## In what sense is atheism scientific?

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14

I have been reading a bit of Dawkins and the like and they all seem to hold a very strong viewpoint on atheism and its associated ideology. I have not found a direct citation for this but he frequently makes a very close connection, e.g.:

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
The Blind Watchmaker (1986)

I myself do not see how atheism can be scientific in any way.

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.
Atheism, Wikipedia.

The thing is, you cannot prove nor disprove this statement. It's an ethereal concept with no basis in scientific measurement by tests and observation. They seem to be asking a question that has no answer because the whole thing is based on faith.

Atheists point out that you cannot prove god exists nor disprove that Thor exists, which is true, so why are they answering this question in the first place and making a very strong connection to its scientific merit?

As I see it, atheism seems to have the same passion to try and persuade others of their ideology as any religion, with Dawkins even calling himself a militant atheist.

I think agnosticism seems to be the most scientific approach.

What might be some reasons atheism could be considered to have a 'scientific' dimension?

Good thinking, gerdi. Atheism is untestable in the natural sciences so does not belong there. Individuals might endorse it but it is not any more or less 'scientific' than theism. Darwin is irrelevant. Atheism is not made any more or less 'scientific' by evolutionary theory. – None – 2017-04-04T12:44:46.110

4Dawkins on "Why do atheists care?" Not specifically answering your question but enlightening as to his views with regard to 'Militant Atheism'. – Andrew Lambert – 2012-11-21T07:02:46.847

I read somewhere that Darwin himself was a committed Christian and feared that the publication of his theory would lend ammunition to those who would deny it. – Mozibur Ullah – 2012-11-30T23:30:57.300

Athiesm isn't scientific: there's no observation, hypothesis or peer review, just the lack of belief in deity. Science, however, is atheistic as there is no empirically verifiable or falsifiable hypothesis which posits or presumes the imponderable (e.g. deity) – Mr. Kennedy – 2018-08-21T21:18:29.390

Is it scientific to disbelieve in Russell's Teapot? (Anybody know if Musk put a teapot in his roadster?) – David Thornley – 2018-08-22T22:49:35.863

@MoziburUllah I didn't have this impression. Darwin certainly belonged to a strongly Christian society and feared the uproar that might come from his theory, but, according to Randal Keynes, "Annie's Box" his own lack of belief steadily increased throughout his life, especially in the grieving wake his childrens' deaths. The book also gave the impression that he struggled with the despair his views clearly brought to his devout wife. But, aside from in his early life when he fleetingly thought about becoming ....

– Selene Routley – 2013-08-19T05:01:06.043

... an Anglican clergyman, the book give the impression that he didn't greatly care one way or the other about Christian faith. – Selene Routley – 2013-08-19T05:02:15.813

This cartoon sums it up: "Then a miracle occurs" at http://movingimages.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/no-miracles-in-science-please.jpg

– Dan Christensen – 2014-07-03T19:43:41.407

Atheists point out that you cannot prove god exists nor disprove that Thor exists, which is true, so why are they answering this question in the first place and making a very strong connection to its scientific merit? Atheists are a very diverse bunch. The position that one cannot prove gods exist is rather agnostic than atheist; the position that we should connect theology and science in a adversary way is linked to the precise, and very minoritary, brand of Dawkinist atheism. Which, in my opinion, is just a new brand of religion, one without a god, but religion nevertheless. – Luís Henrique – 2016-08-18T12:10:06.493

18

Whether atheism can be reached by scientific reasoning depends on whether scientific reasoning is the only way to form justified true belief. Can I only say that I know something if it can be scientifically demonstrated? More weakly, can I only know that a deity exists if that deity can be demonstrated scientifically? I cannot see an analytic argument which results in a "yes" to this question, so I must answer the main question with an overall no.

Science has a very high standard of description of phenomena. One way to explain this is that whatever the dimensionality or 'size' of a model, we need many more data points which match that model to some level of accuracy. To some extent, the choice of where to set the bar, above which one can claim 'knowledge', is a choice that individuals will have to make themselves. If we overlay some sort of purpose on top of this, then we can say that the bar ought to be set at some spot to optimally pursue said purpose. But is any purpose a given? No.

Science is not a complete philosophy. Think about it: "The only way to know something is through scientific reasoning." That statement itself is not obtained through scientific reasoning. Take the following from Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Known as Hume's fork, I believe this is a self-refuting statement: Hume's book contained nothing which would prevent it from being committed to the flames (possible objections). This idea is formalized in Gödel's second incompleteness theorem, which can be understood as saying that "truth is stronger than provability". Because we make use of arithmetic and provability, the second incompleteness theorem applies. I'm assuming that we'd prefer to not adopt a philosophy which is fundamentally inconsistent. So, there will always be true statements which cannot be proven to be true from any given set of axioms.

Anything which dictates what beliefs ought to be formed for the purpose of knowing reality will necessarily come from something 'bigger than' science. Therefore, atheism cannot be reached from scientific reasoning alone. Otherwise, we are in danger of saying things like, "Believing in one or more deities does not aid in the pursuit of science." This only supports disbelief in deities if life is nothing more than doing science, which is not a position held by very many people.

