Is Atheism Just the Rejection of Belief in Gods?

In discussing atheism with atheists I’ve noticed that there is a good deal of resistance on their part whenever I claim that atheism, logically, is in the possession of a positive ideology: naturalism. No, they will say, an atheist is just someone who sees no good reasons to take any of the claims of religious believers seriously. It is the religious believers who make wild claims about the nature of the universe and the existence of gods, and it is the atheist who, asking for positive evidence for their claims, and receiving none, moves on. That’s all an atheist is. Nothing more. Atheists also can’t prove that Bertrand Russell’s teapot is orbiting Uranus, but that doesn’t mean that we are in possession of a positive and hostile anti-teapot ideology known as “anti-teapotism.” We just see no good reasons to think that teapots orbit Uranus or that invisible gods orbit the heavens. 

Capiche?

But clearly this response is mendacious, for while it is true that atheists cannot prove that gods don’t exist—you can’t prove a negative—this doesn’t mean that a rejection of theistic explanation doesn’t have a consequence: it means that you must, by necessity of logic, have the positive belief that the universe consists of matter—atoms and void—and nothing else.

But this too is a claim—a thesis—that exceeds the empirical, for the universe appears not just to be made of material, it also appears as if it might have some sort of mind or telos behind it (the laws of physics being one example of this appearance). In other words, atheism cannot be the default “king of the hill” starting point upon which positive claims about the existence of gods are to be judged, for the atheist is in possession of his (her) own very definite thesis: the universe is atoms and void and nothing else.

And so atheism is not just the rejection of belief in gods. It is the positive claim, itself not subject to empirical verification, that the universe consists of matter.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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47 Responses to Is Atheism Just the Rejection of Belief in Gods?

  1. Heuristics says:

    I agree with the general direction you are taking your argument but I think it can be made a bit better.

    >”for while it is true that atheists cannot prove that gods don’t exist”
    This is a very recent talking point among atheists, for hundreds of years they proclaimed to in fact be able to prove that God (of any standard abrahamic kind) was a logical impossibility by simply referring to the logical problem of evil (incoherence = impossibility, or so we tend to think anyways). Things are not so easy nowdays since Plantigas free will defense solved the logical problem for non-compatibilists. So now one tends to hear that rather then God being impossible the concept is just very improbable, a much much smaller claim.

    >”this doesn’t mean that a rejection of theistic explanation doesn’t have a consequence: it means that you must, by necessity of logic, have the positive belief that the universe consists of matter—atoms and void—and nothing else.”
    Here you make a very good observation, any stance you take on any issue comes at a cost, atheism has a cost and it is wise to take count of what this cost is. However the atheist is not strictly speaking in need of proclaiming that all that exist are atoms in the void (that is what the logical positivistic/scientistic atheist needs to do though). An atheist could for example believe in the existence of ghosts (in Sweden many atheists in fact do, to my large surprise).
    It is rather that the atheists that feel compelled to eject metaphysics from the table of worldview contents needs to ally himself with the idea that the only thing that matters is that which can be objectively measured, if they do not do this then they are just one worldview among many, unable to make any claim worth listening too.
    But as you point out, this is very costly. The human experience is full of things that appear to be very different then atoms moving around in the void and there would need to be a very good argument for why the experience of pain is nothing above or other then a couple of atoms moving in a certain way, that there is no such thing as subjectivity or for that matter mathematics.
    Of course atheists are not stupid, the anti-theists that actually take their epistemology seriously know this already (unfortunately this is a very very very very very small group of them, at least in Sweden) and they try their hardest to sweep these things under the rug by proclaiming that they in fact are just atoms moving about in the void and anything more then that simply does not exist. Personally though I find their arguments for why this would be the case to be of much less weight then the actual experience of subjectivity itself.

    • santitafarella says:

      I appreciate the qualifications on my post. I read over the summer, in UFO Magazine, an article by an atheist who believes in angels! Weird.

      —Santi

  2. Heuristics says:

    Oh, I forgot to write about the general cost of atheism, in the previous post I wrote about the specific cost of the typical internet forum atheist.

