The first and most common myth is that atheism (and rationalism and agnosticism and modern liberalism) are “scientific,” while religion relies on superstition, fear, ignorance and a cult-like mentality of following false prophets claiming divine warrant. Generally, these are people who have left some form of Protestantism or evangelicalism due to anti-intellectualism and fideism among those groups. The ability to embrace things like “philosophy” or “science” gives the new atheist a profound sense of discovery and freedom to think as an individual. That is not always the case, but often the die-hard atheistic evangelists are from that proselytizing background. And in many cases, the background was one of fundamentalism or sectarianism. That is merely an observation, so before critics latch on to the fact that was no “proof,” let’s examine some actual claims hoisted up by the new atheist, as if they were indubitable, eternal Pythagorean principles.
In my experience, aside from one professor, the atheists I’ve encountered are poor philosophers and logicians. That is not to say there aren’t some skilled at logic (Bertrand Russell was one of the foremost logicians of his day), or some skilled at philosophy and metaphysics (I’ve met one), but that there are certain foundational assumptions atheists operate on that they do not think to question. The most obvious is that of empiricism and the “scientific method.”
As I’ve detailed before on my site, the argumentation is as follows:
1. Human knowledge comes through sense experience.
2. The scientific method is a tool of inquiry by which we come to know things based on empirical observation. Therefore,
3. Anyone who claims to believe in, or “know” a thing, must be able to “verify” that knowledge through the scientific method. Any and all other claims of knowledge are dubious at best, and superstitious and delusional at worst.
Having read a good bit on science, focusing on analytical philosophy and phenomenology in my academic studies, and having debated probably a hundred people with this worldview, this is basically accurate as a description of the said presuppositions. Since atheists so often tout “logic” and coherency, are these presuppositions logical? Are they coherent? In fact, they are not. On atheistic grounds, they are not even consistent, so at this point I will offer the strongest argument possible: a reductio, based on the empirical methodology itself. We can thank Aristotle for showing the force of a reductio argument when coupled with a transcendental argument.
The claim “human knowledge comes through sense experience” is undoubtedly true, but is somewhat of a tautology. Of course knowledge comes through sense experience. Yet in the history of ideas and in practice, this has been taken to the extreme in the form of empiricism, the epistemology that still dominates in modernity, which says that all knowledge comes through sense experience. The problem with this claim is that it cannot be verified or justified through sense experience. As such, it becomes an unquestionable maxim, a outworking of a foundationalist epistemology that actually negates foundationalist epistemology. By foundationalist epistemology, I mean anachronistically the view that there are self-evident maxims or principles by which we can start our philosophic and scientific endeavors that cannot be questioned.
The problem is that the development of western philosophy and science did question foundational assumptions, particularly its own metaphysical and religious beliefs, opting to jettison them for a new faith in the “scientific method” as more than just a method of inquiry about the natural world, but as a new all-encompassing grand narrative of human destiny. Now, an undefined category of research (“science”) is proffered as some kind of Delphic Oracle: whatever the problem, faith in the priests in white lab coats will suffice, dear brothers. Yet once metaphysics had been laid waste, there was no reason for epistemology to not undergo the same razing of foundations. In figures like David Hume we see this questioning come to full fruition, demonstrating accurately that denying the usefulness of metaphysics does not merely pave the way for glorious progress through rational/empirical methodology, it logically leads to the same assumption questioning for epistemology. If being is useless, man’s mind is also a metaphysical fiction. If man’s mind is a metaphysical fiction, then scientific endeavor is useless and impossible.
