Do I Know for a Fact That There Is No God?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Do I know for sure that God doesn’t exist?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Travis Myers

    Some versions of God can be disproven with as much certainty as we can disprove that sqrt(2) is a rational number: if the description of God contains logical contradictions (as is often the case), then we know for certain that that particular God does not exist. Other versions of God can be disproven with as much certainty as we can disprove that the earth is flat. We simply need to check the available evidence to see if it matches what the theory predicts. For instance, if you say that God never lies and is infallible and wrote the Bible, then we would expect that the Bible would never be wrong and would contain no contradictions. That is clearly not the case. Thus, by any reasonable definition of the word “knowledge”, we know for sure that the God that is described in the Bible does not exist.

    • Geoff Boulton

      The problem is that theists just keep redefining their ‘god’ to wish away the contradictions. Ask any number of theists how they define ‘god’ and you’re likely to get any number of, often contradictory, different answers.

      • Tel

        Ask ONE theist how they define “god” at different points over, say, a couple weeks and you’re likely to get any number of often contradictory answers.

        • Daniel Schealler

          Try over the course of one DISCUSSION.

          Methinks there are as many definitions of ‘God’ as there are the number believers multiplied by the number of seconds in a day.

      • Travis Myers

        Yes, that’s true. But then the God that they’re describing isn’t actually the God that’s described in the Bible, and so it’s something of a mystery how they came to know the things about God that they claim they know.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Um, which God of the Bible are they describing? The one who is “jealous” and “angry” (those are self-descriptive words, by the way). Or the one who is peace, love, and fuzzy bunnies? Can God change over time? I’d argue not, since perfection implies immutability. If God can’t change over time, the God of the Bible simply cannot exist because it is described in too many disaparate and incompatible ways.

          • 3lemenope

            I’d argue not, since perfection implies immutability.

            I personally have never understood this leap. Why is something static more perfect than something dynamic? Perfection is such an ill-defined predicate, I’m fairly sure it actually has no implications at all.

            • Daniel Schealler

              The idea is that perfection is a specific state. So if something is perfect, then to change would make it imperfect.

              But it’s a contradiction. We could just as easily say that perfection is without limits. But to be immutable is to be limited in regards to change.

              It’s all just navel gazing. Perfection is an idea in the brains of humans, nothing more. The universe isn’t required to give a toss about what we think about it, and it doesn’t. Nature is as nature does.

    • Beutelratti

      Just take the omniscient/omnipotent-problem: If a god is omnipotent he is able to create a creature that he cannot understand. If said god cannot understand a creature then he is not omniscient. If said god can understand all creatures then he is not able to create creatures which he does not understand and therefore cannot be omnipotent.

      The Christian god is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent and that simply cannot exist together … but whoops, I forgot … God works in mysterious ways! Checkmate, atheist.

      • Travis Myers

        Right, most of the contradictions that arise from the omniscience/omnipotence problem are really just different ways of stating Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. The idea of God creating a creature he cannot understand is exactly equivalent to the idea of an axiomatic system proving a theorem which says that it can’t be proven. Any axiomatic system that can prove all true statements must contain a contradiction. The same type of thing applies to God.

        • Freak

          Not quite; there exist systems in which every statement is decidable:
          - Integers with addition.
          - Real numbers with addition and multiplication.

          • Travis Myers

            Not true. Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem applies to any system capable of expressing elementary arithmetic.

    • indorri

      Well, the second bit, I’m don’t recall anywhere in the Bible itself that God himself wrote it (which shoots the “sola scriptura” types in the foot by making them bibliolatrous, but anyway) so that the Bible is contradictory and incorrect on facts, another possibility would just be that God didn’t write it, even if he still existed.

      • Travis Myers

        2 Timothy 3:16,

        “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

        But maybe God didn’t write 2 Timothy, but he did write other parts. Who the hell knows what the logic behind cherry-picking the Bible is.

      • meekinheritance

        That’s a good point for us pedants. The next time I hear an Xian claim that the Bible is the “inspired word of God”, I will have to point out that the Bible itself doesn’t make that claim. It’s only a claim made by fallible humans.

        • Nox

          The bible doesn’t ever refer to the bible at all. The people who wrote the parts of it had no idea they were writing the bible.

          • meekinheritance

            Yes, exactly.

    • C Peterson

      Logical contradictions can’t disprove the existence of a god, because logic can’t disprove anything, except within the boundaries defined by the underlying axioms of that particular symbolic system (which is at the heart of Gödel’s work). We can always change the axioms to create a logically consistent system. In essence, that’s what religionists and religious apologists do, although they tend to do it rather opaquely.

      We can’t prove that the Earth isn’t flat, either. Ultimately, we can’t prove or disprove anything about the physical universe.

      I think in these kinds of discussions, it is best to steer completely away from the idea of “proof”. It will always get us into trouble. Skepticism and critical thinking teach us that proof isn’t what is important; rather, truth is something that hinges on the weight of evidence. Truth is never absolute, but at some point the evidence becomes strong enough that we can treat an idea as a fact for practical purposes (while at the same time remaining open to the possibility that it is not).

      Hemant hit the major arguments of a skeptic: we can’t disprove the existence of a god, but we have no evidence for one, nothing changes if we take a postulated one out of the picture, and there is no burden on the disbeliever to prove non-existence.

      • Travis Myers

        That’s why I used the example of sqrt(2) being irrational. We could change the axioms and rules of mathematics so that sqrt(2) is rational, but despite that fact most people are still fine with statements like “we know that sqrt(2) is irrational.” And if they’re fine with that statement, then they should be fine with the statement “we know for certain that some conceptions of God (those with logical contradictions) do not exist.” Similarly, if you are fine with the statement “we know that the earth is not flat”, then you should also be fine with the statement “we know that the God described by the Bible does not exist.”

        You can always argue that we don’t really know anything, which is true in a sense, but no one would ask the question “do you know for a fact that God doesn’t exist?” if they were using a definition of knowledge such that knowledge never exists.

        • C Peterson

          I would never claim we don’t really know anything, except in the most abstract, theoretical, and useless sense. Not knowing anything with 100% certainty is not the same as not knowing anything.

          I don’t “know” the Sun will rise tomorrow, but that lack of perfect certainty plays no role in my life at all. Treating my “belief” that the Sun will rise tomorrow as a fact makes perfect sense.

      • UWIR

        What a bunch of psuedo-academic nonsense. Logic can prove that “God”, as defined by a particular set of axioms, does not exist. The fact that one could have chosen different axioms doesn’t change the fact that one didn’t choose different axioms. If one states that a particular statement is provably false within a particular set of axioms, the truth of that statement is independent of what axiom system one uses. In Euclidean geometry, parallel lines do not intersect. One can have other types of geometry in which parallel lines do intersect, but that doesn’t change the fact that parallel lines do not intersect in Euclidean geometry.

