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.

16 thoughts on “Why don’t scientists prove god doesn’t exist?”

  1. Thanks for your question Jan. Whenever I get a question such as yours (often times someone says prove that a god doesn’t exist), I go to my standard answer which I feel explains why their question is fundamentally flawed.

    You can’t prove that something does not exist. That is false logic. It is impossible to prove that something does not exist. Why? Because something that is not real will not produce evidence or data which can be collected to show it is not real. That is why the burden of proof is always placed on the person claiming that something is true or real. If that person cannot prove that the thing they claim is real or true, than the only rational conclusion to reach is that it is not real or true.

    When an atheist says there is no god, they say that because there is no proof for one. Most believers readily understand this as well, so they often will try to shift the burden of proof to the other side and say “prove it doesn’t exist” which as we’ve already covered is a logical impossibility.

    Unless you can provide some evidence for the existence of a god, there is no reason for science to consider that there might be one…

    1. I second what Tim wrote, but I’d like to add a footnote:

      While it is impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist, it is quite easy to demonstrate that certain things almost certainly don’t exist. In other words, that their existence is extremely, outrageously unlikely.

      The Loch Ness monster or Big Foot could certainly exist. Disbelieving in them because there is insubstantial evidence for their existence is reasonable, but it would be unreasonable to claim that they CAN’T exist– or even that their existence is astronomically unlikely. On the other hand, flying horses like Pegasus almost certainly don’t exist. Their design contradicts everything that we know about the laws of biology and physics. In the same way, a higher non-personal, non-anthropomorphic (non-human like) intelligence or power of some undefined sort is not impossible and could exist. A “God” or “gods” of some sort could exist– but the intrinsically supernatural, logically inconsistent and contradictory, anthropomorphic God of the bible almost certainly does not exist.

  2. Erick, I realize that the distinction you make between an atheist and an agnostic represents the contemporary, standard, officially accepted interpretation of the meanings of the terms, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate and challenge that interpretation. (I hope you don’t mind.)

    I’ve heard some explanations of the difference between “knowledge” and “belief” which seem compelling, using concrete examples with extreme and seemingly unequivocal distinctions. For example, the difference an ancient Greek philosopher BELIEVING that the Earth is round and a space shuttle astronaut looking out a window and SEEING that the Earth is round. Setting aside the fact that most real-life comparisons between belief and knowledge are far less unequivocal than this example, there are still problems. When I look out my space shuttle window at what appears to be a round Earth, how do I KNOW that it is actually round? We’ve all experienced optical illusions, parlor magic, and perceptual errors. (In actuality, the Earth isn’t actually perfectly spherical, though it’s too close to being spherical for our eyes and brain to tell that it’s not.) Even if the astronaut makes extremely detailed measurements with high tech equipment, she can’t actually KNOW that the Earth is round. The best that she can do is to come to an extremely confident conclusion that it’s round– to BELIEVE very confidently that it is round. History has taught us that the distinction between knowledge and belief is intrinsically fuzzy. Isaac Newton KNEW that his formulas describing the motion of objects were accurate, not only because the math made perfect logical sense, but also because he was able to make accurate predictions of the motions of celestial bodies such as comets. But he was wrong. Today we know that his equations are extremely close in many cases, but way off in others. At one time physicists KNEW that light was purely a wave phenomena (because they could SEE the interference patterns it created), until they later learned that photons also behave as particles. Only a few years ago astrophysicists KNEW that the expansion of our universe was slowing, because our understanding of physics required that to be the case, but recently we’ve learned that it’s actually increasing. The history of science is full of such examples, and it is a triumph of the scientific method and the culture of science that we are able to discard mistaken BELIEFS as easily as we do. The fact is, even in the clearest black and white cases possible, the distinction between knowledge and belief is hazy and relative. In absolute terms, all “knowledge” is actually belief.

    1. John – I see your point, and there is some fuzzy in there, but that is a matter of semantics in my mind. A “belief” held in science is not the same as a “belief” held out of it. A scientific belief is based on the end result of the scientific method. And one of the tenets of science is that nothing is ever truly considered a fact. It is merely the truth as we know it at this time. You give multiple valid examples of exactly this happening, and fortunately science is ready and willing to correct itself as need be, so those errors were corrected in time as you also pointed out. But because science does all those things, I wouldn’t call the current knowledge of a topic “belief”, because there is always that part of science in the background that says “under construction” if you will. (Now maybe I am getting into semantics LOL!)

      At any rate, I see the fuzzy area you are talking about, and I don’t think it is playing devil’s advocate to talk about it. It’s actually very important to understand and accept that science is not always right and never finishes answering the question. Science is a path, not a destination – an important difference.

      When talking about a god though, that is a pretty black and white topic to most people. It’s like kind of being pregnant…there is no such thing. You either believe, or you don’t. “Belief” in that arena is not fuzzy.

      Thanks for the brain stretching.

  3. The very practice of doing science (which only works on the foundation of materialism) and the application of that knowledge in our daily living, already proves that the hypothesis of God is non-productive for aquiring real knowledge.