This is proven by the fact that the claims themselves in the above argument are not justifiable on their own grounds. It would be helpful at this juncture to consider how many assumptions are at work in 1, 2 and 3 above. For the atheist, there is often a kind of naive pragmatism and common sense philosophy at work (generally unbeknownst to the atheist) arising from that same Scottish and American pragmatist tradition (Tomas Reid, etc.) that Locke, Berkeley and Hume were also instrumental in. The glaring inconsistency here is clear: Why should we simply accept common sense philosophy and pragmatic, naive empiricism? It has not been “proven” or demonstrated to be true in its foundational assumptions. It is merely assumed to be so by the atheistical empiricist. In fact, a whole gaggle of metaphysical and epistemological notions are necessary for these three claims to even be possible that are logically and metaphysically prior to the three claims themselves! This has been argued before on Jay’s Analysis, but let’s review for new readers.
A vast array of metaphysical and epistemic assumptions might be compiled for the above 3 to even be possible, but a few key preconditions will suffice. Let’s start with 1. For 1 to be possible, the following things must, by necessary implication, also be so (in no specific order):
A. Words convey meaning. For this sentence to be coherent, it assumes a host of metaphysical and semiotic truths that are not immediately demonstrable by the scientific method (and we haven’t even come to 2 yet!)
B. It assumes that there is some relation between subject and object, and the notion of rational subjects is itself metaphysical. For an atheistic scientist to come to the table and make these statements, it suggests that the individual making the claims in some way exists as a self or subject, but the question of consciousness is a notorious one for atheists and materialists.
C. To speak of human knowledge in general assumes some ability to predicate truths about experience that go beyond immediate sense experience. But that violates claim 2, and we aren’t even there yet. No finite, atheist mind can lay claim to any knowledge of a universal, since for almost all atheists, universal claims are impossible and relegated to the dustbin of metaphysical nonsense.
D. What does it mean for “knowledge” to come through “experience”? What exactly is “knowledge”? Is it a conceptual reality that retains an identity over time, or is it too, like the human mind in the materialist worldview, also just random neurons firing? How does one mind made up of random chemical reactions convey “meaning” to another mind of determined chemical reactions? It cannot, and the notion is nonsense on the atheistic worldview. Are we supposed to just ignore these serious questions simply by atheistic fiat due to his preference for pragmatism? On what basis should one just assume pragmatism and ignore metaphysics? Where does the scientific method demonstrate the validity of pragmatism and the error of metaphysics? It doesn’t and by its very nature cannot, any more than a measuring stick (a tool) can tell you how measuring sticks are possible or come to be.
E. What is the proof that is assumed here? What is the logos, or logic behind this principle of scientific inquiry that makes objectively observable events meaningful? To speak meaningfully about events and objects in the past, and to project and identity and meaning to them in the future assumes some a lot of metaphysical truths. Where is the atheistic justification for these metaphysical principles? I thought metaphysics was to be tossed out, and only physics remained? Since universal truths are impossible in an empirical system, how can any predicate be universalized? It cannot. It is impossible.
Many, many more assumptions could be listed, but these suffice to show the utter bankruptcy and silliness that is atheistic empiricism that relies on science as if it were some objectively existing power at work out there in the world, mystically moving mankind towards “progress” and some higher destiny. But ideas like progress and decline are value judgments, and value judgments are metaphysical and ethical ideas. They require a worldview very different from the atheist’s. In a universe of random, chaotic and deterministic natural process, value judgments are subjective, illusory and utterly transient. No phenomenon is better or worse than another: subjective feelings and emotions are merely chemical reactions in a vast void of meaningless, infinite chemical reactions. It is all sound and fury signifying nothing, making logical and conceptual entities like “truth,” “meaning,” “the self,” “scientific method,” etc., just as illusory and nonsensical as the soul, God or angels. In that regard, atheism, materialism, agnosticism and liberalism are worse than nonsense and utterly incoherent: more superstitious, irrational, incoherent and contradictory than most religions. So when it comes to logic, metaphysics and the scientific method, the argumentation here is vindicated because there is a God. If God exists, then it makes perfect sense how the world is so composed and established, with these operant, logical (logoi) principles, underlying a magnificent, harmonic, universal architecture.