        • C Peterson

          But in fact, the axioms do change all the time. That’s precisely what apologists do, and it’s why you can never disprove the existence of a god (or anything else) based purely on logic. If you provide a sufficiently conclusive argument to an apologist, you’ll find they just change the rules a bit.

          It is a mistake to confuse logical or mathematical proofs with the ability to prove or disprove anything in nature. The latter can’t be done.

          As I said, better to stay away from the concept of proof completely, and simply stick to the scientific standard of evidence.

          • UWIR

            How is “scientific standard of evidence” any better? If you provide evidence against a religious proposition, they can change that proposition just as much as if you were to provide a proof against it.

            • C Peterson

              By weighing evidence, it is possible to rationally come to sensible conclusions about things. This is the only way to evaluate the natural world. Proof isn’t something that exists in that context. We can’t prove a god doesn’t exist, and suggesting otherwise just gets us in trouble. We can, however, provide all sorts of evidence that no god is required to explain anything. We can demonstrate a profound lack of evidence for any gods. This is how we understand the Universe.

      • Kiwi Christian

        What you are doing is equating Christianity with religion. Christianity is NOT a religion.

        • GCT

          Yes, it is. But, I’m glad to note that you think religion is bad.

        • C Peterson

          Christianity is NOT a religion.

          Well, “delusion” would be more accurate, but it’s certainly a religion as well.

        • TCC

          Um, yes, it is, by any meaningful definition of “religion.” Don’t pull that “it’s not a religion; it’s a relationship” BS here; it’s transparently nonsensical.

        • http://bearlyatheist.wordpress.com/ Bear Millotts

          Hmmmm….why don’t I believe you?

          Perhaps it’s because you are a liar.

        • Derrik Pates

          Looks like a perfect example of what C Peterson was referring to – if you redefine your terms enough, you can make virtually anything true. Like redefining “Christianity” as not being a “religion”.

  • A3Kr0n

    There must be a god because last night the church up the street put on a big party with fireworks, music, free health screenings, and everything. How could all this be possible if god didn’t exist? You can’t just make this stuff up when so many are involved, right? I mean, they had fireworks!?!?!
    And a new 60′ Jesus penis…
    http://newlifecross.com/pictures/

    • Geoff Boulton

      Of course there’s a god. That’s why there are lightning rods on churches and giant Jesus statues, to protect them from god’s wrath?!?. I mean remember what happened to touch-down Jesus http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGTBFPte-MY

      I wonder if these people ever stop to think. ‘Maybe we’ve got the wrong god’

      • John Schwytzer

        Be careful or the Christians will start claiming Jesus was resurrected: http://www.fox19.com/story/19587915/hug-me-jesus-statue-erected-at-solid-rock-church

        But resurrection apparently makes you shorter since the new one is only 51′ tall.

        • Geoff Boulton

          “I think sometimes we try to spiritualize too much and it was just a lightning strike.”

          Long way to go yet, but It’s a start!

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Came back to life shorter… I’m thinking that many of the problems with the New Testament can be cleared up if we just understand that the spell used to bring back Jesus was Reincarnation, not Resurrection. Lucky him though; he could have come back as an orc. (And wouldn’t that make for an awesome religion!)

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        Ha! The locals called that thing “touchdown Jesus” (for the hands) or “quicksand Jesus” because he’s mostly underground like he’s sinking). It’s just styrofoam over a metal frame. A few years ago lighting hit the frame and the whole thing burned and melted. The best part? That church is across the highway (it’s between Dayton and Cincinnati) from a very large adult book store. Guess god loves porn more than religious-themed kitsch.

  • Donovan W Baker

    I liked your idea that if god did not exist (it is especially effective to those that say they have a personal god) that life for you would not change. Obviously if anyone defines their god, that can usually be disproven, which is why that is often avoided. This is a great series and thank you for putting it together.

    • SGHeathen

      if god exists, whether god exists or not should affect your life.

      • Donovan W Baker

        What I am saying is it does not affect your life outside of your perception. As a believer you apply things to your god, but as a non-believer, those same things happen to them and they get applied to either natural causes or other reasons. The only difference is your perception, but life and its events are not really affected by anything supernatural, that we can prove so far. If god(s) was real and wanted us to know this, we would, without any books, priests, churches, or anything man made. Those would not even need to exist and we would not have to interpret anything, we would ALL just know. There would be no different religions or confusing anything, period. Think about it.

        • SGHeathen

          what i was trying to say was that in the case that God exists his existence cannot be avoided because of omnipotence and omnipresence. the very fact that we do not observe God in any sense proves that God does not exist. Take the case where I say Dugie the pink unicorn has the property that it is everywhere. Since we do not observe such a unicorn, it follows that there is no pink unicorn with the property of omnipresence. If we substitute Dugie the pink unicorn with Yahweh the God we can conclude that that Yahweh as defined does not exist because omnipresence is not observed. Hence the classical Theistic God does not exist.

          • Donovan W Baker

            Then we are certainly on the same page. Thanks for the dialogue.

  • AjaxBlackburn

    The reason, i believe, theists get upset about such challenges to their claims is not subjectivity but a frustration that a theist can not demonstrate that they are not lying to their own children about the existence of a god or the other 10’000 gods our species has come up with that they don’t believe in.

    Recently i have hoped this logic would help: Since they claim god is superior, and superior things displace inferior things, that i exist does mean god does not.

    I gave another look at the definition of ‘superior’ and found a contradiction.

    Superior: “Affecting an attitude of disdain or conceit.” Affecting: ‘make a difference to’.

    The conceit being that the superior being cares or loves the inferior.
    The difference is a zero sum gain, where, one can live with or without the god-belief yet the universe remains unchanged. Ergo, the superior has no affect.

  • beau

    Hemant, just wanted to thank you so much for these videos. They have been a great tool to help me explain my non-belief to the people in my life that I love.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I appreciate that! Glad they’re helping!

  • BrandonUB

    While I’m happy to admit that there’s no way to know this in the same fashion that I know how antibody development or DNA replication work, I’m still quite comfortable saying that I know beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no gods. The overwhelming lack of evidence where evidence should exist is enough for me.

    • Randay

      As chicago dyke and others have pointed out, there is no definition of a deity. How does it work, what is it made of or what is its substance, what are its qualities, by what means does it effect its actions, etc.?

      To give a contrast, I know that a deity does not exist by the complete lack of evidence for any of the above just like I do know that evolution exists because of overwhelming evidence for it and understaning how it works.

      • C Peterson

        As chicago dyke and others have pointed out, there is no definition of a deity.

        A deity is just like pornography: difficult to define, but easily recognized when observed (or imagined).

