[Review] Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

David Bentley Hart’s book, ‘Atheist Delusions’, should be read by everyone one each side of the current God debate in our time. Hart’s work, which bares a polemical title that he himself did not want, is not an apologetic of the validity of Christian belief, but rather a systemic debunking of the many myths of modernity, specifically those leveraged at Christian belief. The commonly touted (but hardly sustainable) critiques such as Christianity being an impediment to the development of science (including that oft highly misrepresented account of Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church), that it has been the source for countless wars (it has not), etc.

However, the more powerful parts of Hart’s work are in his third and fourth sections where he first details the world of pagan antiquity (filled with its vapid and nihilistic religions with a correspondingly inane culture), and how Christianity completely revolutionized how people saw themselves; personal individuality for all peoples, human rights, the beginning of the end for slavery, and more. The fourth section details the retreat of this paradigm and the uncertain future that society now goes to. Though Hart may seem like a bit of an alarmist in this section (something he is aware of consciously), his critiques and shuddering at some of the moral ideas put forward (systemic infanticide of all children with retardation, selective breeding for the benefit of the human gene pool, etc) are all supported by the works of major philosophers and other intellectual giants of the modern era.

This book, by no means, is likely going to convince someone of Christian truth, but that was never it’s goal. Rather, it is a powerful refutation of ignorance, a destroyer of historical myths that have become all to common, regardless if they are used with an anti-religious polemic driving them or not. That alone makes this book worth reading.

Responding to Samuel Butler — Part 2

This is the continuation of my response to Samuel Butler’s claims about Christianity. In my previous post I showed that the idea of Mithraism being an influence on Christianity was unwarranted. This time I’d like to deal with Samuel’s claims about two Papal quotes:

…Pope Leo X (died 1521) called Christ a “Fable”. Later Pope Paul III expressed similar sentiments.

Immediately I should point out that even if the two men here did indeed claim that Christianity was a fable, this does not lead logically to the falsification of Christianity. There are probably many people who will promote an ideology, whether it be secular or religious, who in the back rooms laugh and scoff at the very ideas that they promulgate, reaping their own benefits from doing so. For instance, let’s pretend that President Obama’s recent support for same-sex marriage was not based on his own convictions, but because he wanted the ‘gay vote’ and that secretly he found the idea morally incorrect.1 Now let’s pretend that after his election this was somehow leaked out to the public. Would the LGBTQ movement feel as though their position was now incorrect since an authority figure had lied to them? Of course not. It is no difference for Christianity – not to mention that there are multiple bodies within Christendom that do not agree with the jurisdictional claims of the Pope and would eagerly use such quotes to discredit the claims of the Church of Rome.

In fact, this is exactly what happened in the case of Pope Leo X. The quotations that are famously attributed to him: “How well we know what a profitable superstition this fable of Christ has been for us,”, and “What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us,” were from the works of John Bale, a sixteenth century artist whose works attacked the Church of Rome since he had joined the Protestant movement. The full quotation is from his work Pageant of the Popes on page 179: “For on a time when a cardinal Bembus did move a question out of the Gospel, the Pope gave him a very contemptuous answer saying: All ages can testify enough how profitable that fable of Christ hath been to us and our company.”2

As for the Pope Paul III, Samuel explains further in his video on YouTube that the Pope said, “’Jesus never existed,’ adding that he was ‘no other than the sun, adored in it’s Mithraic sect…’”.3 Now I can’t find the source for this quote after a quick search. That being said, seeing as the quote once again relies off of the false notion of Mithraic influence on Christianity, even if Pope Paul III did utter these words, which I doubt, it would mean absolutely nothing to the validity or invalidity of Christianity.

My last post in this series will deal with Samuel’s accusation of Moses, though don’t expect that one for awhile as it will probably take more research and I eagerly want to get back to my work on the Shroud of Turin.

Footnotes

1 A rather polemical and charged example, but I think it gets my point across. And, no, I don’t actually think this is what Obama is doing – I’m fairly certain he wholeheartedly supports those claims and is not doing it to obtain the voters of a certain demographic that, let’s be honest, he probably had to begin with.

