Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Molecules In Motion"

There's a recurring statement that comes up in a variety of contexts, whether it be discussions of free will, morality, evidence of God's existence, etc., that atheists believe that nothing exists in the universe except for matter and energy and therefore must think that human beings are nothing more than "molecules in motion" (or words to that effect).  For example, when discussing morality, a theist might claim that atheists have no way of justifying a belief in morality without a belief in God since, after all, atheists think we're all just a bunch of molecules in motion (or matter and energy) following Newton's laws of motion and acting in predetermined ways based on stimuli.  Or something like that.  So, the argument goes, how can there be any morality if we are not free to choose our own actions?

This same argument is used to explain why there supposedly can't be any sort of free will without there being a supernatural being to give us that free will.  Sometimes it's even used to prove the existence of God, since there's supposedly no other way that consciousness could possibly arise from "mere" matter and energy.

When this argument is raised, in whatever context, the person representing the atheist point of view often tries to defend how its possible to have morality based on natural laws that are wholly apart from human consciousness.  Or perhaps that it doesn't matter whether we "really" have free will as long as we think that we do and act in accordance with that belief.

Personally, I think trying to argue along these lines misses the boat.  Once again, theists are just presenting another form of "Argument from Ignorance" and claiming that, since atheists can't explain it, God must be the answer.  However, rather than falling into this trap and trying to explain something that may very well be inexplicable, I think it's better to simply acknowledge that we don't know how consciousness and free will could arise from matter and energy.  The fact that we can't explain it doesn't mean that it has to be God.  It just means that we can't explain it.  And it also doesn't mean that the theist explanation of God is the correct explanation, either.  I mean, if we're going to assume that any explanation must be better than no explanation, then I'll go ahead and posit that consciousness and free will arises due to the presence of immaterial and undetectable "mind" particles that permeate the universe and accumulate over time in our brains.  Sure, I have no evidence that these particles exist, let alone that they do what I claim they do, but apparently that doesn't matter as long as they explain the observed phenomena that we do have consciousness and free will, right?  And can anybody prove that my immaterial and undetectable particles don't exist?

The bottom line, as always, is that atheism is not a claim to have all the answers about everything in the universe -- it is simply a lack of belief in the claim made by theists that they do have all the answers to everything in the universe.  Sure, I suspect that scientists (not "atheists", mind you) will someday figure out just how consciousness and free will arises naturally from matter and energy.  Or perhaps they really will find evidence of the "mind" particle I joked about earlier.  But until they do, it doesn't mean that the "God" explanation must be true in the meantime, any more than it was true that Thor was responsible for thunder until we figured out how it was really caused.

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