  • Nebuladance

    I liked how you said that if the concept of god were removed from our lives they would still function exactly as they currently do. It got me thinking about why I personally rejected the reasonably arguments for non-belief for so long. I didn’t reject the rational reasons for using a specific medication, nor did I believe the nonsense that a cat is inherently evil.
    But when I heard reasons for why god did not exist, the fingers went into the ears and the hallelujah chorus starts being muttered under my breath. When I was still a believer the one thing about atheism that frightened me was that arguments meant to show me that god did not exist were often coupled with things that I believed to be sinful. Now even though we who no longer believe also no longer worry about Sin with a capitol S, as a believer I did. It made sense in my believing mind that anyone who wanted me to stop believing in god was doing so because they wanted me to start doing things that were sinful. I really believed the whole slippery-slope scenario. I could not separate the ideas of god and sin. Functionally, I think my fear of sin was stronger than than my fear of god.
    The two biggest areas that believed to be sinful was abortion and homosexuality. I honestly thought that if I accepted that god did not exist it meant I also had to accept that abortion was not murder and that homosexuality was fine. And these I could not do, due to an entire lifetime of conditioning to think otherwise. When it finally became clear to me that god did not exist I had to kind of comfort myself that this did not mean I had to automatically accept abortion. I had to deal gently with myself. I could go on exactly as I had been, and after several months of life not changing due to my unbelief I was finally able to drop the concept that certain actions were sinful just because a certain god, whom I no longer believed in, said they were.

  • corps_suk

    I would say i believe for a fact there is no evidence for a god. If credible evidence were to exist or appear then like any evidence based view I would be open to it.

    By declaring something “fact” beyond reproach we flirt with dogma and becoming ignorant to new evidence.

    • Derrik Pates

      Right, but there’s a difference between “no evidence for a god” and “evidence for no god”. I’m personally of Isaac Asimov’s school of thought: I can’t prove there’s no god, but given the amazing lack of supporting evidence for the claim, I suspect it so strongly that I don’t want to waste my time.

      • corps_suk

        Actually there is more evidence for no god than evidence for god, as there is none.

        Are you an aspagettieist? Or an azeusist?

        The initial hypothesis that there is a god has no proof and no evidence. What it has is evidence that it was created by man. Thus there is no god.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    without reading the comments, my answer is “yes, i know for a fact that there is no “God.”” because for one thing, there is no one definition for what that is; there are hundreds of constructs and assumptions about what “God” is, even within protestant or sunni or orthodox sects. God is everything from a shining ball of light to a big old dude in the sky with a long beard to a state of infinite happiness and all sorts of other stuff. toss in the paintings and popular conceptions (just ask two christians to define god and see how many places they differ) and it’s just a hot mess.

    to argue if a thing/being exists means first to define it. the religious have been arguing among themselves over this question since the beginning of time and still can’t agree. no xtian would hesitate to say “i know for a fact that Dionysus does not exist.” but they wonder when i say the same thing in that same tone and confidence about their dying god associated with sacrifice and wine?

    • C Peterson

      The problem with the convention for writing a headline is that we can’t discern whether the question is “Do I know for a fact that there is no God?” or “Do I know for a fact that there is no god?”

      Different questions, that may well produce different answers. While I have no reason to believe in the existence of any god or gods, I have a much higher confidence in my lack of belief in God than in any god or gods in general.

  • Freak
  • Roxane Murray

    Super job, Hemant!

  • GKD

    Actually, it’s only being honest. To make the truth claim that you know for a fact there is no God demands that you demonstrate for a fact that there is no God. Say I can’t prove a negative, which is why I can’t prove there is no God is, itself, a true statement. But atheists must move past this idea that by virtue of being an atheist, no truth claim an atheist makes needs to be proven. If the point is to focus on reasoned arguments, one can’t use what’s unreasonable. The ball is red. Prove it. There is a God. Prove it. I know for a fact there is no God. Prove it. I can’t prove there is no God, then we’ve opened up the door to reasoned dialogue. Of course then it’s admitting that atheism is merely a belief like religion. But that’s another post.

    • indorri

      I don’t understand why people think this is a valid chain of thinking.

      “Prove this medicine cures this disease” “prove this medicine DOESN’T cure this disease! Ha, that means your assertion the medicine doesn’t cure disease is merely a belief!”

      Scientific methods don’t entail considering two sides of a coin and then throwing up your hands and leaving everything up to the “everything’s a belief, let’s get all dialectic up in here” strategy.

      • GKD

        No, it’s saying that when atheists make a truth claim – all religion is a lie, for instance – then they have to prove it. Atheism is not logic devoid of evidence. It’s using logic and reasoned debate. As for scientific methods, just the idea that all can be reduced to scientific methodology is, itself, a truth claim that demands evidence. Prove that. Prove that everything, including the existence of a divine power, must necessarily be demonstrable by the scientific method. If you can’t, then why think that is the only parameter allowable in the debate? See what I mean? Atheists need to get their hands a little dirty and be willing to live up to the same standards they demand for the faithful, not appear as if they’re trying to have their cake and make everyone else do the dishes.

        • indorri

          Well, for one, the claim that atheists assert religion is a lie isn’t true either. Lying entails wilful deceit. Rejection of the assertions of religion is not the same as saying those espousing them are wilfully deceitful.

          As for your statement re: the scientific method, I didn’t say everything can be reduced to it. I just claim, given its success at explaining phenomenon, it is our current best methodology for discerning what is true. Given that other prevalent methods either depend on at least weak operational determinations as well, which means their capability is also expressed by their success, or dialectical, it suffices for me to show that dialectical methods cannot demonstrate truth on their own.

          The easy way to do this is to take a phenomenological claim, assume it is true, and then ask how dialectical methods can demonstrate it. Unless you can show me another way, the path from there is to either attempt to demonstrate it via evidence (which necessitates operationalist methods and thus punts the problem back into scientific enquiry) or go around in a series of assertions in which you have to define “truth” as something abstract and only useful within formal systems, or as having evidential criteria and thus, again, requiring you to punt it into operational methodologies.

          This doesn’t abrogate philosophical problems with scientific induction, but I didn’t claim that it does. I only need to show it discerns truth better than, for example, apologetics.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

            yah, i remember all that fancy wordi-fyin’ in div skool. it can be pretty. i agree with you, but i will again refer you to the trailer park point i made below, which is simply: which “god?”

            if i’m a completely neutral alien new to this world and i have a xtian, muslim, and hindu standing next to me and i ask “what is ‘god’ and how do you know it/him?” i would get so many different “apologetic” answers i’d be tempted to fly back up in my spaceship and ponder the idiocy of the planet earth.

            “they have this word down there. “god.” they kill and rape and pillage over it, but they can’t even agree on what it really means, or what it is. none of them can even draw it, or touch it, or hear it, but they all pretend each version of it is ‘real.’ it’s really weird.”

