Does atheism entail determinism? Jerry Coyne seems to think so. He makes it quite clear how his views of determinism follow from his acceptance of atheism/materialism:
The best answer I can give (besides reading Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture”) is to say that our brain is made of matter, and matter follows the laws of physics. Insofar as our neurons could behave fundamentally unpredictably, if affected by quantum mechanics in their firing, that doesn’t give us a basis for agency either.
Since our behaviors all come from our material bodies and brains, which obey the laws of physics, which by and large are deterministic on a macro scale, then our behaviors at any one instant are determined as well by the configuration of molecules in the Universe.
All you have to do is accept that our bodies and brains are made of stuff, and stuff on the macro scale is deterministic in its behavior. Even compatibilists accept these points as well the fundamental determinism (though often unpredictability) of our behavior.
And when one of his commenters wrote, “we aren’t billiard balls”, Coyne replied:
Yes we are, but we’re billiard balls made of meat.
What I am sensing here is that atheism is incompatible with free will. And if you ask me, that poses a serious problem for atheism. While the truth of determinism seems to be dependent on acceptance of an atheistic, materialistic worldview, the truth of free will is dependent on ….. a lifetime of lived experience. And it’s not some shallow, “live in the moment” type of experience that’s preoccupied with the dramas of life. It’s an experience coupled to much introspection and self-awareness. I’m not quite sure why I am supposed to believe this is all an illusion when it’s the deterministic word salads that appear far more likely to be an illusion.
Thus, from where I sit, my experience with free will counts as evidence for the existence of God. That is, if free will is incompatible with atheism, it would seem to me that atheism is false. Meaning, that theism is true. The evidence for God is not some writing in the sky. It’s with me each and every moment.
As we all know, the Mythcon debate between Sargon of Akkad and Thomas Smith generated a lot of buzz in the atheist community. But I don’t seem to recall The Friendly Atheist blog weighing in on this. Did I miss something? It’s possible, as I have been quite busy.
We are often told that Christians believe in God simply because they want to believe in God. Such belief is supposed to be comforting and reassuring. Wishful thinking. The atheist, in contrast, is said to be strong-minded, with the ability to follow the evidence, even if it leads to the denial of God and an afterlife.
But maybe things are a bit more complicated than this. We’ve seen the subjective aspect of evidence, such that while Christians can be guilty of confirmation bias, atheists can be guilty of disconfirmation bias.
Well, consider how Richard Dawkins views the God of the Bible:
a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Now, I think it safe to assume most Gnu atheists would share in this perception, given that many have applauded this description while I can’t seem to find one who has objected to it. So what would that mean?
Modern day atheism is built on a simple claim – There is no evidence that God exists. But how does the atheist know this? It’s one thing to claim, “I don’t see any evidence for God” or “What you consider evidence for God is not what I consider evidence for God.” But to proclaim “There is no evidence for God” is to make a truth claim about all of objective reality – wherever you look, whoever you are, how ever hard you look, you will not find any evidence for God. Because “there is no evidence” to be found. And that’s supposed to be true for all of us.
Yet this is nothing more than empty posturing. We’ve seen how easy it to completely neuter this claim – simply ask the atheist what would count as evidence for God. After all, when the atheist insists “There is no evidence for God,” this question is a perfectly legitimate way to get the atheist to clarify what he is saying.
And what have we found? First, many atheists will point to some miraculous event, perhaps writing in the stars. In other words, some event that could not possibly be explained by natural causes; something that would present itself as a Gap in our current understanding by natural causes. But if that is the case, those events could only be evidence if we agreed that the God of the Gaps approach is a valid and legitimate way of determining whether God exists. If we are to count a Gap as evidence, we necessarily assume the validity of the God of the Gaps logic. Yet atheists everywhere have insisted that the God of the Gaps approach is NOT a valid approach. Thus, all these examples of miracles that would supposedly count as evidence for God truly would not count as evidence for God as far as the atheist is concerned. The atheist is engaged in deceptive hand-waving.
The honest approach is for the atheist to admit that nothing would count as evidence for the existence of God. But then the atheist is simply admitting his/her closed mind and the pronouncement that “There is no evidence for God” becomes vacuous. If nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God, then of course the atheist is going to believe there is no evidence for God.
Of course, not wanting to be seen as closed-minded dogmatists, some atheists have been looking for an escape hatch. Atheist activist Matt Dillahunty offers up one such attempt that I have seen elsewhere. Since he takes over 27 minutes to make a two minute point, I’ll focus you to 26:16 in the video: