Debate: Response to Joe Carter’s Extended Opening Argument
Apologies for the delay; I’ve been obligated to work on some other projects over the past few days but I should now be free to give this debate the attention it merits.
In addition to the further input he has provided in the space of his engagements with a dozen or so of our readers – who themselves have offered a variety of frameworks by which one may allegedly refrain from incorporating God into one’s working view of the universe – Joe Carter has clarified the nature of his argument in a new post at First Things; I shall here respond to it paragraph by paragraph before making my own opening argument in an additional post later this evening.
Mr. Brown says that he doesn’t believe atheism can provide the necessary framework to answer political questions since it is “not designed to be any sort of framework, not being a system.” While I appreciate being presented with an opportunity to agree with him so soon, I’m not sure where this leaves us. If atheism is merely a negative critique that outlines what it doesn’t believe in, then what use is it for helping us to overcome estrangement and provide reconciliation for human beings?
I do not know why atheism should be expected to offer any such thing as insight into how mankind can overcome estrangement and obtain reconciliation (and incidentally I do not consider such things to be desirable, as there are very good reasons for some human beings to be estranged and unreconciled to others). Atheism is a concept holding that the entity referred to as “God” is a human invention stemming from the haphazard metaphysical determinations of unreasonable people. I probably speak for many atheists in saying that we regard it as akin to gravity. Just as gravity’s relevance to the socio-political is essentially limited to telling us that we will face a certain difficulty in building airborne republics, atheism only tells us that we cannot depend on any such entity as God to provide us guidance or protection and that such things must be pursued by men. It certainly does not give us any guarantees that men will pursue these things in any proper or effective manner, nor will it make an exception for the atheist, who is not equipped by virtue of his atheism with any particular knowledge as to how men ought to govern themselves.
If atheism is insufficient to be a positive program, what is the substitute? I had assumed that while atheism was simply a clarification of what was rejected, the atheist must necessarily have a replacement for the ontological, epistemological, and ethical framework that is being rejected when they reject theism. For the theist, these pillars are rooted in the solid metaphysical foundation provided by God. But where does the atheist gather the material for his worldview?
The atheist gathers such material in accordance with his observations, and continuously updates his worldview as warranted by further observations.
That is why I asked what Mr. Brown considers to be the source of existence. When the atheist says that God does not exist, they are not merely making a claim about the non-existence of a singular entity, they are making a claim about the entity from which all other things depend for their existence.
I suspect that the source of existence, to the extent that such a concept is actually valid, is beyond the conceptual abilities of the human mind in its current form, which I deem to have evolved in accordance with factors that did not take into account anyone’s potential desire to acquire certain forms of abstract knowledge.
For the Christian, God is the only thing that does not rely on anything else for its existence—he is self-existent. But the atheist says that God does not exist which means that something else that is self-existent is the source for which all other things rely on for their existence.
It means no such thing. You are making metaphysical assumptions about the universe that are unjustified insomuch as that you do not really know that there is some self-existent source upon which all things rely, but rather have determined that this is the case by way of some process with which I am unfamiliar.
In other words, the atheist must believe that there is something that cannot not exist. What do they consider that entity to be?
Again, I have not seen enough universes in my time to know for certain that they may only exist by virtue of something else having always existed, so I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage.
Now I will finish writing my own opening argument, which will take us far from the laws of the universe that Carter has revealed to us so far, being instead concerned largely with the nature of Christianity and its track record as a source of moral and political guidance. We’ll begin with the Byzantines and thereafter jump to the Family Research Council. Later, I will provide a more substantial answer to the questions that Carter has been getting at in regards to how one proceeds from atheism to a particular political philosophy – in my case, anarcho-technocracy.