            • GKD

              Actually, the presence of diverse beliefs is handled in most religions, and doesn’t really mean anything. Most atheists schooled in religious thought and philosophy know that’s just one of many canards that too many atheists hang a disproportionate weight around. Naturally your appraisal of religion would raise eyebrows, Just like it might raise eyebrows that you have problems with rape and killing and pillaging when you’ve made it clear that anything beyond the material is an illusion created by biological lifeforms to give a semblance of meaning to existence while we pass on our DNA before dying and becoming worm food. That same alien might be just as inclined to wonder where such righteous indignation about religion can come from in the first place (other than declaring one’s self the intellectual apex of cognitive evolution and the moral and ethical hub of unparalleled perfection around which the universe has always and will always revolve – which is pretty silly, even to an alien)

              • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                Yeah, most religions deal with the diversity of belief by saying everyone else is wrong/deluded/misled. The impacts of that differ between religions, but “our way is the right one” is a fairly common claim, especially among the Abrahamic religions.

                • GKD

                  Actually, they deal with them differently depending on the tradition. The Hindu approach is different than the Islamic, which is different than the Jewish or Christian. Even Eastern traditions assume their approach is right, others wrong, but understand the meaning of the wrong differently. Naturally. It’s almost counter-intuitive to expect them to say anything else. In fact, one of the most intellectually vacant beliefs today is the one that says all beliefs are right. That is, of course, a set belief that assumes any competing explanations about religious differences are wrong. Irony there.

                  But really, the Christian understanding, for instance, tracing back to the writings of the apostle Paul, is that since there is one God, naturally most people who muse on the existence of some god/gods are at least somewhat right about some things, just not entirely right about everything. Like Copernicus was right about some things, but not right about everything. His famous discourse in Athens gives a glimpse into that approach, which is still common among some traditions. Others, of course, have their own ways. But again, for the student of historical theology, religious philosophy and doctrinal development, not to mention comparative religious studies, the existence of competing religious truth claims is not really the slam dunk that many atheists seem to think it is.

                • indorri

                  It does serious damage to supernatural claims, though, because epistemologies with methodological naturalism tend to produce convergent results while those which work outside it diverge. Moreover, few of those systems enshrine fallibilism to the point that you can effectively argue against it in rational discourse.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  Your first paragraph agrees entirely with what I said, with the exception of the “set belief” part. I don’t have a set belief. I’m open to changing my mind about the supernatural, should someone demonstrate to my satisfaction that it exists. Thus far, that hasn’t happened, and I doubt that it will, but the possibility exists. All I ask are falsifiable, repeatable, predictable results. I would, of course, require additional evidence that the supernatural in question is your specific version of the supernatural instead of another conception of it.

                  Your second paragraph, on the other hand, makes no sense at all. Judaism argues that it’s valid only for Jews, and everyone else has their own thing, but Judaism is still the best way and it’s just too bad for everyone else that they weren’t born to the Chosen People. Christianity argues that if you do it wrong, you get tortured eternally. That doesn’t say “well, everyone has part of the truth”, that says “my way or you’re fucked”. Islam is very similar to Christianity in the “my way or you’re fucked” ideology. Most Eastern religions are less, well, evil about it: they say they’re the right way, but don’t usually invoke eternal damnation for people following other paths, and some of them do argue that there are multiple paths to enlightenment. The existence of competing religious truths is only a slam-dunk against the Christian god, not against religion in general; if God were omniscient and omnipotent, there wouldn’t be the confusion and utterly awful mishmash in the Bible. If God wanted everyone to believe in him, he’d know how to make it obvious. Since there is confusion and multiple paths, that’s pretty clear evidence against the combination of omniscience and omnipotence, which puts the Christian god from “extremely unlikely” to “impossible”.

              • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                Other than Unitarians and a few fringe sects and New Agey types…most religions I know of teach that the others are flat out wrong. And of course many of the teachings are contradictory. They can’t all be true. Some must be false. If the question is which one, we are back to a burden of proof problem. I have never heard a Christian admit that Hinduism must be as true as Christianity since neither can be disproved.

          • GKD

            No it isn’t. Atheists frequently make the statement: religion is a lie! In fact, if you step back and watch, it’s amazing the truth claims that atheists make, and yet they seem to believe that by virtue of being atheists, no need of further proof need be provided. Part of that is, of course, the domain of lazy atheists who embrace that grand ad hominem that since evil has been done in religion’s name, or religious people can be bad, therefore it must mean anything. But it is common in some quarters to see that assertion about religion being a lie or falsehood or false. Good for you if you don’t fall into that obvious trap!

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              Many atheists do make the claim that religion is a lie. They mean it in the sense that all religions are untrue, but it is an incorrect vocabulary choice.

              How do you respond to the claim that all religions are untrue?

              • GKD

                I don’t. A person who believes that all religions are untrue has probably already made up his or her mind, and approaches all evidence through that truth claim. Hence, one could point to the complexity of the universe, or a demonstrably unexplained occurrence (called miracles by some), and it wouldn’t matter. The explanations from the devout skeptic are legion, for they are many: Coincidence. It only shows the laws of nature. The entire human race was wrong/lied/made up stories. Even if we can’t explain it now, we will someday. These are faith statements every bit as difficult to demonstrate as a person who insists God exists and wrote a book in the king’s English. But they are faith claims that many an atheist clings to and can’t really be overcome until the atheist is prepared to accept that these claims, too, can be wrong.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  Actually, that person has evaluated the evidence for the supernatural and declared it insufficient. You, as the one making the positive claim (hypothesis), are obligated to provide the evidence for said claim. It is logically impossible to prove a negative; the negative position (null hypothesis) is the default position until the positive claim is supported.

                  It’s all very simple, really. You start with the hypothesis (there is a supernatural) and, of course, the null hypothesis (there isn’t a supernatural). Then you perform your experiments. Then you look at your results and see if you have enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis in favor of the hypothesis. That is, you see if your evidence is good enough to support the idea of the supernatural. Thus far, none have succeeded, so I am justified in claiming that all religions, which by definition have supernatural elements, are untrue. They do not comport with reality.

                • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                  Do you have evidence that they are wrong?

                  Sorry to those who’ve heard me use this example too many times this year, but last fall I attended a seminar in my field at which I was convinced that I had been wrong about a rather basic principle of my work. It wouldn’t seem like a big deal to you but in my profession it is. I was convinced through evidence and reason. I use that as an example that I am perfectly happy to abandon long held beliefs IF you can demonstrate that another position is the correct one. Do you have any such evidence. The fact that something is possible doesn’t make it true. And the fact that people believe in thousands of different deities and other supernatural things isn’t evidence that any of them are true. If not I challenge you to prove that Hindu gods don’t exist and that there is no reincarnation.

              • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                Good point. Lie usually implies that the person who said something knew that it wasn’t true at the time they said it. Most theists believe what they say, so they are not lying. False or untrue would be better word choices for that reason.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              If something cannot be proven to be true then it must be assumed to be false. So yes, religions are false because they can’t be proven to be true. I probably wouldn’t word it like that, especially when talking to a theist or even on a theist’s website (as opposed to an atheist blog like this one), but that’s what I think.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          As soon as you start being able to grasp the concept that atheism is the base position, not a truth claim, you’ll be closer to being able to make arguments that require effort to disprove.

          • GKD

            That’s exactly what religious people say: as soon as you grasp the concept that God exists you’ll be closer to being able to make arguments that require effort to disprove. Which is true. Sometimes there is no way of interpreting the evidence apart from the base positions we start out with in the first place.

            • indorri

              The problem with this equivocation is that you can then apply it to any dilemma with a “exists/does not” dichotomy. You either choose one and go from there, or just abandonment discernment and lapse into solipsism.

              I don’t know about you, but I find the “does not” and then searching for it to be more cogent than the “does to” and seeking to deconstruct it from there. At least for the “does not”, you don’t have to hold mutually incompatible ideas.

            • GCT

              I suggest you look up “Null hypothesis” and then get back to us.

              Rejecting your faith is not a faith in itself.

            • baal

              I can’t bring myself to agree that the supernatural and the natural are just as likely to be true explanations for the world. Were the supernatural real, I think we’d have better evidence than blurry photos and ‘in my heart’ or ‘one time at band camp’.

              • Rob

                If there are often occurrences in nature that science simply can’t explain, that’s supernatural. On top of that, there are likely many realms and dimensions of space and time we can’t even begin to comprehend or conceive of. So then, why would the “supernatural” be so hard to believe in? The “supernatural” is simply parts of reality that science hasn’t “discovered” yet. That’s not hard to believe, is it?

                • baal

                  Yes, yes it is. I mean supernatural as things beyond natural, i.e. magic, ghosts, other dimensions that do more than show up in quantum flux physics, gods, demons, faster than light drives etc. Each and every time that the supernatural has been brought up as an explanation, it’s been the wrong explanation or the claim was unfalsifiable.

                  The ‘unknown unknown’ is smaller than you imply.

                • Rob

                  “The ‘unknown unknown’ is smaller than you imply.” – But how do you know that? I disagree. Given the vastness of space and time, I have a hard time thinking that we could possibly understand (or perceive) even a fraction of it’s potential. To say something doesn’t exist simply because you can’t measure it is a huge assumption, don’t you think?

                  I’m not saying you need to start believing in demons and angels. I’m just pointing out that limiting ourselves to only our currently perceived world is logically unrealistic. Otherwise we’ve already reached the absolute pinnacle of what science can discover. (and that’s a depressing thought)

                • baal

                  Shorter Rob (or this is what It seems to me you are saying) since the past happened a long time ago and space is far out, we’ll learn to directly absorb sunlight for our caloric intake like plants!

                  I’m not saying we’re done learning new things but what’s currently conceivable (and future possibles) are bounded by basic facts like the size of atoms, the energy levels of nuclear reactions and the speed of light.

                  ok, so no demons and angels but you’re leaving the door open to ghosts or holy fountains that extend your life to 1000 years or that elves are for reals or we’ll learn to manipulate our chrakas? What currently out of touch with reality items or ideas do you think are in the ‘nearly possible but currently loopy nonsense’ category?

                  For example, we could reasonably guess in 1990 that computers would get faster, smaller and use less energy even though we couldn’t do what we can today quite yet. The basis for that guess were improvements in photo-lithography. We could also see that the wavelength of light (or was it half wave length?) or quantum tunneling was going to be the limit of how small you could go in theory (electron trapping issues, system noise). I’m a little off (go seek the goggles, this isn’t top secret) but known and knowable physics could be used to set bounds on what is possible but not currently achievable. I’m counting as natural all things bounded by known principals of physics.

        • Nox

          The scientific method was an update to earlier revelation based methods of deciphering nature. Those methods which did not have a way to test their ideas had no way to divide true from false. They were just as useful for arriving at false conclusions as true conclusions (or any conclusion) making them essentially useless.

          The poor results arrived at by natural philosophers before the method was adopted is the evidence that the scientific method is necessary.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      QualiaSoup on Youtube has an excellent video about the burden of proof in religious debates. I suggest you watch it.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KayBys8gaJY

  • dewNOTbelieve

    While we’re working out a mutually acceptable definition for “God”, we may as well try to work out our definitions for “know” and “fact” at the same time. As earlier responses to this post have shown, those words can also be problematic.

    Oh, and why don’t we also try to define “truth” while we’re at it.

    Lest we forget, we’re trying to have this discussion with people who, as a group, tend to play fast-and-loose with definitions.

    Define “atheist,” anyone?

    • C Peterson

      “Know” in terms of physical knowledge simply means to recognize an explanation that reliably, and without exception, explains some observation.

      “Fact” can mean an observation, or it can mean some explanation that we know (in the above sense of “know”).

      “Truth” is simply accurate knowledge. It isn’t an absolute. The more accurately an explanation describes observation, the more truth it probably represents.

      “Atheist”, of course, is trivial. It’s just someone who doesn’t believe in a deity.

  • Joe Tilman

    I find the problem in the question. I know only what I can observe. To me, the decision to believe in something other than what can be observed, to accept a reality outside the observable realm is kind of an exercise in futility. If we accept an “ultimate reality” of heaven and hell, we kind of debase the reality in which we exist, the one in which we interact with that and those which we can and do know. I may not know if god exists or not, but I think such knowledge is pretty much a moot point. The decision not to bother thinking about such improbabilities (a reductive definition of atheism) is far more important than the knowledge (or lack thereof) of said improbabilities (which would be agnosticism).

  • Tobias2772

    Rather than allowing every bullshit thing that I cannot disprove to affect my life, I choose to regard and react to things that I have some reasonable reason to believe exists and therefore should be taken into consideration.
    How many people would believe in a supernatural entity of any kind if they had not beeen indoctrinated into that belief before they became rational human beings – how many without the tremendous amount of societal and peer pressure involved ??

  • TnkAgn

    Consider Richard Dawkins on the “disprovability”of god:

    “There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can’t prove that there aren’t any, so shouldn’t we be agnostic with respect to fairies?”

  • SGHeathen

    I don’t see God. God is not everywhere. Tadah!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Who changed the question? You answered the question, “Do I Know for a Fact That There Is No God?” Meanwhile, the on-screen graphics asked “Can you disprove existence of God?” These are slightly different questions which hinge on the definition of “fact.” I do not have to be able to conclusively disprove the existence of Santa Claus to consider his nonexistence a “fact.”

