Atheism can have a few meanings, but in general that meaning depends on to what it's referring. "A" means "without," and "theos" is, of course, "God." Theos is seen so differently around the world, though. Sometimes god is known by a different name, and other times by different characteristics. Many Christians feel that their God is different from Allah because of certain traits - a triune nature, omni-benevolence, the trait of 'heavenly Father-ness.' So when asked if they believe in a god of Allah's characteristics, the proper response is to say 'No, there is no such god. The universe is without (A) such a being (theos).'
Nearly every Christian in America, likewise, does not believe that the God of the Westboro Baptist Church exists. Such a God exhibits the characteristic of hating people - most people, in fact. When asked about their belief in such a god's existence, most Christians' proper response is 'No, there is no such god. I am an atheist in that regard.'
More commonly, atheists describe themselves as people who simply do not believe in any gods because no compelling evidence can be provided in support of such a claim. This is probably best described as a materialist or secularist outlook. The premise that 'all is matter' is sufficient until proof is provided by those on whom the burden rests - those claiming that a 'super-natural' aspect to the universe is real. Along with the burden of proof, such people also strive against the principle of Occam's Razor, which suggests that when given two alternative explanations to a phenomenon or phenomena, the simpler is to be preferred. Clearly, when a natural explanation for the universe is plausible and well-evidenced, it makes no sense to propose the infinitely complicating factor of the supernatural.
All of this to lead to the idea that proving 'God' is very difficult. Einstein's idea of God was something akin to the mystery of the unknown in the universe. Hell, I believe in that God. Disproving that concept of God is impossible. Yet the more specific we get in terms of describing the traits/characteristics of this divine entity, the more realistic it becomes to disprove it.
I believe the universe is just matter. I see no reason to infer the supernatural - except to explain things which we don't have answers for yet. However, an argument from ignorance has never been my idea of a strong stance. When it comes to the Christian God of the Bible, though, I believe such a being can be disproven because of its characteristics: all-powerful, all-knowing; all-good.
I was directed to this website a few months ago, and I quickly came to the conclusion that it was ridiculous. I had forgotten about it until I had the good fortune of coming across an excellent blog called The Set of All Things Not Identical to Themselves.
I found a blog entry describing the author's experience at the website, and his critique of it. The author of the site then responded. Now I feel compelled to offer my own criticism of the website, as I feel it is misleading.
A false dilemma usually takes the form of an 'either-or' statement. "Either you believe in God, or all morality is subjective opinion." Well, that's not true. The typical way of dealing with this sort of argument is to 'go between the horns' and point out counterexamples where it doesn't have to be one or the other.*
Of course, in the case of contradictions, a dilemma is valid. You can't go between the horns of 'Either I am holding a pen or I am not holding a pen.' Logically, either one or the other must be true. It becomes a fallacy when there is an excluded middle... 'Either there are elephants on Mars, or it is raining in Seattle today' happens to be my current favorite example.
Back to the Website
When you enter the site, your first choice is to select whether you believe in absolute truth, don't believe it, don't know, or don't care. The author is not careful at first to point out what he means, but he seems to mean 'X is either true or false for all people at all times,' and that X is the sort of statement that exists in the real world. So far, so good. "It is cold out" is not an absolute sort of truth, but "I am cold" is. So I click that I agree.
"The Bible teaches that the existence of God is so obvious that we are without excuse for denying it."Alright, let's see just how easy this is.
1. Laws of Logic Exist: True. Regardless of what we call them, our system of describing why 2+2=4 refers to actual phenomena.
2. Laws of Mathematics Exist: True... if redundant.
3. Laws of Science Exist: True. Here, however, it becomes important to consider what 'exist' means. Many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore exists about unicorns. From that, we cannot infer that unicorns exist. A law of science does not mandate how the universe operates. A law of science is a human idea that makes predictions and seeks to explain what we can observe about the universe. A law's existence does not necessitate the existence of its subject. For instance, I can reference a law that peasants are to be afforded no mercy when they steal from the royalty - but that doesn't mean that peasants and royalty exist (at this time). It is a valid point, however, to say that the phenomena described by laws of logic, mathematics and science exist, though. In this case, I will go for it.
PS, remember that this same consideration should be taken into account in the previous questions - what people have codified is irrelevant; its congruence with reality is what matters.
4. Absolute Moral Laws Exist: This question has issues on so many levels.
First, there is some equivocation on the word 'law.' Equivocation means the word or phrase can mean two different things as it is used in the argument.** A law of science is an invariable and universal fact about the physical universe. If matter behaves in a way that contradicts such a law, it disproves the law. Likewise, if numbers behave in a way that contradicts or violates mathematical or logical law, then we are wrong about the laws.
Are moral laws the same? Would the author state that a set of principles of right behavior exist in the universe, and all interactions of matter must conform to those laws - and that if matter violates those laws, we must reject and/or rewrite the laws? Well, no. There is no universally agreed-upon set of laws for right and wrong behavior (although we see globally, cross-culturally exhibited aversions to some types of behavior in, perhaps, a majority of cultures).
So the author is using the word 'law' differently in this question. In fact, he seems to be using it more in the sense of government. A law, in this sense, governs how an individual or group is to behave in a community, and is established by some authority. Presumably, given the premise of the website, the author is referring to a law established by the authority of God to rule over the community of humankind.
Second, we're back to the idea of 'existence.' Can we observe this sort of moral law? That is, a code of right and wrong established in communities by forms of authority? Sure! But they're not absolute. The 'moral foundation' of the law for adults not to sexually trifle with 14 year olds in our nation is not something people in other places and cultures are expected to abide by.