2 Getting to the Source of Alleged Quotes by Christians. The Divine Evidence. Retrieved 8/13/12. http://thedevineevidence.com/skeptic_quotes.html

3 Beyond All Religion, Narrated. Samuel Butler. Retrieved 8/13/12. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPi-S3I7Ov4&feature=channel&list=UL

Responding to Samuel Butler — Part 1

When I was an atheist and attending undergrad, I use to go to the Freethinkers club on campus. I originally did this as a place to find like-minded people – it was little more than to go and say, ‘hey, let’s make fun of Christianity!’ Freethinkers, nevertheless, became a very important to me for multiple reasons. However, there’s one criticism that I’d like to focus on now. One of the disconcerting things that I found while in Freethinkers was that a lot of my athiest compatriots seemed to be so convinced that there was no God that they generally did not deal with apologetics beyond creationism (obviously this was not the case for everyone, though). I remember one meeting when we were discussing what topics to cover in the coming year I purposefully listed off a bunch of names and arguments one can find on the internet: the Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig, the Tautological Argument, Alvin Plantiga’s Modal Ontological Argument, etc. The response I got was a blank face followed by one poignant question: “What is that?”

This criticism, which is really one lambasting ignorance, is not limited solely to atheists. Many Christians, unfortunately, are horribly misinformed on science, particularly on the subjects of evolution and sexuality. What aggravates me a bit more from the atheist camp though is that they are supposed to be skeptics, people who will pursue a thought or question to its logical conclusion, checking all possible answers, and then double-checking them, and then triple-checking them. However, why is it then that I find something like this:

Christianity was invented by Emperor Constantine, for political purposes, based upon the myth of Mithra, a Persian savior god born on December 25, son of a virgin. Mithra performed miracles and was later crucified. Pope Leo X (died 1521) called Christ a “Fable”. Later Pope Paul III expressed similar sentiments. Moses is based on the Sumerian life and legends of Sargon I, King of Akkad, “set in a basket of rushes and “cast into the river”. Egyptians kept exhausting hieroglyphic records. There is a complete absence of any record of Moses leading over 600,000 men, women and children away from Pharaoh’s army.

This comes from Samuel Butler, a Freethinker whose been posting on the college’s Freethinkers group on FaceBook. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, Samuel doesn’t strike me as a bad or unintelligent person. In fact when a friend and I both responded to one of his claims (which we both found overreaching) his response was one of thankfulness that we could have an exchange of ideas without feeling pressured one way or another. That, in and of itself, is a very commendable. However, the above paragraph is not. Let’s begin:

Christianity was invented by Emperor Constantine, for political purposes, based upon the myth of Mithra, a Persian savior god born on December 25th, son of a virgin.

I’m assuming that what Samuel means is that he adapted Christianity for political purposes, and meshed it with Mithraism so that it would be more palatable (or something along those lines). No matter what way you spin it, St. Constantine (yes, Saint, as he is in the Orthodox Church) didn’t invent Christianity as the Church had existed since Pentecost. I need not point any further than the Gospel accounts, the epistles of St. Paul, and the writings of all the Ante-Nicean Fathers (St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the didache, St. Cyprian, etc) to show a whole Tradition of Christianity long before St. Constantine’s conversion.1Hence my assumption why Samuel’s meaning was that Constantine adapted it, or perhaps invented it in the sense of creating his own Christianity based upon what already existed.But even then, what did Constantine change? Samuel’s contention can be found on the Christianity page of his blog:

Christianity is a copycat religion created by Emperor Constantine (for political purposes) based upon a myth (The Persian savior god Mithra, crucified 600 B.C. ? 400 B.C.?), which was based on other similar myths, all the way back to Chrishna of India (a mythical god that some claim was “crucified” or violently died around 1200 B.C.). There were 16 mythical crucifixions before Christ. The belief in the crucifixion of Gods was prevalent in various oriental or heathen countries long prior to the reported crucifixion of Christ. Of the 16 crucifixions, most were born of a virgin and about half of them on December 25th.

