Lucretius — Part II — The Foundation of Atheist Science
Part II – The Foundation of Atheist Science
In part I we examined Lucretius’ solution to the problem of death. His response resembled the typical answer given by atheists, that is, if you don’t understand or don’t like any part of reality, just shout it out, loud and long, “I don’t believe in that part of reality.” Your shouts will make that part of reality go away—at least, that seems to be what atheists believe.
Why do atheists work so hard to distort reality? Because if you believe in God, you have to follow all sorts of rules. Gods almost always produce a set of moral rules and values. With these come such dreaded concepts as sin and guilt and eternal accountability. Belief in God really gets in the way of a libertine’s lifestyle.
However, there is a way to get around the problem of God. Does belief in God keep you from living the sin-filled life you crave? Look up into the heavens and say, “I don’t believe God exists.” If fear of death causes you angst, boldly shout, “Life ends at the moment of death. There is no afterlife. Death is the end.” But remember, protests against reality have no effect on reality. Nor does disbelief.
Many of the beliefs of atheism are not supported by facts or evidence. Atheists deny the existence of God, an afterlife, and a soul. They have no authority to make such announcements. If they don’t know the truth, how can they discern what’s true? They claim they are guided by science but science cannot address metaphysics.
Nor do they have any evidence to support their position. Their most forceful argument is this: “If I cannot see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, or taste it, then it doesn’t exist.” Wow! Talk about a statement filled with ignorance and superstition!
At this point you may want to ask whether the atheist belief system consists only of denials. Atheists say they want to destroy religion. They say, “Rational thought is based totally on physical data received through our physical senses.” Therefore, according to atheists, religion, God, the soul, the afterlife, and so on, are all “irrational.”
But contrary to the statements given above, atheists do have a belief system. Materialism serves as the foundational world-view that defines their belief. Atheists also have devised origin-myths to support their world-view.
Atheist beliefs developed more than two thousand years ago. Their beliefs have not changed during the last two millennia. The foundational beliefs of atheism were developed by ancient Greek philosophers, notably Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus. Lucretius adopted and expanded their belief system without changing it significantly. Later atheists accepted Lucretius’ findings.
Twenty-five hundred years produced no significant change to these beliefs. Twentieth century atheist Bertrand Russell’s beliefs regarding death and the afterlife are almost identical to the beliefs held by Lucretius (see “Lucretius, part I”). Two thousand years separate these men and yet their basic beliefs are virtually identical. Is this freethinking or are they bogged down by ancient superstitions?
Stephen Greenblatt commented on this lack of change in his book The Swerve: “The set of convictions articulated with such poetic power in Lucretius’ poem was virtually a textbook—or better still an inquisitor’s—definition of atheism.”
How can they do it? Ignore the facts; invent explanations that are not supported by facts or evidence; devise convenient solutions that support your lusts, your desires, and your world-view. Atheists use these spurious methods as they attempt to explain “scientifically” the world around them.
Their beliefs are supported by the made-up scientific theories they invented. Three cornerstones of atheistic science are the existence of atoms, the chance combining of atoms to produce everything including life (I don’t understand how the chance combination of atoms can produce life), and the infinite, eternal nature of atoms and nature. These three theories are not the result of scientific study. They were conceived before the beginning of science.
Leucippus and Democritus shaped the first of atheism’s scientific theories. Their “science” was not based on reason, experimentation, or observation of nature. They invented a science to support their world-view. Lucretius followed this tradition. His scientific theories explain how our world could arise from godless materialism.
Atheism’s science is based on conjecture and wishful thinking. It shamelessly supports their world-view of godless materialism. Let’s begin our study with a look at materialism—atheism’s world-view.
I. Materialism – Atheism’s World-view
If I asked you to tell me atheism’s most fundamental beliefs, what would you say? “Atheists don’t believe in God?” That’s a good answer but I think there is another belief that is even more central to atheism. That belief is materialism. Why materialism? Because atheists believe the physical world is all that exists. Therefore, since God is not physical, God cannot exist.
Consider an example of this belief from twentieth century atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair:
“Atheism is based upon a materialist philosophy, which holds that nothing exists but natural phenomena. There are no supernatural forces or entities, nor can there be any. Nature simply exists.”
