Atheism has gotten a lot more press recently helped along by the likes of the media savvy Richard Dawkins whose website has such quotes as “The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything.” At first glance this is a kind of funny shot at religious types and suits the “poke fun at the establishment” thinking of our age. Of course to actually back up such a sweeping statement is a lot more complicated, in fact it’s quite impossible to do.
What is ironic is that the opposite of this statement is actually true i.e. without the hypothesis of God we have no explanation for anything! The question they’re not answering is “If we take God out of the equation what’s left?” Well pretty much nothing actually. This has been the great conundrum philosophers have grappled with down through the ages (i.e. how to get sense, meaning and truth about the universe without a pesky God in the picture). And philosophers are no closer to solving this than they were several millennia ago when they first started trying (albeit some of the early philosophers were quite happy to have god(s) in the picture to try and make it all work).
The problem goes like this: If there is no God (or any form of spirit world for that matter) then all we have left is matter ie you and I are made up solely of matter as is the plastic water bottle on my desk. Suppose I need some stress relief and I decide to crush my water bottle, well it’s no big deal, I own it, it’s just matter and matter doesn’t matter so no one gets too upset about me doing this. But what happens when I decide that I want to smash someone’s head in for stress relief instead? People get quite upset about this and we have laws and jails and things for people with that type of disposition. The problem is, no one can tell me why it is ok to smash up a water bottle but it’s wrong to smash up people (sorry for the gory example but you need to get the point here because it is really important). If my water bottle is matter and you are matter and we already know that matter doesn’t matter, so smashing anything up doesn’t matter, we’re only changing matter from one form of matter to another so what’s the problem?
Houston, we have a problem!... and philosophy was born to try and resolve this but it continues to fail miserably when it leaves out God.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start questioning things your whole universe starts to get unpicked e.g. we understand reason & logic and its opposite irrationality, but no one can tell me why one is better than the other, oops now we really are in trouble. These things are just observable ends of a spectrum, but we have no basis to choose which point on the spectrum is right. And the list goes on and on. How about love and hate? Why is one better? Life and death? Pain & pleasure?
If the atheist is correct and there is no God then all these things are just continuums and as no point on the continuum is any better than any other then we should just randomly chose any point. So we shouldn’t look both ways when we cross the road, we should just walk on out, we shouldn’t eat regularly nor worry about whether we live or die. Of course life couldn’t exist if we lived on this basis, hence the title of this article is the dead atheist, because the only non-hypocritical atheist is a dead one!
But we do live our lives as if we have value, every moment of every day we make value judgements, even the United Nations has a declaration of human rights. And my friend the atheist still gets upset if I punch him on the nose. Yet according to his theory, pain and pleasure are just ends of a spectrum and neither end is any better than the other. His very act of getting upset shows he believes he has value even though his own theory of atheism denies its existence.
In fact in the 20th century very few academics called themselves atheists because it was just too easy to ridicule their absurd beliefs, so they tended to opt for the agnostic tag. And yet here were are moving into a new millennium with a new generation desperately trying to reinvent the broken wheel of atheism. It only works if no one scratches the surface too deeply, and that is what Dawkins and co are relying on.