    The price of general atheism is (as you write) the consequence of the rejection of telos, that without telos in the foundation there is no collection of atoms that is more correct then any other, all collections of atoms have the same value. A group of cancer cells has the same value that a puddle of water has. The reason this tends to go unnoticed is the assumption that even though there is no foundational objective value or purpose humans themselves can create purpose and value. However the universe cares not for what humans think they can create and the arguments for why this would be are only on the level of “I can create value because I believe I can create value!”. No mention of why humans would be the kind of thing capable of value creation is given other then perhaps a reference to subjective experience, but since an aught does not follow from an is there is no reason that subjective experience should be the creator of value (it probably does appear to be the case that humans can create value for an atheist however, which is why they can still behave morally, the question is rather: what warrant does one have for the view that value can exist?).

    To have value creation one first needs something else then only matter since all matter configurations are inherently equal in worth. Subjective experience is not a bad first step towards value creation but all subjective experiences are, like matter, at start, of equal value. There is on this view something missing, a warrant for why a matter configuration giving rise to a subjective experience is the more valued subjective experience. If one places the value functionality to be determined from subjective experience then one has the following:

    Matter creates subjective experience->
    Subjective experience is valuable->
    Some subjective experience is more valuable then others.

    This I think is the general direction taken for most general atheists (ie the typical kind, not the kind that thinks that subjectivity does not exist and posts on internet message boards). The warrant problem here lies in the question: Why should we think that humans have the kind of system capable of detecting the value of subjective experience? Does blind and random evolution have a mechanism for selecting for the right kind of value making subjective experiences? Perhaps we have it all wrong and pain is the thing to strive for but it just wasn’t the kind of thing evolution was able to select for.

    • santitafarella says:

      Heuristics:

      Hmm. I think the role of contingency is in play here. The eagle should not derive its values or take advice from the crow. That’s William Blake.

      —Santi

      • Heuristics says:

        This was a very interesting thread (as the amount of comments also would suggest). I have thought a bit more about it now I want to try to lay out where I see the argument working:

        First, a very small atheistic worldview:
        1. Nature = that which exists and exists without purpose/telos.
        2. The material world = the natural world.
        —–

        So far so good, but how about the following?

        1. Nature = that which exists and exists without purpose/telos.
        2. The material world = the natural world.
        3. Life has the possibility of introducing purpose in the natural world, of creating the unnatural
        4. The human mind is unnatural, it can create purpose in nature
        ———

        I think the second position requires that the atheist affirms the existence of something other then the existence of matter in the human mind for it to work, some atheists do (David Chalmers for example). But a very large (probably majority of philosophical atheists) do not, Dennet or Dawkins probibly would not for example.

        So I think you have a very powerful argument here against the thought that the eliminative materialistic atheists (basically the new atheists) are only and just saying that God probably does not exist and nothing more. They are also claiming that there is no telos or purpose and this is an extremely large claim, probably on the order of being one of the largest I have come across anyone actually making seriously. anywhere in the material world, in nature. That there is any such thing as value. Might be true, but it is a very large claim.

        But an atheist, i think, can get around this by postulating the existence of mental states, why such a thing as mental states should exist for an atheist without telos in the foundation is an interesting question though. I do not think evolution would be capable of providing an answer for why mind states are experienced (since mind states cannot produce any behavior that pure matter could not, so evolution has nothing to act on).

      • santitafarella says:

        Heuristics:

        You said: “I do not think evolution would be capable of providing an answer for why mind states are experienced (since mind states cannot produce any behavior that pure matter could not, so evolution has nothing to act on).”

        I’ve never heard of that before. That is a very, very interesting issue.

        —Santi

      • santitafarella says:

        Heuristics:

        As for the mind as a higher level platform (over the material), this might be a “must get” book for you:

        Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman.

        His metaphor is the chess board and the higher level game being played over it.

        —Santi

      • Heuristics

        [Atheists]

        …are also claiming that there is no telos or purpose and this is an extremely large claim, probably on the order of being one of the largest I have come across anyone actually making seriously. anywhere in the material world, in nature. That there is any such thing as value. Might be true, but it is a very large claim.

        The oposite is an even larger claim, by far. Isn’t it?