On the surface, such a question doesn't usually demand much thought. That's why the questions about laws of logic, math and science were asked first - the reader becomes settled in the rut of thinking that somehow a moral law is the same as these other, more obvious, laws.
So what if you select the right answer? What if you click 'No?'
You're presented with a dilemma:
"Either molesting children for fun is absolutely morally wrong, or it could be right."
The problem here is introducing a motive. Motive plays a huge role in discerning moral culpability. If there's a difference between killing and murder, it lies in the motive of the person taking the life of the other. Essentially what this site is doing, though, is presenting you with a false dilemma. "Either molesting children for fun is potentially good behavior, or there's an absolute moral law." That is not a necessary conclusion to come to. It could be the case that molesting children for fun is terrible behavior to all people, at all times, AND that there is no absolute moral law. In fact, that is the conclusion that I hold at this website (if you read my second post, you may understand why).
So imagine I pose this question to the author:
"Either killing is ALWAYS a morally disgusting thing to do, or NO absolute moral laws exist."
I imagine he'd protest. He'd say, "No, sometimes killing is necessary - even God does it. That doesn't mean that no absolute moral laws exist."
Exactly. Motive is necessary to determine whether an action is right or wrong behavior. Had the question excluded the phrase 'for fun,' the answer would obviously be yes: it could be right to molest a child. If an alien race invades and says 'either you molest this child, or we molest everybody,' then the right thing to do is undoubtedly to molest the child. At the same time, the desire to molest children for fun is evil. These concepts are not contradictory, and thus, though cleverly concealed, the question poses a false dilemma.
Finally, this part of the website is very obviously, and self-admittedly, an appeal to emotion. While an important aspect of persuasion in many cases, and not necessarily a logical fallacy, there are still responsible and irresponsible ways to appeal to emotion.
"I feel that the best test to determine whether or not you really believe that absolute moral laws exist, is not whether you feel that atrocities like rape and child molestation could be right somewhere in the universe, but whether they could ever be right if perpetrated against you or someone you love."I find this sort of thinking strange coming from someone who feels that morality is not dependent on individual feeling - yet he feels inclined to appeal to individual feeling to make his point. If what he is arguing is true, then an appeal to emotion and subjective feeling would be pointless - unless he were to make a further argument, such as that these absolute laws are ingrained in members of the human community just as societal laws become ingrained in members of a society. Yet, we find that this phenomena is not the case. It's a prediction of the Bible that all people have 'the law' written on their hearts, but this prediction is not substantiated in tests. Testing seems to confirm, as a matter of fact, that value judgments and emotional responses to situations depends largely on factors in people's upbringing.
I'm tempted at this point to simply exit the site. However, I will tell an untruth just to keep moving.
5. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Immaterial: True. In the sense that the website author presents the case, something material is able to be touched, seen, smelled, heard and/or tasted. I should add that most of the spectrum of light does not fall into this category. Atoms, likewise, are not seen so much as the effects they make are observed. Gravity, likewise, is 'immaterial.'
Apparently, it is a futile attempt to "find an abstract entity in nature." Since I can't find the physical number 3, it is immaterial. Ok, I can agree to this (but I thought I should elaborate before continuing).
6. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Universal: True. As far as we know (and this seems to be a safe belief), our understanding of logic, mathematics, and science are universal. Likewise, standards of right and wrong behavior that are universal can be argued (as I maintain in this blog).
7. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Unchanging: True. Our understanding of them (the actual laws, which are a codification) changes, but the phenomena we seek to describe using them does not.
Ooh, the quick jab from the right, the hard hit from the left!
"Universal, immaterial, unchanging laws cannot be accounted for if the universe was random or only material in nature."This is downright wrong. For one thing, nobody claims that the universe is random. For another thing, nobody claims that the universe is material in the way the author used the term material. This is yet another instance of equivocation. As the website puts it, material = corporeal. However, materialists don't (obviously) disbelieve in things like light, atoms and gravity just because they do not take a physical form. Of course, I'm probably straying far too close to the realm of quantum reality than I'm qualified to tread here, but these very real aspects of reality in no way rule out the claim that all that exists is the natural.
"Only in a universe governed by God can universal, immaterial, unchanging laws exist."Big question coming up: Why? Nah, let's be like the website author - let's leave that unexplained. We'll just state it and then not support it.
8. The Proof that God Exists: Without Him, you couldn't prove anything.
Yep, it's just stated like that. The bulk of the questions simply reaffirm that there is a uniformity to the universe. Great. What I'd be interested in hearing is how exactly this isn't circular reasoning.
Begging the question, for those unfamiliar with the concept, involves assuming your premise to prove your conclusion. In this case, check it out:
1. If there's no God, nothing can be proved.
2. We just proved something
3. Therefore, God exists.
Funny thing... mustn't the conclusion necessarily be true in order for (2) to be true? The answer is yes. If we assume premise 1, then we cannot state premise 2 until we've established conclusion 3. We're free to believe premise 2 is false until we're convinced of conclusion 3, so we can't use premise 2 to argue that conclusion, because the logic is circular and begs the question in point.
The sort of thinking behind this website is saddening. If the author makes an appearance here to respond, that would certainly be interesting, as I'd like to understand just how far he grasps the 'laws of logic' he referred to, ever so ironically, early in the website experience.
I found that the author has a blog website. I think I'll write him and leave this blog with the prominent quote on proofthatgodexists.org: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." Let's see how the truth of this statement bears out.