Monday, January 20, 2014

Philosophical Atheism as Superstition

Mackinac Bridge

In one of my MCCC Philosophy of Religion courses last semester a student asked me: "Does the worldview of atheism contain any logical inconsistencies?" Yes, it does. For example...

I, like David Bentley Hart, find philosophical atheism to be, at its core, irrational. Hart writes:

"I do not regard true philosophical atheism as an intellectually valid or even cogent position; in fact, I see it as a fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd. More simply, I am convinced that the case for belief in God is inductively so much stronger than the case for unbelief that true philosophical atheism must be regarded as a superstition, often nurtured by an infantile wish to live in a world proportionate to one’s own hopes or conceptual limitations."
Hart, David Bentley, The Experience of God, p. 16; Yale University Press

By "philosophical atheism" Hart, and myself, mean "some version of “materialism” or “physicalism” or (to use the term most widely preferred at present) “naturalism”; and naturalism— the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order, and certainly nothing supernatural." Hart sees this as "an incorrigibly incoherent concept, and one that is ultimately indistinguishable from pure magical thinking." (Ib., 17)

Why? Because:

"The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature. It is a metaphysical (which is to say “extra-natural”) conclusion regarding the whole of reality, which neither reason nor experience legitimately warrants. It cannot even define itself within the boundaries of its own terms, because the total sufficiency of “natural” explanations is not an identifiable natural phenomenon but only an arbitrary judgment. Naturalism, therefore, can never be anything more than a guiding prejudice..." (Ib.)

In other words: philosophical atheism-as-naturalism cannot provide a warrant for its worldview.

And "if, moreover, naturalism is correct (however implausible that is), and if consciousness is then an essentially material phenomenon, then there is no reason to believe that our minds, having evolved purely through natural selection, could possibly be capable of knowing what is or is not true about reality as a whole." (Ib., pp. 17-18)

Among other things this means all that "freethinking" and "bright" stuff is fundamentally incoherent, what Hart refers to a "pure magical thinking."

Hart writes that "this yields the delightful paradox that, if naturalism is true as a picture of reality, it is necessarily false as a philosophical precept; for no one’s belief in the truth of naturalism could correspond to reality except through a shocking coincidence (or, better, a miracle)." (Ib., 18)