Are Your Beliefs Consistent With Your Worldview?
This first part considers what people believe and why.
The main point is that we must consider the possibility that our beliefs are wrong, in order to realistically examine the evidence that contradicts our beliefs.
This principle applies to both believers and skeptics alike. For myself, having grown up as an agnostic atheist (one who doesn't believe in God, but doesn't claim that no god exists), I have undergone a couple paradigm shifts as an adult. The first occurred as an undergraduate at USC in the early 1970's, when I went from atheism to deism (a belief that a god created the universe), as a result of my perception that science had failed miserably in its explanation of the origin of the universe and the origin of life on earth. My second, more difficult paradigm shift occurred in the late 1980's, when I determined that it was God who created the universe and life in it.
If you are ready to consider the possibility that your beliefs might be wrong, and look directly at the evidence, feel free to skip ahead to part 2. However, I feel it is important for skeptics to recognize that not all their beliefs are based upon physical evidence, and are even consistent with their own worldview.
Do Skeptics Have Beliefs?
Most skeptics take pride in their intellectual ability and like to think that they have no "beliefs." However, modern science has shown us that everyone has beliefs, since this is how our brains work.
A good introduction to this field can be found in Andrew Newberg's book, Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth.
Although we would like to think that everything we believe is based upon evidence and logic, this is simply not true. In fact, we become emotionally bound to our worldview, so much so that worldview changes occur rarely, if at all. Since I am asking you to consider a worldview change, I am going to ask you to dump your emotional attachment to your worldview and consider the evidence apart from your emotional attachments.
The Skeptical Worldview
Before we can get started, we need to agree on some principles that govern (or should govern) a skeptical worldview.
The first and foremost principle is that all beliefs should be based upon observational evidence. Unlike theists, who base some of their beliefs on religious writings, skeptics must rely completely upon physical evidence.
The second principle is that skeptics must be logically consistent at all times. In other words, a skeptic may not believe something to be true if it is contradicted by observational evidence. Most skeptics who are atheists believe that all phenomena have naturalistic causes. This belief is based upon the observation of our world, in which cause and effect are observed on a daily basis, with rare exception, if at all.
One must ask the question, "Just because cause and effect overwhelmingly operate in our universe, does this mean that supernatural events never occur?" However, one who insists that supernatural events never occur is expressing a belief that can never be fully confirmed. To be truly open-minded, one must recognize the possibility that supernatural events do occur.
Problem With The Skeptical Worldview
Let me point out one major problem with the skeptical worldview in order to get you to the point of recognizing that not all the data really fits your worldview. The data we are going to examine is the origin of the universe.
Before the 20th century, atheists assumed that the universe was eternal. However, beginning with Einstein's theory of general relativity, and early observational evidence, it became apparent that the universe was expanding.
Extrapolating back in time revealed that the universe was merely billions of years old. The data eventually led to the "Big Bang" theory, which is virtually universally accepted by modern day cosmologist. Attempts to get around the idea that the universe had a beginning have all met with observational difficulties.
The idea that the universe could have gone through an infinite number of births and deaths (the oscillating universe theory) was shown to be false on the basis of the lack of amount of matter within the universe, and the fact that any collapse would have led to a "Big Crunch" instead of another Big Bang. So, we have come to realize that the universe first began to exist 13.8 billion years ago.
Atheists are left with a dilemma, since their worldview requires that all things that begin to exist must have a cause. So, logic requires the admission that the universe had a cause. Virtually all atheists say that this cause was some natural phenomenon.
It is also possible that the cause of the universe was a supernatural intelligence (i.e., God). However, there is no direct observational evidence for either belief. Those who are "strong atheists" (not working out in the gym, but having a belief that no god exists) have just violated one of the main rules of atheism - that all beliefs are based upon observational evidence. So, any atheist who denies the possible existence of God violates his own worldview.
The problem actually gets worse for the atheist. The physical laws of the universe fall within very narrow ranges in order for life (or even matter) to exist, suggesting some level of design (the evidence supporting this statement will be presented in part 2). If true, then the observational evidence actually leans toward the existence of God, contradicting strong atheism. The prospect of finding a naturalistic cause for the origin of the universe is bleak at best, since the laws of physics indicate that we will never be able escape the bounds of our universe to even attempt to look for the cause of the universe.
A skeptic or atheist is governed by two main principles:
1) all beliefs must be supported by observational evidence, and
2) beliefs that contradict observational evidence cannot be tolerated.
However, strong atheism states that there is no god, even though observational evidence indicates that the universe has a cause that cannot be detected observationally.
So despite the lack of observational evidence for a naturalistic cause for the universe, the strong atheist believes that the universe has a naturalistic cause and that there is no god, contradicting the tenet that all beliefs should be based upon observational evidence.
Does everything have a natural cause?
Atheists believe that all cause and effect in the universe has a naturalistic origin.
Observational data lead us to the conclusion that the universe first began to exist 13.8 billion years ago. Since all things that begin to exist must have a cause, this means that the universe has a cause.
However, a naturalistic cause for the origin of the universe cannot be confirmed observationally. Therefore, atheists believe the tenet that all phenomena have a naturalistic cause based solely upon faith in naturalism.
Continued in Part 2: Is God Real? The Evidence for God's Existence...