Must Atheists Prove There’s No God? Why Not? — part 2
This is the second in a series following on from two articles by Benjamin Cain¹. His main theme and question is, do atheists and theists have the same burden of proof? I’m arguing that they do, since atheists should not be allowed to get away with their insinuation that atheism is a more reasonable conclusion on the basis of modern ‘scientific’ knowledge.
It depends of course on how one defines the terms. For my purposes here, I’m keeping things simple and defining atheism as synonymous with materialism or physicalism, thus the denial of any kind of God, and anything that could be considered supernatural. I’ll contrast this version of atheism with a spiritual worldview rather than as simply the opposite of theism. (Cain’s precise philosophical position is quite complex, and includes some reference to cosmicism and pantheism. He is primarily opposed to theism, and his arguments could therefore be considered to be those of a non-theist, rather than an out-and-out atheist. The word ‘atheistic’ also appears, however.)
My main purpose is to argue that the material world shows evidence of the divine, contrary to the belief of atheists and cosmicists, which I’ll attempt in the next article. Before I do that, here I’ll make some observations about Cain’s arguments, and the question in his titles.
Atheists often present their belief as being purely rational, logical, and based on the findings of modern science, while claiming that religious beliefs are merely faith-driven and hangovers from upbringing. Sometimes they are, but not always. Along those lines, Cain is very keen on the word ‘modern’, including himself among ‘we moderns’, namely those who have got the message of the latest science and philosophy, and have sensibly concluded that atheism (or perhaps non-theism) is the most reasonable option. This would appear to be merely a rhetorical device, inviting us to conclude that modern = better. For example, he says that “theists are precisely those who, for one reason or another, have been sheltered from those modern influences”. In other words, theists simply do not know enough and, if they read a bit more, they would soon be convinced. (That would certainly not be true in the case of Gerald R. Baron on Medium, who has read a lot of the relevant literature, knows a lot, is unconvinced and remains a theist.)
Here is another example. Cain says that “the New Testament’s notion of a ‘spiritual body’ sounds oxymoronic to modern ears”. Really? If for the sake of the argument we paraphrase ‘spiritual’ as ‘non-material’, which is close to what it means, then we can cite the modern phenomenon of out-of-body experiences (although this phenomenon probably refers to what is known as the astral body, rather than what the New Testament is talking about when it says ‘spiritual body’).
There are many reported examples of this. I personally know three people who tell me that this has happened to them; they are trustworthy people and I have no reason to doubt them. Jack Preston King on Medium has also told me that he has had this experience, and I don’t believe that he would lie. It is apparently possible to be trained in how to achieve it. There are therefore plenty of modern people who don’t find the idea of a non-material (spiritual) body oxymoronic. Since this phenomenon appears to be real, then the burden of proof lies with the materialist (atheist), who has to explain in precise neuroscientific language how the brain creates this illusion. It cannot be some vague waffle about hallucinations, or a hypothetical brain malfunction, which is the strategy that sceptic Susan Blackmore uses (who herself once had an out-of-body experience).
Evidence which seems to contradict such a suggestion comes from the parapsychologist Charles Tart, who conducted experiments in which “one of his female subjects, who could induce out-of-body experiences more or less at will, could report correctly a five-digit number placed on top of a wardrobe in the room where she lay in bed. This was in spite of the fact that her head was wired up to an EEG machine so that the leads would have detached had she moved”². If this is true, it is hard to see how the out-of-body experience could be a hallucination or brain malfunction.
As far as ‘science’ goes, people seem to favour the scientific theories which support the worldview to which they are predisposed. Thus Christians tend to be very much in favour of the Big Bang hypothesis, because it fits neatly with the idea of a creation ex nihilo. They also frequently refer to the Anthropic Principle and the idea of fine tuning, also the theory that eternal laws of physics came into being with the Big Bang. All this hints at a possible intelligent cause, and atheists obviously have to find ways of explaining away these difficulties, which they do.
Cain rejects the idea of a creator God and suggests that “a vacuum fluctuation in quantum chaos” caused the start of the universe. Although expressed in modern scientific language, is that really so different from the account in Genesis: “In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”? They sound similar to me — for ‘quantum chaos’ read ‘formless void’, and for ‘vacuum fluctuation’ read ‘wind from God’.
Christians want to believe that God created the universe through the Big Bang Singularity, whereas Cain wants to believe that it just happened. He is merely trying to remove any intelligent agency from the process but, as he himself says, it is impossible to know what caused the vacuum fluctuation — presumably something did — and there is therefore a gap in his theory, which even theism manages to plug, if only hypothetically. He thinks that it is less likely but, since no one can know for sure, this is simply what he wants to believe.
And is what Cain calls ‘modern’ in reality the modern scientific worldview? It is possible to argue the opposite. Atheists who claim that their belief is based on modern science can be selective about what they include as science. Quantum mechanics is the latest development in physics, and is often described as the most successful scientific theory of all time. It’s interesting therefore that many quantum physicists, at the cutting edge of modern science, are finding parallels with ancient spiritual traditions, Buddhism being the most common. Scientific discoveries have led them to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that (atheistic) materialism and related cosmicist ideas are inadequate, and they are returning to what they call ancient spiritual wisdom.
As discussed in the previous article, Cain thinks that the presence of intelligent human life within nature is anomalous. He believes that:
- “we evidently don’t belong in the universe”
- “our consciousness, intelligence, and autonomy” are “accidents”
- “as people rather than animals on earth, we’re interlopers”.
Cain says that these are “newly established, commonplace empirical facts” which theists “must reckon with”. He would therefore appear to be calling these statements science, when it should be obvious that they are merely his own personal beliefs derived from his pessimistic philosophy. He complains that the deity of theists “is an anthropocentric projection”, yet doesn’t seem to see that in these statements he is himself projecting his own worldview onto the universe.
Many modern quantum physicists believe that, far from being an anomaly, consciousness or mind is primary. Some even believe that consciousness is a fundamental attribute of matter, that matter is in some sense conscious. (Spiritual traditions go further and believe that matter is actually a form of consciousness.) From that ancient and modern point of view, perhaps it is the material universe that is anomalous and requires explanation.
Cain believes that “atheists no longer need to work so hard because science has already discounted at least the more naïve, literalistic theists’ conceptions of God”. Perhaps it has, but what about the more subtle ones? From the point of view of these quantum physicists, it is Cain’s worldview that is outdated. The universe, including human consciousness, is an interconnected whole; we are neither anomalies, accidents nor interlopers.
This quantum way of thinking has been going on since the 1920s, and continues today. Cain, however, has somehow managed to shelter himself from such modern influences.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles are only on Medium; for those please check out my profile.
- Must Atheists Prove There’s No God? | A Philosopher’s Stone (medium.com) and Do Atheists and Theists have the Same Burden of Proof? | by Benjamin Cain | Interfaith Now | Sep, 2021 | Medium
- As reported by scientists Hans Eysenck/Carl Sargent, Explaining the Unexplained, Book Club Associates, 1982, p157