Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Peter Atkins explains how to easily reconcile the Big Bang and atheism

It’s easy! Just watch the video of his debate with William Lane Craig, who responds to Atkins’ explanation.

So, just who is this Peter Atkins, and why is he a good spokesman for atheism?

From his Wikipedia bio.

Peter William Atkins (born August 10, 1940) is an English chemist and a fellow and professor of chemistry at Lincoln College of the University of Oxford. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks, including Physical Chemistry, 8th ed. (with Julio de Paula of Haverford College), Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics, 4th ed. Atkins is also the author of a number of science books for the general public, including Atkins’ Molecules and Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science.

[...]Atkins is a well-known atheist and supporter of many of Richard Dawkins’ ideas. He has written and spoken on issues of humanism, atheism, and what he sees as the incompatibility between science and religion. According to Atkins, whereas religion scorns the power of human comprehension, science respects it.

[...]He was the first Senior Member for the Oxford Secular Society and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of The Reason Project, a US-based charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The organisation is led by fellow atheist and author Sam Harris.

Peter Atkins thinks that nothing exists. He thinks he doesn’t exist. He thinks that you don’t exist.

If you watch the debate in full, he also argues that objective morality doesn’t exist, and that moral values and moral obligations are illusory. That’s right: atheists cannot even make rational statements about morality because there is no such thing as an objective moral standard. This is in addition to denying the science of the creation out of nothing.

You can watch the whole debate here, posted by ChristianJR4.

And now you know why atheists like Richard Dawkins run away from debates with Christians like Stephen C. Meyer and William Lane Craig. Because he’s an atheist, and it is very difficult to defend atheism, on the merits. Atheism’s appeal is entirely psychological, not rational.

Consider this quote from an honest, respectable atheist philosopher named Thomas Nagel:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

People embrace atheism for entirely psychological reasons, not on the basis of arguments and evidence. If they had the arguments and evidence, then they wouldn’t run from debates like Richard Dawkins does.

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36 Responses

  1. Jerry says:

    You do realize that atheism is not a belief framework but a lack of belief in the supernatural? Just because Thomas Nagal believes x and y does not mean Jerry the atheist must also believe in x and y. I have never believed in god and never gave it much thought until I got into college and took a philosophy class at the University of Buffalo (I think you know where I’m going). I have never wished that God didn’t exist – just the opposite – I love the idea of an after life where I would get to see friends and family again…I believe, just like you, that people embrace religion for purely psychological reasons – they can’t take the thought that this life is all there is. That driving a truck or shoveling dirt is all their lives will amount to. So if they believe in leprechans or faries or gods, then those beliefs will bring meaning to their lives – they’re no longer just an insignificant part of society, they are part of a supernatural plan. No one has ever present any proof of god yet so many people believe for no other reason than it’s what their parents believe in. The best proof you can give is – look over there, science can’t YET explain this, it must be god!!

    • Hey, what did you think of the video? Think Peter Atkins did a good job defusing the kalam argument?

      • Jerry says:

        I will have to watch it at work tomorrow – youtube stopped working on my linux machine a few months ago

    • Paradox says:

      May I say something here?
      Jerry, you say that there has never been a single proof for God’s existence? The Kalam has been around since before you were born, and unless we overturn and prove the universe is eternal, this argument is proof positive, full stop.
      Furthermore, I’m amazed that Wintery (who is far more patient than I can hope to be) didn’t explain the flaw with your polemic: “The best proof you can give is – look over there, science can’t YET explain this, it must be god!!” That’s nonsensical: science starts with the universe, with _nature_. By proving that nature began to exist, we prove that the universe was created by a being that is above the natural. Classical Theism has therefore been established.
      The rest is probably better left without my input.

  2. Jerry says:

    I should correct one thing – I did give it some thought when I was a kid – I grew up in a devoutly religious family (and got along with my parents until the later teen years) and as far back as I can remember I never believed. I thought about enough that I found no reason to believe there was supernatural reasons needed for the world, etc

    • Alex Costa says:

      This is interesting. My family was a bit religious, not devoutly… but as long as I can remember I’ve always believed this is not all there is to life! Is spirituality inherited?!

      In spite of what atheists say I really can rationalize the idea of God and the afterlife. The best way to do it is the Kalam argument. Although many people speak of proof, there are few things “proven” in science. What there is are probabilities of a theory being true or false! And I think the Kalam argument definitely puts the odds much higher than 50%, for an immaterial existence outside this reality that also created it!

      Yes I think Craig is a more “down to Earth” fellow… c’mon… There is nothing?! There must be something for we to even be here discussing this! Even a dream is something!