There were too many religions in Rome in 325 A.D. A Council was called in an endeavor to amalgamate the many religions of the Roman Empire into one. Christianity plagiarized older myths and legends historicized to suit the Roman Catholic Church while combining the numerous religions existing at the time (Krishna, Horus, Mithraism, Osirian, Isis, and many other mystery religions). For unity and to stop all the conflicts between the numerous religions, Christianity was INVENTED.

Ah, Mithra, we meet again. You see, the final nail in the coffin that made me leave my theistic agnosticism and embrace atheism was when I saw a YouTube video about Mithra. I instantly believed this and embraced my new found lack of belief in a deity. Of course, it only took me a few google searches later to find out that the idea that Mithraism influenced Christianity (not to mention all these other pagan gods listed) was a load of bunk that no scholar – regardless of their religious beliefs – took seriously. So what does Butler claim specifically on his website?:

His birth in a grotto was attended by magi who followed a star from the East. They brought “gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” and the newborn baby was adored by shepherds. ____, one of a trinity, stood on a rock, the emblem of the foundation of his religion, and was anointed with honey. After a last supper with Helios and 11 other companions, ____ was crucified on a cross, bound in linen, placed in a rock tomb and rose on the third day or around 25 March (the full moon at the spring equinox, a time now called Easter after the Babylonian goddess Ishtar). The fiery destruction of the universe was a major doctrine of ______ism-a time in which _____ promised to return in person to Earth and save deserving souls. Devotees of ____ partook in a sacred communion banquet of bread and wine.

Archeologists have found as many as 718 monuments or statues of ____ at Ostia (near Rome-Author) and close to 300 in Rome. A ____ shrine was uncovered under St. Paul’s cathedral.____ was a god, a son of a god, born of a virgin on December 25.”

In other words Mithra was:

  • Was revered by three magi who brought him gifts (identical to those brought to Christ)
  • Was born on December 25th by a virgin
  • Was a member of a trinity
  • Had a last supper and death identical to Christ’s
  • Was resurrected at the same date that Easter is now celebrated
  • Was to return to earth to save the faithful while the rest would perish
  • Was a son of God
  • Had miscellaneous archeological claims that I’m far less interested in

One by one, shall we? Note that I am taking practically all of this information from Patrick Holding’s page on this very subject. I will cite the specific sources when possible, but otherwise it can be found there. I highly recommend that you read the web-page (scroll down to the end if you want the systematic debunking) as it is far more in depth than this here.

Was revered by three magi who brought him gifts (identical to those brought to Christ)

Not exactly. While there were indeed three shepherds at Mithra’s birth, they were direct witnesses to it as opposed to the shepherds in the Gospel accounts who were told by an angel. Furthermore, they helped Mithra during his birth by pulling him out of the rock that he was being born by. The shepherds did give gifts to Mithra, but they weren’t identical to those given to Christ but instead offered parts of their own flock for a feast. However, the internal contradiction of this story was that Mithra’s birth took place before the creation of man – even though three shepherds somehow helped him out of a rock.3The first evidence for this tale also post-dates the New Testament by a century.4

Was born on December 25thby a virgin

As I had just mentioned in the last claim, Mithra was born of a rock, not of a virgin.5 As for his birth on December 25th, there needs to be a bit of an explanation for this.

As Holding aptly points out, the New Testament never gives and exact date for the birth of Christ and the celebration of Christ’s nativity on December 25th far post-dated the Apostolic times.6 As such, Mithra wouldn’t have had a direct influence at all on the formation of Christianity. So why then was December 25th chosen for Christ’s birthday? While David Withun has given an apologetic for the date, claiming that the Christians actually had it first, commentators have pointed out that the texts he uses aren’t sufficient to establish what he’s arguing. I would like to provide a different explanation.