      • Heuristics says:

        santi: Thanks for the book suggestion, it does seam to be the kind of thing I would be interested in 🙂 (I just ordered it, should arrive from England in about a week)

        Regarding evolution:
        Every action a human or animal takes as viewed from the outside (objectively) can (most likely) be explained in terms that make no mention of the subjective. A human might make the statement “I am having a very bright red subjective experience right now!”, this statement can however be made by any computer or even a tv or a piece of paper very easily, yet that computer/tv/paper would not then actually have a bright red experience. So what use then for subjective experience from an evolutionary perspective? There does not appear to be any fitness regarding subjective experience that can be optimized for by blind evolutionary processes since any subjective action could be done by non-subjective atomic processes (ockhams razor kicks in and shaves away the subjective).

        That was just for the view that the subjective can both be influenced by the physical and in turn influence the physical back though. If we look at the more typical epiphenomenal atheistic view regarding the subjective: “The brain gives rise to the subjective but the subjective is not measurable” then it is strictly impossible for evolution to have any meaningful impact on the subjective since the brain can only create the subjective but the subjective cannot be measured (ie cannot influence the brain back), here evolution cannot in any way even theoreticaly when disgarding ockhams razor separate one mind state from another since they have no effect on the physical. So this is an evolutionary argument against epiphenomenalism.

        Gato:
        I do not think you understand the scale of the statement, from the view of that statement it is not possible to make statements, saying that the opposite view is a larger statement is self-defeating since there is no starting point to judge largeness of statements without first presupposing the existence of purpose.

  3. noreligion says:

    Santi,

    As far as proving a negative, no you can’t disprove god but when that god is defined as the god in the bible, it can be disproven just as easily as a square circle can. As toward your argument that atheists have a positive belief, you are wrong. A rejection of theist implies nothing but a rejection of theism. Perhaps in the minds of theists that can’t wrap their mind around anyone not believing as they do it is logical but in reality that leap is not justified. It is also quite arrogant for anyone to presume to tell me as an atheist that I have a positive belief in spite of me telling them otherwise.

    • santitafarella says:

      Noreligion:

      Once you say that you are an atheist, there’s an unavoidable consequence that follows (if you are to be logical): you have to be a naturalist. Period. In simple terms, you have to believe that everything in the universe is accounted for by blind and contingently acting material atoms and void. Naturalism is a positive metaphysical position that exceeds the empirical. Tell me what an atheist could be, save a naturalist. What middle position is there between naturalism and supernaturalism?

      —Santi

      • Ian says:

        Well. Ya don’t need God to believe in an afterlife. You don’t need God to believe in ghosts. I’m an atheistic believer in the supernatural.

        But no, I don’t think that very many Atheists believe in the supernatural.

        Another in-between might be, I don’t believe in God, but I am unsure/agnostic about my soul.

        Also, Russel’s teapot applies equally to the existence of supernatural forces. I’ve never seen them, they could exist, but because they don’t exert a discernible force on the universe, why postulate their existence?

      • santitafarella says:

        Ian:

        A person who is an atheist who believes in ghosts is still a naturalist because the ghosts have to be accounted for in non-telos terms: as a contingent phenomenon.

        An atheist is a naturalist. And if an atheist believes in supernatural or extra universes, all of those have non-teleological and contingent explanations as well.

        You can’t run, in my view, from the positive metaphysical affirmation that undergirds all atheism: non-teleological and contingent naturalism. At some level, everything ultimately comes from atoms and void.

        —Santi

      • Ian says:

        If you want an example of atheistic telos, Dust in the science fiction series “His Dark Materials” is quite applicable. Instead of a God figure, why not say that there are particles of sentience? Each particle is of it’s own willpower, and perhaps each particle decides which quantum state its surroundings will choose. That, though very unlikely, could be a position of an Atheist.

      • noreligion says:

        Atheism in of of itself is not a positive belief and it is extreme arrogance in light of an atheist telling you to continue presuming that you know my thoughts better than I.

    • “It is also quite arrogant for anyone to presume to tell me as an atheist that I have a positive belief in spite of me telling them otherwise.”

      It’s not arrogant to describe the logical parameters of a belief. In fact, whether or not a person is ‘arrogant’ in making a particular statement is irrelevant, however unpalatable we find it. From a philosophical point of view what is important is whether the statement is true.

      As an aside, technically a square circle can’t be disproven, it’s not in the category of ‘things that can/cannot be proven’. But I understand the point you were making.

      • noreligion says:

        It is arrogant to tell me that I have a positive belief due to my atheism when I an atheist tell you I do not. Worse than that is the utmost of arrogance when someone has the audacity to argue about it. Now I am interested in something you say, how can you prove a square circle possibly exists. Define a square (the real mathematical definition please) and define a circle (real mathematical definition). Now explain how an object with conflicting definitions is possible.

