Why don’t scientists prove god doesn’t exist?

Question from Jan,

Hi! First, let’s realize the difference between the following three words: agnostic, atheist and antitheist. OK? Are you ready? So, how can someone who calls himself a scientist be an atheist (or even antitheist)? The science is based on proves – this is the difference between science and belief. Is there any prove of non-existence of something “supernatural” or something like “spiritual power” that is often labeled as “God”? I don’t believe so. I think it’s so arrogant and till the moment of an evidence of non-existence of these “spiritual things” all the so called scientists should choose between: 1) change their status from “atheist” to “agnostic” or 2) change their status from “scientist” to “believer”. Thanks.

Hi Jan, and thank you for your question.

I hate to say it, but there’s a lot wrong with your question. First let’s make sure we get the definitions right.

  1. Atheist: (a) without (theism) belief in gods. So an atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a god or gods.
  2. Antitheist: (anti) oppose (theism) belief in gods. An Antitheist is someone who opposes belief in gods.
  3. Agnostic: (a) without (gnostic) knowledge. An Agnostic is someone without knowledge in something.

Notice the difference between 1 and 3? Atheism and Antitheism (and theism) both deal with beliefs. Agnostic deals with knowledge. That’s an important distinction to make. Agnostic in the theological discussion isn’t as much a third position as it is a qualifier for both atheism and theism. A person can be both an atheist by lacking a belief in a god, and agnostic by not knowing if one exists.  A person can also be a theist by believing in a god, and agnostic by not knowing if one exists. With me so far?

Now let’s talk about what’s called “the burden of proof”. When someone makes a claim of existence, it’s their responsibility (or burden) to prove their claim. It’s not the other persons burden to prove them wrong. If I told you that snarfwidgetes exist, would my position be valid if you can’t prove me wrong even though I have no objective evidence for my claim? Of course not. So when you talk about “ Is there any prove of non-existence of something “supernatural” or something like “spiritual power” that is often labeled as “God”?” what you’re trying to do is switch the burden of proof from yourself, where it belongs, to the other person. It’s a dishonest tactic usually taught by preachers to their peritioners who simply don’t know any better. 

So, to answer your question, scientists can still be atheists and agnostics at the same time. They don’t have to provide any proof for your god not existing. It’s your responsibility as the one making the claim, to provide the proof.

I hope that answers your question. Feel free to continue this discussion in the comment section below.

Why do atheists care?

A few questions from Bethany,

Name: Bethany
Message: Hey guys,

So I believe in the God of the bible. I believe the bible. I believe that God came to earth in to form of a man (Jesus). I guess my question is not about science or even God, it’s more about you (an atheist)… Why would an individual who doesn’t believe in divinities of any sort, spend their life trying to prove that they are not real? An atheists ‘status’ is that they believe in nothing (correct me if I’m wrong in saying that), so why do they make such a big deal of proving that something they don’t believe in isn’t real? If it makes a person happy, or gives them comfort, then why do atheists strive to take that away from them. If we only have one life (as you claim), this life that we have on earth, then why are atheists so willing to take away something that gives people joy? I don’t mean to sound ignorant and I do apologise if I am coming across that way in any shape or form, but I guess I’m just trying to see your side of the story. What are your intentions/motives in being so persistent with trying to prove that something is not real? Especially if it’s just wasting your time that you have on this earth. I mean, YOLO right!? If I were an atheist and didn’t believe in the doctrines of Gods grace, I would send every moment of my life doing crazy things. Experiencing everything and going crazy! Anyways, I’m sure you get the gist of the question. Thanks. :)))))

 

Why do atheists talk about gods so much? Because people vote, and make decisions daily based upon their faith. Scientific progress is slowed down, peoples rights are denied, etc. For example if a person of faith doesn’t understand that global warming is a real thing and instead believes that Jesus is coming in their life time, they are less likely to vote for laws that would reduce deadly emissions. It’s also because some atheists believe, myself included, that religion and god belief do psychological damage. When your faith tells you that you are dirty, a sinner, not worthy, lacking of inner strength just because you were born into humanity, well that’s a horrible message, one which no good parent would ever tell their children, yet many parents do every week when they take their kids to church. To most atheists, god belief is like having to wear glasses that are always fogged over. Unless you wipe them, you’ll never see things clearly. It’s my personal goal to help others, in an honest and sincere way, to do just that.

