Tuesday, September 12, 2017

No, I Don’t Need to Explore the Entire Universe to Be an Atheist

One odd question that occasionally gets asked by theists is how one can possibly be an atheist when science hasn’t yet (or can’t possibly have) explored the entire universe. The presumption being, apparently, that atheists shouldn’t be so confident that God doesn’t exist when there are distant parts of the universe where, what, God could be hiding? Well, let me just say this about that:

First of all, the majority of atheists don’t actually claim to know that God doesn’t exist, only that they don’t believe God exists. This lack of belief could be the result of never being exposed to or raised with a belief in the whole God concept in the first place, it could be a rejection of claims made by theists due to a lack of convincing evidence, or what have you. To be an atheist you don’t need to know or claim to know that God doesn’t exist, just not believe that God exists. But, hey — there are certainly some atheists who are confident enough to say that they have considered the evidence for God’s existence, as well as the evidence against his existence, and are as sure that God doesn’t exist as they are sure about anything else in life (e.g., that they are conscious, that the earth rotates and revolves around the sun, that they only have one head, etc.). I should know, since I am one of these atheists.

Second of all, even if you are only talking about atheists like me who claim to “know” that God doesn’t exist, the God we are talking about is the exact same God that all the various world religions talk about. You know, the God that actually is described in various holy scriptures, the God that supposedly performs miracles, the God that supposedly provides objective morality, the God that answers prayers, the God that rewards us for following his word and punishes us for not doing so, etc. In other words, the God that — regardless of your religion — actually manifests itself right here where we all happen to live in this incredibly vast, vast universe. Whether or not there is some being that could somehow be described as a “God” in some distant corner of the universe, perhaps even wholly outside the observable universe, that “God” could not possibly be the God that we are talking about here.

But what about the so-called “Deist” God that merely created the universe and then left it (and, by extension, us) to its own devices? Shouldn’t we hard-core atheists withhold judgment on that God since it actually might be hiding somewhere out there? And the answer is a resounding “no” for a number of reasons:
  • The “Deist” God has it’s origin in the same holy books and religious traditions as all the theist Gods. It’s just that, when Deists realized how untenable it was to assert belief in something for which there was no good evidence (and for which there was plenty of counter evidence), they decided to argue for an impersonal and undetectable creator God rather than abandoning their faith all together [“Deism gained prominence among intellectuals during the Age of Enlightenment, especially in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Typically, these had been raised as Christians and believed in one God, but they had become disenchanted with organized religion and orthodox teachings such as the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy, and the supernatural interpretation of events, such as miracles.”].[1] Which is to say that if we can dismiss all the theist concepts of God as the product of ignorant superstitions, we can dismiss the Deist God for exactly the same reason, despite all the pseudo-intellectual gloss that has been applied to the underlying concept over the years.

  • Speaking of pseudo-intellectual gloss, every single argument in favor of there being a Deist God is based in an Argument from Ignorance (or “God of the Gaps”) fallacy. Whether it be the so-called Teleological Argument (a.k.a. the Argument from Design) argument, the Cosmological Argument, the Fine-Tuned Universe Argument, or what have you, they all basically claim that since we [supposedly] cannot explain some facet of the universe, the only possible explanation is a supernatural creator who exists outside of time and space and is somehow able to interact with matter and energy despite not being composed of either. Aside from the fact that we actually can now explain many of the things that used to be inexplicable (the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, for example, now perfectly explains the apparent design in the natural world), the lack of an explanation cannot, in itself, be evidence of some other explanation for which there is no evidence.

  • Aside from being wholly irrelevant and unnecessary, the Deist God is also, by definition, wholly incapable of being detected. Which is to say that, even if there were such a being, it wouldn’t matter if we did explore the entire universe since such a God would not be able to be found.

[1] Deism - Wikipedia

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