  4. Santi

    Is Atheism Just the Rejection of Belief in Gods?

    Yes it is just that.
    As I’ve said already I think you just invert the equation.
    Naturalism is a set of positive claims that leads to atheism, atheism is a consequence, it’s not a positive claim in itself.

    It is also quite arrogant for anyone to presume to tell me as an atheist that I have a positive belief in spite of me telling them otherwise.

    Noreligion nails it precisely, I couldn’t have said it better.

    • santitafarella says:

      Gato:

      As a practical matter, to call yourself an atheist is to declare for naturalism, and to call yourself a naturalist is to declare for atheism. They are synonymous. Atheism is naturalism set in the form of negative propositions (“I don’t believe in gods, or the existence of mental states separate from the material brain etc.”). Naturalism is atheism set in positive propositions (“The universe consists of atoms and void, when the brain stops functioning you cease to exist etc.”).

      —Santi

      • “I don’t believe in gods, or the existence of mental states separate from the material brain etc.”

        I don’t agree that atheism means a rejection of dualism, as dualism don’t implies God. One can believe in afterlife but disbelive God, they are not logically uncompatible. However, it doesn’t mean that in real life there are atheists who are dualists.
        So I disagree that atheism and Naturalism are synonymous.
        As a practical matter I agree that atheists are naturalists, however it doesn’t mean that “Atheism” = “Naturalism”.
        Also if you think that the issue is Naturalism/Atheism x Supernaturalism, and you seem to reject right away Atheism/Naturalism then you cannot claim to be “agnostic” as you like to do, don’t you think?

  5. Besides what been atheist is or is not

    for the universe appears not just to be made of material, it also appears as if it might have some sort of mind or telos behind it (the laws of physics being one example of this appearance)

    I find this to be an odd claim as I don’t know what it’s meant. Why “it [the Universe] also appears as if it might have some sort of mind or telos behind it..”? Because it works someway and not another way? How do you think it should look like if it did not “appears as if it might have some sort of mind or telos behind it..”?
    As for

    “the universe is atoms and void and nothing else”

    It seems things are even worst as physicists today say that 99% of the Universe are dark matter, dark energy, and empty space. All matter (known elementary particles) and energy, so including all galaxies, stars, planets, us, all this are 1% of the whole Universe. Which means that we are more ‘irrelevant’ than we previously thought.
    Creppy isn’t it?
    So I really don’t know what you mean by [the Universe]

    appears as if it might have some sort of mind or telos behind it (the laws of physics being one example of this appearance)

    I have no idea of what are you talking about. And I think neither you.

    • santitafarella says:

      Gato:

      You are free to feign obtuseness about the perplexities of accounting for the laws of physics on naturalist terms. If natuaralism makes perfect sense to you, what can I say? I see perplexities in it everywhere. How, for example, do determinate atoms and void make for the illusion of free will? And why would the cooling of hydrogen atoms pass through such a weird phase as our own existences? It’s as if the water boiling in a teapot, on cooling down, made a flower.

      —Santi

      • Ian says:

        I call on my good friend quantum physics to explain the illusion of free will. We are governed by probability, not determinism. But even without probability, we can account for the illusion of free will.

        The illusion of free will implies self-consciousness. While we are conscious of ourselves, we are not conscious of our subconscious processes, nor are we completely aware of the external factors that influence us. Because we do not understand ourselves, we cannot make very accurate predictions about what choices we will make. That means that our choices appear to have no guiding pattern. That lack of a guiding pattern gives rise to the idea that humans have free will.

        Whatever the case, free will seems like something that effectively doesn’t exist. I mean, give me free will, and then put me in a situation where I can jump out of the way of a speeding train, and I, along with every one else, will choose to jump out of the train’s way.

        I have no idea what you mean by the second example. We are comprised of more than cooling hydrogen atoms. Evolution is a good explanation perhaps? I don’t really understand the question I guess.

      • Ian says:

        And I have a question. If God is omniscient, how can we have free will? Free will means that we get to determine our future, which means that god cannot know the future. If he knows the future, then we cannot make an alternative choice.

      • santitafarella says:

        Ian:

        Go to the link below this post for the hydrogen clarification.

