set of beliefs based on faith, what does that make atheism?

6 comments:

Samuel Skinner said...

"I contend that the burden of proof rests on those who, despite everything they know about science and the laws of physics, insist the universe came about through mere natural processes."

Why? So far science has provided a natural explanation for everything that has been ascribed to God. Why should this be any different?

More to the point, time is a property of the universe (thank you Einstein!). It did not come about.

"Let's look at the issue of carbon dating. First of all, it can only be done here on Earth. One cannot perform carbon dating on a star, an asteroid, or another planet because those objects do not have the same conditions found here. Secondly, based on our current understanding about the decay of 14C and its ratio to 12C, carbon dating could only possibly date the Earth to tens of thousands of years at most. Many other assumptions must be made in order to extrapolate a figure like 14 billion."

Behold the awesome power of the atom- uranium 238 with a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Or Potassium 40 with a half life of 1.2 billion.

And since we get asteroids that fall upon the earth we can calculate the age of the solar system.

Or we can use the knowledge to develop nuclear weapons. Same thing really.

" I stress the word theory because it is not, as Mr. Saporito insists, a "scientific truth that has been proven over and over again." "

Er, that is what theory means in science. Theory of gravity, theory of plate techtonics- ideas that have been proven over and over again and been accepted by the scientific community.

"For one thing, it cannot be subjected to the scientific method. No one can observe the process, much less repeat it so that it can be empirically tested."

Actually we can. Bacteria are the prime contenders for observing evolution in conditions where you can watch each steps, but if you are willing to miss some of the excitement (on par with watching grass grow) than you can use other methods.

"So unless Mr. Saporito has access to a working time machine, I will conclude that he is simply making another assumption."

Fortuantely we have... Australia. The British unleashed bunnies upon the island and to eliminate them the Aussies unleashed a devestating disease. Piles upon piles of bunny corpses doted the land, but some few mutant bunnies survived the bunniocaust. They emerged forth immune to the disease and ready to wage eternal war against all plant life.

Lee Shelton IV said...

I'm aware of other dating methods, the ones scientists keep trying until they get one that agrees with their preconceived notion of an old universe. Besides, I was only addressing the statement that carbon dating "proves the universe is nearly 14 billion years old." It doesn't.

As for evolution, it is theory. Sure, theories about gravity and plate tectonics are more believable because we can actually see gravity's effect on an object and detect tectonic shifts. I don't know how old you are, but I'm guessing you haven't seen one form of life evolve into another. So until you can show me a bacterium turning into a chimp, I'll stand by my position that the "truth" of evolution has not been proven over and over again.

The "other methods" you mention are nothing more than guesses based on faith in a particular set of presuppositions. A scientist studies the fossil of a particular reptile and happens to glance out the window to see a bird flying by. His imagination fills in the "gap." Like the assumption that flies came from rotting meat, not much has really changed.

I'm not sure what your last point is. Your story started with bunnies and ended with bunnies. That's supposed to prove I evolved by mere chance from inorganic matter? Talk about a leap of blind faith.

Samuel Skinner said...

"I'm aware of other dating methods, the ones scientists keep trying until they get one that agrees with their preconceived notion of an old universe."

Do you have any objections to the method itself?

"As for evolution, it is theory."

"a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses"; "true in fact and theory" "

Theory in science has a very different meaning than in the vernacular.

"I don't know how old you are, but I'm guessing you haven't seen one form of life evolve into another."

That is speciazation. Evolution is not just about the formation of new species.

"So until you can show me a bacterium turning into a chimp, I'll stand by my position that the "truth" of evolution has not been proven over and over again."

That isn't evolution. Evolution is generational change. Organisms changing is metamorphasis.

"The "other methods" you mention are nothing more than guesses based on faith in a particular set of presuppositions"

These are the same methods used in fields like history and geology.

"I'm not sure what your last point is. Your story started with bunnies and ended with bunnies. "

Evolution is the gradual change of traits in a population. There are multiple ways to do this:

-genetic drift
an isolated population has a different mixture and diverges from the main population. This has been seen in humans
-sexual selection
mate selection encourages certain traits in the different sexes
-hybridization
DNA is exchanged with other populations resulting in a change in the population
-natural selection
the weak die and the strong survive... and the fit breed and pass on their genes to the next generation.

The bunny example was a case of natural selection in action. We had the gene pool of rabbits change which is what evolution is.

"That's supposed to prove I evolved by mere chance from inorganic matter?"

That is abiogenisis. It is not covered by evolutionary theory, but by chemistry. Evolution requires an existing gene pool that changes can act upon.

Shawn said...

I'm late to the party here, but I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in.

Atheism is not a religion. Period. Atheism is simply, not believing in a god. How is that a religion?

You go into how some believe in evolution or carbon dating or whatever. But an atheist isn't bound to believing in such things. I'm an atheist. I believe that the universe is billions of years old. To me it makes more sense than any other version proposed by the hundreds of religions out there. But even if I didn't believe that, I'd still be an atheist. Think of all the religions that you don't believe in....

What I find irritates those who are religious is the fact that someone can say "I don't know". How did we get here? I don't know. When was the universe created? I don't know. That is the reason we don't have the burden of proof. We speculate. We offer up possible theory's of how we may have become using observation and the scientific method. But in the end... we still don't know.

But you are the one who states you know. For a fact. So it is you who must bear the burden of proof. If I said I have Jesus in the trunk of my car. Would me telling you this be good enough for you to believe? Or would you require me to show you proof? I think you'd have me open my trunk before you believed in my trunk-based savior. Just a thought.

Lee Shelton IV said...

Fact: We're here. Isn't that proof enough that "Someone" put us here? You readily admit that you don't know exactly what happened, but everything you have ever read and studied tells you that it is impossible for everything to have come from nothing. The only logic explanation is that the ultimate "Source" of everything is not bound by the laws of the physical universe. Of course, that doesn't exactly "prove" that Christianity is true, but you claim to be an atheist, denying the existence of any god.

As for your trunk-based savior, is his existence based on your word alone, or has he been written about since ages past and has actually been seen by other people? I'm sure you can see the difference about what we're arguing here.

ivestabbedforless said...

As for your trunk-based savior, is his existence based on your word alone, or has he been written about since ages past and has actually been seen by other people? I'm sure you can see the difference about what we're arguing here.

So by using the argument that we are here some one must have put us here you say the the burden of proof rest on the people who have already proven it. What about the fact that we are nearly genetically identical to chimps? This alone should prove that we have a common ancestor thus proving evolution. A god wouldnt make something as primitive as a tree dwelling poop thrower so nearly alike to his favorite creation. By using your logic we could also come to the conclusion that we were put here by aliens. They too have been wrote about in the ages past and seen by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people within our own lifetimes. I'm not saying that is true either but we have more proof of that than of an omnipresent/no where to be seen benevolent/vengeful in and of itself contradictory being. There are even several works of art that show disk like shining objects in the sky while at the same time show angels. Also these works by "scholars" (a.k.a. the bible) were also written when the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth so you cant exactly use them as a reference of proof. All that I'm really trying to say here is that the burden of proof rest on the shoulders of those making the argument be it biblical or scientific. Your lack of proof and pushing the issue into the laps of the logical is only going to have more people becoming an atheist are hurting your own cause. I myself am an atheist and by telling me that since you can't prove god is real I have to prove it isn't just convinced me a little more that I'm right.

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