Arguments for Atheism - Living without religion, with a clear conscience


Atheists would claim that the naturalistic, scientific model of the universe is such a good predictor of what is observed in the real universe that no additional supernatural elements are required. Even though our knowledge of science and the workings of the universe is still woefully incomplete, it is already sufficient to paint a convincing picture of how things came about, all without the necessity of bringing in a spurious supernatural entity to fill in the gaps.
The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
- Richard Dawkins (1995)

The universe we actually observe, complete with intelligent life, is exactly the sort of universe we would expect to observe under current scientific knowledge of the natural laws. On the other hand, a theistic universe, created and ruled over by an all-powerful, all-loving god, should have features that in fact it does not, and should lack features that in fact it has. Atheistic naturalism, therefore, appears to be a better explanation than theism of the universe we actually find ourselves in.

For example, the chances of the particular chemical mix which would create life occurring in the universe by random accident are extremely small, but not zero. To use an analogy, if the odds of winning a lottery are a one in a billion chance then, if a billion people play, it is actually highly probable that someone will win it. The universe has been mixing chemicals for over fourteen billion years in over a billion-trillion star systems. The chances of absolutely nothing arising from over such a time scale and such a number of chemical interactions would have to be extremely small. And we are evidence (and, to date, the only evidence we have throughout the whole observable universe) that such an unlikely event did occur at least once.

If we add to this the possibility that, as some scientists and philosophers believe, our universe is just one of a potentially infinite series of parallel universes in a “multiverse”, each with different natural laws, features and properties, then the chances of our particular universe occurring naturally exactly as it does obviously becomes 100%.

While we do not as yet have one definitive theory for how the mechanics of the process actually occurred, we have been able to show scientifically that the necessary ingredients were available on the primeval earth, to document how amino acids could be produced and form into self-replicating chains, to show how unintelligent natural selection can produce incredibly precise fine tuning over time, etc. A plausible naturalistic working theory therefore exists with no need of an ad hoc supernatural element.

As has been argued in more detail in the sections on the Teleological Argument and Intelligent Design, it is also difficult to understand why a designer god would have gone to the trouble of creating trillions of individual galaxies separated by billions of miles of empty space around our world (the vast majority of which is lethal to human life), establishing complex gravitational laws, complex chemical and physical processes that extend down to the infinitesimal sub-atomic level, etc, etc. Nor is it clear why he would have designed life on earth such that it follows an evolutionary path over millions of years (as the fossil record shows us), using a complex chemical code at the molecular level that copies itself and mutates naturally, rather than presenting a fully-formed fait accompli. It is too much to believe that God designed the universe to look exactly like it would have to look if God did not exist.

Everything we know about science suggests that there is no observable divine hand in nature as a causal process, and that the universe is actually dispassionate and blind, exhibiting no value-laden behaviour or message of any kind, and everything we find turns out to be the inevitable product of mindless physics. Thus, “everything works” without the need for the additional assumption of a divine presence behind the scenes of nature and, as William of Ockham realized back in the 14th Century, the simpler explanation is always preferable to a more complex one.

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