As for doing what makes you feel good, well heroin makes you feel REAL GOOD. So why try to stop people from becoming heroin addicts if it makes them feel good? Feeling good isn’t a good reason to do a bad thing. It not only affects our lives but the lives of those who care about us as well. If this life is the only one that we have left then the way we live is the true measure of that life.

There’s a reason smart people don’t just go crazy and do what they want. It’s called consequences. Our actions have effects on the people around us, sometimes on those that we don’t even know. Why don’t I do just anything that I want? Because I’m an empathetic person with a sense of morality and ethics. I don’t want to hurt others and I don’t want them to hurt me in return. It’s really as simple as that. No god needed.

I invite you to explore this website more deeply and learn why atheists have morals, why we believe in personal responsibility, and why we don’t believe in your god. If you have any further questions, feel free to put them in the comment section below.

 

Everything’s A God These Days

Question from John:
I’m having difficulty grasping the concept of an “atheist.” Perhaps you can clarify it for me.

The concept of a person who doesn’t have belief in a particular god, or a person who is certain that a particular god doesn’t exist, is quite clear. (For example, a person who doesn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian god, or who is convinced that the Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist.) That’s different, though, from someone who doesn’t believe in ANY god of any sort.

A person might claim that they are an “atheist” because there is no scientifically-acceptable evidence for ANY god. Fair enough, as long as that person is also agnostic. But, is there really no evidence for any sort of god? Most atheists would challenge the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of dinosaurs in spite of the fact that no (non-feathered) dinosaurs exist today, and in spite of the fact that there is no direct evidence of them. (So-called “dinosaur bones” dug out of the earth aren’t bones at all. They’re stones with impressions or forms that resemble bones.)

Wouldn’t a highly technologically-advanced extraterrestrial meet every criterion for a god, as dictionaries define the word “god”? (Like many English words, the term “supernatural” has multiple definitions. Some popular dictionaries define “supernatural” as defying natural law in principle, while others define it as appearing to, or seeming to, defy natural law. Go ahead and do a survey of dictionary definitions for yourself.) If “appearing to defy natural law” is one popular definition for the term “supernatural,” then technologically-advanced beings have “supernatural” powers and meet any and every definition of a polytheistic god.

Modern, technological humans have “supernatural” powers, too, compared to tribal peoples. We can bring the dead back to life, fly through the air faster than the speed of sound, and vaporize a forest with the push of a button. Could Zeus or Thor do much better? Even if our powers don’t seem fully god-like now, they will be in a few generations. Additionally, is there not ample evidence supporting the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations with technology far superior to our own? We don’t need to see and touch a living dinosaur to accept the reality of their existence. Do we need to make first contact with an extraterrestrial species to accept the reality of their existence, given the data we do have?

Is the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of any sort of god a reasonable justification for being an “atheist.”

Answer by SmartLX:
The more you broaden the definition of a god, the more likely it will include something which exists, because more entities both known and hypothetical fall into the category. Hyper-advanced aliens are one thing, but you talk about counting modern humans as gods, which means you’re taking into account practically any possible use of the word “god”. In a nutshell, atheists do not.

Atheism is literally the absence of theism, which is religious belief in a god figure. You could broaden that too, but belief in humans or belief in aliens doesn’t generally qualify as theism. The ontology of a true “god” is often debated, but enough of its hypothetical qualities are near-universally agreed upon by believers and non-believers alike that they can have a coherent discussion about gods together, and one more or less settled point is that a god does not have a natural origin. As Richard Dawkins wrote, advanced aliens might well appear to be gods, but they wouldn’t BE gods because they would have come about naturally like we did, probably via a process like Darwinian natural selection – unless of course they had a hand in our development, in which case they came about MORE naturally than we did.