  4. I recently listened to a religious radio show who’s guest tried to scientifically argue the existence of God. The argument used as an example the human eye. It was postulated that the eye is far too complex to happen naturally, therefore it must have been created. As discussed above this is an attempt to shift the burden of proof. Based on the definitions above, I would call myself agnostic. I do not know and quite honestly, I don’t think anybody knows. That said, many are believers and that’s fine with me. I wouldn’t think based on the definition above that there are many atheists but I have no data to support that supposition. As a man of science, I understand the theory and the process of evolution. It is not hard for me to accept this as a reasonable explanation for the human eye. I have to say that the guest’s attempt to use science to prove God bothered me. I then thought to put myself in the shoes of a theist and again found myself bothered. The bible speaks of faith and belief. It does not speak of science and proof. Faith, by biblical definition, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For the guest to argue the scientific proof of God (even if his argument was correct) does a disservice to his faith – a disservice to the God he believes in. Science and faith are two different things.

    1. Mitch – The argument used on that radio show is a rather tired and repeated tactic by believers to attempt to validate their belief system in a world that increasinly relies on science and logic to explain the phenomena of the universe. The 2005 Dover School District lawsuit in Pennsylvania contains such an argument about flagellum. It was soundly trounced in court because it was shown how flagellum evolved from simpler structures. The eye, as you’ve noted, is also well documented and its evolution understood.

      Creationists either don’t know or choose to ignore the well documented evolution of things like eyes and flagellum. Beyond that, the whole basis for their claim isn’t on sound logical footing in the first place. Existence doesn’t prove source, something they can’t seem to grasp.

      Ancient belief systems are on their way out, and humanity can only benefit from that.

  5. There are two things in the universe: energy, and information; and, information is the conformation of energy. That conformation must be in differentiated closed circuitry, that there be something to move out of the way and fill in behind in the one substance, energy. Enough differentiation causes consciousness so that, in turn, the matrix of energy is thereby differentiated and therefore conscious.
    It was found that in outer space there are automatic differentiations wherever there is enough nothingness, for, the infinitesimal point nothingness, . , is rastered by time into timespace, U , which exerts its oneness in one direction, /, stirring closed circuitry, O, that all going the same way, vO^XvO^, repels, X, forcing confluency, =, back into undifferentiation.
    The force of stirring, /, is different on either side of a circuit in this process due to the value of pi going from zero to higher values, and thereby there is a different amount of force on either side of the circuit thereby allowing the circuit to circulate.
    The friction is caused by the Planck’s volumes. Nothing can be smaller than Planck’s volume. The infinitesimal point nothingness is absolute nothingness, nothing. As said “nothing” can be smaller than Planck’s volume.
    This process is eternal, therefore, energy is eternally conscious, and has been called God.

    1. Actually information is the decrease of entropy. But to your main point, you’ve made a tremendous leap of bad logic to go from Planck space to energy being “eternally conscious”. You’ve made no connection between consciousness and energy at all. Your whole post fails to prove anything.

      Space, by the way, is not empty. This “wherever there is enough nothingness” mumbo jumbo is useless AND inaccurate.

  6. Miguel,
    I must respectfully disagree. Information is not a component of the universe. Rather it is an attribute of components of the universe. Information is that which informs. It is data and knowledge. Data represents values attributed to parameters. Knowledge signifies understanding. An red ball, for example is made up of rubber and red paint. It is not made up of the data representing it’s mass or the knowledge that it is red.
    Energy is not consciousness. Consciousness is an attribute of complex life which in part enables it to gain knowledge. if there were no life anywhere in the universe, energy would still exist. Consciousness and knowledge on the other hand, would not.
    Now, God may very well exist but there is no way to prove it with science or non-sequitur arguments.

    1. I like your post Mitch, but I would disagree that science cannot prove gods. Gods leave evidence all over the place, based on their claimed comings and goings in story after story throughout the religions of humanity over time. They are indeed very observable and testable…if only there was actually any evidence from these supposed creatures in the first place…

  7. So basically if there’s no proof for a god, then, there is no god?
    Say for example an athitheist claims” there is no god?”
    Does that mean it’s his job to prove it?
    Also do all of you think it’s scientifically or rationally possible for a god, Higher power, to exist?

    1. If there’s no evidence of a god, a god is unlikely to exist because one would expect there to be evidence for a god that wants believers, but it’s not impossible. Someone claiming it’s impossible for a god to exist or that it’s otherwise certain that a god doesn’t exist would have to make a watertight case for it, but I don’t claim that and I don’t think Jake does either.

  8. Tim,
    I stand corrected. Science can indeed prove gods exist but only if there is evidence. I disagree that gods have left “evidence all over the place, based on their claimed comings and goings in story after story throughout the religions of humanity over time”. Those are stories – testimony at best not evidence. I think we are in agreement that there is no actual evidence. Existence does not prove cause. No proof of god does not mean there is no god but the burden of proof lies on proving it.

    1. I concur Mitch. To clarify one point, I do not think gods have actually left evidence, I was only trying to point out that there should be some available given the number of times gods interact with the universe (when you take all the various religious claims over the timespan of humanity). Given the lack of evidence it would certainly appear that those stories are not rooted in reality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *