This is part of a series of notes in response to "Faith and Certitude" by Thomas Dubay
This post will cover two chapters in Dubay's book, entitled "A Case in Point: Atheism" and "Another Case: Theism." I'll primarily just quote Dubay, as his quotes beautifully illustrate his line of argument. In turn, I believe the quotes also illustrate how poor the argument actually is. Off we go, then.
Issues with AtheismMost humans are religious:
Man is a religious animal, the sole religious animal on earth. Both personal experience and scientifically conducted polls indicate that a large majority of the human race both in developing and in advanced societies accepts the existence of God.
Those in the majority, regardless of their grasp, have sufficient enough reason to believe justifiably:
I do not claim that simple people could express, or in many cases, cearly conceive the reasons we now consider. But I do suggest that they do perceive in their own uncomplicated manner much of what is contained in this chapter. They feel and see the case against atheism in ways that are both accurate and adequate, even though their approaches may not satisfy the rigid canons of logic.
Because we feel strongly that certain things really "are," though intangible, they really are. This is how theists believe in god and why atheist/materialist answers fail:
In the same way ordinary men and women are rightly sure of much in human life that they cannot cast in to strict logical form: a spouse's love, their own mortality, the existence of Napoleon, the beauty of a Beethoven symphony. Anyone who has stood quietly on a beach or gazed upon the splendor of a night sky away from city lights or...looked deeply into the innocent eyes or a four-month-old baby easily perceives that materialism is bankrupt when it comes to explaining the visible universe. no one is really satisfied with the chance "explanation", for it is no explanation at all.
He goes on to list ways we're different from animals: they don't make art, they don't wear clothes, experience shame, reads or writes, tells or understands jokes, uses money, gets bored, etc. He lists some questions he says materialism cannot answer:
Why is there anything...anything at all? Why am I? Why am I inclined to evil only to feel guilty about it? Is death my doom? Am I destined to black nothingness? Ought I to despair? If not, how do I prepare for death? What can make sense out of this life?
He plops this nice set of "materialist dogmas" down in the reader's lap:
...the autonomy of self, the primacy of pleasure, the invalidity of metaphysics, the supremacy of man, the relativity of morality, the impossibility of miracles, the denial of freedom. These are all dogmas, for they have never been proved. They cannot be proved. They are mere assumptions without even the claim to a revelation to substantiate them.
And now for the best part. Dubay takes on some atheist arguments against god. I can't fathom why he chose the ones that he did. He only uses three: that since not everyone believes in god, god does not exist, the denial of metaphysics (a transcendent reality), and to attempt an explanation of why humans believe in god (and thus to classify it as a psychological phenomenon that is not based on reality). Again, I don't know why these three. I sure wouldn't have chosen these as my tour de force for rebutting atheism.
To the first, Dubay simply points out that universal belief doesn't entail truth or falsehood. Bravo. But what, then of the opening quote he uses to support theism? It would seem one can't have it both ways. A majority tendency toward religious affections shouldn't be evidence in favor of theism if a hypothetical majority belief against theism wouldn't count against it.
The second is dealt with so briefly that I won't bother with it. I won't deal with the second now, as Dubay essentially just says that an atheist can always deny evidence for god's existence, just as he can deny evidence for France's existence. He alludes to the "vast number of diverse evidences" for god that he will discuss in the next chapter, so it's better to just leave that for now.
To end the chapter, Dubay lists "impossibilities of atheism," stating that he will outline three conclusions which necessarily follow from atheism that contradict reason itself:
- "...the atheist must hold to blind chance as the origin of an unimaginably complex universe. Either there is a supreme Designer of the unspeakable complexities of visible reality or it all happened through unknowing, blind and chance collisions of fundamental particles."
- "The second impossibility flowing out of atheism is its inability to explain men and women to themselves. There is no denying the fact that if materialism were right, there would be no basis for assigning any special value to the human person."
- "The third impossibility rooted in atheism is its lack of rationality and the ultimate nihilism to which it necessarily leads the consistent mind. If there is no purpose in the universe, no sense given in it, there is then no reason to suppose that reason itself makes sense."
As for the first, I don't know the answer. Considerable developments have occurred since this book was published in 1985. Still, perhaps we will never know the "ultimate explanation" for why the universe exists. This challenge doesn't provide reasons why we should hypothesize a highly complex, entirely separate type of entity that is even more complex than the universe to explain the complexity of the universe. It's possible, but there seems to be no reason to make that leap except for our own perplexity.
The second is another difficult one. Morality and related areas are ones of ongoing interest to me. I'm aware of various secular moral systems that attempt to define the existence of moral values (e.g. Universal Utilitarianism and Desire Utilitarianism), but I have never been intimidated by the fact that morality might simply be what those capable enough to think about it communally agree to define it as, or behavioral principles we, as humans, collectively ascribe to live by. If that was it, that would be okay with me. There may be no ultimate justice. That's okay and it's why organized societies invest in law enforcement. Materialism or theism aside, humans still may have some of the most advance capacities for experiencing pleasure and pain and thinking. This might just qualify us for having a "special value" assigned to us.
The third seems like a superset of the second. If there is no ultimate meaning, there is no moral meaning or special value of anything. I can agree that perhaps there is no reason to trust reason... except that it's established itself, thus far, via induction. That's enough for me. I once had someone ask me upon learning of my crisis of faith why I trusted that anything was consistent. Why should I rely on anything as predictable. The first thing I could think of to say was that if the tides stopped performing as they previously had tomorrow, I'd stop believing in them. This might be the best that we can do. As long as math, reason, logic, material things, etc. continue behaving like themselves, I'll hold off on believing that 2+2=3.