        —Santi

      • Well, now you say “perplexities”, which is quite different than to say that the Universe appears to have a telos. Why?
        Or refrasing it: why a Universe that have a “telos” makes more sense or is less paradoxical than a Universe that haven’t it?
        Perplexity here, perplexity there, don’t you think?
        I’m not playing dumb here, I really don’t know what you mean. Why the Universe appear to have a telos? Because we exist? That is, because our species have been for the last 200.000 years of the 4.500.000.000 years of the Earth and the 13.500.000.000 of the Universe? An Earth where 98% of all species that have existed are now extint? What frankin telos is that?

    • santitafarella says:

      Ian:

      As for free will, I agree with you that an all knowing God screws up free will for us. If someone knows the future now, then the future is not open. Maybe God closes his eyes and plays dice with the universes he creates (if God exists). Jesus seemed not to know things, and yet was also (supposedly) God at the same time. Maybe God can hide from himself.

      —Santi

  6. santitafarella says:

    Gato and Ian:

    Here’s a link that explicates my hydrogen question:

    https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/boiling-hot-and-young-hydrogen-atoms-gone-wild/

    —Santi

    • Ian says:

      That was a very interesting video. To answer the question “why would the cooling of hydrogen atoms pass through such a weird phase as our own existences,” I would say, and this might be seen as a dodge, because of the laws of physics.

      Now of course, the question becomes, why were the laws of physics set as they are? Why do they facilitate life while any tweaking with the values of each law would produce a completely different universe? Dawkins answers this quite well.

      The universe is entirely inhospitable to life. The vast majority of it is empty, lung-sucking space. And then you get these orbs of fusion on which life again cannot exist. Gamma rays and supernovae and black holes abound. It is not as if this universe was designed to facilitate our creation. Our planet is exceptional. So depending on your perspective, there *could* be more life friendly universes out there.

      Anywho, the teleological argument raises the question, who designed God? If God wasn’t designed, then why can’t our universe be left without a designer?

    • I’m on a slow (at least for video watching) connection so I have to spare this video by now.
      However if your description is acurate I must say that I have an issue with:

      we are the things that young and hot “hydrogen atoms do” after they’ve cooled and aged over 13.7 billion years

      If this line implies that we are a necessary achievement of hydrogen atoms cooled and aged over 13.7 billion years. I don’t think so.

      • Ian says:

        The statement is a condensed version of the big bang theory. In the beginning we were just a bunch of hot hydrogen and helium. Then as the universe cooled and expanded, hydrogen atoms combined in stars to produce heavier elements which then exploded through the universe.
        It’s weird that the initial conditions of the universe would give rise to such complex structures as cells or humans.

      • It’s weird that the initial conditions of the universe would give rise to such complex structures as cells or humans.

        I don’t think this is more weird than the alternative, that an all powerfull, all knowing, all-etc God created everything. Why it should be?

  7. Just a small point: It’s UNIVERSAL negatives that can’t be proved (eg there is no life anywhere else in the universe). Some negatives (eg there is no life on Mars) can be proved.

    As you’re aware “there is no god” is a universal negative

    🙂

  8. santitafarella says:

    Spritzo:

    Yes, you are right. It’s a fair clarification.

    —Santi

  9. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    The universe is perplexing with or without telos. There is so little we know. A little humility on the question of why there is a universe with so much beauty in it might suit you better.

    —Santi

    • Santi

      You begin all this by telling atheists what they are, and think, no matter what the atheists say and think themseves.
      You claim that the Universe

      appears not just to be made of material, it also appears as if it might have some sort of mind or telos behind it (the laws of physics being one example of this appearance)

      I ask you ‘why?’ and you didn’t answer (but acuse me to play obtuseness), maybe because for you it’s obviously so. It is not.
      Then you talk about ‘perplexities’, and I can only assume that you may think that the Universe makes more sense with a telos than without it. I ask you again ‘why?’ and you say it is perplexing either way.
      So I’m the dark here. I have no idea of wtf you are talking about.
      And as piece de resistance now you come to give lessons on humility?
      Laughable.

  10. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    As for humility, I vote for Socrates.

    —Santi

    • Right.
      However I don’t think it’s too arrogant to recognize that, even though we “know little” (compared to the scale of what is knowable), it’s still alot more than what Socrates and the like knew at the time.

