Monday, May 22, 2017

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  • I have a question you do not cover on your web site.

     

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    • Don’t ‘strong atheism’ and ‘atheism’ mean the same thing anyway?

    No. Atheism (also called “weak atheism”) is a lack of belief in the existence of a god or gods. It is a personal proposition, that in our minds one particular belief does not exist.

    Strong atheism is the position that we should affirm the non-existence of a god or gods. It is a position about reality, that there are no referents to “god” out there. Both therefore pertain to different aspects of the issue.

     

    • Strong atheism posits certainty, but certainty is impossible.

    Strong atheistic propositions do not imply certainty.

    To understand this, we need to understand the difference between a claim and the confidence we put on that claim. We can make claims about a great number of things, but the nature of the claim itself does not indicate how confident we are in it.

    To give a simple example, a fundamentalist Christian having a “crisis of faith” would maintain the claim that there is 100% chance that a god exists, while having less confidence in that proposition than he did before. His claim did not change: his confidence changed.

    Science also affirms a great number of universals. For instance, Newton’s law of gravity is a universal. The attraction between two masses is proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance: this equation is universal, it applies to all points of spacetime and all time (as long as the laws of physics exist, of course). Yet science is open to disproof or improvement of its laws and theories. And Newton’s law of gravity was indeed shown to be incomplete by Einstein’s General Relativity. So Newton’s law being universal did not make its confidence 100%: nothing in science, nor in rational thinking, is known with 100% confidence.

    By the same token, a proposition such as “there is no god” may be universal, but it does not demand certainty. It demands that we prove it as knowledge, just like any other claim of knowledge.

     

    • You can’t prove anything.

    How do you define “prove”? The dictionary defines it as “To establish the truth or validity of by presentation of argument or evidence”. By that standard, a great number of scientific and technical propositions are proven. “There is no god” would be one of them.

    If by “prove” you mean “establish the truth with 100% certainty”, then you’re asking for the impossible. We can’t do that, and neither can you. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything.

     

    • Aren’t universal negatives impossible to prove?

    It is usually assumed that universal negatives cannot be proven. Indeed that is the main complaint heard about strong atheism: that it cannot by definition be proven, because it is a universal negative. Usually this is associated with a pretense of omniscience. The argument is that to say that something does not exist, one needs basically to “look” everywhere, thus be omniscient.

    But on the other hand, we know that no contradiction can exist, because of the laws of logic. But we can make up contradictory entities. For example, the expression “married bachelor”. A bachelor by definition cannot be married, therefore the expression is contradictory. When the term being used is contadictory, the universal negative is true automatically, like “There is no married bachelor”.

    All that is needed to prove such a negative is to show that the concept in question is meaningless or contradictory. For example, an argument often used against the existence of hypothetical gods is the Argument from Evil. In this case, the evidence is that a god must be omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent, and the fact that evil exists. We do not need to know everything to know that evil exists and compare this with a god’s infinite attributes, and yet it is sufficient to argue strong atheism, because it shows that gods are incompatible with our universe.

    Another means to prove a universal negative about the non-existence of X consists of finding a positive which opposes X. For instance, science disproved the existence of phlogiston by demonstrating the scientific fact that combustion is sparked by the existence of a substrate combined with oxygen, and therefore not by phlogiston.

    It is therefore basically a fallacy to say that universal negatives cannot be proven. Indeed that is the main role of logic: proving universal negatives to remove all contradictions from thought. It would be surprising if universal negatives couldn’t be proven.

    “There are actually two ways to prove the nonexistence of something. One way is to prove that it cannot exist because it leads to contradictions (e.g., square circles, married bachelors, etc.). The other way is, in the words of Keith Parsons, “by carefully looking and seeing.” This is how we can know that such things as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Abimonable Snowman, etc. do not exist.”
    -Jeffery Jay Lowder, in “Is a Proof of the Nonexistence of a God Even Possible?”

    In fact, the scientific method only admits for universal negatives – in science, you can only falsify something completely, not confirm it completely. Something is judged to be true because it stands to the test of falsifiability extensively enough to be unassailable. But failing one single test disqualifies a specific principle from being accepted.