Godel, Heinsberg , Kant ... mind blown . Thanks for your answer. – None – 2013-10-15T08:45:06.250

8The incompleteness theorems really don't have anything to do with this. – J.P. – 2014-06-30T17:27:11.603

@J.P. Are you saying that the first sentence of my last paragraph is incorrect? – labreuer – 2014-06-30T17:51:56.153

Do you mean this one: 'anything which dictates what beliefs ought to be formed for the purpose of knowing reality will necessary come from something 'bigger than science''? If so, then I don't have any particular complaints about that claim itself, but it certainly doesn't follow from the incompleteness theorems. – J.P. – 2014-07-01T08:59:52.550

5That statement is predicated precisely upon the incompleteness theorems: truth is stronger than provability. When you prove a system as consistent (i.e. a stable foundation for predicating beliefs upon it), you can only do so if it is sufficiently weak, or from within a bigger system. Science cannot prove itself consistent and complete. And yet, this leaves room for ¬atheism. – labreuer – 2014-07-01T15:31:09.573

Godel wrote some excellent arguments analysing Anselm's Ontological argument and tried to improve it with modal logic. – user128932 – 2014-10-19T05:05:15.633

@labreuer ...truth is stronger than provability. Unfortunately, we don't know what "truth" is, so the assertion is meaningless unless "truth" is defined as "that which is stronger than provability" (though that hardly helps). – user2338816 – 2014-10-29T09:27:47.287

@user2338816: Do you mean to say that "Unfortunately, we don't know what "truth" is", is true? – labreuer – 2014-10-29T16:18:07.160

@labreuer I don't know how an unknown can be true or false. And it's not clear that 'true'/'false' values are directly related to "truth" (whatever "truth" is). – user2338816 – 2014-10-31T06:12:23.867

53

"Atheism" is a lack of belief in deities. As such, it can come about in two ways.

1. You can decide that you aren't convinced that any theory of the world which requires a deity is correct.

2. You can become convinced that there cannot exist any correct theory of the world which requires a deity.

It is perfectly possible to adopt position #1 as a scientist, in exactly the same way that you might decide between two potential scientific theories: you examine the predictions of the theories and the evidence for how the world actually works, and you make an informed judgement as to whether a theory seems to work well, either on its own terms or compared to another. You can even tentatively adopt both theories if they are both compatible with the observed evidence (though you might want to bear in mind where and how much the two theories conflict); and you can also reject both theories, deciding that neither of them are even provisionally satisfactory.

In this regard, you can be an atheist simply because you see no particular reason to believe in god; you "have no need for that hypothesis". This doesn't necessarily entail that you reject all possible god-notions out of hand — although you may feel justified in being skeptical of them, just as you would be justified in skepticism of whether time-travel is possible based on awareness of the sorts of paradoxes it might give rise to. But this leads to position #2.

Position #2 is potentially non-scientific depending on how it is presented. But to determine whether or not it is scientific, we must ask some questions which make it even a candidate for scientific consideration, the most important of which is this: What is a god?

• If a god has all manner of superlative attributes, such as omniscience and omnipotence, then it may fall prone to classical contradictions between such properties, and the debate comes down to whether you think logic is a suitable tool for reasoning about the world. This is the same sort of judgement as claiming that a perpetual motion machine is impossible — in both scenarios you have a theory (classical logic, or the laws of thermodynamics) and a proposed entity (a superlative god, a perpetual motion machine), and where you can use the one to rule out the other.

This means that if the proposed entity exists, your theory was somehow flawed. And indeed, religious apologists tend to make statements such as "god is not subject to logic", whatever that means. But barring the discovery of such wonderful and extraordinary objects, we don't have any particular reason to suppose that the theory is wrong in the way that would be necessary to allow these things to exist.

• If god is just the entire universe, and indeed we are a part of it, then fine; by definition god exists — but the same things could be said about unicorns, if we define unicorns also to be the entire universe (and we a part of it); that would also suffice to prove the existence of Unicorn, with a capital U. It becomes a word-game, and does not allow you to infer the sorts of things you might like to be able to claim about gods. The same problem applies if you define god to be an entire ecosystem, or anything which does not in any obvious way have interesting properties in common with the folklore exemplars such as Thor, Apollo, Yahweh, or Make-Make.

• If you refuse to define the notion, then it becomes unreasonable to demand that someone accept the possibility that it exists, because you haven't really told them what it is that they are supposed to admit the possible existence for. Ignosticism is the philosophical position of refusing to make a judgement about gods before the definition is properly laid out; but it does still necessarily entail a lack of beleif in the unspecified thing.

The problem historically is that there are very few defenses of the existence of "gods" which do not fall in a camp such as these. Because scientists best respect those ideas which are clearly-presented, which have interesting and meaningful consequences, and which do not require the overturning of the tools which they find provide them with reliable results, it is often said that it is "scientific" to reject the existence of gods. It would be much more accurate to say that it is scientific to reject all of the most common arguments for gods, and that if there are any truly good arguments for gods, that they are not very well known even to skeptical people who take an interest in the subject.

Finally, if you consider "agnosticism" to be the position of being uncertain, then in fact this is certainly a more scientific position. But one can be an agnostic atheist, in the sense of considering "Yahweh doesn't exist and also Thor doesn't exist and also Apollo doesn't exist and also Make-Make doesn't exist and also..." the best hypothesis to act on, while being prepared to change your mind if Thor suddenly arrives at your office and allows you to test his hammer Mjöllnir to your satisfaction for fifty years or so, coming to the conclusion that there might have been something to that old Norse folklore after all. For that matter, a scientist should be agnostic about general relativity, and quantum mechanics, and string theory, and everything else; but that doesn't mean that they aren't allowed to form opinions, or that they have to pretend not to have any idea of how the world works at all.