In his book, The Winter Pascha, Fr. Thomas Hopko does admit that Christianity purposefully chose the same date that was used for Sol Invictus, or the Nativity of the Invincible Sun. The Church was not doing this in any sense to claim that pagans took the date from them, nor were they saying that this was the historical date of Christ’s birth. It was put on the same day to show that Christ was the “True Sun” and that pagans had inappropriately worship the sun. The hymn of the Nativity in the Orthodox Church served as an attack on their view:

Your Nativity, O Christ our God

Has shown to the world the light of wisdom

For by it those who worshiped the stars

Were taught by a star to adore You,

The Sun of Righteousness,

And to know You, the Orient from on high.

O Lord, glory to You!7

Thus the influence here is of no real consequence, and doesn’t show at all that Christianity was invented. This was a theological response to paganism, not a pagan influence on the dogma of the Church.

Was a member of a trinity

This is true of Iranian Mithraism but not Roman Mithraism8 (which is what Christianity would have been borrowing from in its days of formulation). Even then, this seems to be tri-theism9 which is a far cry from Trinitarianism.

Had a last supper and death identical to Christ’s

These claims are also both false. As for the last supper, the claim was made by Godwin and was supposedly from one of the Persian Mithraic texts (not the Roman ones), but it’s actual source was from a medieval text.10 Hardly prior to the birth of Christianity.

As for being crucified, this is absolutely false. Mithra went to fight a bull and slayed it, but at no point was he killed. There is no recorded death of Mithra whatsoever, and the Christian references to it far post-date the early Church, making such a ‘plagiarism’ unfeasible.11

Was resurrected at the same date that Easter is now celebrated

Mithra, having never died, could never have been resurrected12 (not to mention that resurrection in Christian terminology was completely different than from contemporary pagans who scoffed at the idea of a bodily resurrection).13

Was to return to earth to save the faithful while the rest would perish

While this seems to be true, the eschaton here is different from that of Christianity’s.14 Not to mention this may be from the non-Roman Mithra who had little to almost no connection with the Roman one (note this last point is conjecture as Cumon simply assumes there is a continuity between the two – something later scholars disagreed with – and as such doesn’t seem to make a distinction between the two in his book).15

Was a son of God

While it seems, from a brief look, that the Persian Mithra was indeed the son of Ahura Mazda,16 this is not parallel to how the Son is the son of the Father since this kind of Mithraism was incredibly Platonic.17 I believe that quoting Holding here will be of good use:

We have several titles here, and yes, though I searched through the works of Mithraic scholars, I found none of these applied to Mithra, other than the role of mediator (not, though, in the sense of a mediator between God and man because of sin, but as a mediator between Zoroaster’s good and evil gods; we have seen the “sun” identification, but never that title) — not even the new ones were ever listed by the Mithraic scholars.18

Last Thoughts

As for the sixteen crucified saviors trope, it’s been refuted elsewhere, and I will not be going over it in this post. As for pagan parallels at large, James Patrick Holding has a whole slew of articles that systematically shows this to be false. Samuel goes on to talk about Eusebius and the canonization of the Gospels, but his argument relies off of the use of Christian-pagan syncretism. Since such plagiarizing seems to be unfounded, the argument fails nevertheless. In my next post on this series, I will be discussing the two Papal quotes. Also, once again if I have offended anyone in this post (as I know, especially at the beginning, my tone was a little harsh) I apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

Footnotes

1 A Tradition that is remarkably in agreement in all major points of doctrine: the liturgical priesthood, the reality of the Eucharist and Baptism, Scripture and Tradition, the two natures of Christ, the Trinity, etc. While their language may not have always been as develop as the subsequent councils (for instance you will not see nearly as articulate a definition of the Trinity in the Apostolic Fathers as you will in those from Nicea onwards, i.e., Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius the Great, etc), the basic ideas are still there.

2 Butler, Samuel. CHRISTIANITY. Retrieved August, 2012. http://beyondallreligion.net/christianity/

3 Cumon, Franz. The Mysteries of Mythra. Republished 2007 by Forgotten Books. pp. 83-4

4 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012. http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.html

5 Cumon, Franz. The Mysteries of Mythra. Republished 2007 by Forgotten Books. pp. 83

6 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012. http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.html

7 Hopko, Thomas. The Winter Pascha. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997. pp. 119-20

8 Mitra. Retrieved August, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitra

9 Ahura. Retrieved August, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahura

10 Vermaseren, M. J. Mithras the Secret God. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963.

11 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012. http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.html

12 Ibid.

13 cf. N. T. Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

14 Cumon, Franz. The Mysteries of Mythra. Republished 2007 by Forgotten Books. pp. 90

15 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012. http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.html

16 Mithra. Retrieved August, 2012. http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/mithra.html

17 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012. http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.html

18 Ibid.

The Argument From The Shroud – Introduction

I have decided to upload to this blog the series I did on the Shroud of Turin and the Resurrection of  Jesus Christ on my old blog. I have a few reasons for doing this. Firstly, this is my most prized work with almost 500 views on Scribd (who knows how many are my own), a mentioning by Dan Porter , and has a lot of person meaning to me. Secondly, I still think that the Shroud of Turin must come into the current God debate in our culture as it is the very “extraordinary evidence” that atheists have been asking for. Thirdly, I want to  significantly revise the last section and touch up on some of the others.

Α΄

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hop in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

 

The Shroud of Turin is an enigma that cannot seemed to be solved. Its popularity seems to resurface with every new discovery, and has done so especially of late. The 14.5 by 3.5 ft linen cloth is famous for bearing the faint images of what seems to be a man who was tortured in the exact same way as Jesus Christ. It is hard to stress how faint the image truly is; the closer one moves to it the more it seems to disappear into the rest of the cloth, while the further away one is the clearer it appears to be.

However, the infamy of the Shroud exploaded when amateur photographer Secondo Pia was asked by the king of Italy to take photographs while it was on exhibition. After developing the negatives Pia was shocked to see that image of the man was a positive instead of a negative, which meant that the image on the Shroud itself was a photographic negative. Undoubtedly, and quite understandably, many began calling the image a miracle, one that defied explanation and was proof of the Resurrection itself.

Such claims continued when in the 1970’s the findings of the group known as STURP, having utilized the best technology of their day, seemed to add to the mysteriousness of the Shroud. The image was superficial, meaning it was only on the very top layer of the linen instead of seeping throughout. The image itself wasn’t made of paint pigment as confirmed by X-Ray examinations in which both the body and the blood failed to appear, which is at odds with any medieval painting hypothesis since lead-based pigments show up quite powerfully in such tests. Even more eerily, the image, when analyzed by a VP-8 image analyzer, came out as a “’true’ 3D effect” as opposed to paintings which came out “almost invariably collapsed and distorted.” All of this seemed to baffle the scientists. The idea of a medieval painting being a photographic negative alone was logically absurd, but bearing these other qualities as well? To top it off, there was no evidence for any directionality on the Shroud – in others words, there was no evidence of brushstrokes.

But none of this seemed to matter when the Shroud was carbon dated between 1260 and 1380 AD in the 1980s by the University of Arizona, Oxford University, and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. It was all a hoax, another medieval forgery amongst a plethora of others. Of course, none of this dealt with any of the anomalies found by STURP, nor did it produce a single method that could adequately explain how the Shroud of Turin was ‘crafted’. But now, I’m getting ahead of myself.

My purpose in this paper is to argue two separate points, the latter one being contingent on the former. First, I’m going to argue that we can infer that the Shroud of Turin is indeed the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. This, as astounding at it may seem, is the easier of the two goals; there has been a wealth of new information on the Shroud as well as a historical reconstruction of its passage throughout time. In such cases I’ll be drawing my sources from either scientific research or the historical work of Ian Wilson.

Second, I’m going to argue that the Shroud of Turin provides evidence for belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I must stress right from the start that I am not arguing that it can prove the Resurrection. Rather after establishing the veracity of the Shroud as that of Christ’s, working with the thought of Anglican scholar N.T. Wright as well as other apologists, I’m going to posit that the best possible explanation for both what we see on the Shroud of Turin and the early Christian belief in the Resurrection is better explained by Christ’s Resurrection than any naturalistic hypothesis. By no means will I cover all the possible data as this paper only aims to be an essay, but I believe it will be enough to establish the two conclusions I have put forward.

 

A New Home

There’s no real good justification for this relocation other than that most of the blogs I follow are on WordPress, and I got frustrated with changing themes in blogger. This blog of mine will be a continuation of my last (which obviously will now go inactive), and will touch on a variety of subjects all being centered on Orthodox Christianity. Which there will be many theological quibbles (and they certainly will be pretentious), I won’t be setting any other restrictions than that. In other words, you can expect not only more things on the Shroud of Turin, but also anime reviews done through an Orthodox lens. Oh yes, so pretentious.

As of what is to come: I will be re-posting my series on the Shroud of Turin as well as linking videos to the YouTube account they’re posted on (I’m planning on starting a new one for this blog). I’m currently reading more on the Sudarium of Oviedo and plan to write something on that as well. In the long term, I have been asked by a member at my parish to give a lecture in a few months on a subject of my choice. As such, I’ve begun to do some research on the issue of Female Ordination, so if anyone knows any good work on it please send it my way (I have already the articles from Thinking Through Faith and Orthodox Women Speak, as well as Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book and The Mystery of Human Gender and Sexuality from Synaxis Press). I don’t mind material from either side of the debate, though I should mention now that I firmly stand with the teaching of the Church (male only priesthood).

Furthermore, I haven’t given up on writing on atheism. I’m currently reading through Dan Barker’s Godless and have The Christian Delusion on my shelf as well. I’m still convinced that a physicalist world view cannot produce an objective system of morality (and Barker does agree with this conclusion, though he doesn’t think it means much), and that such a worldview is inherently deterministic and thus epistemologically nihilistic. For a final note, my grandmother of 83 years passed away a few weeks ago. If anyone who happens to read this does believe in prayers for the departed, I ask that you remember my yia-yia Alexandra. She was one of the starting points of my journey to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Expect themes to change within the coming week; I’m not totally satisfied with the current one.

You Can Do It Your Own Way, If It’s Done Just How I Say

– Eye of the Beholder’ by Metallica

(This is a re-posting from my old blog.)

 

James Hetfield from Metallica circa the Black Album era. Image found at http://max-metal-mayhem.blogspot.com

I’ve mentioned before to those that I know how as an atheist I had reached the conclusions of both existential and moral nihilism. While I should get around to how I arrived at those conclusions at some point (and further justify them as I no doubt did not consult literature when deciding such things) what I had never considered was epistemic nihilism; I had always assumed the existence of the material universe as philosophy seemed to be utterly useless without such an axiomatic belief. Of course, any theist who would have criticized me on taking that on faith would be completely right in their assertion.

More importantly, and relevant to this sketch,[1] is the fact that I was a determinist in my view on free-will. This resulted from the philosophy class I took as a freshman, coupled with some of the science on the subject I had recalled from my high school psychology class which showed how decisions were made in the sub-conscious before being relayed to the conscious. The more I reflected on the matter, the more sense it made to me as an atheist; if I was the result of physical/material processes that functioned off of cause-and-effect, then that means every thought, action, etc, that I had was also the result of cause-and-effect and not a ‘choice’. I, after all, wasn’t a human being made in the image of God, but a biochemical machine.

But I never took the denial of free-will out to its full implications.[2] To review: physicalist atheism[3] seemed to lead to determinism since nature works via cause-and-effect. While quantum mechanics seems to contradict this, there are two important points. Firstly, quantum mechanics functions at such a micro level that it probably has no effect on macro-level systems such as the will. Secondly, even if this is not the case, quantum mechanics shows the universe to be at a level of randomness and chaos. This is in no way synonymous with free-will as all it would mean is that our choices are either determined by the antecedent state of the universe or are completely random.

If, then, we are the products of causality, this means our very beliefs, or lack thereof, are not the result of conscious deliberation and weighing of the facts. Nor are they the result of critical thinking or skepticism. They are the result of the antecedent state of the universe and nothing more. I was an atheist and am now a Christian because I had no choice but to be such things. The Christian who apostatizes because he feels that his religion is irrational is not doing so for rational reasons but because he had no choice but to become an atheist.

