I came across an interesting argument by a fellow named Robert Koons. He argues that the conjunction of scientific realism (SR), ontological naturalism (ON), and representational naturalism (RN) is inconsistent.
SR is obviously just the belief that scientific theories give us objective truth about reality. That it's theories, models, and laws are independent of our preferences and practices. Also, that they tend in the long run to increase our stock of real knowledge.
ON is the thesis that nothing can have any influence on events and conditions in space and time except other events and conditions in space and time. Either there are no things outside space and time or they have nothing to do with us.
I would say most atheists now-a-days seem to believe in these two things. Most take theories such as evolution as being proof against theistic belief, and scientific practices as being contrary to miracles or other theistic beliefs. They can only say this if they hold SN. Also, ON seems to be the commonly, though not universaly, held ontology that is pervasive today with atheists.
Finally, RN is the proposition that human knowledge and intentionality are parts of nature, to be explained entirely in terms of scientifically understandable causal connections between brain states and the world.
I would also say that most atheists today probably believe this as well, as it seems to fit in with how our brains would of evolved through the process of natural evolution, as souls, or cartisan dualism or whatever would not understandable as to how they could causally affect the world in scientific terms.
Moving along, it seems that many atheists accept ON and RN because of their belief in SR. However, Koons argues somewhat paradoxically that scientific realism entails either ON, or RN, or both, to be false.
The argument makes two assumptions:
PS- A preference for simplicity (elegance, symmetries, invariences) is a pervasive feature of scientific practice.
In his article he argues for this I can attest to it as well. I was reading THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE and the author spoke of the unified theory and how string theory is so simple and beautiful and all that and that's what physicists are looking for.
ER- Reliability is an essential component of knowledge and intentionality, on any naturalistic account of these.
He argues for this as well. As my own note, I am sure that most people will argree with this, it fits its seems to sit nicely in with the whole evolutionary sceme of things. Surely our belief-states must of evolved as being reliable truth indicators, as it would seems that individuals who hold true beliefs would be more likely to survive.
Now on to the arguement.
1) SR, RN, and ER entail that our sceintific methods are reliable sources of truth about the world.
2) From PS, it follows that simplicity is a reliable indicator of the truth about natural laws.
Scientists seem to think this is such.
3) Mere correlation between simplicity and the laws of nature is not good enough: reliability requires that there be some causal mechanism connecting simplicity and the actual laws of nature.
If simplicity is a reliable indicator of truth, then the connection between them cannot be merely coincidental. Something must be causally responsible for the bias towards simplicity exhibited by the theoretically illuminated structure of nature.
4) Since the laws of nature pervade space and time, any such causal mechanism must exist outside space and time.
Koons says that by defintion, the laws and fundamental structure of nature pervade nature. Anything that causes these laws to be simple, anything that imposes a consistent aesthetic, must be supernatural.
5) Therefore, ON is false.
An ontological naturalist by the name of David Papineau writes this:
"For if the constituents of the world are indeed characterized by the relevant kind of physical simplicity, then a methodology which uses observations to decide between alternatives with this kind of simplicity will for that reason be a reliable route to the truth."
In other words, says Koons, as long as we are convinced that the laws of nature just happen to be simple in the appropriate way, we are entitiled to conclude that our simplicity-preferring methods were reliable guides to the truth. However, it seems clear that such a retrospective analysis would instead reveal that we suceeded by sheer dumb luck.
If it is mere coincidence that the laws of nature share a certain form of aesthetic beauty, then our reliance upon aesthetic criteria in theory choice is not in any sense reliable. When we use the fact that we have discovered a form of "physical simplicity" in law A as a reason for preferring theories of law B which have the same kind of simplicity, then our method is reliable only if there is some causal explanation of the repitition of this form of simplicity in nature. And this repitition necessitates a supernatural cause.
Now, admittedly, the defeat of ON does not signal the demise of atheism, as atheism is compatable with ~ON. But, ON is a pervasive belief among atheists today, hence I chose the title because it will speak to atheists and garner more attention.