Atheism and Science: Oil and Water

The scientist that tries to refute religious phenomena based on their studies is the same as a religious person who tries to refute science based on their faith, they are both foolish.” – Rabbi Skorka

 

I’ve decided to begin a series of articles critiquing the arguments of atheism.

I do not intend to prove or disprove God’s existence or even to assert my own beliefs, but through argument show the logical inconsistencies of modern atheistic reasoning. Using the definitions of science, atheism, and the truth I will come to my point: Atheists cannot use science as an authority in their argument against the existence of God, and if they do, they will mar the name of good science.

What is science and what are it’s boundaries?

Science is a method and means to acquiring information about the universe. We use this tool to deepen our understanding of the known world and to assist humanity in it’s journey. According to Scott Lilienfeld et al. theories and information can be classified under three possible categories: authentic science, pseudo-science (erroneous but seemingly scientific information), or metaphysical claims. The authors continue that “it’s essential to distinguish scientific claims from metaphysical claims: assertions about the world that we cannot test” (Lilienfeld 11). They give us examples of metaphysical claims: “assertions about the existence of God, the soul, and the afterlife” (Lilienfeld 11). It repeats shortly after that “testable claims fall within the province of science; untestable claims don’t” (pg. 11). We get a clear picture of what science is, and what science is not.

Everything that cannot be tested, or cannot be falsified, is unconsidered by scientific thought. Areas that are unconsidered by science include love, art, beauty, God, literature, humour, creativity, morality, and a multitude more. A full list would be enormous. For example, you can study how a human brain reacts to something beautiful, but not what beauty is. Science can tell us that animals suffer, but it can’t tell us if using animals in experiments to find a cure for cancer is right or wrong.

What is atheism and what do atheists believe?

Oxford dictionary defines atheism as “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” Pretty straight forward, atheists do not believe in God. A list taken from wikipedia of atheists arguments against theism include “a lack of empirical evidence,the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, rejection of concepts which cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief”. None of these arguments contain evidence to show God’s non-existence, but are all philisophical arguments pointing to the unlikelihood of God’s existence. There is no experiment an atheist can point to, and never will be, that has shown that God doesn’t exist or cannot exist.

Atheism and Science are separate entities.

To mix theses two separate systems is a logical error. Science, as I stated above, cannot comment on metaphysical claims, for example, the existence of God. Atheism makes statements on the existence of God. Therefore, atheism and science are related to incompatible material. If you wouldn’t trust a mathematician, with no other training, to operate on your brain, then don’t trust atheism to tell you scientific fact. If you agree with the arguments of atheism, then that is your choice, but don’t confuse those arguments for what they are not. Science is the study of observable or testable phenomenon, atheism is a belief system which argues that God does not exist.

The truth, no matter how unlikely, is still the truth. Science knows this best.

Atheists have seen their blunder and the language they use has changed. All recent comments I’ve heard from atheists using science as their backing all use the same argument type: God’s existence is highly unlikely. Imagine trying to teach someone in the 13th century string theory or the modern understanding of quantum physics. That person would say you had lost your mind and they would put you in an institution. Quantum mechanics is the most strange and bizarre reality you could find at the base of our existence. Would the man from the 13th century find your explanation likely? Of course he wouldn’t, it’s so completely outlandish. Yet, it is commonly accepted by modern scientists. To have rejected the notion of quantum mechanics due to it’s unlikelihood would have been a scientific blunder.

My point is this, we cannot reject something completely because we deem that it is unlikely. Such thinking is not scientific and it is not proper skepticism either. To be truly skeptical is to question all theories, but to remain open to all unproven claims as well. Atheism’s jump to the non-existence of God is a leap of faith. In order to make such a conclusion requires the believer to cross past the boundaries of fact and to make an educated guess, at best.

To conclude my argument I wish to affirm that if atheism continues to use the name of science to propagate its owns beliefs, the name of science will be tarnished in the process. Science is a beautiful and necessary authority in our society and global community. I support it whole heartedly, but I also recognize it for what it is, and what it is not. I also promote free thought, choice and critical thinking, but if these skills are to reach their full potential, we must use them in conjunction with logical reasoning. Stretching the authority of science to comment on God’s existence is beyond it’s actual capacity. It is a disordered use of an otherwise magnificent tool.