  11. Heuristics

    Maybe I didn’t. So lets try to clarify things a little bit, taking these two propositions:

    A)The Universe don’t have a purpose;
    B)Purpose don’t exist in the Universe

    As I see it, (A) are not (B), and (A) don’t imply (B) or vice versa neither, so if (A) is true (false) it doesn’t mean (B) is true (false), but as I understand you that’s exactly your point: (A) = (B). I’m geting it now?

    I have to say also that (A) is not a bigger claim that non-(A), and that’s what I was trying to say. To claim that the Universe have a purpose is a much bigger claim than to say it haven’t, IMO, given the evidence.

    As for the evolution x subjectivity issue, with all due respect, I’m not sure that you know what you are talking about, be it human subjectivity and/or evolution, as nobody AFAIK actually knows what conscienciousness, and subjectivity really are. Although, the evidence we have sugests, that both are products of the brain.

    I do not think evolution would be capable of providing an answer for…

    Unlike Santi I have seen this line already over and over as it’s a kind of creationist standard statement, just fill in the dots with anything you want: the eye, the blood clothing system, the imunological system, the bacterian flagelum, etc.
    Unimpressive I say.

    So what use then for subjective experience from an evolutionary perspective? There does not appear to be any fitness regarding subjective experience that can be optimized for by blind evolutionary processes since any subjective action could be done by non-subjective atomic processes (ockhams razor kicks in and shaves away the subjective).

    The aparent fact that you can’t imagine an evolutionary role for subjectivity, doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. Or maybe really there isn’t one, and ToE can’t explain it (it doesn’t mean to explain subjectivity, and everything else, like gravity, in the first place you know?), therefore we would need another scientific naturalistic theory, and not to kneel to Yahweh, I think. BTW your “red experience” example seems to be a bad one, as to me it’s obvious that the ability to see colour had probably an enourmous evolutionary role to us, and other species with the same ability. If this is what you meant, I’m not sure.

    • Heuristics says:

      Gato:
      Please stop it with the standard internet forum anti-theist creationist label-throwing, it is very unimpressive (and in 2010 actually rather boring, as a homogenous blob of internet forum posters without discernible individual personality y’all need to come up with new ways of irritating people, the old ones have stopped working).

      Neither A nor B was claimed. An analysis of what follows from ‘Nothing exists but atoms in motion’ was performed. The word ‘nothing’ there is somewhat important. If you do not agree with the word nothing there, well, that’s fine, but can you argue for that position? Your current argument “we do not know what counciousness is” is not impressive (it is on the order of “we do not know what caused the universe, therefor godddidit”, here it is “we do not know how counsiousness works, therefore there exists purpose”, actually that argument seams slightly worse then the goddidit argument), even given that somehow the brain, by some form of magic (completely unknown to our present day physics) creates something non-measurable (ie subjectivity) there are at least the following problems left (and these are simple compared to the physical problem):
      1. Humes Is–ought problem – Prescriptive actions do not follow from what exists.
      2. Ockhams razor – If it is non-measurable, it makes no changes in the physical world and should not be part of an explanation
      3. Subjectivity is not related to truth, the truth “pain should be avoided” is not knowable, evolution has no way of selecting for it, you would at most get “avoidance of pain leads to higher chances of having more children”, not “pain should be avoided”, (or, if you want to amuse yourself, insert a therefore between the sentences to get: “avoidance of pain leads to higher chances of having more children therefore pain should be avoided” and analyze what prescriptive morals follows from that… everything that potentially leads to fewer children should then be avoided).

      Reread my text again on subjectivity, my response to the criticism that evolution infact can select for the subjective was thought of in advance since I have already had this discussion several times over. When rereading it keep in mind that natural selection needs a fitness function (ie changes in the physical world, the very anti-thesis to subjectivity). Also please keep in mind that it is not an argument from christian creationists, it is an argument usually made by atheistic reductionists/eliminative-materialists (like Dennet or the Churchlands who deny the existence of consciousness or the subjective) in the philosophy of mind/cognition science against dualism. I used the argument to show that at the very least you need interactionistic dualism to even get off the plate to begin to get to something like purpose but even given that the view is very bleak and truth goes flying out the window.

