Worldview. Explanation. Value Proposition. These are the themes of a recent essay and video by the apologist, SJ Thomason, titled: “What Does Atheism Have to Offer? The Atheist Value Proposition”.
Instead of countering her claims, examples, and arguments, all of which have already been done to exhaustion, I aim to look at the foundation of her approach, which rests on the notion of “worldview” – a seemingly innocuous word at first glance, but behind which stands the germ of the false arguments of Christian apologists. We will see how explanation and value-proposition naturally grow from this originating error. To do so I’ll take a close at the three areas where she cites me specifically: worldview, the nature of reality, and morality.
Recently, a Christian called Ken Ammi debated Jeff Williams on my channel. https://www.youtube.com/live/l3N0GNO9FdE?feature=share Jeff was adamant that atheism is not a worldview. Unlike Christianity, which claims the common core in the belief in Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation based on His sacrifice, he said that “there simply isn’t” a common core. He also said we have no objective morality, yet, he said, we do have morality and a moral sense. Hmm.
This is SJ’s first reference of me in her essay and video, and here I’ll address the underlying issue of worldview. I’ll return to the question of morality at the very end.
If worldview were merely the fundamental misstep of Christian apologetics, I wouldn’t bother with it here. I long ago lost interest in the question of gods, including Christianity. But as Martin Heidegger demonstrated in “The History of Beying”, “Introduction to Metaphysics” and “The Age of the World Picture”, worldview is a constituent element of modern life – our prevalent fundamental grasp of the world. He perfectly encapsulates this in “The History of Beyng” as follows:
“Da-sein must find its way into Beyng and leave history to Beying.
Beyng, in its dignity does not require domination.
The First Commencement has become more inception and more primary, and for this very reason, Beyng no longer essences as φύσις. Above all, “metaphysics” is without soil or ground. Yet for this reason, its progeny dominates: Worldview.”
For those not familiar with Heidegger’s Ontology, let’s look closely at these few words.
Da-sein means “Being-there” in German, which Heidegger means as the essential nature of humanity – the part of Being that finds itself conscious of being in the world and, when authentically engaged, in thrall of the event of experience of Being in the world. But our history in the West is one of forgetfulness of Being and not enthrallment as we reduce our world to mere objects of manipulation and superficial measure. Being no longer essences as physis. The world becomes objectified as practical raw material.
That objective reduction is an attempt to dominate Being itself. This reduction is a falsification of the manifold nature of Being by projecting our rational constructions onto it. We insult the dignity of Being through our insolent attempt to instruct Being of its nature whereby we reduce reality to our preferred specifications. The opposite path would be to let Being instruct us and swell beyond our limited rational constructs.
The first commencement is Western Metaphysics, begun at the time of Socrates. It is the time when the full experience of Being as physis is removed from sensual experience and split in two: physics as the objective, rational, and reductive understanding of the material world; and metaphysics as the transcendent and immaterial realm of Being. By ripping Being from the ground of experience in the world, the world becomes desolate (and even sinful) and truth becomes groundless – a mere act of rational imagination. Our experience of physis reduces to physics just as Logos reduces to logic.
Being groundless, metaphysical worldviews can be anything at all. In their groundlessness they claim to explain the universe – it’s beginning and nature. There can be multiple contradictory emergent worldviews, each reductive (thus confining), and each internally coherent. Coherence is easy to achieve when we dispense with the requirement of grounding. But none achieve any real explanation, and all close off the most important questions. Christianity is a worldview. So are Islam and Hinduism. And so is scientific reductionism. Christianity, being a European metaphysical invention (Neoplatonic, later Aristotelian through Thomism, The ROMAN Catholic Church) and unrecognizable to the originators of the Near Eastern mythology it appropriates, is merely the flip side of the same coin as naturalism. For those entrapped in metaphysics, it is impossible to imagine Da-sein without a worldview.
We see this in SJ Thomason’s opening:
Over the past few hundred years, the move to “secular rational modernism” has supplanted “traditional religious” views in many parts of the West. Atheists sometimes think Christianity will one day be toppled and atheists of the past century such as Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung certainly gave that effort their best shot. Other atheists decry the morally atrocious actions of these dictators – whose actions led to the untimely deaths of over 100 million innocent lives. Many of these atheists favor the idea that science will one day topple theistic belief systems – and God. So let’s examine science and God.
