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Ron Rosenbaum takes on the New Atheists (as seems to be fashionable these days) in something he calls An Agnostic Manifesto.
Faith-based atheism? Yes, alas. Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

Faced with the fundamental question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing. But the question presents a fundamental mystery that has bedeviled (so to speak) philosophers and theologians from Aristotle to Aquinas. Recently scientists have tried to answer it with theories of "multiverses" and "vacuums filled with quantum potentialities," none of which strikes me as persuasive.
Julian Sanchez responds:

To the extent that it is a meaningful question, I have no reason to expect that science either eventually will, or even in principle could answer it. But I am not sure why I am supposed to care, except insofar as it’s interesting to mull over, if you go for that sort of thing. Suppose I allow that it is a genuine mystery—radically uncertain, even. It’s outside the realm about which we can talk meaningfully or offer evidence. So what? If there were some part of the world about which we couldn’t even in principle gather information, would I have to declare myself a basilisk agnostic because, after all, they might be there?

Rosenbaum’s mistake is to suppose that atheists are committed to providing some kind of utterly comprehensive worldview that explains everything in the way religious doctrine sometimes purports to. But why? Can’t we point out that claims made on behalf of one brand of snake oil are outlandish and unsupportable without peddling an even more wondrous tonic?

I don’t know why there’s something instead of nothing, if the question is even intelligible, any more than I can prove I’m not a brain in a vat. These are interesting facts to reflect on in an epistemology seminar. They have very little to do with my ordinary assertions about how to get to The Passenger or whether the details of any particular cosmology seem persuasive, or whether praying to Mecca or confessing to a priest seems like a sensible thing to do. The question of whether there’s a God is only really interesting or a live debate in practice because its embedded in these more particular traditions. Punting to the non-local question of why there’s anything at all is, ultimately, just changing the subject—a fact that may be obscured by gesturing at the realm of mystery and calling the question mark that lives there God.

I report, you decide.

Comments

  1. Ryan, amazing, I just last week realized that as an agnostic I maybe accused of being a sort of chicken atheist. This came upon me as I read Carl Sagans "new" book The Varieties of Scientific Experience" (where in Sagan trashes most of slack I had cut organized religions belief in some type of supreme being)
    What I came to realize is that I am mostly interested or curious about the existence of a supreme being as an intellectual pursuit rather than wanting or needing to seek a final "soulful" answer to the big question that we are told is on every human beings mind, Is God Dead ?
    Some noted atheists have asserted that all we humans must eventually confront the "Got God question", but maybe not all of us or for example Me.
    Well for my money I just encountered a decreasing interest in answering the question in my own musings. I am just not that interested in spending that much time on the issue.
    I think it might be a "trick" question anyway. Atheists as a group are not the polar opposite of any religious belief group, but do atheists exist because religion does? And in denying Gods existence do atheists merely replace one set of psychologically necessary belief systems with another ? Credulous and childlike like faith in the ability of science to explain how the universe came to be ? Oh God! Uncle MIke

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