by Eric Steinhart
Here’s a nice statement of atheistic faith by Carl Sagan: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (1980: 1). Such a statement is as faith-based as any statement in the Bible or in Christian theology. After all, it’s just a mirror-image of the statement that God is all that is or ever was or ever will be. (Or, better, it’s the atheistic version of the opening verses of John.)
Sagan’s Grand Slogan isn’t scientific by any standard. His statement about the Cosmos certainly isn’t empirically testable. There is no possible experiment that could either confirm it or disconfirm it. It isn’t even a hypothesis derived from observable evidence. Obviously, nobody went outside of our universe, took a look around, and saw that there isn’t anything else.
The temporality of the Grand Slogan makes it doubly faith-based: How does Sagan know that there was nothing before the Cosmos and that there will be nothing after the Cosmos? Or that time is endless both into the past and the future? He doesn’t know. And there aren’t even any ways to scientifically test those claims about the past or future.
And it’s even worse: the Grand Slogan is a statement of faith that is masquerading as science. It’s atheistic pseudo-science just like intelligent design is Christian pseudo-science. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s scientism.
More charitably, the Grand Slogan is a speculative metaphysical thesis. And there are going to be arguments for it and against it. I love metaphysics; I’m happy if scientists and atheists want to do it. I’d love to discuss all the arguments and counter-arguments. But to present metaphysics as if it were science is at best bad reasoning and at worst deceptive. And atheists do it all the time.
Sagan, C. (1980) Cosmos. New York: Random House.