Perhaps you mean the first option to be: "You can decide that you aren't convinced that some theory ...". As it stands the two are identical. – Asad Saeeduddin – 2017-08-01T23:52:29.377

2Once again, excellent answer. – iphigenie – 2012-11-15T16:58:46.020

I am not to sure how you can be agnostic to general relativity in a scientific manner. We can clearly see and experiment on theories which exist in its construct. I do find that interesting if you mind maybe explaining it a bit more. Thanks – None – 2012-11-16T09:07:47.990

11@gerdi: We can be agnostic about it for precisely the same reason that we now know that Newtonian gravity was wrong. Are the Einstein equations correct? All we can say is that we aren't presented with phenomena for which they obviously fail. (The problems with figuring out the global structure of the universe given the matter that we observe, not to mention the acceleration of the universe's expansion, are concievably a examples of a crisis in the waiting, as the precession of the perihelion of Mercury was for Newtonian gravity.) Relativity is our best theory, nothing more or less. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2012-11-16T14:24:22.210

@NieldeBeaudrap cool – None – 2012-11-17T09:59:44.220

@gerdi: Being "agnostic" about (certain parts of) a scientific theory has been extensively discussed in philosophy of science, as it is one of the central pillars of Bas Van Fraassen's constructive empiricism. The term used to denote this kind of agnosticism is acceptance.

– DBK – 2012-11-18T13:16:55.447

@Beaudrap:Ignosticism is an interesting concept: I could say to a man blind from birth that there is such a thing as the colour red. He may choose to believe me or not, he may ask me to define it. In what way can one do this? It is clear and transparent to me that redness exists, it can never be to him. Similarly it may be clear and transparent to me that God exists, to then ask to define God to someone who does not see this is not then a refusal to define it, but simply the impossibility of putting across what one can see clearly to one who cannot. – Mozibur Ullah – 2012-11-30T23:26:01.497

2@MoziburUllah: you could define it as a range of frequencies of light; and if you think there's something more to redness than that, which he can never access, that's nothing he must concern himself with. Similarly for anyone who is not by nature inspired for any reason to religious belief; and if any god takes exception to that, it's presumably thee god's oversight that's to blame. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2012-12-01T00:00:05.927

@Beaudrap: I was going to suggest just that :-), but didn't want to make it a particularly long comment. I would dispute that there is more to redness than a range of frequencies of light. We're talking about the actual experience. Of course a blind man could feel heat, we could explain that as the infrared component, and that above that we can smugly tell him there is the visible which we can directly experience and he cannot. If I was in that position I would be intensely curious, and would be something I would want to be concerned with. – Mozibur Ullah – 2012-12-01T00:12:04.393

It sounds like there should be two different words for "atheist": something like agnatheist for #1 and orthatheist for #2. :) – Michael – 2013-10-11T16:38:24.457

@Michael: I have in past heard these referred to as 'weak' and 'strong' atheism. However, I think that one's attitude towards god-belief in is more important than the reason why one might lack god-belief. Inasmuch as it matters at all, it is a question of policy and epistemology; and belief in gods only matter if you anchor to that god belief some piece of dogma. The real problem, if there is one, is the dogma and not the god-belief itself; which is to say whether one is authoritarian, and authoritarianism of any stripe is more problematic than any particular kind of (ir)religion. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2013-10-11T17:38:50.807

@NieldeBeaudrap: agree that the problem is in authoritarianism, which points to increase importance of 'weak' v. 'strong' atheism distinction: the 'strong' variety may be as much authoritarian as any religions. In fact, 'strong' atheism can cause a ersatz-religion. For example, in Soviet Union strong atheism was packaged with communism ideology that included worshipping of Marx-Engels-Lenin trinity. In fact, the above trinity acquired virtually divine traits, not much different from those ascribed to Jesus (who also may have been a real person endowed by divine traits by the followers). – Michael – 2013-10-11T18:19:03.043

@Michael: 'strong' atheism is authoritarian only if the infidel feels strongly about other people's beleifs per se --- i.e. whether they also have an authoritarian impulse. In the USSR, the problem was not atheism but the demand for uniform ideology in itself: it was an authoritarian demand for atheism, that absolute societal rejection was possible and desirable. One may as well consider particular science fiction franchises or OS choice to be a danger of authoritarianism, to judge from some of their fans. Not the target belief, but illiberalism (insistence on agreement) is the problem. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2013-10-11T19:09:39.583

@NieldeBeaudrap: there was another component: Stalin, a seminary dropout, understood very well the average people's need to have faith in something. Destruction of the popular Christianity and replacing it with communism ideology raised acceptance of communism to religious zeal. There were many parallels between the replaced Christianity in the way communism was setup: the trinity of god-like men, the icons to them in every office, the apocrypha on their lives since kindergarten, the commune heaven for the faithful just around the corner, etc. Atheism was indispensable for arranging that. – Michael – 2013-10-11T20:54:12.243