To look at this from another angle, consider that if there were no religion, no one would bother to identify as an atheist, any more than the term “abolitionist” persisted in America after slavery was successfully abolished there. Vocal, activist atheism is a reaction to religious faith, and thus concerns itself with the same kinds of gods that people believe in, the gods people worship, and importantly the gods in whose names people act. In other words, theistic gods. Atheists claim that there is no good evidence for the gods which are the subjects of religious faith. This is not redundant or circular because the faithful do not define their gods in terms of atheism. They’ll happily tell you what their gods are like, what they’ve done and what they want from us.

Since you mentioned agnosticism: Most atheists are also agnostic because they do not claim to KNOW there are no gods (as gods are defined above). They will make the positive claim that there’s no available evidence for gods, but absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. Besides, incontrovertible evidence might turn up tomorrow in Guam for all we know.

Incidentally, you completely lost me when you said there’s “ample evidence supporting the existence of extraterrestrial civilisations”. There’s currently no unambiguous evidence at all, just a lot of probability-based arguments along the lines of the Drake equation and the unsupported claims of a community of UFO enthusiasts.

The Ubiquitous Supernatural

Question from Kelly:
Hello.
I am curious about how atheists reconcile their belief in only the natural world, i.e. what can be seen and touched and scientifically proven, etc., with the mass amounts of eyewitness accounts of the supernatural? Every time we turn on our televisions we are presented with such accounts of these unexplained supernatural happenings. If you look back through history these occurrences are nothing new. I personally have witnessed such an occurrence. I am just curious as to what atheists have to say about this aspect of our world that has no other explanation than that it’s supernatural. Thank you

Answer by SmartLX:
Not everything in the natural world can be seen or touched or scientifically proven. A lot of it is too far away, or too small, or can only be detected in parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to which human bodies have no access. Fortunately, evidence for many of these otherwise invisible things can be gathered through scientific experiments and technological advances. In most or even all cases (depending on your philosophy) it doesn’t amount to absolute proof, but it makes these things likely enough to exist that we can confidently behave as if they do.

Supernatural phenomena, by contrast, have no such evidence available. Yes, there are countless accounts and claims of the supernatural, but the more one hears the more important it is to ask why none of these people have ever managed to produce substantive evidence for their claims. Not one verified ghost caught on camera, not one psychic established as reliable, not one faith healer with a better success rate than a placebo. Why? How?

My answer to this question has two major parts. One is that there are countless natural phenomena which can be mistaken for supernatural activity, or cause other natural phenomena to be misidentified. There are an infinite number of ways to be wrong about this stuff. The second part is that getting your supernatural story on television can be very financially rewarding if you spin it right. Whether or not it’s true, amazing = ratings, and everyone wants a piece of that. In these ways, an abundance of supernatural claims is entirely plausible in a world with no supernatural phenomena whatsoever.

It’s important to remember that to be wrong does not imply anything further. I think you’re probably wrong about the nature of what you experienced, even without hearing the story, simply because my opinion is that the influence of any supernatural entity is not present to be sensed or detected. But that’s all, I think you’re wrong. Not stupid, not crazy, not lying, not clinically delusional, just wrong.

You can tell us about your own supernatural occurrence and we’ll all see what we think of it, but in the end it will just be another account, another claim. You’re entitled to believe in it if you were convinced by your experience, but that won’t convince the rest of us. If you can’t back it up, you need to find someone else with a story they can back up, if you’re going to increase acceptance of the supernatural by even a tiny bit.

Childhood Religion When Parents Disagree

Question from Michael:
I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for about 2 years now. Everything has been great for the most part. We often like to discuss things early on before they erupt later when we’re married. When we first got together I was an agnostic, then converted to Islam (which she was very happy about). My girlfriend is Jewish, but isn’t very strict in practice. She prays every night, goes to temple whenever she can, and prays before eating. That’s about the extent of it. After about a year of being Muslim I decided it was all a load of crap and became atheist (that story is much longer, but I don’t want to get off topic). She was very upset at this initially, but after I explained my reasoning she seemed to accept it.

