The true difference between atheists, rationalists, freethinkers and non-theistic scientists and the people on the theistic side of the table lies in the explanation of the origin of the universe, and what may or may not have existed before the Big Bang.
Having just watched the debate at La Ciudad de las Ideas on the question “Does the Universe have a Purpose?” I’m struck by the fact that we (by which I refer to the former list of groups containing atheists etc… to which I claim affiliation) are the only ones committed to continuously refining our explanations and arguments. It was mentioned during the debate that people on the side of theism are lazy, and this is distinctly true because for them they know the answer already: God came before the Big Bang, created the universe and gives it and us purpose. They don’t spend much time refining the maths that show this to be true, they don’t invest thousands upon thousands of taxpayers currency into funding to further the theistic understanding of God (not that they would be allowed in a free democracy) and they don’t strive to always have the most complete and substantiated version of their explanation.
On our side of the argument, however, we have many different theories and conceptions that we are constantly refining and subjecting to rigorous mathematical and scientific scrutiny. We are struggling every day to come to a Theory of Everything. The theists already have a Theory of Everything and they call it God. The true difference is, if we do finally stumble upon the scientific Theory of Everything we will be able to conclusively demonstrate the proof (in the mathematical sense) of it. Theists merely say it’s God and cannot develop the idea further.
One of the speakers near the end of the debate, speaking from the audience (whose comments were mirrored by William Lane Craig in his closing 30 second speech) spoke of the sheer arrogance of the position that humans can have purpose but this massive thing composed of stars and galaxies and black holes could not possibly have a purpose and repeated that to believe that only humans could have purpose is the height of arrogance (William Lane Craig mentioned a trend of bigoted ‘scientism’ in IT-related groups at similar conferences) however it must be pointed out that the truly arrogant and bigoted position is to say that it’s all down to God and requires no further discussion.
I think it’s entirely justifiable to be a little arrogant when facing theists on topics of science when we are the ones who are consistently working on the problem and trying to refine our explanations whereas our opponents are relying on arguments that have not changed markedly in the last 2000 years or more and, when being honest, see no need for those arguments to change.
One other point that needs to be addressed is the overtones from the theistic side of the argument that love and purpose are not susceptible to rational examination. Of course they are! One of the later speakers who had merely been listening to the debate and was invited to chime in with a few others near the end of the debate mentioned rather importantly and eloquently that without the brain there is no good, no evil, no love and no purpose and this is the vital point. One of the theistic speakers spoke of these things, from the point of view of the atheistic worldview, as merely purposeless offshoots that may as well be ignored in a purposeless universe however since without the brain there is no purpose, an ability which is uniquely human (though clearly present in our relative apes) it is obvious that the entire reason we value love, and even have values in the first place, is because of our brain. We know that the brain is responsible for our perceptions, our feelings, our emotions, our understanding of the world around us, our thought processes, our likes and dislikes and everything that makes us human, and in most cases we have even found the area of the brain responsible for these things. Furthermore, we can conclusively show that the human brain is a late development to the universe as a whole (if we ignore the highly improbable possibility that human-like consciousness arose somewhere else in the universe prior to it’s appearance on earth) and not only that but we can deductively show that certain abilities in the brain, like the ability to form a conception of a God, only developed after a certain point and that this development was fuelled by an entirely natural development process i.e. evolution by natural selection we end up with a watertight case that conclusively shows that abstract human notions like love and purpose are inherently susceptible to rational inquiry.
Finally, it has to be said, in response to this quote from William Lane Craig:
“…You cannot live consistently and purposefully within the context of an atheistic worldview”
I, and many other people just like me who reject your morally reprehensible notion that the universe could only have a purpose in creating us to be subservient to a megalomaniacal bastard in the sky, live a consistent and purposeful life every day, so fuck you very much for daring to claim otherwise.