@Michael: if you want to overturn society and bend it to your whim, having stable absolutes for people to fixate on is handy. Deifying rulers is one convenient mechanism. But at this point we've strayed well beyond the point of whether atheism is scientific, and into the question of whether atheism is necessary for the common person. (My answer is 'no', but that a lot of cultural development on an emotional level is needed to realise a society in which nearly everyone is confident and contented enough to be able to dispense with such mental touchstones of which religion is an example.) – Niel de Beaudrap – 2013-10-11T21:45:08.587

What if belief in God is necessary to do science? – yters – 2014-08-03T01:44:14.627

2I don't really see how that should be, for the commonly used notions of "god". – Niel de Beaudrap – 2014-08-07T04:57:39.230

Your first definition of atheism is really agnosticism. Your second definition is the correct one. One can be a scientist from either (or from any theological worldview that allows for an objective universe to exist), they are not contingent on each other in any way. – LightCC – 2015-12-14T02:56:16.793

2@LightCC: some would claim that agnosticism, properly construed, is a form of atheism. If one does not have belief in gods, is this not the definition of atheism? I do not feel that it is necessary for one to have an openly declared and decided position in order to be an atheist in practice, unless you are interested more in intra-personal identification rather than personal belief. The problem for engaging in science comes in where one's belief may get in the way of what allowed models of the world one entertains: an insistence on a young Earth being one extreme example. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2015-12-15T12:27:20.897

@LightCC: To compare, there are senior scientists who have such a fixed view that the universe is deterministic, despite the apparent randomness of quantum mechanics, that they propose that the appearance of randomness in quantum mechanics is brought about by what amounts to a massive conspiracy of influences which force us to make choices which would bring about a subjective appearance of randomness. While this is possible in principle, it is a limiting worldview and actually makes science impossible. Any such fixed star in one's personal firmament may skew one's ability to theorise. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2015-12-15T12:35:13.457

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Atheism is a null hypothesis. Treating atheism scientifically is to say "I don't believe that god(s) have any effect on [thing being studied]". Calling atheism into question is as simple as providing statistically significant data demonstrating an effect where the null hypothesis would predict none.

For example, an experiment to test the efficacy of some arbitrary treatment on some arbitrary disease would be roughly formulated as:

QUESTION: Does [treatment X] have any effect on [disease/condition Y]?

Null hypothesis: Use of [treatment X] is statistically indistinguishable from a similarly-administered placebo.

Now, using 'prayer' or any other supernaturally-themed technique as a possible treatment, it's easy to see that the null hypothesis is one formulation of atheism. To scientifically demonstrate that god(s) exist requires starting from an assumption of atheism and then demonstrating that the null hypothesis fails to explain some set of phenomena. The long history of failure to do so is actually evidence against certain god-concepts, especially interventionist ones.

Indeed, if god(s) exist, we might expect to see some unambiguous statistical trends such as:

• People who follow the teachings of [deity D] live longer than those who do not
• People who invoke [prayer P] are much more likely to win the lottery than chance would suggest
• Hospitals would recognize [prayer group G] as a valid treatment for [serious condition S] and could back it up with stunning success rates

The base position in a scientific endeavour is that we don't assume something to exist (or to have some specific attribute) until we have some reason to think that it does - i.e., evidence to support it.

So yes: atheism is both scientific and supported by the current body of evidence. If you can design a proper experiment and collect data that casts doubt on the current atheistic conclusion, go for! Just know that your god-concept will not only have to explain your own experimental results but also the decades of null results.

I think this isn't bad but you might want to distinguish between atheisms rather than assert "atheism is null hypothesis." I think that is one form of atheism. – virmaior – 2014-07-03T09:37:35.647

2I agree that there are multiple facets to atheism wonderfully complicated by the number of paths one might follow to at least tenuously hold an atheistic position, but with respect to the question "In what sense is atheism scientific?" I find that this formulation most directly provides an answer. – Dave B – 2014-07-03T13:43:21.933

I don't mean multiple facets. I mean the word is unclear in meaning by itself, so you should specify how you're getting to your definition before jumping off from it. – virmaior – 2014-07-03T15:12:43.917

"People who invoke [prayer P] are much more likely to win the lottery than chance would suggest" hmm .. Do most religions state money as an type of evil? Besides that does science not find reason if all evidence is not found to support/disprove? (like a jury in the court of law ) for instance. If the teachings a of deity (D) do in fact help and provide support for a person in grief (P) and can be measured so , would just the one example of such negate the absolute against, regardless of the unknown of (D)? – None – 2014-07-04T07:11:46.857

@gerdi: There are plenty of belief systems that have good luck rituals designed to bring wealth by trying to curry favour with spirits or minor gods. That Christianity has a love/hate relationship with money (see: Vatican) does not mean that all belief systems do!
If the teachings & rituals of [deity D] can be replaced by any other similarly-administered placebo in repeated experiments for the same effect, that is strong evidence for a psychological effect rather than divine intervention.
– Dave B – 2014-07-04T14:27:39.277

@virmaior: I'm assuming we're talking about atheism as the negation of theism, i.e. that atheism is the lack of belief in god concepts and, by extension, their having any effect whatsoever on the world in general.

