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Ask An Atheist: Why do you think there is no creator?

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What do you want to Ask an Atheist? Submit your questions online or fill out the form below.

Q. What are your reasons for thinking there is no creator?

SPO_House-ad_Ask-an-atheist_0425133A. Let me count the ways:

The first is a general philosophical one, does there need to be a creator in the first place? The Aristotlean chain of reasoning that says everything has to have a cause, up to the First Cause, which must be an uncaused one, is cute logic but may simply be a failure on our part to appreciate the depth of a reality that is really mysterious (from quantum theory to infinities that can be bigger than others). But even assuming there must be a prime cause, why can’t the universe itself be that Uncaused Cause (UC)?  Yes, you can flip the card around and pencil in your particular God as the identity of the UC if you like, but that’s just a signal of your own preferences, not an unavoidable logical imperative.

So logically, there could be a creator behind everything, or creators (can’t assume just one), but need not be.  Which leads to the next layer of reasoning, if there are particular creators in mind as candidates, how can these be evaluated as to whether they are viable for penciling in on the UC card.

Clearly, the more the universe seems to run on without special intervention, the less there seems for a creator to do.  In the old days gods tended to be seen as terribly extrovert, causing earthquakes and lightning, with demons responsible for epilepsy and such, which phenomena have been drawn off the magic spirits list and placed on the modern mechanistic natural phenomena list.  The modern ID movement has staked out their own turf on Irreducible Complexity and Specified Complexity, but my awareness of the details of modern biology and paleontology knocks that stuff into a cocked hat.

If I don’t need a designer to account for how multicellular organisms developed, or later mammals, and finally big brained cusses like us who ponder whether there are Uncaused Causes, then an awful lot about the universe seems not to warrant a designer label.  The origin of life is still a logically open question here, until scientists actually generate a living organism from the raw materials, but even if that should occur believers can still just recalibrate their argument to contend how clever the designer was to have constructed a universe where matter can self-organize into life.  So even the origin of life doesn’t resolve the UC line of reasoning.

The same situation occurs regarding whether our universe is the only one, or whether it is just one of many in a multiverse or even a metaverse composed of many multiverses, and on and on you can go.  The UC belief can always just move the card to wherever they want an intervention to take place, and reposition it at leisure should new evidence make it politic to do so.  Yet more evidence that the UC argument is an arbitrary philosophical one, not a genuine requirement of the system.

All this is separate from the dreaded theodicy argument, where even if (or especially if) a creator exists, it has to be asked whether the deity in question is refraining from intervening in ways (such as during the Holocaust or the assorted persecutions that have littered human history) that are morally suspect, and therefore whether the deity deserves to be worshipped even if it does exist.

An atheist like me at this point takes a comparative religion approach to arrive at a provisional position on candidate creators.  Bertrand Russell used logic like this, but as I came to it independently I don’t have to defer to his authority here.  If all creator candidates are taken as representing their religious doctrines, it comes down to the fact that they come from mutually exclusive positions.  The creator of traditional Protestant Christianity cannot be the same creator(s) found in Hinduism, or the non-Jesus Allah of Islam, or Native American creators, and so on.

That being the case, there are only two alternatives: either one of the stories is true, or none are.  Can’t be more than one, if they are taken as doctrinally distinct.  Given the oh-so-human character of these competing stories, the simplest Occam’s Razor solution is that none of them are true.  Hence no Creator, or at least none identified by any of the available stories.  Of course you can start mushing some of the doctrines together, or whittling off differences to argue for a generic “Judeo-Christian” creator, or some other syncretic faith, but at this point the tail is wagging the god, so to speak, where human reasoning is playing theistic shuffleboard to arrive at something the person already wants to be true.

Now if there is a Creator of All Things that is currently extant (and isn’t it curious that people nowadays tend not to suppose there could have been a creator that subsequently disappeared in a poof of boredom or angst long before we came on the scene) I presume he/she/it/they could read blog postings and maybe could come by for a nice one-on-one chat to clarify things — or do they need bus fare?  I’m always ready for this, but not holding my breath on this prospect, sorry.

