I've been thinking a lot about metaphysics lately. To me, metaphysics is simply fundamental ontological claims that we do not have empirical evidence for. Metaphysics is integral in any worldview, and scientists use metaphysics all the time. The multiverse for example is technically metaphysics because we don't have - and may never have - any empirical evidence for it. It also might be unfalsifiable, but I'm not going to throw it out like yesterday's newspaper just because of this.
When debating with theists over god and religion, you are essentially having a metaphysical debate. Every worldview is metaphysical, including naturalism. I personally have no problem with metaphysics. In fact, it's probably my favorite branch of philosophy. Some of my fellow atheists don't agree and think metaphysics is just a stunning waste of time and thought. I couldn't disagree more.
Let's take a look at some of the definitions of metaphysics. Wikipedia says, "Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily defined." Merriam-webster defines it as, "a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology."
What is and what is not metaphysical is not always easy to define. Many atheists have a problem with metaphysics because it's too closely related to the claims theists make about reality, which are often based on either bad, little or no scientific evidence. I'd distinguish these kinds of claims from the metaphysical claims scientists make, like the multiverse, as bad metaphysics versus good metaphysics. Good metaphysics applies rational thought to empirical science. So although we don't have empirical support for the multiverse, we do have empirical evidence for inflationary theory, which strongly implies a multiverse in its math.
To the atheists who want to jettison metaphysics along with philosophy (metaphysics after all is a branch of philosophy) I'd be very cautious. Some atheists think so highly of science that they think science is going to replace all other epistemological fields. It's true that we atheists often privilege science as the most valuable epistemology, but we shouldn't get carried away and think that nothing outside of science offers value. We should let science guide our beliefs but acknowledge that science might not complete the whole picture. Where science leaves off, metaphysics begins, and properly done, a coherent metaphysical worldview takes the best available scientific evidence and facts and applies rational thought to it. I am convinced that doing so leads one to naturalism and far away from theism.
I just got back from the World Science Festival in Manhattan where there was a talk about the quantum measurement problem. The quantum measurement problem is traditionally where the different interpretations of quantum mechanics come in to explain the peculiar phenomena like the results of the double slit experiment. Hosted by physicist Brian Greene, Sean Carroll was there to represent the Many World Interpretation. After the show I got to meet him in person and have my picture taken with him. He was a lot taller than I expected but other than that he was very nice and cordial. I mentioned that I was a huge fan and that I particularly enjoyed his recent debates, especially the one with William Lane Craig.
It's so great being able to have access to some of your heroes in person. I actually saw Sean walking down the street right outside my job on the way to work this morning. Good thing I was late! Tomorrow I will be seeing the program about the latest developments concerning the gravitational waves that seemed to have confirmed inflationary theory. And later this weekend there will be several interactive exhibits and programs about science throughout the city, including a stargazing exhibition. It should be fun.
If theists are going to argue that god doesn't want to give us too much evidence because that would ruin the need for faith or the ability to reject him, then why are so many of them investing so much time and money into trying to convince us - using evidence - that god exists? I fail to see how evidentialist apologetics makes any sense, because if I'm somehow persuaded by the arguments for god and I'm convinced he exists, then isn't the theist defeating his own purpose? Wouldn't I then be unable to deny the existence of god? Wouldn't I then not require any faith? Wouldn't the power of the arguments for god provide the same kind of conviction in me as would god giving me proof?
It seems to me that evidentialism is a farce, (not that I ever thought that it wasn't.) The whole charade to convince the masses that god exists using evidence seems to undermine the very things those same theists say is required by god in order for us to get on his good side.
On a recent Q & A on Reasonable Faith, a fan of Dr. Craig's ministry asked whether it is logical for a being to be both atemporal and personal. Craig's answer: Yes! Here's how he goes about justifying it and where I think he goes wrong.
First, I have argued many times that a timeless mind is by definition, non-functional. Minds think. That's all they do. Thinking is a verb; it's a process. The absence of time means one cannot think, and if one cannot think, it doesn't have a mind. On Craig's view, god is atemporal only sans the creation, and is temporal with creation. Under this view, the god that exists now is a temporal god, who is "free" to change with the passage of time. So since Craig believes the god who exists since the moment of creation is temporal, I'm going to focus on the atemporal god who is said to have existed prior, whether logically or temporally, to creation.
The questioner quoted an argument from an apparent atheist that said:
A thinking creature has will, reason and make choices based on reasoning. A creature beyond time and space can therefore not make the choice, since he is not bound by time and his reasoning can not work in any particular order.
Craig's response is that god doesn't require discursive reasoning. which is the process of arriving at conclusions from rational thought and decision making. God's omniscience, Craig argues, precludes reasoning discursively because god already knows the answer, regardless of whether god is temporal or atemporal. And this, he says, in no way precludes god's personal nature. But let's examine this further.
I've recently been think about the traditional problem of evil. I'm talking about the argument that human moral evil is incompatible with the existence of an omnibenevolent god. The usual responses to the problem of evil are the free will defense, and skeptical theism. I want to offer a few quick rebuttals to the free will defense as a means to show how an omnibenevolent god is compatible with human moral evil.
