Sunday, April 29, 2012

Are We All Just Soda Cans Fizzing A Particular Way?

There have been many theists advancing the argument that if materialism is true, in that everything is ultimately just atoms and molecules, then killing, maiming and torturing people, is just the mere rearranging of matter. So if a bomb went off killing 20 people it’s just the rearrangement of atoms, if you smashed someone’s head open with a club, it is just alteration of the atoms in their head. In other words, why should anyone care about the rearrangement of matter if there is no soul embedded within it, and no ultimate consequences? Pastor Doug Wilson in many debates is particularly fond of this argument, and he makes it with such tenacity that one gets the feeling that he really thinks he is making a logical argument. I guess many theists who he preaches to buy into this fatuous argument, but it does not even strike me with any hesitation as to its untenability.

First, I am a materialist in that I believe the physical world is all that exists. I see no evidence to the contrary. All things in the universe, including life, are ultimately made up of atoms. The materialist rejects the existence of the soul that the theist believes is necessary to have morality. Do people like Doug Wilson really not see a difference between something that is alive and something that is inanimate? It is because we are alive, it is because we are conscious, sentient beings, capable of feeling pain, and emotion that makes the difference between us and inanimate matter. Does Doug Wilson really not have the ability to tell life from non-life? Could he tell the difference between a Zebra and a rock, or a Manatee from a boulder? Apparently to him, it’s all just matter, no difference there at all. I hate to be blunt, but I really wonder if he is that stupid.

If I were to smash a rock with a hammer, there is a huge difference between doing that and smashing open the head of a person or animal. We know the rock is not alive, we know it doesn’t think, reproduce, have any kind of dreams or hopes for the future, or have any kind of sensitivity to pain or emotion. If rocks were capable of such properties, then we surely would want to reconsider our treatment of them. But notice that none of these aforementioned properties sentient beings posses requires the existence of a soul. One doesn’t need a soul to be emotionally conscious or sensitive to pain. All one needs is a brain capable of a certain cognitive level and a nervous system, and evolution by natural selection can produce that without need for appeal to the supernatural.

Regarding the theistic argument that in a materialistic world view, if there are no ultimate consequences for our actions, then there is no reason to be moral, I counter argue that under monotheism such as Christianity and Islam, there is no ultimate justice either. The usual theistic argument is that if someone can get away with evil, and they are never caught and reprimanded for their actions, they can die and essentially get away with their deeds unrevenged. Hitler is often cited as a prime example, in that he orchestrated so much unnecessary suffering and had such little disregard for it, and never faced the consequences for his actions. His suicide stole away society’s retribution unto him.

Now it is true that under materialism, Hitler got away with his acts. There is no ultimate cosmic justice, and no ultimate cosmic judge. But I still have reasons to think materialism has a slight edge in terms of justice. Under Christianity and Islam, all one needs to do to be wiped of their sins is simply to convert and accept the correct prophets. Recognizing Jesus as the son of god and your savior, or that there is no god but allah and Mohammad is his prophet, immediately absolves you of your moral responsibility for all your sins, at least until that point. So, the serial killer who spends decades enjoying the torment and death of his victims need only to come to god before he is executed on death row, and all his sins are forgiven. But if some of victims happened to have been Hindu, Buddhist, pagan or atheist, not only are they brutally tormented and murdered under the will of a sadist in this world, when they die, they will then be tormented in unimaginably worse ways, at the will of god. Eternal conscious torment, what a loving idea. And so under monotheisms like Christianity and Islam, the murdering sociopath gets eternal paradise and his victims can get eternal torment. I have to scratch my head and in wonder and how anyone can truly believe this is an accurate description not only of justice, but perfect justice under a perfect god. Justice is synonymous with fairness and equality, and under the monotheistic world view, I see no such qualities in their perverted concept of it.

So the argument that we are all just soda cans fizzing in certain ways, and that it makes no difference which way we fizz because ultimately we are all just fizzing matter, is nothing more than theological rubbish. Once you have life capable of pain and emotion, and consciousness, you do have a difference between the atoms that make up such beings, and atoms that make up non living objects. Sure the atoms themselves are the same, but it is what they make up that makes the difference. Failure to see this I believe is the failure to use logic in the way necessary for our survival.  

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