As the final conclusion to the chapter, Dubay opens up a can of all out attack on atheism regarding its narrow dogmas:
The dogmas of materialism are narrow because they are by their very nature monistic, one-principled... The theist...can approach any alleged happening with a completely open mind. He need not take a negative position from the very start. He can ask for all the evidence and then make up his mind according to how weak or strong it may be. Not so the materialist. He lives in a small, deterministic universe and must in principle close his eyes to any allegation that threatens his unproved premise. this is dogmatism in its most obnoxious form.
Well, I'm shocked. What a role reversal. Even as a believer I was surprised that the Catholic Charismatic renewal was so outrightly dismissed by members of the Catholic answers forum. They thought praying in tongues might even be of the devil! In any case, since deconverting, I've yet to meet a believer who's approached anything I've suggested might be suspect with an open mind. No Catholic in my circles really thinks that what they find might challenge their prior beliefs; nothing ever seems to be surprising (Paul not mentioning Jesus' life, studies finding prayers have no effect, etc.) To be fair, I don't expect anything that's brought to me will have much of a shot of proving to me that ghosts, god, or goblins are real, either. I think it's a human condition, not an atheistic one. It's something I'm working on myself. A read of one of Luke Muehlhauser's posts recently called me on to be more cautious toward fellow nonbelievers. Similar beliefs is no guarantee of valid evidence or support in favor of one's arguments. I can't be a diode; I need to filter all claims equally skeptically.
He paints quite a sad picture of nonbelief. I'm not sure why. I'd be interested in some type of survey or study that delved into whether or not nonbelievers were the sad lot that theists (or at least Dubay) make them out to be. I have suffered considerable emotional trauma, but this is at a social level -- the pains associated with departing from a common belief with friends, family, and my own wife -- not a sadness associated with there being no god. In fact, I have a renewed sense of wonder about the world. I want to know everything and live the only life I have to the fullest.
Why theism is awesomeDubay seems to really love blatant assertions. After claiming that atheism is the result of all-encompassing skepticism about everything that can only lead to sadness, he opens up his next chapter with this tidbit: "...theism is the normal condition issuing in happiness." Funny enough, during the course of writing this, I just read a fantastic study that looked to see if supernatural explanations were intuitive to children. As it turns out, they're not; they have to be taught/learned. Perhaps in this sense, religion isn't "normal."
Dubay's primary argument is a continuation of his assertion that atheism entails nihilism:
Because they have not thought deeply about their position, most atheists do not realize that if they are consistent, they must be nihilists. They must deny and damn everything. Nothing can make sense. On the other hand, once a person affirms a trust in reality, he must logically be a theist. Just as the sense of an unabridged dictionary demands a mind behind it, so the sense of a vastly more complicated world demands a supreme mind behind it.
Every time this comes up, I just keep scratching my head. I perhaps need it explained why nothing can make any sense. I trust that reality, so far as it has proven itself, will keep behaving like it has. When it stops, so shall my belief in it. What's the matter with that?
Dubay's second argument pro-theism is that man has an "inner ache." Because we aren't ever really satisfied on earth, there must be a supernatural reality where we are really satisfied. Again, I don't see why this is the case. What if I long to be reconciled with a long lost family member who ends up in hell. Should I assume that this desire to be friends with them again is guaranteed to be fulfilled? What if contemplative prayer brings me a profound desire to touch Jesus' wounds. Will that be manifest in heaven? We want all kinds of things. This doesn't mean that we'll get them. I think it's more likely that its evolutionarily advantageous to want to be alive than not, and that's why we might experience this yearning.
Dubay also revisits the complexity of the universe, highlighting all kinds of neat things and their beauty and wonder. I share this appreciation for the universe; I just don't think we have such a response because a disembodied omni-max mind made it that way.
He adds to his list the miracles of Lourdes, citing that 64 have been verified and approved as true "miracles" by the Church. While I don't argue with their puzzling nature, I do argue that if 64 miracles count for theism, then the millions that weren't healed count against theism. Apparently, about 200 million have visited Lourdes since its opening in 1860. This gives us a 0.000032% miracle rate, and that's for primarily Catholics (those with the right faith) who traveled specifically for the purpose of trying to be closer to god.
Furthermore, I once tried to find out if anyone had been fatally injured at Lourdes. I'm sure that given its great number of visitors, some good number of them have experienced a heart attack or tripped and hurt themselves somewhere. I couldn't verify this, though. What I did find in my hunting, though, was a great number of horrible accidents that have killed and maimed pilgrims on their way to various religious sites around the world. These are people who were taking time out of their lives to serve and worship god who were killed in planes, trains, and automobiles. If 64 miracles out of millions of visitors needs to be explained by non-Catholics, surely these dead would-have-been pilgrims need some explanation, too.
Dubay continues on with the "figure of Jesus."
So lofty, so consistent, so pure, so sufficing, so beautiful are his person and message that they can have no source but divinity. The thoroughly good person sees this immediately.
I love these sly and embedded insults. If you don't see that Jesus was obviously divine, you must be un-thoroughly good. Because I, revered Dubay, said so. Are you serious? Christianity isn't even the majority faith of the world. Billions of people are well aware of Christianity, the Bible, and this Jesus guy, and aren't even compelled for a second to doubt their Islam, Hindu, or Buddhist backgrounds. In fact, his message is so obviously divine that Christians can't even agree on what its implications are with respect to the eucharist, saints, the role of his mother, contraception, abortion, divorce... and so on.