     

    • Isn’t agnosticism the default position?

    No. Agnosticism cannot be the default position because it presumes that the word “god” is meaningful and coherent. Until a coherent meaning for “god” is presented, strong atheism will always be the default position. This is true for all concepts also.

     

    • How could you ever address all possible conceptions of ‘god?’

    Simple answer: we don’t have to, and don’t claim to.

    Longer answer: In order for the issue to have any relevance at all, we have to circumscribe, even if it is meaningless, what the word “god” is supposed to refer to. Atheism and strong atheism refer to the word “god” just as much as theism does, so everyone must have a clear position on what he means when he says “I believe in gods”, “I do not believe in gods”, or “there is no god”. Most of us address a standard monotheistic conception which is composed of:

  • Personal being
  • Creator of all
  • Infinite power and benevolence

    Since strong atheistic arguments contradict each of these attributes (or, in the case of all-inclusive arguments like noncognitivism, all of them), the case for strong atheism does not rest specifically on any of these attributes.

    This definition fits what we commonly call “god”, fits the attitude of worship that religious people have towards “god”, and does not take the place of another more appropriate word. Most other conceptions, such as pantheism or deism, fail some or all of these basic tests.

    To see the issue more simply, you can call a table “waffle”, but that doesn’t mean I’ll start eating it. If we deny that words have objective meaning, then all communication breaks down. As proponents of the rational-scientific worldview, we reject the extremist view that all meaning is subjective.

     

    • Strong atheism is not a serious position, and no academic upholds it.

    Strong atheism is a very serious position. People of all times have pondered the nature of our universe, and concluded that gods did not exist. Epicurus, with his formulation of the Problem of Evil, is one early such instance.

    To provide you with the tools to appraise and grasp the strong atheistic understandings in the literature, we have a References section on our menu. We invite you to buy or loan the books we cover and see for yourself.

     

    • Science cannot disprove the existence of gods.

    Incorrect. Since the truth of the god-hypothesis entails natural consequences, science can disprove the existence of gods.

    For science-based arguments, see:

  • “Atheistic Cosmological Argument”: – based on the inseparability of time and space.
  • Argument from Scale – based on the scientific facts about evolution and the size of the universe.
  • “The Absurdity Of Transcendence And Its Consequences On Personhood”: – based on the inseparability of time and space.
  • Occam’s Razor – based on the accumulation of scientific explanations for natural phenomena.
  • Big Bang Cosmological Argument For God’s Nonexistence – based on the nature of the Big Bang.
  • Argument from Evolution – based on evolution being our only known source of intelligence.
  • Argument From the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics
  • Argument from Quantum Physics

     

    • Science only studies the natural, and therefore has nothing to say about the existence of gods.

    This question assumes that everything about the existence of gods is supernatural. But if that was the case, then the god-concept would be irrelevant. Any entity that interacts with the universe, necessarily leaves material evidence of some sort. This evidence can be examined by science. For the kinds of evidence, see the previous answer.

     

    • How can the universe exist without a god?

    A pressing question in discussions of strong atheism is the question of origins. Where does the universe come from? Did a god create it?

    What grounds do we have to believe that a god is necessary? Cosmological arguments for the theistic side argue that, since everything is caused, there must be a cause to the universe as well. But this is a Fallacy of Composition, which is to say, it transposes attributes of parts to a whole without evidence. Why should we posit that the universe as a whole must also be caused? It is also a fallacy of Special Pleading, since God himself is said to not need explanation. But if this is the case, why does the universe need explanation? We cannot grant it to God and not to the universe. Both explain the same facts.

    The more sensible alternative, which is also supported by modern cosmology, is that the universe always existed. According to cosmology, the diversity of the universe arose from a singularity-like state where the laws of physics were unformed.

    One can then ask about the origin of the matter in this state, but that is a loaded question. According to this position, there is no “before the Big Bang” for origins to exist. The matter always existed in different forms.

    This position is confirmed by the atheistic cosmological arguments, which show that it is illogical to believe in divine creation.