The one retort may be that while this is all true, atheists may have more accurately perceived the world around them, they have created a better mental model. At this point I will quote from an article by R. M. Manion:

Then,” I said, “if the mental models of a thing correspond to knowledge and the assessment of those models correspond to reason, we would have a paradigm for the evolution of knowledge and reason. We already have mechanical representations of this in artificial intelligence systems. We have robots that identify objects in a room from video input and make a sufficient analysis of these models to navigate around the room. If we set up an experiment where robots that ran into objects disappeared while those that successfully avoided objects reproduced with minor changes in their programming, we would eventually evolve a collection of robots with an astute knowledge of their environment and ability to assess and navigate it. In like manner, man has evolved the ability to form extremely detailed and accurate models of his sensory input of the world and to make sophisticated analysis of that data. Hence, man has evolved knowledge and reason. True, this system is still deterministic, and man is still a part of the natural system he has come to know. But, he knows it none the less. It is a case of nature knowing itself. A sort of feed back loop, or self-diagnostic routine.”[4]

After pointing out the inherent dualistic language of the above, the second character of the dialogue gives the reason as to why such a feedback loop does not do us any good:

The robots know nothing. Simply, the ones set up to avoid obstacles, avoid obstacles, the ones that don’t, don’t. Can we say that water flows to the ocean because it knows the way? Does water that finds its’ way to the ocean know something that other water doesn’t? You see, water simply does what nature would have it do. So the robots do what their environment, sensory apparatus, and programs would have them do. Their actions are caused. They cause nothing. In like manner we believe what nature would have us believe. We do nothing. We are the repository of certain thoughts. I do not create my beliefs. I am simply a repository of belief. All of it, my beliefs, my thoughts, my reasons, even the language by which I try to explain them, are simply acts of nature.”[5]

To transpose this, the Christian is a Christian because he was set up to be that way. The atheist is an atheist because he was set up to be that way. Their very deliberations, thoughts, analysis of evidence, and their very perception of evidence is all programmed. At no point can a person somehow transcend nature and peer behind its curtain to try and see whether or not its lying to us, because by adhering to physicalism we have already thrown any kind of transcendence out the door. There is nothing but the physical – that is it.

Ultimately, this leads one to an epistemic nihilism, or that we cannot know anything. The previous quote gets at the heart of the matter, that “we are the repository of certain thoughts…I am simply a repository of belief. All of it…are simply acts of nature.” The issue is that nature is everything in the physicalist worldview; it is the Alpha and Omega of this brand of atheism. But the problem is that non-physicalists exist, or rather, that there are differing claims about existence. The universe is the only source of information, but it has somehow has given contradictory answers, and we have no way of knowing which one is right. Hence, we cannot know anything – epistemic nihilism.[6]

The rest of the dialogue goes on to talk about the self-refuting nature of such a stance, but I am not going to do that here; this sketch was rather to bring out physicalism in regards to free-will to its logical conclusion. Again, given the rough nature of any sketch it is open to being easily criticized, but I do invite any criticism or thoughts as long as the tone is appropriate. Oh, and read the article mentioned; it is better than anything I could type out here.

  1. [1]I keep saying that my works are sketches because of their very unpolished nature. My current job prevents me from sinking too much research and time into anything, especially as the job is rounding its last leg. Thankfully, I will be able to devote more time to my writings once its finished.
  2. [2]I should mention now that this is merely a hackneyed version of a brilliant article posted over at Energetic Processions on metaphysical naturalism and its moral and epistemic implications. I highly suggest that one reads it in its entirety and read the comments section at the bottom of the post.
  3. [3]The view that there is no God and that only physical systems exist.
  4. [4]R. M. Manion, The Other Side: Metaphysics and Meaning. November, 1993. http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/the-other-side/ retrieved 5/7/2012.
  5. [5]Ibid.
  6. [6]Needless to say, while I could (and probably should) go on to comment on morality and purpose, if one agrees with this conclusion then such essays are rendered rather superfluous; if we cannot have knowledge, then there is no way to ascertain morality or purpose.