 

In the words of Rabbi Skorka,

When science reaches it’s limits, man turns to the spiritual, to the existential experiences of centuries past. Science and religion are fields that work in parallel and should be talking to eachother.

  • Rabbi Skorka from “On Heaven and Earth.”
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27 comments on “Atheism and Science: Oil and Water

  1. Jennifer says:

    I like your opening quote. It would seem then that atheists cannot use science to leap to the conclusion that God exists and religion cannot use science to conclude that God exists. Does that mean that science is incapable of informing theists or atheists?

  2. Jennifer says:

    That should read…atheists cannot use science to prove God does not exist….

  3. jerry says:

    There are so many contradictions and errors in this article, “A full list would be enormous.” 🙂

  4. Barry says:

    Of course atheism has nothing to do with science. No atheist is seriously trying to argue that science demonstrates a lack of existence of a god. There’s just no compelling reason to believe one exists.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Of course atheism has nothing to do with science. No atheist is seriously trying to argue that any finding in science demonstrates a lack of existence of a god. The position of “atheism” is simply that there’s no compelling reason to invoke a deity to explain anything about the universe. It’s not a statement about actively “believing there’s no god”. There’s a subtle but very important difference which I believe you are confusing.

    Also, saying quantum mechanics is the opposite of Occam’s razor because it’s weird is a bizarre statement. The mathematics of quantum mechanics are certainly the simplest possible set we’ve discovered which match experimental results. I think that fits Occam’s razor as accurately as possible. The universe is what it is. Occam’s razor is about explanations, not the fundamentally wonky nature of the universe.

    • Agreed. Occam’s Razor does NOT say “Use the simplest explanation.”. It’s about using the simplest explanation IF all other factors are equal. So, if you had a another explanation than quantum physics to explain all the facts that’s ALSO simpler than quantum physics, obviously we would choose that. Unfortunately, there isn’t one, because the universe isn’t simple. So quantum physics is the most simple explanation for the things that we know and thus, of course, fits perfectly within Occam’s Razor.

      Also, quantum physics has one advantage over god: It can be tested. It makes predictions. It’s falsifiable. You can say “If we test THIS, and the result is not THAT, then obviously our theory is wrong.”. You cannot do that with god. The fact that you cannot disprove something does not mean that you should believe it. I can make up dozens of things that are not falsifiable, but noone starts believing in them. Skeptical thinking is something that is important to science, as otherwise you would simply accept random premises and go from there – but that’s religion, not science.

      Ironically, the definition of atheism is quoted correctly and then ignored. Atheism is the lack of belief. There may be some atheists who actively disbelief god, but in the end, all Atheists have in common that they don’t believe (but not, that they believe in the non-existence). Atheists are open for the idea of “god” – as much, as they are open for the idea of fairies. “Yes, cannot be disproven, no, there is not one ounce of evidence, so let’s assume it doesn’t exist until further notice.”

      Science cannot disprove god. True. But that’s just because god has nothing to do with reality.

      • Jennifer says:

        Dear AM

        Can we prove love? Can we prove grief? Can we prove truth? If not…then these must not exist….they are kind of like elves and devas.

      • Yes, we can. You can measure both feelings inside a human brain, detect the chemical reactions, etc. (not perfectly, at the moment, but no doubt, we are getting there). If you want to tell me, that “god” is also just a feeling inside the brain, then we can totally agree on that.

      • Jennifer says:

        I could live with that explanation…that God is a feeling inside the brain. But maybe the brain is just measuring something that is non local? Maybe the brain is not the generator of those things, just the receptor?

      • As soon as you bring some evidence for that idea, we can consider it. Until then, it’s just an idea.
        Consider this: Why shouldn’t we think about that light is carried by little fairies on their back? It’s not possible to disprove, but for an explanation it’s pretty useless, it doesn’t give us more answers but makes everything more complex. Same thing with assuming that the feelings are not created in the brain but somehow come from the outside. No evidence, no need to assume it.

      • Adam says:

        Atomic Mutant,

        You said,
        “Science cannot disprove god. True. But that’s just because god has nothing to do with reality.”

        This is exactly what my article as addressing. On one hand you acknowledge that science can’t comment on religious belief, in the next breath you state a “fact” about God. What evidence do you have to support this claim?