 

Jim Downard

About Jim Downard

Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.

He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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9 comments

  1. Jim, I’d like to hear a couple of specific examples of how your understanding of modern biology knocks ID “into a cocked hat”, as you so quaintly asserted. The most amusing argument against it that I heard was Richard Dawkins speculating that maybe the original necessary information was supplied by aliens. I’m sure yours are better, right?

    • Dennis…I am quite curious if you think JIm…a good friend I might add for full disclosure as I do NOT want this to seem like a trick question….do you think Jim answered your question honestly and fully? Just curious to hear your response even tho I know….and he leaves me in the intellectual dust at times as well….his answers rely on the kind of investigation of up to the minute scientific literature that most of us would not even know where to find! Jim reads it on a daily basis like I used to read my Weekly Reader. So in short…did he sufficiently answer your question(s)? I am here to learn as well….

      • Jim Hudlow,
        I’ve been busy these days and have meant to get back to this sooner, and to be honest, Jim’s style seems like an attempt, probably not intentionally, to obfuscate by verbaige rather than make it more clear. So, first, I took some time to really study his response to make sure I understood what he was saying, and wasn’t saying. I am not a cellular biologist by any stretch of the imagination, and as such, knowing what I do know about the creation vs. evolution argument, needed to do more research on the things mentioned in his anwer before just spouting off with something.

        I believe he answered the question honestly, but by no means fully. He presented theories and experiments that have not proven any facts, and has ignored evidences that are out there that very much contradict the theory of macro-evolution. He also seems to mis-represent the fact that there are hundreds of scientists who have made it clear in one of the scientific journals that they beiieve that the newest evidences out there do not support Darwin’s theory. These are not college freshman but men who are every bit as prestigious as any evolutionist scientist. The information I am presenting comes from a documentary I watched called “Icons of Evolution”. I tried to find the full presentation on youtube but was only able to find clips from it. It discusses the Cambrian explosion and the inability of its explanation by Darwinian theory. It also brings up some other things taught in high school textbooks that are patently fraud but still not removed such as Haekel’s embryos. It also documents the findings of Chinese paleontologist J.Y.Chen, and he relates how the fossil record really turns Darwin’s tree of life on its head. The explosion of varied species of all types is actually larger than now, showing a decease rather than the theorized gradual increase. I could go on, but to say that the argument against Darwinian macroevolution is over is ridiculous. As stated in this documentary, we now have the Scopes trial in reverse. No discussion or debate is allowed and teachers have been put out of the class room for even trying to introduce new scientific findings if they contradict the evolutionary doctrine. True science questions its own theories and lets the evidence drive the bus………..except when it comes to Darwin’s theory.

  2. Jim Downard

    Glad to oblige. The very large literature on how gene duplication (with subsequent natural mutation and selection) establishes how intensely varied and complex biological systems have evolved step by incremental step, and even predictive experiments can now be done in the new discipline of paleogenomics where precursor molecules are retroengineered and their evolutionarily intermediate properties observed in the lab, none of which is especially congenial to the complex=designed equation. As one example, for the data geeks (available for free reading): Carroll et al., “Mechanisms for the Evolution of a Derived Function in the Ancestral Glucocorticoid Receptor,” PLoS Genetics (online @ plosgenetics.org) 7 (June 2011): e1002117.

    It is revealing that in the “rubber hits the road” department of who is doing the hard work and what the results are, Intelligent Design has so far proven to be one pretty fluffy marshmallow. I am still waiting, for example, for Bill Dembski to get around to applying his No Free Lunch formulae (parts of which he nicked from evolutionary-minded mathematicians, one of whom noted Dembski apparently did not comprehend what it was he was cribbing) to any actual genetic information (of which there is an increasingly voluminous record)–so far he uses the likes of Srabble tiles or Mount Rushmore carvings as analogies. Hey Bill, dive into some of the published genomes, ok?