The only issue that comes up for me is CHILDREN. I want to marry this woman, but I’m very afraid of raising religious kids. She’s VERY insistent on the children being raised under Judaism. I was raised Christian, and I know it differs a bit from Reformed Judaism, but I know how much pressure a child can have when introduced to a religious life. I really do not want my kids going through this. Just to end the argument I decided to let her win and allow the kids to be raised Jewish, but deep down inside it still bothers me. What should I do? I don’t want to break up with her over some silly superstition, but shes not going to see it done any other way.

(Also, her mother always wanted to raise her more religiously, so that’s why she feels the need to raise our kids that way.)

Answer by SmartLX:
I have a fairly devout Catholic mother who raised me and my sisters as Catholics. My father’s an atheist, and mentioned it a grand total of twice. Two out of us three kids turned out atheist, and the other believes but is hardly religious at all. While of course kids’ upbringing has an influence, you never can tell.

You could do a lot worse than Reform Judaism. Jews have no solid concept of (or at least no emphasis on) Hell, so the kids will be spared that particular trauma. Reform Judaism is one of the more liberal branches, going so far as to say that it’s up to the individual whether to subscribe to its practices and even its beliefs (outside of a few central ones, like God of course).

A big reason why your girlfriend wants to raise your kids as Jews is because Reform Judaism doesn’t consider them to be Jews even in the hereditary sense unless they’ve been raised that way. This means that their hypothetical Jewish upbringing will likely concentrate on all the things Jews ought to know (for demonstrating to family and other Jews), not what they ought to believe. This might actually be good for the kids to some extent, because they’ll be very culturally aware. Even secular Jews keep up this kind of education.

As for eventually bringing them out of it, the number one thing I can suggest is to make them aware of other religions early on. The simple fact that there are people out there who believe completely different things or have no equivalent belief is very powerful, and every bit of religious doctrine has to be seen in that light afterwards. Just the idea that religions can be compared, and therefore individually evaluated, can plant seeds of doubt.

All this is assuming that your girlfriend will stay as religious as she is now, which isn’t a given. We can go into the reasons for her belief if you’d like to comment, but speaking generally most of the atheists in the Western world were once religious, so there’s always a chance for a voluntary deconversion.

“What will my parents think?”

Question from Amanda:
Well I’ve finally decided, after many years, to tell my parents I don’t believe in gods. The only problem… I have no idea how. Any ideas that will help them understand and not hate me for the rest of my life?

Answer by SmartLX:
I get asked this question a lot, or something similar. Here and here are two of my previous answers.

The problem is that everyone’s situation is different. You’ve obviously got religious parents or you wouldn’t need to ask about this, but even if I knew as much about them as you I couldn’t reliably guess how they’ll react if you tell them. Since I don’t know whether you still live with them, I can’t say what the consequences might be if they react badly. Still, you’ve already made up your mind and you’re only asking how to go about it, so I guess I can make a few suggestions.

A pretty good rule is to try to avoid the word “atheist” (or any other similar identifier like “freethinker” or “bright”). Don’t deny it if they bring it up, but don’t start off by confronting them with a bold label you’ve given yourself. That makes it sound like you’ve fallen in with a bad crowd (as if you’d gotten a gang tattoo) and you need to be isolated and “rescued” or “deprogrammed”.

Since it’s all about you, and you’re not just the victim of evil godless propagandists, put it in terms of what’s actually happened to you: if you ever believed in gods, you don’t now, and all the church in the world won’t change that because insufficient or ineffective preaching isn’t the reason you don’t believe. Once the simple fact is out there, you’ll get a pile of questions the nature of which will give you a good idea how to proceed. If they’re to do with the horrible stigma attached to non-belief, you’ll have a chance to dispel some myths about it. If they’re aimed at actually bringing you around, you can give them a taste of some straightforward counter-arguments – not to destroy them in debate there and then, but simply to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through.

Through it all, emphasise that you’re still their daughter, you’re still you, and that you don’t think any less of them for thinking differently than you do (implying, of course, that neither should they think less of you). Recognise that if they do have a strong reaction, it will be largely motivated by genuine concern for your wellbeing, stemming from fear both of God in Heaven and of the anti-atheist discrimination you’ll suffer on Earth. Reassure them as much as you can.

