Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lack of belief and guided evolution - a dilemma

Let's say an atheist defines themselves expressly as 'lacking a belief in God's existence' as opposed to 'believing God doesn't exist'. Very common move, usually deployed in an attempt to avoid any and all proof burdens. Normally arguments over this devolve into historical arguments over the usage of the term 'atheist', but I think there's a more productive way to deal with people who make this move.

Just ask them whether they believe evolution is guided.

Consider the following:

God is (for the purpose of this argument) defined as omniscient or omnipotent.
If God is omniscient or omnipotent, then it trivially follows that all physical processes were foreseen and orchestrated by Him in advance.
Evolution is cast as just another physical process.
Ergo, if God exists, then evolution is guided.
Ergo, if someone lacks belief in God's existence - if they neither believe 'God does not exist' or 'God exists' - then they cannot believe that evolution is unguided. At best, they can lack belief that evolution is guided.
On the flipside, if they believe evolution is unguided, then they're going to have to provide evidence for this claim - and that is going to be directly tied up in the claim 'God does not exist.'

I think this move works even if God is reduced to merely 'powerful and knowledgeable', so long as God (or any agent) can in principle affect and determine the course of evolution. Mere lack of belief in God(s) leaves the question of guidance wide open with regards to evolution, but if one commits to evolution being unguided, they are committed to arguing against God's existence. And that would mean we're right back where the atheist did not want to be - in the realm of making claims and having a burden of proof.

I think few atheists are going to be willing to swallow the pill of admitting that, for all they know, evolution is guided - and that they merely lack belief in guidance.

5 comments:

Samwell Barnes said...

A very nice insight. I've never seen it before. Simple and cogent.

One question that's slightly puzzled me goes in the opposite direction to the obvious desire on their part to avoid any burden of proof: Why, after having it demonstrated to them that atheism isn't simply a "lack of belief," do many insist on being labeled atheists, rather than simply adopting a different title that's consistent with the "lack of belief" description they desire which they desire to avoid the burden of proof? As an "agnostic," for example, they will have exactly the same lack of belief as before, and they will still have no burden of proof; they will simply be called something else. That's the only difference. Yet I've seen a few express anger at this idea. For whatever reason, they have a vested interest in the very title "atheist." Why? Why are they so committed to the word "atheist"? Simple stubbornness? Or do they like the "anti-God, anti-establishment, rebellious cyber punk" sound/flavor of the word "atheist," a flavor that's missing in innocuous words like "agnostic" or "nonbeliever"?

Crude said...

Or do they like the "anti-God, anti-establishment, rebellious cyber punk" sound/flavor of the word "atheist," a flavor that's missing in innocuous words like "agnostic" or "nonbeliever"?

That has my vote. I think they want to at once have the psychological impact of asserting 'God does not exist' while at the same time trying to evade the intellectual duty of meeting a burden that comes with making a claim.

BenYachov said...

One could also redefine Theism as a mere lack of "no-god" belief & abuse this meme till it becomes annoying & absurd making the Gnu cry uncle.

How is that not fun?:-)

Mr. Green said...

Crude: If God is omniscient or omnipotent, then it trivially follows that all physical processes were foreseen and orchestrated by Him in advance.

Hm, surely being omniscient and omnipotent only guarantees that God could have orchestrated it all. Of course, all that's needed is the possibility, if the atheist/agnostic wants to avoid making any claims. An interesting bit of psychology at work.

BenYachov: One could also redefine Theism as a mere lack of "no-god" belief & abuse this meme till it becomes annoying & absurd making the Gnu cry uncle.

Haha, touché!

Crude said...

Green,

Hm, surely being omniscient and omnipotent only guarantees that God could have orchestrated it all.

That does seem to make sense at first blush. And I think it still goes through. You'd still need a view about God to reply.