  • Anna

    These sorts of questions seem to put deities in a special category. That’s always puzzled me. All we know about gods and goddesses is that human societies have made up stories about them. Okay, well, then that’s exactly the same as other supernatural things that people have made up stories about. I’ve never been able to understand why people should think of gods as somehow different from other creatures in mythology and folklore. I mean, we don’t “know for a fact” that fairies don’t exist. We don’t “know for a fact” that unicorns don’t exist. But of course it would be ludicrous to believe in those things since that they were so obviously created by human beings.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Hemant, good job. You covered the important points in a very friendly accessible way.

  • Kodie

    It’s a superstition.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Hemant, you are awesome! Just thought I’d say that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      You’re too kind.

  • calesuar

    Who cares since it is impossible to prove what doesn’t exist. But proving what does exist is possible on the other hand. However, there is no facts that indicate gods exist, which because there should be an abundance of facts if a living creator exists, the fact that there is none is sufficient to discard the notion of their existence, at least in the form believers describe them (write about them): creators of visible matter, talking to people, flying around in clouds, walking on water etc. (yet unable to create themselves so we can see them, unable to write themselves; the lack of expected evidence in this scenario, produce plenty of VISIBLE evidence, proves its non existence.)

  • consumingflame

    You cannot prove faith. If you could, it would be called science and not faith.

    • Drakk

      Of course you can prove faith. If a person’s actions accord with the expected actions of a person who has faith, this is evidence that the person in question has faith.

      Just like how if a person’s actions accord with the expected behaviour of a person who is in love, it is reasonable to assume that person is in love.

      I think what you mean to say is “faith proves nothing”. The fact that you have faith is a fact about yourself, not about anything else, and it’s evidence for the person in question having a poor standard for evaluating truth claims.

      • consumingflame

        I guess it depends on what your definition of faith is. The dictionary has about 10 different ones. What is your definition of faith?

        In your example who is it that judges whether someone is in love or not or has faith?

        • Drakk

          Faith: the acceptance of a belief, for reasons other than the existence of evidence indicating that the said belief is true.

          I use other, more appropriate words for things like “belief based on extrapolation of a pattern of previous successes”, which is the case that applies to things like the opinions of scientists on matters of scientific consensus in cases where I cannot judge the evidence for myself. This is what my position is towards, for instance, their pronouncement of having found the Higgs Boson.

          In your example who is it that judges whether someone is in love or not or has faith?

          Anyone other than the person themself (because cognitive and emotional biases apply when evaluating oneself), preferably someone with many data points collected through repeated interactions. I have some friends who are religious, and their actions indicate to me that their beliefs are based on faith (as opposed to poor evaluation of evidence). I know a couple who recently got engaged and that action indicates to me that their relationship is based on love.

  • Drakk

    Statistically speaking, far more claims are untrue than are true. If you’re allowing the claims to be arbitrarily precise, then in fact there are an infinite number of untrue claims.

    Given that, it’s probably best to assume a claim is untrue unless evidence can be shown in its support.

  • badgerchild

    I work for engineers. They have a concept called “tolerance”. This concept means that the measured dimensions of the component are close enough to the design specifications that it functions like a theoretical perfect component substantially all of the time. The expected insignificant variances are just that… not significant enough to matter in practice.

    To these engineers, I say “Given any proposed set of design specifications, I measure exactly zero gods, within reasonably narrow tolerance levels.” They laugh but they get it, and I’ve never been asked what would happen if god was out of tolerance. :)

    • Rob

      That is actually a funny example… however, there are two problems with it.

      1. Even if you factor in “no gods”, you’re still using a highly advanced ‘intelligent design’ as your starting point.

      2. What you are calling ‘insignificant variances’, are often actually substantial philosophical hurdles that science can’t even begin to address. Being intellectually honest, you can’t simply claim a ‘fudge factor’ and call it good on some of these huge issues.

  • Rob

    Hemant – Well stated argument. You seem like a friendly guy. Thanks for your non-threatening approach to the subject.

    I guess my thought is, the concept of a creator (or “designer”) is, at very least, based in a logical, defensible, philosophic framework. There are actually many substantial reasons people believe the world didn’t just happen by random chance (even if you choose not to believe that personally). An invisible unicorn floating in space however, is pointless and has no logical or philosophical basis. They are not the same thing and can’t be directly compared like you do in this video clip.

    • Daniel Schealler

      I guess my thought is, the concept of a creator (or “designer”) is, at very least, based in a logical, defensible, philosophic framework.

      Rob, I do not intend to be uncharitable.

      However: Every time a person has presented to me a version of Intelligent Design, it seems to boil down to either a false analogy or an assumed conclusion.

      Some of the ways in which the idea is presented are very impressively worded. But the essence of the argument has always the same.

      Every time.

      But I shouldn’t be too cynical. Perhaps you’ll be the one to direct me to a version that stands up to scrutiny.

      • Rob

        Thanks Daniel. I seriously doubt I will impress you with my vast knowledge of the subject. But there’s a chasm of difference between the phrases “God can’t exist” and “I don’t believe God exists”. The core of my original point is that the former phrase is simply not true – Philosophically and logically God can exist. It may be that the arguments you’ve heard are not sufficient to convince you personally, which I completely understand. But what I hear way too often is “science has proven that there is no god”, which of course is overconfident wishful thinking.

        “God can’t exist” needs some sort of indisputable proof, logic, or evidence on the part of the atheist.

        “I don’t believe God exists” is legitimate and puts the burden of proof back onto the believer.

        The “Is there a god?” discussion is viable, legitimate, and worth having unless/until “God can’t exist” has been proved. I know atheists get tired of it, but fatigue doesn’t make the discussion any less important.

        • Daniel Schealler

          “God can’t exist” needs some sort of indisputable proof, logic, or evidence on the part of the atheist.

          Not necessarily. A contradictory definition can be dismissed as incoherent without need for evidence. This would of course only reveal that humans are capable of forming and holding bad ideas about the world. It wouldn’t tell us much about the material universe itself.

          Sidebar: Where exactly is the notion of ‘God can’t exist’ that you’re responding to? It feels like you’re responding to something with that point, but I’m not sure what. Did I misread you in this? Apologies if so.

          The “Is there a god?” discussion is viable, legitimate, and worth having unless/until “God can’t exist” has been proved.

          Are you familiar with the position of ignosticism? Note that’s not a typo – it’s related but distinct to agnosticism.

          I go by ‘atheist’ most of the time because it’s fairly accurate and people generally grok the meaning well enough to be getting on with. But if we’re going to get technical, my position is more accurately described as ignostic.

          The idea is that before the question of X’s existence can be addressed, the term X must be defined in such a way as to be clear and coherent and falsifiable. If that can’t be done, then any conversation is just fluffy words that will never connect to anything.

          Or to put it another way: Believers carry BOTH the burden of providing a coherent account of their beliefs AND the burden of proof to provide evidence in support of that account.

          The position of the ignostic is that the ‘Is there a god?’ discussion does not become viable, legitimate or worth having until such a time as the term ‘God’ has been adequately defined.