Only the most extreme fundamentalist parents would refuse to have any kind of relationship with a child who’s made what he or she sees as a rational decision to be open about lacking a God-belief. If you’re even hopeful that your parents can be made to see reason in your position, they’re probably not that type, so I reckon you’ll be all right. Come back and let us know how it went in a comment, if you like. It’ll be educational to others, one way or the other.

Agreeing With Philosophers

Question from Sammy:
Maimonides was the greatest philosopher ever, his influence has spanned centuries and cultures, and he believed in God.

I am sure he was aware of atheistic theories, and still he believed. Isn’t that something to count on? Is it possible to be smarter than the smartest?!

I would appreciate some clarity, tnx!!!

Answer by SmartLX:
The claim that Maimonides was the greatest philosopher ever is highly subjective, especially given the competition from the rest of history. Just for starters, he’s up against Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tze and Buddha; from a quick online search, Maimonides rarely seems to make the top ten.

While most of the men on this impromptu list believed in some kind of divine presence they were completely at odds as to its nature, and therefore could not all have been right. So you can stack your Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas and Blaise Pascal up against my Epicurus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell and it won’t mean much in the end, because it is demonstrably possible and in fact very common for even the world’s greatest thinkers to be dead wrong. Sometimes we don’t know which ones are wrong, but when they’re diametrically opposed at least one position has to be.

For Maimonides to actually affect the debate over the existence of gods (let alone his God) we have to look at what he actually contributed to that area of theology. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, his attempts to prove God all boiled down to variants of the cosmological argument, which I’ve covered. If you think one of his versions is beyond what I addressed in my earlier piece or the follow-up, put it in a comment and we’ll discuss it. Otherwise there’s nothing new or convincing to be had.

Importantly, Maimonides’ intelligence and his arguments for God are most likely not why he believed in the first place. From what we know of his life, he grew up in Spain during what’s known as its golden age of Jewish culture, when Muslim Moors ruled but Jews were accepted and their culture prospered. Just about everything he would have read or heard from either Islamic or Jewish sources simply assumed the existence of God, and used it as a premise to argue for other things. Chances are he did that himself in his youth, so when he eventually began to argue for God he was just looking for ways to confirm what he already “knew” and please his audience. That’s the thing about religious apologetic: in the end its actual use is usually not to convert unbelievers but to reassure believers.

The Charity of Atheists

Question from Melisa:
I have a friend from high school who is a wonderful person married to a wonderful man and they are both committed to only adopting children, rather than having their own biological children. They also happen to be Christian.

They recently made a post asking for help in finding a toddler bed ASAP (they have been fostering a lot while they are in the adoption process), my husband and I happily arranged for the bed and some other small items to be delivered.

She was very gracious but many of her friends posted religious things in response, which irked me. Is there a polite way to say, “Hey, please keep your religious comments to yourself, we’re atheist (and aren’t missing a moral compass, btw!)”?

Should I just leave this alone? Or this an opportunity to enlighten?

Thanks!

Answer by SmartLX:
You didn’t say what kind of religious comments they’re making, but chances are they’re either saying God will reward you for what you’ve done or crediting God for your actions, or both.

I know it’s irritating, believe me, but before you speak up in protest consider that they’ve most likely assumed you’re Christian yourself. You did a good thing for a couple of Christians, and that’s supposed to be what good Christians do. (This basic assumption goes beyond anything in scripture; people in any group “look after their own”.) Therefore they think they’re responding to an act of Christian charity, and everything they say is meant to make you feel good. As misguided as their comments are, this is them being nice. Any contrary response at all is liable to make some of them feel as if you’ve bitten their heads off for no good reason. I hate that this happens, but it’s just how it will come across.

You’re right though, this is an opportunity to enlighten. The fact that an atheist is capable of the same charity as a Christian is unfortunately news to many Christians. Now that the deed’s done, all you need to say in order to get that across is that you and your husband are atheists, so you needn’t reject anything explicitly while doing so. Maybe just make the point while also taking their comments in the spirit in which they’re intended: for example, “We’re atheists so I wouldn’t comment on that, but thanks for the good wishes.”

