I’m all for reality testing, and I advocate it for all ideologies, but there is another reality as well, and it is this: a group of people perverse enough to hold a prejudice deeply enough can find epistemic justification for whatever they want to believe—and that’s true for atheist groups as well as theist groups.
For example, no amount of apparent “fine tuning” in the physics constants has ever converted more than a few atheists to theists—it just tends to send atheists concerned about the physics constants issue outside this singular universe into a multiverse hypothesis (so that you can get a greater probability of “time and chance” working its magic).
But this move by some atheists is quite akin to theist supernaturalism. The multiverse hypothesis is an inference to give some sort of probable accounting for our universe’s apparent “good luck” in having life and mind in it, and has no direct (and maybe not even indirect) experimental means of verification. Like theists, there are atheists willing to posit one or more (or infinite!) universes “next door” to this one. But these universes, if they exist, are forever inaccessible to us. We cannot, even in principle, ever visit them.
Another example is strict naturalism itself, which is a philosophical, not a scientific position. Like any other philosophical position, atheism rests on epistemic assumptions not verifiable by science. But an atheist, like a theist, has got to start somewhere. So the questions facing the atheist and the theist are the same, and equally intractable and impervious to settlement by empirical methods:
- What are your premises?
- Where do you start?
- How do you decide?
- What are reasonable inferences from the data that you have?
All of us have to try to answer these questions, and all of the questions invite question begging. We’re like Taylor and his buddies at the beginning of Planet of the Apes. Where are we? What should we do? We’re in something, but what?
Welcome to Fichte’s “flungness”:
As for me, as an agnostic I’m partial to Francis Bacon. I think (as did Bacon) that a great deal of theological speculation, being by its very nature separated from empiricism, results in airy (and largely dubious) intellectual castle building. I further think that contemporary empiricism, as a practical matter, narrows the range of probable inferences that a sensible nonfundamentalist person can make about where we are, and what is the nature of the universe. For example, I think it is fair to say that empiricism has safely taken the notion that we live on a young Earth (as many fundamentalists still assert) completely off the table.
Like Taylor and his buddies in Planet of the Apes, the human race’s first historical guesses about where we’ve “landed” have been proven largely wrong, and time is giving us more information, and narrowing our range of likely scenarios still available to us. Both atheism and some forms of theism are still living options. Let’s keep looking and thinking and doing science (so that our range of reasonable inferences can be narrowed still more).