Monday, December 03, 2012

The Logic of Atheism

Downtown Monroe

(For my Philosophy of Religion students.)

We've been studying, in my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes, the logic of atheism. The term "the logic of atheism" refers to the beliefs that logically follow, given the foundational belief that God does not exist.

One logical implication of atheism is, as Bertrand Russell wrote in "A Free Man's Worship," that man's "origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms." Russell's atheism is a philosophical naturalist ("nature" is all that exists), or philosophical materialist ("matter" is all that exists), or metaphysical physicalist (reality is only physical). Thus on Russellian atheism there is no "soul," or "mind," and, by logical extension (and contrary to Russell at this point), no "free will" (at least in the traditional sense, which demands a soul).

While I am not an atheist, I am certain Russell's reasoning is correct, given atheism. I admire any atheist who thinks this way, and tilt my head at village atheists who don't get it.

An expression of Russellian atheism appears in today's nytimes. I assume Elyse Pitock is an atheist when she writes:

"When the world ends, you’re going to be oxygen and carbon and calcium, just like you are now. That’s what you’ve always been and always will be. You were a bunch of elements. The world was a bunch of elements, hydrogen and helium and some other things, it was Pangaea, it was single-celled organisms, it was volcanoes and erosion and pollination. And from that: Light bulbs. Pyramids. Jury duty. Castles. Bombs. Libraries. “Macbeth. Farms. Cemeteries. The Bible. The Internet. Sewage systems. Cigarettes. Surgery. We built this, and all we are is oxygen and carbon and calcium. We’re just ingredients, and we built this.
The sun will get too hot and oceans will rise. The earth will go away and everything we built will go away too. Everything will be gone. [Russell wrote: "all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins."] In the meantime, it’s a sad, amazing little place you inhabit, and the world hasn’t ended yet. We’re here, you’re here, and tomorrow might be good, tomorrow can be good, tomorrow has to be good, because otherwise, what are you doing here?" (Pitock, "When the World Ends")

Both Russell and Pitock are good examples of logical atheism.