Borrowing the definition for null hypothesis from Wikipedia: ...the null hypothesis refers to a general statement or default position that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena. Rejecting or disproving the null hypothesis ... is a central task in the modern practice of science, and gives a precise sense in which a claim is capable of being proven false. ... – Dave B – 2014-07-04T15:00:17.890

... And thus any experiment that would demonstrate some 'supernatural' effect is at play would simply need to disprove the null position of atheism by showing a statistically significant effect. – Dave B – 2014-07-04T15:02:47.430

2@virmaior even if your response, you're demonstrating the problem. lack of belief != denial of a belief. You need to be clear as to how you are defining atheism. Is it the negation of a posit or the assumption of the null hypothesis in the absence of evidence? You seem to jump between these two definitions without seeing there's a difference between them. – virmaior – 2014-07-04T15:03:40.933

@virmaior: I didn't use 'Denial' anywhere, and I don't see where you think I implied it? Can you please quote the relevant section? – Dave B – 2014-07-04T15:11:18.077

sorry, negation not denial. Negation is not identical to lack. Negation is the active refusal of something. – virmaior – 2014-07-04T15:16:54.607

Are you referring to my definition of atheism as the negation of theism? We agree that Theism is defined as the belief in one or more gods or god-concepts, right? So not-theism (i.e., the negation of theism, !theism, or atheism, or however you want to express it), would be the lack of belief in one or more god-concepts, i.e. not fulfilling the definition of 'theism'. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough above - I blame the character limit. :P – Dave B – 2014-07-04T15:26:53.963

2I don't think I misunderstood you due to character limits. The negation of a belief is not the same as non-belief. They are importantly distinct. Negation implies an active response. I have no opinion whatsoever on the existence of a star named QX-123-B. I reject the idea that the flying spaghetti monster exists. (i.e., I actively negate it). I think there are multiple kinds of atheists. There are null-hypothesizers, there are "religious" atheists, there are atheists who are really angry that other people do believe in a God. All of these are different things called atheism wrt negation. – virmaior – 2014-07-05T01:09:28.067

1@virmaior: You and I are using 'negation' in different ways. I give a longer answer in [(http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/14372/what-are-atheism-and-agnosticism/14409#14409)] that might help.

Word prefixes such as un-, ir- and a- define new words as the negation or opposite of the original word meaning. Tidy is to untidy as redeemable is to irredeemable as theism is to atheism. Untidy, irredeemable and atheism are defined based on the negation of the root word. I'm not talking about people negating theism, just that atheism literally means not-theism (...) – Dave B – 2014-07-07T14:19:13.963

In the second half of your above comment, you talk about different expressions of atheism. None of this has any bearing on atheism being not-theism. Indeed, depending on what you mean by 'religious', it's possible to be all of those at the same time. However, the variations of what one does from a non-theistic starting point aren't relevant to the OP. Back to the OP, the most basic expression of atheism is 'I am not convinced by theism' with an implied 'until evidence gives me reason to consider it' - Practically the definition of the null hypothesis, yes? – Dave B – 2014-07-07T14:25:50.800

The etymology sounds nice and isn't lost on me, but etymology is not the whole of where words get their meanings from. I believe the are many different things called atheism, some of which are the null hypothesis, some aren't just that. The only thing I want/ed is for you to spell out your definition of atheism before making statements predicating about atheism... and to recognize there are multiple versions... it's not really worth wasting our time on... can't see why this is so hard ... – virmaior – 2014-07-07T14:56:05.627

Note that I'm your only upvote... – virmaior – 2014-07-07T14:56:25.730

@virmaior: Then we seem to be talking somewhat past each other. I spelled out the definition in my first comment, then was confused by your focus on the word 'negation' since I was talking about word definitions being the negation of each other, not people actively negating things. My only definition here has been 'Atheism: Lack of belief in gods'. I apparently still don't understand your 'other definitions' comments - there's no other definition of atheism used by atheists that I'm aware of. Though there are a lot of people who are atheist AND (something), 'AND' doesn't relate to the OP...? – Dave B – 2014-07-07T16:14:40.020

@DaveB To try and clarify the multiplicity of non-theistic positions: The OP defines atheism as rejection of belief in deities. There's a distinction between rejecting a position and failing to hold it. In the former you are actively of the opposite opinion, in the latter you're nearer to neutral. Most agnostics would claim to be neither theists nor atheists, but you've equated agnosticism & atheism. In a hypothesis test you set a significance level, but depending on the SL you may get different answers, and certainly alter the probability of type I vs type II errors. Binary is oversimplified. – AndrewC – 2014-08-04T00:53:12.397

9

There are inherent problems with attempting to prove or disprove metaphysical concepts using physical means. God, being a singular metaphysical concept, can neither be proved nor disproved by physical data.

However, attributes and acts of God can be called into question. For example if you believe an act of God is that He designs everything through a single time specific creative act, as in the story of Genesis, then this is a physical act that can be called into question and subject to scientific reasoning. If you base your belief in God on acts of God, then yes, you could use scientific data to prove or disprove God. But if you believe that God, being a metaphysical agent sitting outside time and space, could create outside the rules of physics, then the act of creation is outside science(dinosaur bones put there to test us for example)

Neither position is scientific, both are talking about metaphysics. If you take your epistemology to be entirely scientific then God is a non-question, and you are correct, agnosticism is the best position

1But Atheism , the non believe in deities, is the context of my question. Not the disprove through scientific means in a creation story of another faith. Basically what i would like to know is, why is the non belief in deities a more scientific approach then the belief in one? Both answer a question that is not scientific in nature yet one is considered a more scientific approach. I think agnosticism is the perfect neutral space for something like this. Or is wrong to assume this is the impression that Dawkins gives when he writes? – None – 2012-11-15T10:48:49.970

