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November 25, 2011 10:00 am

Atheist, Heal Thyself: The Myths of Atheism

avatar by Moshe Averick

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American Atheists billboard attacking religious "myths"

An organization called American Atheists has sponsored a billboard (see accompanying  photo) in New York City designed to expose some of the “myths” of religious belief. From the images portrayed – the pagan god Neptune, Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Devil – one would draw the obvious conclusion that the main thrust of the attack is against Christians and Christianity. However, my guess is that if they had enough money, they would put up billboards attacking other faith communities as well. Because I am a proponent of ecumenicism, I will return the favor and elaborate on some of the myths of the Atheistic faith.

Myth #1: Scientific facts support the atheistic notion that life emerged from non-life through an undirected, naturalistic process.

Fact: The simplest living organism that has ever been known to exist – some form of bacteria – contains molecular machinery that is more sophisticated and more functionally complex than anything human technology can produce. It has a self-replicating mechanism that is beyond all known human engineering capabilities, based on the storage, retrieval, and translation of encyclopedic amounts of pure, digitally encoded information. In fact, it is highly misleading, if not downright false to describe a bacterium as “simple” at all. As James Shapiro, the University of Chicago microbiologist put it, “Although bacteria are tiny, they display biochemical, structural and behavioral complexities that outstrip scientific description. In keeping with the current microelectronics revolution, it may make more sense to equate their size with sophistication rather than with simplicity.”

The atheist would have us believe that the bacterium assembled itself from non-organic chemicals over a period of several million? tens of millions? hundreds of millions? years, through some as yet unknown process and emerged as a fully functioning living organism approximately 3.8 billion years ago (or maybe earlier, nobody really knows). The only known source of functionally complex machinery and specified information is some sort of intelligent agent. What scientific evidence does the atheist have that it is possible for life to come from non-life by itself? In the words of distinguished Harvard University paleontologist, Dr. Andrew Knoll, “We don’t know how life started on this planet. We don’t know exactly when it started, we don’t know under what circumstances.” Origin of Life researcher, Dr. Paul Davies put it in simpler terms, “We haven’t a clue.” In other words, ZERO evidence.

Myth #2: Modern Science debunks the notion of the spiritual; our entire reality and all of human experience can be explained as a function of atoms, molecules, and the laws of chemistry and physics.

Fact: Not only is this patently false, but scientists are stymied in their attempts to explain even such a common and basic human ability like verbal communication, in material terms. I will briefly elaborate. Imagine two men; one is an American who only speaks English, one is Chinese and only speaks Chinese. Both are thirsty and desire liquid refreshment. In other words, both are thinking essentially the same thought; namely, that they want to imbibe liquid into their bodies. Each turns to the other and in their respective language, asks for a drink of water. Of course, neither has any idea what the other is talking about. Why? It is because the thought, “I want a drink of water,” is completely separate and different than the words, “I want a drink of water.” The words themselves mean nothing at all. They are arbitrary sounds that represent thoughts, ideas, concepts, emotions, i.e., information. When I am thirsty and want to ask someone for a drink, I proceed to form a series of arbitrary and intrinsically senseless sounds with my mouth. These sounds travel through the air where they are heard by another person, who then decodes these sounds and brings me a glass of water. We take it for granted because we do it all the time, but what is transpiring is nothing short of miraculous. I am taking ideas in my head and sending them through the air to others. I am attaching ideas to sound waves. The words (i.e. the sounds), that I spoke were arbitrary and meaningless, but the information was very specific and very meaningful. Words and sounds do not equal information, words and sounds represent information. The information itself cannot be defined in material terms.

This is the reason why a scientist can measure the electrical activity in my brain when I speak, measure the sound waves as they travel through the air, and measure the electrical activity in the brain of the listener. There is no possible way for him to measure the idea, message, or information that was conveyed, because the information cannot be defined in terms of atoms or molecules at all. It exists in time but not space. Evolutionary biologist, George Williams, put it this way, “You can speak of galaxies and particles of dust in the same terms because they both have mass and charge and length and width. [But] you can’t do that with information and matter…Information doesn’t have mass or charge or length in millimeters.” Even a self-declared “proud atheist” like the celebrated Harvard cognitive scientist, Dr. Steven Pinker, can barely contain his wonder and awe when contemplating the human capacity for language. In the opening paragraph of his award winning book, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, Pinker writes, “You are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world. For you and I are members of a species with a remarkable ability…that ability is language…the ability comes so naturally that we are apt to forget what a miracle it is.”

A miracle, indeed. All day long we are involved in binding together the spiritual reality of ideas and information, with the physical reality of sound. We are just so used to it, that most of us never take the trouble to think about what is actually happening.

Myth #3: The “soul” does not exist. Human consciousness and self-awareness can all be explained and understood as projections of physical, neural activity.

Fact: Scientists haven’t the slightest idea how to explain or define consciousness in material terms.

On this subject, atheistic philosopher, Dr. Julian Baggini, writes in his book, Atheism: A Short Introduction, “What best explains the correlation between consciousness and brain activity…[the] atheist hypothesis that consciousness is a product of brain activity or an implausible tale about how non-material souls exist alongside brains and somehow interact with them?” First of all, to cavalierly dismiss the notion of a non-material soul as an implausible tale, when billions of human beings from every conceivable race, culture, geographical location and level of education claim an intuitive and experiential connection with its reality, is a flagrant display of intellectual laziness and pompousness. It is clear that no matter what conclusion is reached the honest thinker must consider both sides of the argument. Be that as it may, what does Science actually have to tell us about the fundamental and essential nature of human consciousness? Consider the following statements by atheistic scientists:

“Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious.” (Dr. Jerry Fodor, Professor of Philosophy and cognitive scientist, Rutgers University)

“The problem of consciousness tends to embarrass biologists. Taking it to be an aspect of living things, they feel they should know about it and be able to tell physicists about it, whereas they have nothing relevant to say…consciousness seems to me to be wholly impervious to science. It does not lie as an indigestible element within science, but just the opposite. Science is the highly digestible element within consciousness.” (Dr. George Wald, Nobel Prize winning biologist)

“The Hard Problem…is why there is first-person subjective experience. The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard, because no one knows what a solution might look like…everyone agrees that the Hard Problem remains a mystery.” (Dr. Steven Pinker)

“Science’s biggest mystery is the nature of consciousness” (Dr. Nick Herbert, physicist)

In fact, atheists simply accept as an article of faith that consciousness has no spiritual basis: “Resolutely shunning the supernatural…it must be in virtue of some natural property of the brain that organisms are conscious. There just has to be some explanation for how brains [interact] with minds…Consciousness, in short, must be a natural phenomena.” (Colin McGinn, atheistic philosopher)

Enough said.

Myth #4: It is religion that is responsible for most wars, cruelty, and atrocities. If mankind would rid itself of religion, life would be better for all of us.

Within several decades of the publication of On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, the zealously atheistic ideology of Communism emerged as a force to be reckoned with. The greatest mass murderers in the history of mankind were to be atheistic, communist ideologues; among them were Josef Stalin, Mao-Tse-Tung, and Pol-Pot. Sam Harris, atheist author and neuroscientist, arrogantly proclaims in his best-selling manifesto, The End of Faith, “ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion.” Mr. Harris would do better in the future to avoid speaking in generalities, because specifically, the greatest mass murderers have all been his fellow-atheists. There is no denying that terrible things have been done in the name of religion, but one could reasonably propose that the only thing more dangerous is an ideology based on atheism.

What about religious “myths”?

The skeptic/atheist is unquestionably correct when he points out that the theologies of major religions are mutually exclusive. In other words, no matter how politically correct one desires to be, it is simply absurd to assert that they are all true. To be blunt, there are only two possibilities: a. they are all false, or b. only one of them is true, and the rest are false. We are talking here, of course, about divine revelation. There are many people who believe in God the Creator and the basic spiritual nature of human beings, without believing or accepting any particular claim of revelation. It is important to understand that these are two completely separate issues. In my opinion, the evidence for the existence of God and the soul are so clear that the burden is on the atheist to disprove them. In my book, Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist, I offer a comprehensive presentation of the subject. At the same time, I acknowledge that it makes no sense at all for anyone to believe in a claim of divine revelation just because someone says so. In other words, there certainly are religious myths out there. However, if you are going to engage in childish public displays of ideological taunting, you had better be sure you have first taken a good look at yourself in the mirror. It is a human flaw to manufacture, and be drawn to, comforting mythologies. In this respect, the members of the Atheist faith community are as sinful as any others.

Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website.

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