    • Anon says:

      In other word you can not think beyond the material world and that there is nothing afterlife. Seems closed minded to me

  3. Drew says:

    It’s all just a word game, and it completely misses the point. He tries to call the universe “nothing,” even though it’s obviously something. Moreover, it misses the point because someone or something would have to divide the nothingness into opposites. So the division would still require a cause, and then he’s back to square one.

    • This is probably the top physical chemist in England, the author of most of the common textbooks in physical chemistry.

      And yet we see from his own words that atheism is the philosophical equivalent of belief in leprechauns and fairies. Atheism is anti-science. Anti-progress. Anti-exploration. They’re stuck in the mode of twisting the reality of the universe into knots to fit their pre-conceived notions of materialism.

      The problem with these atheists is that they hate science. I can forgive them a lot of things, but I can’t forgive their hatred of science. Why does Peter Atkins hate science? Why does Richard Dawkins hate science? Can anyone explain that to me?

  4. Dave says:

    Hello Wintery Knight

    I have been following your blog for quite some time now, ever since Denyse O’Leary linked it to hers in fact. Thanks for some very good links and articles.

    Why do atheists hate science? Here is an article by Benjamin Wiker which helps to explain the reason.

    “Epicurus (341-2 71 B.C.) was first and foremost a moral philosopher, not a natural philosopher. His goal was the achievement of tranquility; the means to this goal was materialism. “Do not believe there is any other goal to be achieved by the knowledge of meteorological phenomena,” Epicurus admonishes his readers, “than freedom from disturbance.” Epicureanism is, then, a way of life seeking a universe to support it. Epicurus employs the atomistic materialism of Democritus, not because he has empirical evidence that it is true but because it fits his ethical goal of freedom from disturbance. If we were already tranquil, he says, “we would have no need of natural science.” We may begin to grasp this relationship of ethics to physics by examining Epicurus’s famous four-part cure. [...]

    The full article
    http://soli.inav.net/~jfischer/jul99/benjamindwiker.html

    And the book that came from the article
    http://books.google.com/books?id=n27AG9eyq3gC&pg=PA1&dq=wiker+darwinian#v=onepage&q=wiker%20darwinian&f=false

  5. I’ve got to give Atkins some credit for at least trying to explain away the problem of the existence of the universe.

    However, clearly, these scientists would do well to read some philosophy. Aquinas described something similar to Atkins’ “nothing” by using the idea of “prime matter” which is “matter” that has the potential of being anything. As Craig explains, even with prime matter as a “material cause,” explaining why we have things like electrons still requires an efficient cause – who/what made the electrons – and a formal cause – the something that is potentially anything actually becomes something particular.

    Also, “prime matter” is a probably just a place-holding idea that means God. After all, nothing is ever actually “prime matter” a substance without a form; everything is always composed of matter and a form.

    • Paradox says:

      Actually, I’ve done some studying on Aquinas myself, and “Prime Matter” is not a place-holder for “God”.
      According to Saint Aquinas, “Prime Matter” is pure potentiality; In contrast, God is pure actuality. Whatever God is like, because God is the Uncaused First Cause, it must be part of God’s nature; otherwise, there would be a cause that gave God His attributes, contradicting our hypothesis.

  6. Jason says:

    I love this stuff, Knight.

    Atheism is a matter of will, not reasoning or intellect. It looks as if science itself is pushing them deeper into the corner.

    Still they swing from it with absurd stuff like this and imaginary time and infinite universes. And on and on.

    Great post.

  7. Drew says:

    Imo, here is the best attack against the Cosmological Argument: Just argue that the universe itself is eternal. The Christian might object and point to the finite age of the universe, but that means very little. Time-wise, we could just as easily say that God is 14 billion years old (or ~6,000). Nonetheless, God is still eternal. So the universe could be eternal even though it’s only been around for a certain amount of time. The main holes with this idea are 1) It’s semi-religious itself and 2) it borders on pantheism.

    But still, I’m not real sure how useful the Cosmological Argument actually is.

    • Oh, there are two arguments against the eternal universe. The first is philosophical and the second is scientific. Craig made them both in his debate with Dr. Ahmed. 1) an eternal universe requires an actual infinity of past events but this is impossible because it involves contradictions. 2) the big bang theory implies a beginning and is based on solid observations of the red-shift, cosmic microwave background radiation and the light element abundances. That is why no one argues for an eternal universe in a debate.

  8. Patrick Oden says:

    I don’t understand why people debate in the first place. For fun? For money? For fame?

    Debating doesn’t give us truth. It just shows us who has better debating skills.

    My job is, essentially, to debate. I don’t need truth. I just need to be better than my opponent.

    Facts help, but even juries don’t always believe all the facts.