    Actually, an argument can be made that it is impossible in principle for Dembski ever to do that (for example, to detect in a string of As, Ts, Cs, & Gs whether it is biological gibberish or functional coding, or differentiate between a supposedly designed DNA sequence and a naturally mutated version). In the meantime, I’ll keep reading the technical literature, and watching to see if the ID movement ever notices that they are so far behind the evidential curve that they have lost sight of the scientifically busy track way off ahead, and only imagined they were in the lead because their particular stretch of outdated straightaway happened to become so deserted.

    And that is apart from all the paleontological evidence that further reeks of macroevolutionary processes (which, as none of the ID gang are versed in paleontology, they also have a lot of difficulties dealing with).

    • Jim,

      One thing I mentioned in reply to your friend’s question had to do with the Cambrian fossil explosion, and the additional fossil discoveries of paleontologist J.Y. Chen even expanding the explosion, and also the discovery of the sponge embryos in the layers underneath taking away the explanation of earlier fossils being more numerous but too soft-bodied to leave fossils. How does this fit into your last comment?

      • Dennis…I am no scholar of course…but my friend Jim Downard is…and I would be interested to hear your response to his investigations on the Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells and/or Jun-Yuan Chen actual statements on the matter.

  3. Jim Downard

    Sorry to rain on your “Icons of Evolution” parade, but running off a video rather than the technical literature directly is a dangerous procedure if the sources are being misrepresented. If the Chen you are referring to is Jun-Yuan, I happen to have read lots of papers by Chen and his colleagues in Science, Nature, PNAS and elsewhere and absolutely nothing in that extensive work repudiates natural evolution, and I would be delighted if you can supply a source that suggests otherwise. It may well have been the case that Chen was quoted on one topic but the snippet presented in a context that makes it appear otherwise (quote mining is a cottage industry of long standing in the antievolutionist community). It has been known for a long time that sponges date to the Precambrian, which is exactly what evolutionists were expecting to be the case based on the branching of early and later more derived forms (annelid worms, another early brancher, is also known from the Precambrian).

    The fossil data for sponges involve very special and rare preservation, but where those conditions don’t exist you don’t get preservation, and antievolutionary works on this issue have been highly evasive. Of the 35 or so animal phyla, only half have a fossil record at all, and this is precisely because they lack fossilizable hard parts. Jonathan Wells’ book “Icons of Evolution” on which your video excerpts were presumably based egregiously misrepresented the data here, leaving out most of the phyla and still getting the limited ones he did include wrong in a third of his examples, and I know this not because of something I saw or read elsewhere, but because I checked his book and sources directly. It was not easy pinning down how Wells had got so fuddled in this case because his Research Notes for the chart gave no sources at all (itself a warning flag that Wells is an unreliable source), but a check against independent paleontology material showed Wells was just plain wrong. If you want to trust folk who are so removed from the data, you are welcome to it, but for my part I will get my paleontology from the sources themselves, not from a video version of an antievolutionist’s version of the bits and pieces they think they can trim to fit their argument.

    • Mr. Downard…as usual I am more well informed via your reply…I looked into Wells as well… how he performs and informs his science ‘method’ is certainly very questionable….

  4. Jim Downard

    Dennis dropped the Chen quote again in a comment on another posting, btw, which clearly shows how important he thinks it is as a “smoking gun” of Darwinian skepticism. Actually, of less concern than whether he responds to the doubts I noted about Wells and company is what he does or does not do in his own investigative life. He certainly shouldn’t “take my word for it”–that would merely be relying on another authority. Instead, he should begin his own investigation of his own sources, and broaden his inquiry to read other points of view–the road to perdition is paved with the opinions of only those people you agree with, so to speak. In that task you have to set out standards of evidence, what would be sufficient evidence pro or con a position. That can often reveal that you knew insufficiently enough to have “proven” what you thought you had, and so have to learn more first. This can be much harder than watching a YouTube video for a few minutes, and requires the effort and skills to track down more relevant information, but nobody ever said the search for truth would be a pursuit of ease.

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