An Example of Atheist Faith

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.

So the Grand Slogan is just a statement of atheistic faith.

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.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.