     

    • If materialism is true, isn’t meaning impossible?

    No. Meaning is the specificity of a concept or proposition – or more simply, how much we can identify facts of reality based on that concept or proposition. The meaning of a concept or proposition is the same whether they are made of neurons, “god stuff”, “soul stuff”, or any other substance. “1+1=2” expresses the same facts of reality regardless of what it is made of. As such, the issue of materialism has nothing to do with meaning.

     

    • If there are no gods, isn’t life ultimately meaningless?

    How does believing in a god give your life meaning in the first place? If you think that being a part of material causes makes your life meaningless, then how does being a part of a divine plan you do not even understand make it any better?

    All individuals, even theists, find meaning for their lives on their own terms – by what they do, what they believe in, what they want. No god is necessary to do that!

     

    • If there are no gods, isn’t objective morality impossible?

    This question may be more complex than it looks. It is important not to confuse objective morality with absolutist morality. The latter is a hallmark of religious doctrines, which make statements of the type “thou shalt not”. But an objective morality, i.e. a morality based on the facts of reality, does not need to be of that type. All it needs in order to be objective is to refer to some facts of reality as source of moral judgments. Because of this, atheism is perfectly compatible with objective morality.

    For more information on the problems of moral subjectivist positions, consult our article Answering to Moral Nihilism. For the basis of objective morality, see The Case for Objective Morality.

     

    • My personal experiences are better evidence than your arguments.

    We do not deny that you had an important experience. But have you considered that your experience may be explainable by purely material causes? Furthermore, people of all religions have religious experiences. Does that mean you should accept all religions? Or rather, that everyone can have such experiences, and that they do not necessarily prove that a god exists?

    It is undeniable that a firm and clear conviction can have a powerful effect. But this is true of all convictions, not only religious ones.

     

    • Isn’t strong atheism a belief, just like any other position?

    Any position can be a belief, in the sense that it is held by the individual without sufficient evidence. So the short answer to this question is, yes, just like any other position, strong atheism can be held as a belief.

    However, if by this question we mean to question whether strong atheism must be a belief, the answer is no. As you will read on this web site, there is an abundance of rational evidence in favour of the strong atheist position, and against theistic and skeptic positions, making it knowledge.

    Some people, especially non-rational pragmatists, argue that our criteria for knowing things are flawed or relative. Everyone, however, does share such criteria: without it, we could not have the knowledge to survive, communicate meaningfully, and appraise the validity of various positions. What is at issue is the validity of specific epistemic positions. We defend rationality and discuss these issues in the “Against philosophical skepticism” section.

     

    • Why can’t you accept god-belief? Everyone needs to believe in something.

    We do not need to believe in anything, and even if we did, that would not mean that we should accept god-belief as valid. This argument is as invalid as saying that because we need to eat, we should accept that some parents force their children on a vegetarian diet. God-belief damages people’s mental health and makes them socially irresponsible.

    People do not commonly hold beliefs. When we lack knowledge about something, we either use competent authorities to find what we need, or we calculate probabilities based on what we do know. Having beliefs does not improve our knowledge, but rather uses the imagination to give us the certainty we crave. No reasonable person should have faith.

     

    • Why can’t you accept there simply are things we do not know about?

    This question, although frequently asked to strong atheists, does not really apply. Most of us do accept that there are things we do not know about.

    However, that does not mean that we have to accept your belief about those things we do not know about. If you believe that there may be a god beyond our understanding, we can accept that. But unless you can move on from “I don’t know about it but I just believe” to “I can demonstrate it”, we have no more reason to accept your belief than we would any other currently illogical position that “we don’t know about yet”.

     

    • What is the point of being a strong atheist?

    There are as many answers to this question, as there are strong atheists. Some simply want to know the truth. Some others are interested in the philosophical ramifications of strong atheism. Yet others are distressed by the evils that reilgion fosters in society and seek to fight it.

     

    • I have a question you do not cover on your web site.

    You can send me email at franc at strongatheism dot net. We welcome all your comments, positive or negative.