    Debating theism vs. atheism seems silly to me.

    • Drew says:

      I think “Does God Exist” is generally too big a topic to cover in one debate. Debates would probably be more informative if they covered individual issues (e.g., the Teleological Argument, the Moral Argument). I once saw Craig get into a pretty interesting discussion with a professor at my college about the Moral Argument, and they argued about the rationality of non-theistic moral systems like Plato’s Forms.

      Surprisingly enough, though, I do think this particular debate turned out fairly well.

  9. pseudorandom says:

    I agree with some of Atkins’ somewhat Daoist statements here, but don’t understand how he’s so sure that there’s nothing mystical about opposites emerging from a nothing in which they are inherent– it seems mind-boggling to me. On a similar note, I don’t see why he’s so sure that there’s nothing sentient about the process– that’s just a philosophical premise that is the direct opposite of my own intuition and philosophy, and for which he gives no argument at all.

    In that sense, I feel more sympathetic to WLC’s sentiments, but I think that *both* sides are underestimating the potency of “nothing” here.

    • Teralek says:

      Yup. In my opinion, there was never such a thing as “Nothing” There Is and there WAS always something that created this Universe.

      I’m not implying God here. I’m merely saying that “Absolute nothingness” can’t originate anything whatsoever.

      • That’s a nice opinion, and you’re welcome to it. You can say that teh Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe with his noodly appendage. But science says a singularity of ZERO VOLUME, occupying NO SPACE. Space had a beginning, matter had a beginning, time had a beginning. The cause had to be non-spatial, non-material and outside of time (eternal). If you don’t like science you can believe anything you want.

        • Teralek says:

          Yup I can say the Flying Spaghetti Monster! eheh! The scientific explanation doesn’t convince me.
          It was something “outside” the Universe that created it… and yes it was probably something non-spatial, non material, outside of time, and thus eternal!!
          I believe this, thus I believe in a God. Although the true nature of the God I believe, is incomprehensible for the human mind to grasp…

          In my VERY personal opinion…
          I believe we can only see some manifestations of this God, and what He expects from creation. In my opinion, he expects nothing more than… Love, all consuming Love, to anyone or anything without fear or hesitation. We must struggle to be as good natured as possible in all aspects of life, without exceptions… of course… very few people achieved this…

  10. [...] Wintery Knight has a video of Peter Atkins arguing dispassionately that nothing exists. Søren Kierkegaard, like Atkins, was no fan of philosophy and organised religioppoisn. Kierkegaard unlike Atkins was no fan of abstract and objective thinking. Kierkegaard rejected rational proofs for God’s existence. as for his own existence, Kierkegaard didn’t need any proof of that; it was a primal given. Kierkegaard was concerned with how subjective experience revealed in emotion and feelings relate to the will. His philosophy was called existentialism, and he is credited with being the father of that movement. [...]

  11. Mike Gage says:

    “People embrace atheism for entirely psychological reasons, not on the basis of arguments and evidence.”

    At the very least, you should be honest enough to say that you think there are psychological reasons at play with these two men. Your broader claim is completely unsupported. I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can say I never bother with positive cases for the non existence of gods. I don’t see the point. Rather, the reason I don’t believe is because I have never heard a convincing case for the existence of a god.

    • I’m sure you’ve put a lot of effort into searching that out, too.

      • Mike Gage says:

        I don’t know why you feel the need to be snide, but I actually have. I consider the pros and cons of religious arguments almost every day. In undergrad, I majored in psychology and double minored in religious studies and philosophy. I then went to grad school for philosophy.

        Right now, for example, I’m giving a lot of thought to WLC, which brought me here. I think he may be the best out there right now in philosophy of religion and so I’m considering what he has to say.

        • If you’re giving thought to WLC, then I apologize for my snide comment. But then don’t say you haven’t heard any arguments. If you know WLC you have 4 arguments.

          • Mike Gage says:

            I think his arguments are the best I’ve seen. The question is whether they are convincing. I’m still considering responses and his responses to responses, etc. So I can’t yet give an honest answer to whether they convince me.

  12. Teralek says:

    Mike, yours is a very prudent stand. If you’re going to listen to the best religious philosopher out there listen to the best atheist philosopher too! Christopher Hitchens. Better yet listen to their debates! Very interesting stuff!
    Still I must warn you, even if you investigate your whole life you can never be sure of the answer. In this question only in your heart you can possibly know the truth.

  13. Paul says:

    I think hitchens is good at mean spirited rants that don’t stand up to long term thinking about them. Once his passion dies away, things like “There’s no God because the andromeda galaxy will interact with ours in 10 billion years” is unconvincing.

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