We used to claim that various gods pushed the sun across the sky, that gods were the reason for storms and droughts, that gods or demons caused and healed all sickness. Using that reasoning as proof of the divine is called the “god of the gaps”. It inserts the supernatural as explanations for things we currently don’t understand.
The problem with that reasoning is that we merely need to figure out how a thing works. Voila, there was never a god in that gap, only lack of knowledge. Science has continually replaced that divinity with physical knowledge.
The way that this reasoning tries to say that there could be more beyond our understanding is backward: it looks inward for miracles, saying that all this complexity can’t be understood and must have an ultimate designer. That is easily proven false once we figure out the rules of nature. Rather, it should look at all the complexity of nature, and then say that, if all this exists, then surely there could be more out there.
Looking at things we don’t understand inspires wonder and mystique. I think that’s where the idea that such things must be powered by the divine comes from. Wondrous things tend to rouse our interest precisely because we don’t understand them. Those powerful feelings make you feel like what you’re looking at is incomprehensible. For a lot of people, it seems that incomprehensibility and awe are one and the same feeling; they can’t have one without the other.
If we then find an explanation, that incomprehensibility is destroyed; because we require wonder to be incomprehensible, that explanation also destroys the wonder. Being given an explanation is often said to be “ruining” the experience, to be taking that wonder away. Think of someone who is no longer fascinated by magic tricks once they know how it works. That’s not truly wonder, though. That’s fascination and curiosity being mistaken for wonder. Wonder doesn’t die when you learn how a thing works, but curiosity and fascination do.
More plainly: All life and consciousness comes from nonlife–from inert, dead atoms. That’s not something we would predict. That doesn’t mean that something divine had to create it in order for it to exist; it means that we don’t understand this phenomenon. Because we don’t understand that, perhaps there is even more that we don’t understand, that we have yet to encounter. Perhaps there is such a thing as telepathy, as psychics; maybe there is a way to time travel, for the future to affect the past.
Based on what we know right now, those things don’t exist and can’t happen. What we know right now is what we must make our decisions with. We’d be paralyzed in indecision if we tried to account for all the infinite possibilities. Realistically, then, the supernatural does not exist. Fantastically, philosophically, it’s a possibility.
In the United States, most people believe that you must be religious to be moral, and further that atheists are not only amoral but also arrogant.
Religion has a set of rules to follow; without adhering to a religion, you have nothing but yourself to guide you. Often, religions teach that people are inherently sinful—inherently bad. Following your own moral inclinations would therefore create a selfish, malicious ideology. This is where the idea that religion is a prerequisite to morality comes from. When you reject the guidelines of religion, you’re either choosing to follow your own ideas or you’re outright rejecting any restrictions on your behavior. Either way, you’ve rejected any oversight. The only reason to reject guidance, the logic goes, is that you’ve decided you know best, in which case you must think yourself perfect. Believing oneself perfect is the result of an arrogant personality, which confirms the idea that nothing good results from rejecting religion.
The fault in this logic is the assumption that rejecting one type of oversight—religion—means rejecting all restrictions on your behavior.
PZ Myers posted a challenged he received from a creationist to explain the physics of light. At the bottom he asks for something I’m sure he believed was as equally ridiculous as he thought the creationist’s challenge was: “take a box into church and have the congregation pray into it, so that when [he] open[s] it, Jesus pops out.” Read more…