I recently asked Shawn the Atheist to explain and justify his worldview commitments to atheism. He kindly obliged. His brief statement of belief and defense is available here. In what follows I will be interrogating that statement. For ease of reference I have rendered all quotations from Shawn in the same candy apple red as the 1966 Mustang convertible that I will never be able to own.
I base my decisions on what can and does exist in the universe on the physically evidenced understanding and direct experience of the majority of humanity.
Surely as a general statement this cannot be true (i.e. Shawn cannot really be doing this). For one thing the majority of humanity rejects atheism and accepts life after death. “Ahh,” comes the rejoinder, “but they don’t have direct experience of it!” Well perhaps, but I’m not even sure what it means in this context to have direct experience of something. Nor am I sure why this would be a compelling criterion. I am looking out my window right now at a blue spruce. I believe it exists despite the fact that it is not a direct experience of the majority of humanity. Heck, I believe I exist despite the fact that I am not part of the direct experience of the majority of humanity. I also believe that right now I’m thinking of a pink elephant even though that thought is not, and could not be, a direct experience of anybody but me. (Of course you could have your own thought of a pink elephant but you can’t have mine. If you think you can tell me what color the dots on it are and where they appear on the body.)
There are multiple other problems with this criterion. For instance, what constitutes physical evidence? Who decides what the majority of humanity has experienced? Must one have that information before a person can rationally believe in or know that something exists? And why accept this criterion in the first place?
My personal experience and that of independent, evidenced based research is that these laws cannot, and therefore could not ever have been, circumvented. If you believe these laws accurate, nothing “supernatural” can exist. In the history of humanity to date, nothing supernatural has been reliably evidenced (to the same standards as the “natural laws”) to exist.
First off, this statement assumes a particular, necessitarian understanding of natural law. But that is simply to ignore other interpretations of natural law including regularity accounts and instrumentalist accounts. Why does Shawn accept a necessitarian account of natural law, particularly when in the age of quantum physics they are about as fashionable as pink spandex at an AC/DC concert?
Even if one did have good reasons to accept a necessitarian account of the laws of nature, that doesn’t mean a divine mind cannot interact in the world. After all, human minds do this all the time. If the finite mind of a toddler can manipulate wooden blocks, surely the infinite omnipotent mind of a divine being could accomplish at least that much!
And that brings us to a final point. Even if it were the case that somehow the laws of nature precluded divine action at particular points in the spatio-temporal continuum (and I’d be very interested to see that argument) it still wouldn’t mean God does not exist. Indeed, on a Christian view God is the one who brought into being and upholds every moment the entire spatio-temporal continuum.
I have only begun working through Shawn’s manifesto but that, I think, is enough for one post.