Atheism and Nothing
One of the most popular ways to discredit an idea that you are opposed to or a viewpoint you disagree with is to smudge the truth when describing that stance in order to more easily knock it down. This fallacious act of deception is known as creating a strawman, because strawmen can be torn through while the real argument might take much more unpacking. Atheism, the disbelief or lack of belief in gods is one position that often attracts a lot of strawmen.
In this hub I want to talk about one of the most oft repeated misrepresentations of atheists, the idea that “Atheists believe in Nothing.”
The Strawman Cometh
The main argument here is that while theists have an explanation for the origins of the Universe, and everything else, that atheists don't have an explanation. So, theists deduce, atheists must believe that it all magically came out of, well, nothing. After all before the Big Bang there was absolute nothing right? So, the theists say, atheists must have amazing amounts of faith to believe that the Universe could have come into existence on its own without the command of a powerful supernatural being.
Well let's unpack this man of straw and delve into the pathetic philosophy and poorly understood physics that the believers who pull this stunt are using.
The Land Before the Big Bang
I'm no scientist but I do have a basic layman's understanding of the concepts we're dealing with when we talk about cosmic origins. In order to truly talk about such a subject in depth I'd probably have to have some kind of fancy degree and be able to solve mathematical equations that look more like hieroglyphs but a lack of understanding doesn't stop theists from having an opinion on the origins of the Universe. This is, of course, because they have a God of the Gaps to serve as an explanation.
Part of the problem here is that no one, even the most brilliant scientists on the planet, understands or knows what happened “prior” to the Big Bang. We have a Universe to observe and those observations tell us that the whole Universe was collapsed into a super-dense singularity about 14 billion years ago. Prior to the existence of this singularity we know nothing and from what I understand of science the idea of something being PRIOR or BEFORE the Big Bang doesn't even make sense within our understanding of time. Time and Space as we understand them came into existence at the Big Bang.
The greatest minds in the world work on this subject and are not certain of the ultimate origins of our Universe. Some say that in one form or another the Universe has always existed, or at least that SOMETHING has always existed, this seems backed up at least partially by the discovery that empty space is not actually empty but is alive with virtual particles popping in and out of detectable existence.
Some humility is needed when discussing these issues and there is nothing less humble than asserting that not only do you have an answer for the origins of the Universe that eludes scientists but submitting an unproven immaterial supernatural disembodied mind is the best explanation.
The Universe may be stranger than we can possibly imagine and as we press the boundaries of that understanding we may find our primitive animal logic and basic math skills woefully inadequate at grasping the complexity of the Cosmos. There may be a plateau beyond which our knowledge cannot go or there may simply be hurdles to overcome in fully realizing our species potential for discovery.
One of the things I've heard theists say about atheists is that we are cynical and lack imagination, that God and the things of God are outside of our experience and thus we dismiss them as delusions. This is not true of all atheists although there may be some closed-minded and short-sighted out there among the atheist “community” I for one am very open to the idea of there being higher intelligences, other worlds, alien lifeforms. While I do believe that all human gods tied to religions are fictional I do not rule out the idea of something being out there in the vast Cosmic ocean of galaxies.
I mentioned this is my hub God Given Knowledge when talking about Pastor Josh Feursteins laughable attempt at internet stardom by drawing a circle representing all the knowledge of the Cosmos, drawing a dot representing human knowledge and asking atheists if God might be out there in that vast circle. Of course a god might be out there but so too might many gods, so too might aliens. Feurstein's 100,000 dollar challenge is a ruse, not an admission of his own open-mindedness to what might be out there, he isn't ready to believe in all the possibilities that don't involve his particular God.
This brings to light the false open-mindedness of some theists and some Christians and, for that matter, conspiracy theorists and the credulous in general. Simply because it MIGHT be out there doesn't mean I should treat claims of it with credulity and doe-eyed stupidity. Wanting to believe in something means you should be more skeptical of it! This is a lesson I learned the hard way, by believing first with the same ignorant bliss but eventually having the intellectual honesty to go out and investigate and apply skepticism only to find that wrapping my ego around aliens, ghosts and bigfoot didn't make them real.
Nothing Don't Make No Sense
Theists act as though atheists MUST believe in magic, that the Universe, as complex and amazing as it is, must have accidentally or magically popped into existence out of absolute nothing. My biggest objection to this is a philosophical one and brings me back to my Intro to Philosophy course. One of the biggest questions in all of philosophy is Why is there SOMETHING rather than NOTHING?
To me this question is only valid if we can establish that NOTHING even describes a real state of affairs that can exist. For a believer the problem may seem obvious since, as I was taught, there was just God and then he created the Universe from nothing. In Christian theology the Universe is generally empty, God and his angels are off in “Heaven” which from what I was taught is not in our Universe but is another realm, another dimension of sorts. It seems to make sense that the Universe would start from nothing at all and someone or something would have to cause nothing to become something, that seems intuitive – but it also makes no damn sense.
In reality human beings have no experience with nothing in the actual sense of the word. Every single location in the Universe has something in it, space and time are full of things and, if scientists like Lawrence Krauss are to be believed even BEFORE our current Universe expanded at the Big Bang something may have existed.
Nothing is a concept, like perfection, it is used to describe the absence of things but Nothing isn't a real state of affairs (to steal from the Messianic Manic again). No thing is ever really perfect in life but the word perfect has meaning as a impossible standard for things to live up to, an ideal state of affairs. In the same way Nothing refers to the absolute absence of everything and anything. Is such a thing even possible? I submit that it is not and that the “problem of nothing” is not a problem for theists OR atheists because we have been asking the wrong questions.
Where did this all come from should be “in what form did all this exist in the past?” and why is there something rather than nothing should be, “is anything ever really created or destroyed?” Quite simply it seems to me that there is something rather than nothing because it is impossible and nonsensical for there to be nothing. Of course there is something, and nothing never was.
It is a logically sound thing indeed to conclude that the Universe in it's entirety is likely naturalistic. The supernatural has continually been proved wrong or irrelevant every time the natural world is studied. Deists once held that studying nature was how we could get a glimpse at the mind of God and yet time after time studying nature leaves a shrinking gap for believers to insert their God into.
It can become very frustrating when atheists and theists are merely talking past each other, misrepresenting each other and simply making fun of each other. While I don't think there is anything wrong with ridiculing beliefs (as long as we try our best not to ridicule the actual people) it is important that we try to represent those beliefs correctly if we want our point to get across.
The idea of nothing is just that, an idea, even the air around us is filled with air, dust particles, germs, even empty space isn't empty. We human beings have barely scratched the surface of our Universe and I think it is important to keep a truly open-mind. That doesn't mean being duped, indoctrinated or deceived even by those with sincere beliefs and good intentions, remember that wanting to believe it means we should be more skeptical.
There is nothing self-contradictory about naturalism and it does not require faith or credulity to hold to a naturalistic position. There is certainly no reason to invoke the supernatural to explain the natural especially without evidence to suggest that something supernatural even exists. And there is no shame in admitting when we do not know and in seeking real answers rather than accepting anything that comes along or makes us feel good.
Atheists don't believe in nothing, we simply do not believe in gods.