Sadly, the mere existence of atheists is an insult to some Christians, because it says to them that someone out there thinks they’re wrong, and maybe stupid or crazy as well. If you do anything but completely hide your atheism, someone will probably take offence no matter how tactful you are. It’s bound to cost you something socially. It might however be worth it.

Afraid and lonely? It happens.

Question from Josh:
I am a somewhat new atheist. I recently finished leaving the fold and feel that I am now very much deconverted in this long drawn out process. However, no matter how many books I read about how hell was invented later I still have a small fear of it in the back of my mind. I was wondering if you had a similiar experience or had advice. Also I am feeling very lonely since deconverting it seems as if it gets harder and harder to find secular friends as an atheist. I feel I have to keep this hidden about myself.

Answer by SmartLX:
Welcome to faithdrawal, Josh. I didn’t invent it, but I did come up with the name. The fears and anxieties instilled in you by your indoctrination (including the fear of Hell) will outlast the core beliefs on which they’re based, possibly by a long time. Such is the nature of psychology and emotion. Be assured, however, that as long as you don’t relapse into the beliefs themselves, you will feel better and less afraid as time goes on. (The opposite happened to me; after not seriously thinking about religion for over a decade, all the associated emotions had faded and no longer supported the beliefs. I mostly base my concept of faithdrawal on what people have told me in their questions.)

You haven’t said where you’re from or where you’re living, but it can certainly be problematic or even downright dangerous to identify yourself as an atheist in some places. That said, there are few places in the world where you’re likely to be entirely alone in your atheism. Think about it: if you feel you have to keep it hidden, other atheists around you probably feel they have to hide it too, including from you. A community sometimes needs a few brave folks to “come out” before the rest will be open about it. I’m not necessarily encouraging you to do this, I’m just acknowledging that it would take courage, and for good reason.

While you’re waiting for the local atheist contingent to hit that “critical mass”, you can look for local groups with “Atheist”, “Humanist”, “Secular” and/or “Freethinker” in the title. If you’re in America, for example, American Atheists and the Secular Student Alliance are all over the place these days. If you’re in Great Britain, look for the British Humanist Association. If you comment and say where you are, even to within a state or equivalent, we might be able to help with this.

Cheer up, it seriously only seems like you’re alone.

Why For You Gotta Do That?

Question from Jake:
I would like to get out of the way I’m a Christian. I would like to know if there’s a code or something saying atheists need to ridicule religious people? I’m just fine that you’re an atheist because I believe God gave us free will so we should let everybody do what they want. I try not to be ignorant like a lot of Christians (I know you probably think I’m already because I beleive there’s a god but I try to know all the facts and things like that). I don’t condemn evolution as something the devil made up and in my opinion it might’ve been the way god made all the animals.

Answer by SmartLX:
There is no atheist code, period. Not believing in gods does not automatically mean you have to try and stop others from believing, or make fun of the religious, or do anything else for that matter. People who ridicule believers do so for their own reasons.

That said, many atheists do believe the religious would be better off if they no longer believed (and the non-religious would be better off if they were more numerous). It’s that idea that drives them to challenge religious beliefs. Ridiculing religious people directly is usually misguided and ultimately ineffective, but the beliefs themselves are fair game like any other idea. If they are well supported, believers should be able to defend them from attacks. If not, perhaps the beliefs are not worth holding.

You’re a Christian, so I realise that you think everyone needs to “get right with God” so they can go to Heaven. This may drive you to proselytise when you can, or discuss your faith with outsiders, or at least pray for souls to be saved and minds to be changed. You ultimately think atheists would be better off as Christians, regardless of how pro-active you are in that area. You likely also realise that some Christians go about converting people in dubious ways, such as violating constitutional separation of church and state or physically attacking those of other religions. I don’t assume that you condone these actions unless you say you do.

Likewise, some atheists can be dicks about it. Not everything done or said by every atheist is condoned by all atheists. If you want to know my opinion on a particular action or statement, whether actual or hypothetical, comment and ask or just look through what I’ve already written.