To Thomason, everything is a worldview. If Christianity has a worldview, then so must atheism. While in reality there is no single atheist worldview, our current age ensures there will be worldviews among atheists. Certainly Marxism is a worldview inhabiting the reductionist metaphysics of Hegelian dialecticism. As such, it reduces the world to material and power. Much bloodshed ensued. Christianity is a worldview claiming to explain the creation of the universe, the nature of god and man, morality, and truth. It is also a reductive metaphysical construction that precludes the necessary fundamental questions by insisting it already has the answers. Much bloodshed ensued. If we are to ascribe atheism to Communism, we must then also take into account the atheism of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and ascribe Monetary Theory, Supply Side Economics, and Free Market Libertarianism to atheism also. Also not without bloodshed. And Naturalism is a worldview – or more broadly, scientific reductionism and the metaphysical insistence that the universe is orderly and rationally explicable. Far too many in the sciences also fail to perceive the fullness of Being.
But that would simply be furthering Thomason’s inability to see outside her confinement to the Christian Worldview, where the world is reduced to Christian/non-Christian.
All of these worldviews fail due to the lack of being grounded in what Being presents in the events of experience, and all offer equally false claims of universal explanation. This lack lies at the foundation of modern drift and sense of loss, or even anxiety. Desolation. We are ripped from the ground that nourishes us.
At the heart of metaphysics lies the myth of subject/object duality – Da-sein depicted as an individuated immaterial soul opposite an observed material world. The individuation is absolute: a rational end-in-itself. And not just that, but an end-in-itself with an all-explanatory worldview. The all-explanatory feature stifles questions, allowing the weeds of dogma to grow. And dogma fueled by Will-to-Power (the last stage of metaphysics) leads to bloodshed.
So what makes atheism so attractive to some so-called rationalists, materialists, or naturalists? Does it explain our most important questions of life? Is it the truth? What is its value proposition? Or alternatively, does Christianity offer tremendous explanatory power for life? Is Christianity the truth? What is Christianity’s value proposition? Truth is that which conforms with reality. Let’s examine the two worldviews in the context of life’s biggest questions.
Notice the emphasis on practicality. The crude business jargon of “value proposition” is given first priority, followed by a vague notion of truth. This is the legacy of subject/object physics where the world exists for our domination, and the world view must first of all provide practical benefit. Truth thus comes about as that which supports the benefit. Thomason gives us the naive and superficial definition of “that which conforms to reality”, but is unaware she already constructs reality as that which is useful in her worldview.
The “value” of a worldview is its ability to provide answers to what in reality are uncanny and inexplicable mysteries, but always in accord with one’s preferences. The earmark of metaphysics is its lack of grounding, enabling a myriad of contradictory explanations, as evidenced by not only the Biblical creation myth, but also Enumu Elish, Gaia emerging from Chaos, and many others. All are groundless and explain nothing at all, unless we mean “explain” to mean no more than a coherent narrative. But none conforms to any reality outside the groundless suppositions of the worldview.
Worldviews are essentially incapable of describing ultimate reality, and that goes for scientific reductionism as well as religious myth.
Yet some atheists such as Jeff Williams will push back on even the most basic foundations upon which we’ve built our scientific theories by questioning the rationality of our universe: We can only pray that he and others like him come to their senses.
As I said earlier, scientific reductionism and Christian worldview are two sides of the same metaphysical coin: a firm yet ungrounded assertion that the universe is fundamentally ordered and rationally understandable. To the Christian and the naive realist the very questioning of this tenet is nonsense. They must cling to this belief at all costs, or all is lost. If the world is fundamentally arational, then the mere coherence of a narrative becomes worthless – the proposition loses all explanatory value.
This is where it becomes interesting. Science itself in the last hundred years has crashed into the impenetrable wall of decoherence, and as in the particle crash of a supercollider, decomposed into mysteries literally inconceivable to our rational minds. Fundamental reality is known to us only negatively – as a lack of our very conditions of rational thought. It is without space and time. Without causality and number. Superposition violates the law of noncontradiction.