        Also,

        Since when does the fact that something can be tested or not, make it better or worse? These are two unrelated qualities.

      • God is not defined in a falsifiable way. That’s a fact. And THAT is what makes god unconnected to reality. No matter what happens, it could be god – or not. The definition is the problem here. And this definition disconnects god from reality, because it doesn’t define any real connection. Everything could happen. There is no “if A, then B”. It’s “if A, then something, perhaps. Or perhaps not.”.
        It’s like saying, the speed of your car is somehow connected to the way sparrows fly. As long as you don’t define HOW it is connected, you cannot falsify it, because it’s pretty impossible to test ALL possible connections. So, for the sake of reality, you simply can say, that sparrows have no connection to your car.

        This would change, as soon as you define the connection better. But theists don’t often try that – and even then in ways to make sure, that every failure of the test can be blamed on the circumstances.

        And it depends. For the question, what do you want to accept as reality, something that can be tested is definitely better than something that cannot, because something that cannot may have an influence, or it may not and we can never say, what’s the case. With something hat can be tested, we can (within reason).

      • Adam says:

        We can’t jump to the conclusion that because something is unfalsifiable it is therefore something else. For example: disconnected, unworthy, lesser in some way, etc. You may ascribe subjective opinions like, I like it more, it’s easier to understand, but not objective statements.

        The quality of being unfalsifiable is a reality, not a choice or decision, or lack of definition. God cannot be defined in testable terms. It has nothing to do with humans not producing a testable definition. Science accounts for this with the meaning of metaphysical claims.

        Love, for example, cannot be tested for. You can test for body changes, hormone changes, and such related topics, but no one could ever prove that one person truly loved another.

        I wouldn’t say, “I can’t test my wife’s love for me, therefore her love is something lesser than something like her physical presence.” Many fathers are present, but abuse their wives and children. Therefore, love, something untestable, is greater than the testable claim of physical presence.

      • As for love, you are wrong. You could, of course, test the chemical reactions in the brain and see, if they match the pattern for “love”, in other words, answer the question, if these people “feel” love. We cannot do that yet, because our understand of the brain is not good enough, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t be possible. And then that’s probably all there is to love. It may sound mundane, but I don’t think the most wonderful feeling in the world does become even a little bit less wonderful just because I know that it’s a chemical reaction inside my brain. I know that Christians cannot enjoy the beauty of a garden without imagining that fairies live there… But I can.

        And again, it’s the definition of god that makes the problem. But the definition has nothing to do with god. Every definition of god can be wrong. It’s entirely possible that there is a god – and that he has absolutely nothing to do with any religion every believed in, for example. You can’t know. It’s as simple as that and that’s why I still claim that your god has no connection to reality – except that he’s inside your brain, like love (at least, I hope there is).

    • Jennifer says:

      Jeremy, I suspect that all atheists don’t think alike as is true of agnostics and theists. How do you personally explain the existence of matter and how it came to be and what preceded it?

      • Jeremy says:

        I don’t. I’m aware of the bounds of our collective understanding. The fact that these are open questions is awe-inspiring to me, and I have no desire to answer them with guesses.

    • Adam says:

      Most atheists don’t refer directly to science to make their point, this is true. I’m also commenting on the assumption that atheism and science go hand in hand. This notion is very pervasive in modern thinking.

      Your right about Occam’s razor, that was my mistake. I’ve altered the article. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Berry says:

    This is about god and gods light. Those who cant see it are forever doomed. Atheism is a sin clear and simple.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Dear AM:

    Stop for a moment and wait for your next thought. Literally do that. Where did it come from?

  8. Jennifer says:

    Jeremy, I love your answer.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I personally think the conversation between theists and atheists spirals down into dualistic thinking that creates theists fundamentalists and atheist fundamentalists or dogmatists. I am grateful to atheists for pulling the rug out from the wish fulfilling God that is such an embarrassment to theists who have actually grown up. I am grateful to theists for growing up. And agnostics for holding the space. The god conversations need a larger non dual kind of mind to engage the large questions of our lives. Homily done. 🙂

  10. Phil says:

    Interesting Blog, thanks for putting it up Adam. I am fascinated by the amount of controversy that can arise! — Phil

Thanks!

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