2Apologies, my response isn't as clear as I meant it to be. Neither position is scientific, both are talking about metaphysics. If you take your epistemology to be entirely scientific then God is a non-question, you are correct, agnosticism is the best position – pluke – 2012-11-15T11:06:44.450

but I should also say, that an epistemology based entirely on science is quite hard to maintain (this is for another thread I feel!) – pluke – 2012-11-15T11:48:35.477

1@pluke Maybe you should edit your answer and add that comment on science, atheism and agnosticism, that would make for an improvement (: – iphigenie – 2012-11-15T16:02:11.303

Is 'god' in fact a singular metaphysical concept? What do you mean by 'singular' in this case? – Niel de Beaudrap – 2012-11-15T17:24:15.427

I suppose I'm leaning heavily on a Descartesque definition of God. Of course you can criticise the definition, as you have correctly suggested in your answer, but the criticism isn't of a scientific nature. If you take the definition to hold true, then I believe the argument is metaphysical – pluke – 2012-11-15T17:45:11.990

5

Being an atheist is about as scientific as being anti-flying spaghetti monster. Now, scientists may by and large not believe in the FSM. But, what scientists believe is not the same as science. Science is hypotheses confirmed or invalidated by empirical evidence. If your hypotheses can neither be confirmed nor denied, then it isn't science. Therefore, atheism isn't scientific.

5

# Is "God" (just) an ethereal concept?

I do not see how atheism can be scientific in any way. "Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities" (WP:Atheism) The thing is you cannot prove nor disprove this statement. Its is an ethereal concept with no bases in scientific measurement by tests and observation.

First, I take it that by "this statement" you refer to "God does exist" and the like.

Secondly, I understand your argument as roughly saying: Since "God does exist" is not truth-apt, neither is its negation "God doesn't exist".

If I may refer you to an historical antecedent, this point was made a long time ago about disputes over meaningless terms by Rudolf Carnap. What is often forgotten, is that Carnap made an interesting observation precisely over the meaning of the term God. He pointed out that the word is multi-layered, as it were, so that "God" is not just an "ethereal concept":

Another example [of meaningless terms] is the word "God." Here we must, apart from the variations of its usage within each domain, distinguish the linguistic usage in three different contexts or historical epochs, which however overlap temporally.

In its mythological use the word has a clear meaning. It, or parallel words in other languages, is sometimes used to denote physical beings which are enthroned on Mount Olympus, in Heaven or in Hades, and which are endowed with power, wisdom, goodness and happiness to a greater or lesser extent. Sometimes the word also refers to spiritual beings which, indeed, do not have manlike bodies, yet manifest themselves nevertheless somehow in the things or processes of the visible world and are therefore empirically verifiable.

In its metaphysical use, on the other hand, the word "God" refers to something beyond experience. The word is deliberately divested of its reference to a physical being or to a spiritual being that is immanent in the physical. And as it is not given a new meaning, it becomes meaningless. To be sure, it often looks as though the word "God" had a meaning even in metaphysics. But the definitions which are set up prove on closer inspection to be pseudo-definitions. They lead either to logically illegitimate combinations of words (of which we shall treat later) or to other metaphysical words (e.g. "primordial basis," "the absolute," "the unconditioned," "the autonomous," "the self-dependent" and so forth), but in no case to the truth-conditions of its elementary sentences. In the case of this word not even the first requirement of logic is met, that is the requirement to specify its syntax, i.e. the form of its occurrence in elementary sentences. An elementary sentence would here have to be of the form "x is a God"; yet, the metaphysician either rejects this form entirely without substituting another, or if he accepts it he neglects to indicate the syntactical category of the variable x. [p. 4|5] (Categories are, for example, material things, properties of things, relations between things, numbers etc.).

The theological usage of the word "God" falls between its mythological and its metaphysical usage. There is no distinctive meaning here, but an oscillation from one of the mentioned two uses to the other. Several theologians have a clearly empirical (in our terminology, "mythological") concept of God. In this case there are no pseudo-statements; but the disadvantage for the theologian lies in the circumstance that according to this interpretation the statements of theology are empirical and hence are subject to the judgment of empirical science. The linguistic usage of other theologians is clearly metaphysical. Others again do not speak in any definite way, whether this is because they follow now this, now that linguistic usage, or because they express themselves in terms whose usage is not clearly classifiable since it tends towards both sides.

Rudolf Carnap, "The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language", 1932

Please note that one doesn't need to swallow the whole verificationist framework in order to find this analysis pertinent for the question at hand. The distinction between metaphysical and mythological meaning isn't necessarily based on any strict verificationist assumption. We can certainly enlarge our understanding of empirical existence to include theoretical concepts (electrons, strings) and social facts (the existence of five dollar bills, being married to someone). We can even enlarge our understanding of existence to the non empirical domain to include fantastical concepts (unicorns, etc.), such that e.g. in "some sense" we can say true things about Sherlock Holmes.

I'd think that Dawkins & Co. attack the "empirical" viz. "mythological" meaning of God and the question of its existence and in that respect negative claims of the kind "God (most probably) doesn't exist" or "I don't believe in the existence of God" make sense.

Arguing that this kind of "empirical meaning" of God is nowhere implied in the theological discussion today seems to me to miss the mark. For it is certainly not the case that "the whole thing is based on faith" as you say: The existence of God is supported by references to any kind of phenomenological effects in the domain of human experience. Or, to take the semantic spin: They submit that sentences about God are truth-apt.