      So to make sure you do understand, the derivation is as follows with regards to red experiences on epiphenominalism (but not interactionistic dualism):
      1. The brain creates subjective (red) experiences.
      2. Subjective experiences exist but cause no changes in the motion of atoms in the universe (ie epiphenominalism).
      3. Evolution needs a fitness function (changes in the motion of atoms) to select for something.
      4. Since subjectivity impossibly cannot have a fitness function evolution cannot select for it.
      5. Evolution has not selected for subjective experiences (from 3 and 4).

      And on interactionistic dualism:
      1. The brain creates subjective experiences.
      2. Subjective experiences exist and are themselves unmeasurable but cause changes in the motion of atoms in the universe (ie interactionistic dualism).
      3. Science does not posit more things existing than is required by our current observations (Ockhams razor)
      4. We have seen no unexplainable motion in atoms in the human brains
      5. We do not therefore have need of positing the existence of a new law of nature to explain the motion of atoms in the human brain.
      6. From Ockhams razor we then should not posit new laws of nature with regards to the brain.

      So, perhaps there is such a thing as subjectivity, but what are the arguments, on atheism, on a purposeless foundation for it?

      • Heuristics

        Please stop whinnig. If the emperor wears no cloths don’t blame me for say that He is naked. It happens that it’s quite boring to still have in 2010, people who probably never understood Evolution in the first place, but think to know something that the experts do not. Like this:

        3. Evolution needs a fitness function

        This is an oddness I’ve never heard before, maybe it’s for my ignorance, and if it’s so I hope you can enlighten me (tha’s why I engage in such exchanges). Looking for myself although I’ve find out that what needs a fitnes funtion is a genetic algorithm. Genetic algorithms try to simulate Evolution but must not be confused with Evolution if I get it right. So your definiton and understanding of Evolution seems flawed.
        You say:

        1. The brain creates subjective (red) experiences

        I fully agree, but there are some questions: What are these “subjective experiences” the brain suposes to do? Or what we mean by “subjective experiences”? How the brains does that? What are the relationship between the brain and those “subjective experiences”?
        Without answering these questions I can’t see how the hell can you afirm:

        2. Subjective experiences exist but cause no changes in the motion of atoms in the universe

        As I see (and I can be completely wrong) a squizophrenic may have a subjective experience in which people around him are chasing and hunting him, then as a response to this subjective experience he shoots and kill as many as he can. Isn’t that a subjective experience causing changes in the motion of atoms in the universe?

      • Heuristics says:

        Gato:
        Genetic algorithms can make use of fitness functions but the concept of a fitness function goes back to 1932, before we even had computers.
        A fitness function in evolutionary biology is the function used to calculate the height of a point in the fitness landscape. The hight of the fitness landscape in turn is how well a feature (genotype) of a species relates to that species ability to reproduce, it relates to how much it can be expected to be selected for/against due to natural (valueless and blind) selection.
        Any feature (genotype), like for example subjective experience, needs to be able to make changes in the height of the evolutionary fitness landscape for evolution to be able to select for or against it. I argued for that epiphenominalism has no fitness function and thus makes no changes in the evolutionary landscape, ie it cannot be selected for or against. I also argued for that we cannot know if interactionistic dualism has a fitness function, though it theoretically could because it would always be excluded due to Occam’s razor. So, in science we can only sensibly make use of materialistic explanations for calculations in evolutionary biology and the subjective gets eliminated there. It might still exist, but it would require arguments outside of science for it.

        I am an agnostic with regards to the philosophy of mind (with the exception of eliminativistic materialistsm which i reject) and did not argue for the correctness of any philosophy of mind hypothesis. I did do an analysis of what would follow given certain premises however.

        A subjective experience is a qualitative phenomena that is distinct from the properties of matter, ie it is something other then position, velocity, angle etc. A subjective experience that is unable to cause changes to atoms is of the epiphenomenal type, a subjective experience that can cause changes to atoms is an interactionistic type (though separate in some way from atomicness).

        I offered arguments for why both of these types of subjective experiences are hard to account for with evolution and those arguments are arguments most often used by atheists for the falsity of those positions and the correctness of reductionistic materialism.

  12. Heuristics

    Thanks for the thoughtfull response.
    I’m becoming a little busy by now so I probably will have to take some time to respond.
    Do you have some links on the arguments you are using? About subjective experiences and epiphenomenalism in special?
    I’ll be gratefull.

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