O’Hair believed, as do most atheists, that there are no supernatural forces or entities. This belief, or course, includes the non-existence of God.
Atheists enjoy playing word games. Although they do not believe in God, some of them are reluctant to admit their unbelief. For example, Baron d’Holbach (AKA Paul-Henri Thiry), a famous atheist during the French Enlightenment, believed that all of man’s experiences are produced by nature.
Men will always deceive themselves by abandoning experience to follow imaginary systems. Man is the work of Nature: he exists in Nature: he is submitted to her laws: he cannot deliver himself from them; nor can he step beyond them even in thought.
According to d’Holbach, our experiences take place totally within the confines of Nature. We cannot go beyond Nature. If a person believes in anything outside of Nature, he is deceiving himself with an imaginary system. D’Holbach uses this argument to reject the idea of God. Instead he believes in a force or entity called Nature (note d’Holbach’s capitalization of “Nature”). Nature, not God, is the master designer of the universe. Does this sound like a word game?
For the sake of clarity, d’Holbach also wrote, “The universe, that assemblage of everything that exists, presents only matter and motion.”
Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709 – 1751) was another French atheist. He lived around the same time as d’Holbach. Neither man believed in God. They both believed in Nature. La Mettrie praised nature for her ability to produce such a vast variety of life from matter.
No, there’s nothing low about matter—only crude eyes see its most brilliant productions and don’t recognize that it’s matter that is at work in them; and those productions are indeed brilliant, for nature is not a worker of limited ability.
Nature is a worker of unlimited ability? Regardless of the title, it seems these two atheists are describing Nature in godlike terms.
Christian philosopher (and former atheist) C. S. Lewis responds: “If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it that you don’t feel at home there?”
Today “materialism” is a dirty word. It conjures up visions of heartless, cheap, miserly old men — a Scrooge who would sell his soul for monetary gain. Atheists don’t want to be confused with this sort of materialism. They already have enough problems with their public image.
Atheists still believe the physical world is the totality of reality. But they won’t refer to this world-view as “materialism.” They prefer the less volatile label of “scientific world-view.” But science is too limited to serve as a world-view. A world-view addresses questions of God, man, origins, purpose, and meaning. These questions are beyond the scope of science.
But atheists confuse and distort the limitations of science. For example, in his book God: The Failed Hypothesis, Physicist Victor Stenger tries to add weight to his arguments by quoting the National Academy of Sciences’ definition of science:
“Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”
The National Academy of Sciences says, “science is neutral,” regarding God’s existence In other words, the scope of science is too limited to address the existence of God. Science, not theology, is limited in scope.
Stenger confuses and distorts the limitations of science. This is revealed in the book’s subtitle: “How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist.” Once again, an atheist twists words to support his faulty theories. Stenger lies about the confines of science. Science cannot support belief or disbelief in God. Sorry, Victor.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “There is in this materialism a mad indifference to real thought.” Materialism leaves so many questions unanswered. Why would anyone choose materialism as their world-view? Because materialism is a convenient place to hide. A materialist can dismiss God and ignore morality and values.
But first the atheist must invent origin stories. If there is no God, how did the world come into existence? If there is no God, from whence cometh these incredibly diverse and marvelously designed plants and animals? If there is no God, we can ignore ethics and morality but first we must explain the origin of everything around us.
Lucretius believes he found the answer. He continues his poem by unfolding the “scientific” mythology of Democritus, Leucippus, Epicurus and other ancient atheists. There is no science to support these fairy tales. At this point the stories are little more than superstitions or, to quote Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth,” “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
So, what is this fool’s tale? It begins with something very tiny and very, very old. It begins with the primal elements—something with which we are very familiar. These elements are the key to unlocking the mysteries of a world without God.
II. The Tale of the Primal Elements
According to Lucretius, knowledge of nature can release us from our fear of the unknown. If we only understood the workings of the physical world, the light of truth about nature would disperse the terrors of the darkness. The unknown would become known. Mankind’s fear would melt away. In the words of Lucretius:
The whole of life but labors in the dark.