Now, the proponent in these discussions can always retreat to a "metaphysical" (in the above parlance) understanding of God, but in doing so the whole concept looses much of its punch and relevance. And I would submit that Dawkin & Co. have no particular problem with this metaphysical understanding of God, that's not the target they are after.

1"this statement" was the definition for atheism. I am not referring to "you refer to "God does exist" and the like." "Secondly, I understand your argument as roughly saying: Since "God does exist" is not truth-apt, neither is it negation "God doesn't exist". This was not so much an argument as a question. I cant seem to understand a scientific view on non scientific concept. – None – 2012-11-16T09:53:43.023

4

It all depends on the definition of atheism.

I do not share your definition of atheism in its broadest sense as a rejection of belief in deities.

In its broadest sense, atheism merely states not making a positive claim of the necessary existence of any deity.

An atheist is simply not a theist. Nothing more, nothing less. An atheist does not necessarily know they are an atheist, as they may have not been introduced to a certain god concept yet.

Is such a position scientific viable:

Yes, as each hypothesis must have some merit in explaining world we live in. The god-hypothesis does not solve any problem, it obscures it. Replace a god did it with a with wizard did it and it would as much as revealing.

Does it mean that each atheist acts scientifically?

No, because an atheist still can uphold other irrational views. Such as homeopathy, astrology or conspiracy theories.

As to arguing that agnosticism would be the scientific position, well, this too stems from your strict definition of atheism as rejection of belief. Just ask some self-proclaimed atheists, and you realize that many atheists and I disagree with that notion.

There is this misconception that agnosticism would be some kind of middle ground. Agnosticism is the notion that something cannot be known. Not that one is unsure which of multiple positions is true.

I would argue that atheism entails rational agnosticism as a subset. Since if you think something cannot be known, it would be irrational to claim "I think it cannot be known, but I believe it is true independent from any evidence whatsoever".

What I very much do reject is the notion that Darwin made it possible to be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist". There were many before him that had reason enough to be atheistic, e.g. in Ancient Greece.

Darwin merely made a strong argument for evolution which contradicts many but not all religions. Evolution in itself has nothing to do with atheism. Assuming evolution would not have been discovered, I would still be an atheist. Confronted with the question of the origin of our species I would simply state: "I do not know."

As with everything: Stating that one does not know is often the rational decision. Introducing a god to fill that gap is not necessary.

2

An atheist doesn't reject the possibility that one or more "gods" exist. The atheist has decided for herself or himself that the likelihood of the existence of "gods" and that such an existence could have any influence on her or his life is so low that it can be ignored.

On the other hand, people who make claims that being an atheist would be in some way unscientific, similar to a fundamentalist muslim or similar, that does affect an atheist, and will make him object.

2

If I take your question to mean "Can one arrive at atheism using the scientific method?", the answer is no. The reason? We can not devise replicable experiments to test the existence of deities.

Putting aside the formal scientific method for a second; an informal tenet of science is skepticism towards new ideas or claims, but even that is of no help in my opinion as the definition of atheism is too vague. What exactly are you being skeptical of? The answer will depend on what attributes you bestow upon a particular deity and what acts they have committed. Here is philosopher Noam Chomsky expressing a similar sentiment:

When people ask me if I’m an atheist, I have to ask them what they mean. What is it that I’m supposed to not believe in? Until you can answer that question I can’t tell you whether I’m an atheist, and the question doesn’t arise.

This is somewhat similar to @pluke's answer and brings me to a point that he made. Even though we can not say anything about a God that exists outside of space time and who doesn't interfere with the laws of nature, we can call into question certain attributes and acts of God. For example, the story of Genesis as mentioned by @pluke.

So we can be skeptical of claims regarding the attributes and acts of a deity (or deities) if they do not agree with the current evidence at hand and that would be considered 'scientific'. But that only applies to certain deities and you could come up with a vague enough concept of God such that science will have no say on it. Or even a well defined God whose actions (or attributes) do not contradict any physical evidence.

2

Atheism isn't scientific. It was Laplace that introduced it into the scientific-philosophical-theological conception pictured by Newton by pointing out that his conception did not appear to require a creator God. Newton himself devoted much more time to theology than he ever did to physics.

Also note the final paragraphs in this essay, More is Different by P. W. Anderson, a chemist:

The arrogance of the particle physicist and his intensive research may be behind us (the discoverer of the positron said "the rest is chemistry"), but we have yet to recover from that of some molecular biologists, who seem determined to try to reduce everything about the human organism to "only" chemistry, from the common cold and all mental disease to the religious instinct. Surely there are more levels of organisation between human ethology and DNA than there are between DNA and quantum electrodynamics, and each level can require a whole new conceptual structure.

1

As I said in another more recent thread on this topic, an explanation that cites the work of supernatural agents (e.g. gods, demons or fairies) is not a scientific explanation. Rather, it is a scientific dead-end.

We might, for example, ask why are there so many similarities between the species. An explanation that this is just the way the gods created them closes any further discussion and investigation. You can't then reasonably ask, why or how did the gods create them in that way? They just did. They are all-powerful and can do whatever they want. End of discussion. All very anti-science.

So, in this sense, a scientific analysis is necessarily an atheistic analysis.