1. If god prefers a world where moral agents can perform evil acts through the means of free will and considers such a world more valuable than one without free will, then this world is more valuable than heaven, because in heaven, it is believed, no one can perform evil acts and no one would therefore have free will. The possibility of free beings would entail evil actions could happen.
2. God could have made it so that all people born would naturally be good natured and wouldn't desire evil. He could have done this a number of ways, such as making it so that only the sperm cells that would make good people would ever be created or get to fertilize eggs. If this is not considered feasible or desirable, then a heaven where there is no moral evil is also not feasible and wouldn't seem desirable either.
3. If god cannot prevent human moral evil because it would violate free will, then it makes absolutely no sense to pray to god if you are ever threatened with violence.
These questions were floated around to atheists over the years and I'd thought I'd take a quick crack at them. These are my (extremely short) answers to them.
1. What caused the universe to exist?
The universe may not need a cause, especially if the B-theory of time is true. All causes in the universe are (a) temporal and (b) material, showing that our notion of causality doesn't necessarily apply to the origin of the universe, if it is the beginning of space and time.
2. What explains the fine tuning of the universe?
Chance. The same way that our planet is just the right distance from our sun to allow life to exist, so is our universe.
3.Why is the universe rational?
Because logical impossibilities are in fact, impossible.
4. How did DNA and amino acids arise?
Well we know amino acids can spontaneously arise naturally as the Miller-Urey experiments showed us, and as the building blocks of DNA, amino acids probably evolved from simpler molecules as in the RNA hypothesis. If "God did it" is your explanation, then you would be saying that scientists should stop doing all their research in molecular biology and close all their institutions, thus proving that faith is opposed to science.
5. Where did the genetic code come from?
It most likely evolved through many years and attempts from simple molecules to more complex ones.
6. How do irreducibly complex enzyme chains evolve?
There are no real irreducibly complex parts of biological systems, there is simply our current ignorance to how some of them formed, and there is a whole lot more ignorance by creationists who use things like the bacterial flagellum as an example of IC when it has been clearly refuted.
7. How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?
Languages evolved over tens of thousands of years all over the world. There is zero evidence that the biblical story of the Tower of Babel explains the origin of language, and most Christians today it seems even reject such an absurd story.
8. Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000 BC?
It was due to the invention or agriculture around 10,000 BC that lead to the first towns and cities being developed. When humans stopped hunting and gathering and began farming and domesticating animals, they had a reason to stay in one place permanently.
9. How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?
I'm not sure what independent thought means here, but if it is implying free will, there is no evidence of free will.
10. How do we account for self-awareness?
11. How is free will possible in a material universe?
Given the laws of physics that we have which are deterministic, there is no free will.
12. How do we account for conscience?
Through extremely complex interactions between neurons and chemicals the exact mechanism by which we don't yet understand. We do know that mind is a product of the brain and there is zero evidence that the mind controls physical brain states.
13. On what basis can we make moral judgements?
We usually assess whether our actions will benefit us and others and whether they will increase harm. We certainly don't use the Bible to make moral judgements, or else we'd actually increase harm and likely end up in jail.
14. Why does suffering matter?
Suffering matters because we recognize that it is a state we don't want ourselves and others to be in.
15. Why do human beings matter?
Because we have the most highly evolved cognitive faculties that allows us to make rational decisions as well as suffer to the highest extent of all other species.
16. Why care about justice?
Because we naturally care about fairness, and justice requires fairness.
17. How do we account for the almost universal belief in the supernatural?
Because it was evolutionarily beneficial for our ancestors to believe in false positives (believing in things that weren't there) and this lead to the belief in angels, demons, spirits and gods.
18. How do we know the supernatural does not exist?
For several reasons. (1) because of the reason I gave for number 17 which shows that evolution would have lead to our belief in the supernatural even if it didn't exist; (2) because we have no evidence for it, even though the supernatural is in principle verifiable since it is said to interact with the physical world; (3) assuming that the supernatural exists makes no sense when critically examined. For these reasons we can be reasonably confident the supernatural doesn't exist.
19. How can we know if there is conscious existence after death?
We can and already do know that consciousness is fully dependent on the physical brain and so when the brain goes, consciousness goes. There are also too many unexplained questions about consciousness and the soul for which no dualist has any satisfactory answers.
20. What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?
It is not an established fact that there was an empty tomb and resurrection appearances. They may have all been made up by the writers of Mark and Matthew, who wrote 40-50 years after the supposed events and were not eyewitnesses. Paul never mentions an empty tomb. See Four facts that aren't really facts.
As you can see, many of these questions probe the "God of the gaps" territory, and some, like the question about languages, are so bad even most Christians wouldn't recognize them as tough questions for the atheist.
And the nonsense continues with the theist who just won't understand...the amazing Randy demonstrates once again that he doesn't have a coherent explanation how the omnibenevolent god he believes in can be compatible with the unnecessary suffering of evolution. From his blog:
Welcome to Atheism and the City. This blog is about exploring atheism through contemporary urban living. I live in New York City, the secular metropolis, and I have an avid interest in all things religion, science, philosophy, politics, and economics. I am an atheist, a humanist, a philosopher and a thinker, and the purpose of Atheism and the City is to write about my thoughts and experiences on the subjects and topics that I have a passion for. Feel free to respond to any post whether or not you agree.