For just as children tremble and fear all
In the viewless dark, so even we at times
Dread in the light so many things that be
No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
This terror then, this darkness of the mind,
Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only nature’s aspect and her law.
Why do men fear the world around them? Once again, Lucretius blames belief in God. The world is filled with violent acts of nature—hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, lightning, etc. Our ignorance of nature causes us to believe these natural events are acts of God. According to Lucretius, men invent gods to explain the violence of nature.
Fear holds dominion over mortality
Only because, seeing in land and sky
So much the cause whereof no wise they know,
Men think Divinities are working there.
Lucretius begins our instruction regarding the truth of nature. First, we must understand “from nothing still, nothing can be create[d].” Matter is eternal. All things are created from the elements of matter. Gods are not involved in the process. According to Lucretius,
From which alone all things created are,
And how accomplished by no tool of Gods.
. . .
Whereas, of truth, because all things exist,
With seed imperishable.
. . .
Are partly primal germs of things, and partly
Unions deriving from the primal germs.
According to Lucretius, atoms, not gods, are the basic elements of the universe. He also refers to these atoms as “primal germs.” They are the seeds of creation. “The seeds of things, the primal germs we teach, whence all creation around us came to be.”
Someone may say, “So you believe all the universe is made up of atoms. These atoms produce everything we see—rocks, trees, people, and so on. OK, why can’t we see these atoms?” Lucretius has the answer. These individual atoms are very, very tiny.
Doubt not my words,
Because our eyes no primal germs perceive;
For mark those bodies which, though known to be
In this our world, are yet invisible:
Although the atoms are very tiny, at times we can see them. Did you ever sit in a dark room that is illuminated by the shaft of a sunbeam entering through a window? In that sunbeam did you see specks of dust floating in the air? According to Lucretius, those specks are atoms.
For behold whenever
The sun’s light and the rays, let in, pour down
Across dark halls of houses: thou wilt see
The many mites in many a manner mixed
Amid a void in the very light of the rays,
And battling on, as in eternal strife.
Of course, today we identify these tiny, floating objects as specks of dust. They are not atoms. However, having provided this bit of proof, Lucretius confidently writes, “Thus Nature ever by unseen bodies works.”
That’s why we no longer need be terrified by unknown actions of nature. Lightning, earthquakes, hurricanes, and such are not acts of some god. They are produced by nature. All the products of nature are composed by tiny elements called “atoms.” Now that you understand, you no longer need to be afraid, at least, according to Lucretius.
III. Only the Beginning
Lucretius solved one problem by introducing the concept of atoms. We no longer need to fear any god or gods. Mankind once believed the violent acts of nature were caused by the gods. But Lucretius found a method that not only explains these acts of nature but also identifies the process that created the whole world and everything in it.
Thanks to Lucretius, fear of the gods no longer is necessary. The gods do not control the acts of nature. Nor can they harass us after death because there is no life after death.
Let me emphasize two problems with his theory. First, Lucretius has no authority to declare the truth of these statements. Second, his theory is not scientific, rather, it is driven by the requirements of his materialistic world-view.
How can Lucretius make such bold declarations? Does he have special knowledge of the workings of nature or metaphysics? No. Has he died and returned from the dead? No. Lucretius has no special knowledge and no authority to make these announcements. He is not a prophet or a scholar. He is just another guy, trying to make his way through life.
Why should anyone believe him? Because many people hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. If there is no God, there is no eternal accountability for their deeds or their misdeeds. Like an ancient snake oil salesman, Lucretius is peddling the “Magic Elixir of Non-Accountability.” Only one problem—there is no evidence that it works.
In fact, there is no scientific evidence to support his atomic theory. Although there is plenty of evidence to support modern atomic theory, Lucretius’ atomic system is not based on science. If his atomic theory finds a place in the real world, it’s based on a lucky guess, not science.
This ancient atomic system was developed to explain a materialistic world-view. Its development was agenda driven. During ancient times, atheists believed in atoms. Most people who believed in a God or gods rejected this theory.
Lucretius’ work is not finished. Now he must explain the working of these atoms. If nature is filled with these tiny atoms, how can they move? How do they combine together to produce this universe? How can they produce life? Answers to these questions are in the next post.