Einstein is often said to be the last physicist entitled to belief in a rational worldview, heavily influenced by Spinoza’s metaphysics of a mechanistic world created by a perfectly rational god or nature. Confined to this worldview, Einstein famously rejected the obvious implications of entanglement and indeterminacy as he insisted there must be hidden variables that, when discovered, would restore our faith in a rational universe. John Bell offered a theorem that promised to disprove hidden variables, and Anton Zeilinger, Alain Aspect, and John Clauser shared the 2023 Nobel in Physics for giving definitive experimental proof of Bell’s Theorem. Like it or not, fundamental reality is arational and all our systems of understanding are limited constructs.
Worldviews are not only ungrounded, but in opposition to fundamental reality. They explain nothing at all.
The question of God’s ontology so vexes the atheist that they try to shift the burden of proof for God’s existence to the theist by claiming the definition of atheism is a lack of belief in God. Thus, the theist must address the atheist’s lack of belief by demonstrating evidence for their own beliefs. Thankfully, we have answers. God has given us both generalized evidence for His existence in nature, the cosmos, our design, our rationality and our teleology (or purpose).
Worldviews collapse because they assume a rational universe, but also due to a lack of grounding. This is the obvious weakness of Christianity, but also all worldviews. Christianity cannot present its god, and necessarily resorts to sophistry and empty claims. Notice the degraded use of “Ontology” by Thomason. Non-metaphysically, ontology is philosophy in its fullest sense as a deep questioning within the experience of Being in its manifold nature. In the spirit of metaphysical reduction, however, she uses it merely as a pretentious way to ask if something exists. Unable to ground this existence in experience, she blatantly attempts to shift the burden of evidence.
He also said we have no objective morality, yet, he said, we do have morality and a moral sense. Hmm.
As the “Hmm” signals, within her worldview my statement about morality is incomprehensible. Within the imprisonment of subject/object metaphysics, there are only two alternatives: Either there is an immaterial objective moral law recognized by our immortal souls (Christian metaphysics); or there is no morality at all and everything is allowed in the sinful world of the senses. (Reductive physicality – nihilism).
Hume is probably the most famous of the moral sentimentalists, and he recognized something fundamental in human nature: we have an innate sense of morality that can be refined over time. That is, morality is subjectively determined, but not entirely arbitrary. It is guided by certain innate sensations and common, in the same way he share an innate ability to reason. When we make a moral judgment, it is immediate in the gut, not an effect of mediated syllogistic reasoning to a standard.
The history of Christian morality itself shows this refinement of moral sentiment, as once biblically approved genocide, stoning of heretics, and slavery are now morally repugnant to most believers. The change over time defies any claim of objective law, which must be immutable.
The universe is arational, and so is morality. But here arationality does not imply empty, but rather overfull. So much more than we can reason.
To follow the question of morality requires overcoming of worldview: to grasp its nature we need to abandon subject/object metaphysics. Fundamental reality is not atomic but entangled. All is connected and in mutual relationship. The key to finally grasping morality is through empathy and love – our primary modes of experiencing fundamental entanglement. The loss of individuation without annihilation. Complementary being in the world. Superposition.
The Second Commencement
For Heidegger, the Second Commencement follows a complete rejection of the past 2500 years of subject/object metaphysics. It rejects rational systems and reduction. It exchanges esthetic knowing for objective representation. He saw himself as no more than somebody clearing the way for this new beginning, but who were to be the brave new explorers of Being? Certainly not the academy and its mean pretense to philosophizing. Heidegger saw the role and capability of the academy as no more than transmitting the past – a past no longer vital. And philosophers lie.
So we turn to poetic thinkers, artists and musicians. A beginning that isn’t new at all, but a return to the pre-metaphysical approach of physis – a poetic non-reductive physicalism perhaps.
Heidegger wrote at the time of intellectual PTSD, full of anxiety and dread. The vertiginous moans of Nietzsche’s madman echoed with the deaths of god and the illusion of a predictable rational universe. This was the desolate time when we are too late for the gods and too early for Being. But it would be wrong to identify the Madman with Nietzsche, who knew better and commanded us to laugh and dance. And in perfect irony, collapsed in a surfeit of empathy embracing a beaten horse.
But this is the 21st Century, and we have had ample time to reorient. Empathy and love beckon us away from subject/object confinement, and its systematic dogmas. Systems are mechanized death. Life is a temporary dance to the tune of entropy. Make it a joyful sound. Embrace the weirdness, whose call beckons from the heart of Being. Surf the waves.
Empathy, love, and joy shared. Or at least so says this unreconstructed 60’s Hippy.