As a bit of background: I was doing some searching for existential arguments when I happened upon this page from "Common Sense Atheism." This article written by Luke Muehlhauser is a response to an article by Tawa Anderson on "Apologetics 315," and I decided to respond to both of them here.
The first of Tawa’s arguments for God and the one that I want to discuss here is "Can Man Live Without God? An Existential Argument from Human Religiosity.” Luke points out: "Tawa notes that every ancient and medieval culture was highly religious, and that 'there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.'" However, Luke has no (real) response. He only scoffs, "Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you." Will they? This article and this article from the New York Post and this article from the Guardian, all tell very different stories about Scandinavian happiness than seems to be touted in the atheist blogosphere. The basic points in those articles are that Scandinavians are actually among the saddest people in the world, it's the social norm there to conform and claim happiness and uniformity above all else. Sure they might be among the best educated in the world, as Luke seems to fall into the confusion between causation and correlation as he blogs on this topic quite frequently. Let's not assume that just because they're unhappy atheists that that is why they are highly educated or vice versa. Perhaps education and atheism are only corollarily related.
After scoffing and wrongfully claiming that Scandinavians are happy atheists, Luke moves on to an appeal to the majority in the educated world: "Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you. (More scoffing/emphasis added.) Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you." Again not really an argument just mocking scorn. But, since he's gone there let's play the numbers, and if we're playing we might as well play big right? On Luke's other post about the causes of atheism he references this statistic: "non-believers skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900 to 918 million in 2000, or 0.2% of world population in 1900 to 15.3% in 2000" from this source. So, given approximately 10,000 years of recorded human history the largest percentage ever recorded was a measly 15.3%!? I am not a mathematician (I'm a linguist), but even I can tell that the incredibly vast majority of human beings throughout the entirety of human history were definitely religious, at least in some fashion. If anything this supposedly educated majority of people that are happy atheists is completely false given simple statistics. Also, let's look at educated religious people. This interesting article on "Examiner.com" counts some of the top IQs ever tested as being Christians or at least theists. Maybe the test is skewed to allow for a religious person to score higher (that was sarcasm!)?
So let's go back to Luke's only critique so far, "The claim that 'there is … a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God' is empirically false." Is it? We've shown clearly that trillions of people throughout history have had a desire for the ultimate, the other-worldly, the infinite. But, because there's been a jump in atheism in the past hundred years or so the claim that most people have a desire for God is "empirically false"? Perhaps Luke is misunderstanding the definition of empirically false. How is this argument "a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity"? It's a verifiable claim from history that most people want to connect with God. This verifiable fact implies that there is a hunger deep within humanity. What are we to make of this hunger? CS Lewis uses the analogy of one's hunger for food. If an animal was born without the hunger for food, that organism would die within one generation. Why are we still living with this desire if it's genetically disadvantageous to desire God, why is it still here? If it's genetically disadvantageous to desire moral actions why do we still have those desires as well? Luke's "critique" falls flat.
Luke's prejudice is clear when he calls belief in God "lies" that we ought to leave behind. Claiming that "meaning and morality and happiness ... is available without fear and superstition (again a sign of prejudice), that is when they leave childish (and again) and comforting notions about gods behind." I'm genuinely confused here though. In the very next paragraph Luke claims that religion "thrives on existential insecurity," but he just said that it's "childish and comforting." How can it be both comforting and full of insecurity? Again a weak critique here because it's internally inconsistent. Supposedly religion is childish and comforting, yet it seeks to unsettle its adherents. Apparently this one book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, is Luke's bible and much of his blogging apparently is founded on it. It may have something interesting to say, but so far based on Luke's comments reflecting what it says, I'm not impressed. That book claims that "Religion does not provide existential security – instead, it thrives on existential insecurity. It thrives on poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk." And, that "the poorest nations in the world are the most religious," to which I wonder if this took into account the difference in wealth between Islamic countries and Christian or (post-Christian countries) or atheist nation-states like China. Also, in a sense this is to be expected! "When people live in a society that already provides them with [any] security ... [that has] stability and safety and education and health care ..." etc. etc. "then people don't need (or want) gods anymore." (Quotes taken from the blog not from the book.) Of course, if you lacked nothing in your life, would you want something more? Oh wait that's the hallmark of the rich! They become rich because they want more and more. I found this interesting quote in Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, (I do NOT recommend the book in general, this is merely a quote) "The change in purchasing power over the last half century in the wealthy nations carries the same message: real purchasing power has more than doubled in the United States, France, and Japan, but life satisfaction has changed not a whit." Even Jesus taught this concept in Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25. Why would one think that people with money and security would want God? They already have security and all the "happiness" that money can buy, which if they're honest isn't really all that much. Apply this on a societal scale and see a similar result. If the government supplies all the money, food, health, lodging you could ever want why would you look to God for anything. That worked so well in the Soviet Union (again with the sarcasm). So what can we conclude from this? Safety and security provided by the state quickly and quietly errodes religion (particularly the weak, liberal religions that seek to appease society rather than God). Scandinavia is the poster child for this. As the weak, socially watered-down church there stopped appealing to God it became less and less appealing to people as their physical needs were all met by the socialist state.
This last bit is obvious and the clearest indicator that Luke has no understanding of the argument being discussed: "Does my yearning to be the next Matthew Bellamy suggest that I will be? Alas, no. Wishful thinking does not indicate truth." That is not what the existential argument is saying whatsoever. The argument does not say that wishing for God makes God exist. It says, there is an overwhelming desire within humanity for the divine. Therefore, there probably is something to that desire and the best explanation is that God put that desire in us. The argument is not saying that wishful thinking makes it so. Luke's critiques present a clearly flawed view and a deep misunderstanding of the argument in general. As I said, I don't particularly like the existential argument(s) for God, but Luke Muehlhauser clearly doesn't understand them. There is a big difference between not liking or thinking that an argument is ineffective and misunderstanding an argument and poorly critiquing it.
One last thing and this is more for my own edification than anything else. I'd like to try to put the (correct) argument in a syllogism.
P1) The vast majority of humanity has had a desire for God
P2) People *generally* do not persist in desires that have no possibility of being fulfilled
C1) There *probably* is a God
|From my recent trip to Korea|