          Which in my books would actually make Russel’s teapot of an invisible unicorn in space a step up from the question of God. They’re unfalsifiable, true. But at least we can coherently define what a teapot or a unicorn or ‘invisible’ actually mean.

          I find that believers tend to have a much harder time defining a coherent conception of what ‘God’ means without getting themselves into trouble on the way.

          Do you care to offer a definition?

          • Rob

            Interesting. Thanks for the detailed explanation. Certainly something(s) to think about.

            It seems to me that the term ‘falsifiable’ in itself is a slippery one. I suspect there could be no evidence brought to you that would satisfy this criteria for you. As I’ve heard it said… “All arguments for almost anything are rationally avoidable. Rational people can resist almost any line of reasoning.”

            Also, just because something is not falsifiable doesn’t make it incorrect or impossible. It just means that this something (God in this case) may exist outside the limitations of our limited system of science. But really, the same can be said for almost all historical occurrences (including evolution, by the way) as well as many other such subjects society willingly accepts as true.

            I don’t mind your personal skepticism of the supernatural. But demanding that God be scientifically defined is a little presumptive. In cases where “science” breaks down (and this happens often in the origins/evolution debate for example) it is not unreasonable to assume the explanations could lie outside our current, known, scientific structure.

            • Daniel Schealler

              I suspect there could be no evidence brought to you that would satisfy this criteria for you. As I’ve heard it said… “All arguments for almost anything are rationally avoidable. Rational people can resist almost any line of reasoning.”

              Depends on your definition of rational. I take the term ‘rational’ to be about proportioning the strengths of one’s confidence in a proposition to the strength of the available evidence for that proposition.

              Proportional to. In ratio to. Rational.

              The trick is that a rational person is a person, rationality is an ideal, and people often fail to live up to their ideals.

              Otherwise rational people often do make exceptions in their worldviews. But while they are making exceptions, then for that duration they are not being rational.

              A consistently rational person’s worldview is actually severely constrained and largely out of their direct control or preferences. To follow the evidence where it goes, regardless of what the answers turn out to be? Few of us live up to that all the time. But it’s a worthy goal.

              If your conception of ‘God’ can’t live up to the expectation of fair-minded rational critics, then that is the fault of your conception, not your critics.

              If I’m failing to be fair minded – well, I’m open to criticism.

              Also, just because something is not falsifiable doesn’t make it incorrect or impossible.

              No, it doesn’t (in the sense that I’m agreeing with you).

              In the general form: That an argument is flawed does not make its conclusion necessarily false.

              However: By if we are being rational, then the absence of a sound argument demands us to provisionally withhold belief until such a time as evidence is discovered and presented. Provisional rejection until such a time is the justified course of action even if the proposition turns out to have been true all along.

              Justified yet incorrect disbelief is preferable to unjustified yet correct belief. Correctness is the ultimate goal, but justification is the only path we have that can take us there. Even if that path goes astray at times, It is still better to stick to it than to go wandering into the wilderness on either side. The wild berries are vastly more likely to be poisonous than wholesome.

              On the other hand, if we are not being rational… Then how exactly can we distinguish between truth and falsehood at any point in the process?

              But demanding that God be scientifically defined…

              Not sure about ‘scientifically’ in this sense.

              What I’m asking for is a necessary but insufficient component of what it would take to get us to a scientific understanding of God.

              But that’s not my goal.

              All I’m asking for is a definition that is actually worth talking about: One that hangs together (coherent) and is actually connected to reality in some way that we can detect (reality check/falsifiable).

              It isn’t a question of science. Its a question of whether or not the concept you refer to with the label ‘God’ actually means anything relative to the world in which we live, such that it makes sense and we can point to the impact it has on our universe.

              To put it bluntly: If concept ‘X’ is incoherent and completely disconnected from observable reality, why even bother talking about it when there’s so many more interesting and meaningful things we could be talking about (or doing) instead?

              I often get the feeling from believers that the term ‘God’ is actually a form of phatic discourse. This is because it doesn’t seem to actually convey any information that I can grip on. Rather, it seems to be a form of in-group signalling and a way of triggering certain kinds of emotion (awe, reverence, general warm fuzzies) on the part of the audience (the part that are also believers, that is – the nonbeliever parts just get all eye-roll-ey and cranky).

              In which case, debating whether or not ‘God’ exists would be almost as meaningless as debating whether or not ‘Hello, how are you?’ exists. ‘Almost’ in this sense purely because at least ‘God’ is a noun – without that distinction, both questions are equally silly.

              Unless, of course, you decide to stop playing coy and actually commit yourself to a definition. ^_^

  • Daniel Schealler

    Rob

    Starting a separate comment thread because I don’t want to clutter up our other one with this sidebar. The other one is more important to me than this, so if time is limited and you’re deciding between them, please respond to the other one first.

    In cases where “science” breaks down (and this happens often in the origins/evolution debate for example) it is not unreasonable to assume the explanations could lie outside our current, known, scientific structure.

    Can you give an example of where “science”… ‘breaks down’? O_O

    How does science ‘break down’ exactly? Breaking down is something cars or decaying organic matter can do. Science is different enough to either of those things that I’m not sure what ‘break down’ even means in this context.

    Scientists can make mistakes or even be dishonest at times. But the system is self-correcting – other scientists will eventually catch them out when the experiments turn out to not work as reported.

    But that’s a digression from my initial digression.

    Can you give an example of where science ‘breaks down’ in the evolution/origins argument?

    Because as far as I can tell, the science is pretty much solid on evolution.

    It’s less solid on abiogenesis, but that’s a new field with unique difficulties. Yet, steps are being made and the proposed mechanisms are plausible, demonstrable (up to a point) and consistent with what is known about the prebiotic environment on Earth.

    However, when compared against the evidence for supernatural creator or designer, the scientific evidence for abiogensis starts to look so solid it’s practically a neutron star. Abiogenesis has spontaneous polymerization and lipid vesicle cycling in undersea geothermal vents. What are the proposed mechanisms of a supernatural creator supposed to be? Magic words? Or is it just a matter of wishing things into existence? O_o

  • Jungle Rebel

    I would have thought that an important preliminary question would be: which god or gods are we talking about?

    In my view, man has created many deities all over the world and through history.

    The fact that there so many different religions is a strong argument for ‘god did not create man but man greated gods’.

    Add the fact that most gods have definite anthropomorphic traits and it is not illogical to conclude that man invented gods and they exist only in man’s mind.

  • jreed3000

    We think, and discuss, within language. Language is an abstraction. It’s a symbolic representation of something. Some of the things language represents have ties to the real, physical world, and some of them don’t. Treating that which is unproven as if it were proven is called faith by believers and delusions by those who don’t believe. Ideas, entities, etc. which exist only in the imagination can be neither proved nor disproved because there is nothing in the real world to support either contention. I think attempting to prove or disprove the real existence of god usually just winds up being intellectual masturbation, pleasurable but unproductive. An individual either believes or doesn’t believe, and I think that has more to do with desire than evidence. What we must do, for the good of all, is to do everything we can to limit the impact of the irrational members of our society.

