In case you haven’t heard of them, the Discovery Institute is an organization that pushes the idea of intelligent design creationism. They have a blog and it’s pretty hilarious to read…anyways today they had an article that caught my eye called “What Do New Atheists Actually Believe?” I’m always interested to see what theists are telling us we believe, because sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised to see myself accurately represented by somebody who doesn’t agree with me.
Well in this case the author of the article (Michael Egnor), instead of telling people what New Atheists believe, decided to ask us instead! I think that’s a great approach, although I’m suspicious of its sincerity, coming from the Discovery Institute. Nonetheless I think It’ll be fun to answer the questions, so here goes! You can read the article here to get some context for why he’s asking these questions.
I want to learn more about what New Atheists really believe. So I’m asking Moran a few questions, although other atheists (Myers, Coyne, Novella, Shallit, etc**) are invited to reply on their blogs, and I will answer.
**etc, that’s me!
And he has some rules for the answers:
1) Answers can’t be limited to the shortcomings of theism (e.g. ‘So who caused God?’). I’m looking for an exposition of New Atheist belief, not a criticism of theist belief. Mutual criticism will come once all beliefs are on the table. If New Atheist belief can only be expressed by negation of the beliefs of others, just say so.
2) Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” gambit is fine. If you think that a question is nonsense, say so.
3) No changing the subject. New questions are welcome, once the old questions are addressed.
4) The Law of Snark Conservation applies; thoughtful courteous answers get thoughtful courteous replies.
Number 1 is just silly, Egnor must know that atheism is entirely a response to theism, it’s not a belief system. To try to stay within this rule I’ll just talk about what I believe, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m speaking for New Atheist beliefs, because there’s no such thing. Number 2, I don’t know what the Courtier’s Reply is so I’ll just ignore that one…and 3 and 4 sound fine. Now, on to the questions:
1) Why is there anything? *shrug* dunno. Does there have to be a reason? I’m just glad I’m here!
2) What caused the Universe? Good question…I’m sure it was some kind of quantum something or other.
3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature? I don’t know the answer to this one either, but I assume that if there weren’t regularity in our universe, we wouldn’t be around to ask the question.
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist? I had to go on Wikipedia for this one and they all seem alright to me, but I’m not so sure about the final cause. I don’t really see the point of it, as it’s pretty subjective and there isn’t even a final cause for everything…I don’t understand what it’s supposed to imply, but I only spent 5 minutes on Wikipedia reading over the description.
5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence? I’m not sure I get the question, but I suppose it may be because there are so many variables that we’re faced with every day that it’s not possible to be completely objective. We have to form opinions and biases to survive otherwise we’d be paralyzed with indecision. (I have a feeling that question went right over my head, but whatever).
6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something? Huh? Is this asking why do humans have intentions? I guess because it makes us more likely to survive…I have no idea what this is supposed to be asking…philosophy mumbo-jumbo just does not penetrate my thick skull. Why is this relevant to atheism anyways?
7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.) There’s no such thing as “Moral Law”, but I think that morality is an artifact of nature – humans are social beings, and because we live in groups and cooperate it has made us a very successful species. We need our social ties, so it makes more sense for us to be good to each other. Our sense of right and wrong would have arisen through natural selection, because anti-social behaviours would lead to someone being less likely to reproduce. That’s how my simple mind sums it up, but there are some fantastic books out there about evolution and morality. I just finished Born to be Good by Dacher Keltner, I recommend that one.
8) Why is there evil? Because there’s no benevolent god out there keeping us from harm.
None of those questions addressed the difference between the “old atheists” and the “new atheists.” All atheists don’t believe in god, but the new atheists feel like atheism is something worth sharing. The above questions have nothing to do with atheism, they just strike me as an attempt to bait atheists into answering in the wrong way so that Egnor can come back with “that’s where god fits in.”