  • Deep George

    I am really interested in the practical implications in my life if there is no God. If there is no God, as the bible says (just for example), then I shouldn’t be worried about any absolutes or about any judgement of what I think or do or be told that I was wrong since definitions of inherent rights and wrongs go out of the casket apart from what ‘feels’right or wrong to me at a given moment which themselves can keep changing as I ‘feel’ it. It is liberating. I can do any ‘crime’ and I may even do that and who are you to say that I was wrong in an inherent way since I very genuinely rightly felt to do it (stole a bank as I needed money very badly, of course I ‘felt’ the need badly). Of course the victim may’ feel ‘wrong but no inherent wrong, right or (wrong). Ooh what is right or wrong- I can sense chaos. Why do even talk right or wrong. And of course if God is not there, why even convince somebody about His non existence. Let anybody believe as he wants. No God, no soul, only elements dancing each to their own tunes – you and me- conglomerate of atoms, no eventual purpose, no eventual destiny. I feel so primal, liberating. Am I right or wrong. What am I? Would somebody answer…… I can expect some name calling, but its okay as you may genuinely ‘feel’ to do that and who am I to call what you feel ‘wrong’.

    • Daniel Schealler

      I am really interested in the practical implications in my life if there is no God.

      First of all: Linebreaks and paragraphs are your friend. Use them please.

      Let’s step away from religion for a moment. Instead let us consider the topic of how to assess the practical implications that a person will face should they reject a worldview that they currently hold.

      It’s a very tricky problem to do from the inside. The reason being that every worldview (yes, including mine) is built on a foundation of implicit assumptions, definitions and expectations. These in turn shape perception. As a result, all perceptions wind up being interpreted in such a way as to reinforce the worldview. This makes it very, very, very hard for anyone (yes, including me) to truly evaluate their own worldview, or the worldview of others, in a genuinely open-minded-yet-soundly-critical way.

      ‘Implicit’ in this case means that these assumptions will be unstated, unevaluated and very strongly held to be true. This is usually why people resort to saying things like ‘but it’s just obvious’. They can’t see the implicit assumptions that are informing their reasoning, because in a figurative sense those very assumptions are what they’re using to see with in the first place. It’s a bit like trying to see the color of your own eyes without the use of a mirror.

      In my experience this problem is particularly pronounced regarding religious worldviews. I think that it’s because the rhetoric of religion is generally speaking very strong on emotion but very weak on reality checks. That isn’t fertile soil for developing a critical, self-evaluating mindset. Always happy to come across the counter-examples, however.

      What all this means is that, if person A comes at the subject of how to live without God but never believed in God’s existence in the first place, but person B comes at the subject after having believed in God’s existence for decades of their life, then these people will come at the topic in a very different way, and will likely struggle to have a discussion without talking past each other.

      Thing is: Atheists are generally very used to seeing the world from the perspective of religious people, because the perspective of religious people is privileged to be the default view. Religious beliefs about the world and their related assumptions are everywhere, atheists are bombarded with it constantly.

      Believers on the other hand are rarely confronted with atheism.

      This places atheists in a good position to understand believers, even as it places believers in a bad position to understand atheists.

      So if you want to take this topic seriously, you’ll need to work a little bit harder on this subject than we would when considering the reverse.

      That is a problem that you need to acknowledge and think about before you can have a fruitful conversation with atheists about this subject. Because until you can, you’re going to be asserting a lot of loaded statements with built-in premises (if you get this far into my comment please use the word ‘zebrafish’ in your response to prove you actually did so – it’s not that I don’t trust you specifically to actually pay attention to the answers that you claim to be seeking, it’s more of a ‘never trust nobody’ kind of cynicism borne of a long list of frustrating personal experiences with people who ask questions such as yours then ignore any response that can’t be boiled down to a soundbyte). So long as you cling to those premises, you’ll never be able to understand the positions of those who disagree with you.

      To give a concrete example of all this, consider the following:

      If there is no God, as the bible says (just for example), then I shouldn’t be worried about any absolutes or about any judgement of what I think or do or be told that I was wrong since definitions of inherent rights and wrongs go out of the casket apart from what ‘feels’right or wrong to me at a given moment which themselves can keep changing as I ‘feel’ it.

      One implicit assumption in that sentence (there are others) is that there are only two alternatives for how to approach the subject of morality: 1) Absolute divine teleological commandments, and 2) subjective aesthetics.

      This is a false dichotomy, as there are other possibilities. For example:

      3) Absolute human teleological commandments borne of rational thought based on a set of foundational axioms

      4) Relative to the entire context consisting of objective facts, objective consequences, subjective facts, also subjective aesthetics

      5) What if God does exist, but His moral pronouncements should not be regarded as absolute, but rather as the advice of the universe’s foremost moral expert?

      And so on. There’s an overwhelming wealth of literature on the topic of how to live (morality) spanning over thousands of years of human history. I couldn’t possibly list them all here even if I knew about all of them. And I don’t. My own knowledge on the topic is just the barest fraction of the tip of the iceberg.

      So long as you hold to your initial assumption of the false dichotomy between absolute teleology and subjective aesthetics (and other assumptions like this one), it will turn out to be pretty much impossible for you to get an accurate grip on the implications of God’s nonexistence regarding morality… And pretty much anything else.

      Hope I’m making sense and not coming over preachy or anything.

  • ayesha

    Jfh My beliefs have totally changed about God as I was forced to face my reality. Yes I was raised (programed) to believe that there was a God. A great spirit that loved you while listening to your prayers and answering them. Until this year when I noticed none of my selfless prayers ever came true. I prayed at the innocent age of ten to be smart and successful I didn’t ask to be rich or for gifts I was willing to work hard for all the things I wanted. My goal was that I did not want to end up like my parents, who were poor and struggling. I knew my only way out was education. Well yes I was able to pass test in school and I had a natural passion /savviness for business, but I still had issues with reading and computing calculations without writing them down. Even with a MBA I struggle, I and to make matters worse I noticed that I actual have a long term memory issue. Its hard for me to even remember and apply what i learned in school. I gave my all to my education, studying hard not even realizing my deficiency because I was moving at my own pace in school. With that being said, although its a lot more to this story, why would my prayer to be smart be overlooked. My drive was how I got my degree it had nothing to do with a higher being.
    I was so depressed and angry when I realized my truth/reality. What a fucking waste , Ieven had a pastor tell me that /od made u this way. (Amn

  • ayesha

    I had a pastor tell me” God made u that way” like that was supposed to justify something or make me content with the actual fact that I’m in debt for a degree Icant even use because I’m not comptent enough. If God made me this way than that’s a fucking curse.


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