EDIT:

Or if "atheistic" is too loaded a term, how about "non-theistic?" A non-theistic analysis could be one that makes no reference to miracles or any supernatural agent. Falsifying it would not be proof that miracles or any supernatural agent exists. Using this terminology, we would no longer have to consider whether atheism as a scientific theory on its own is falsifiable or not.

1If you don't have to consider the plausibility of falsification, it isn't science (at least according to Popperians). Tinkering with the wording doesn't change that. – Dikran Marsupial – 2014-07-04T07:08:09.763

@DikranMarsupial Whether or not atheism is, in itself, a scientific theory (i.e. is falsefiable) turns out to be a bit of a red herring. The fact is, any notion of miracles, gods, demons or fairies have no place in a scientific analysis. – Dan Christensen – 2014-07-04T15:03:32.907

such things only have no place in scientific analysis because theories involving them are likely to be unfalsifiable. Science shouldn't rule out any theory a-priori, as you suggest, but there are good reasons why science cannot address every question, e.g. falsifiability. Science requires open-mindedness and self-skepticism, to dismiss anything a-priori "End of discussion" is in my opinion, unscientific, there can be nothing less self-skeptical. – Dikran Marsupial – 2014-07-04T15:20:04.633

@DikranMarsupial A scientist should never accept an "explanation" that some observable phenomena is the work of unseen gods, demons or fairies. I guess we will have to agree to disagree. – Dan Christensen – 2014-07-04T15:36:55.387

1Sadly, this exchange merely provides an example illustrating what I wrote about the main problem with people like Dawkins is that they give people a strange idea of what science is. :-( – Dikran Marsupial – 2014-07-04T16:01:17.113

1

A commonly accepted criterion for a scientific theory is the possibility of its falsification. I would regard both theism and atheism as not being scientific as the requirements of their falsification are likely to be unreasonable and possibly impossible depending on the nature of God. I suspect that for most atheists, in order for them to change their mind, they would require direct evidence of God's existence (such that he manifest himself in a way that made himself unequivocally observable). Some religions (e.g. Christianity) would say that God has already done this, but the evidence for this is not accepted by atheists. If the nature of God were such that providing proof of his existence would hinder our free will in choosing between good and evil, providing the required proof would be contrary to his will.

If someone else can come up with a better suggestion of how atheism could potentially be falsified, I'd be interested to hear about it.

This doesn't mean that atheism is not rational, but that it is not scientific. One of the objections I have to Richard Dawkins is that he gives a rather poor impression of what science is about!

This seems really circular to me. Atheism does have a direct way to be falsifiable, you even give it yourself, evidence that god exists. There is no equivalent for the other side; there's no way to find evidence that shows god doesn't exist. Atheism is at least possibly falsifiable; whereas theism offers none of that. The only thing that makes it "non-falsifiable" is a non-falsifiable claim made by theists, which seems like a really circular way to ignore the imbalance between the non-falsifiability between one claim and the other. – JMac – 2020-03-09T18:09:30.317

@JMac As I pointed out, some would say that the evidence that God exists has already been provided, just not in a form that atheists would accept (for a start no second hand testimony would count - as it isn't counted now). – Dikran Marsupial – 2020-03-09T18:19:39.070

I think a large part of the issue here is that there is a modern confusion of "scientific" with "rational" and vice versa, but that is essentially diluting the meaning of "scientific". – Dikran Marsupial – 2020-03-09T18:21:02.390

@DikranMarsupial Just because current atheists don't accept what others consider evidence, it doesn't make the claim non-falsifiable. "The Earth is flat" is a falsifiable claim. Some people still believe it after it has been falsified; but it doesn't make the claim non-falsifiable. Atheism would be the same in this example, assuming people had proven the existence of god. That side is still falsifiable; while the claim "god exists" isn't really. People choosing to believe the evidence is separate from if the claim is falsifiable at all. – JMac – 2020-03-09T18:24:37.457

@JMac yes, I'm afraid it does. Falsificationism requires that both sides can agree what would constitute a falsification. I suspect that many atheists would not regard God revealing themselves personally as constituting falsification and would simply explain it away as a mental breakdown of some sort (as they have a lot invested in their atheism). That would not be irrational (on the balance of probability) even if it were factually incorrect. – Dikran Marsupial – 2020-03-10T07:55:09.897

You are missing the point, namely that citing the actions of supernatural agents (e.g. gods, demons and fairies) simply cannot be a part of any scientific explanation of anything. It would be a scientific dead-end. I suppose it is remotely possible that supernatural agents are sometimes at work, but, like I said, it is a scientific dead-end. For a scientist is makes for a very poor working assumption. Citing the actions of demons or fairies, for example, would amount to giving up on ever truly understanding something. – Dan Christensen – 2014-07-01T03:44:21.137

Science is dismissive in some sense. And rightly so. Almost by definition, it does dismiss the actions of supernatural agents as an explanation for any observable phenomena. A scientist can be religious, but his/her religion should not influence his/her scientific work other than perhaps on ethical issues. I am saying the scientific method should have nothing to do with gods, demons or fairies. Do you not agree? I will just leave at, not being superstitious is not a theory that needs to be falsifiable. We will have to agree to disagree. – Dan Christensen – 2014-07-01T15:44:44.850

While there is much more to science than atheism, science is necessarily atheistic. Science can never cite the actions of supernatural agents such as gods, demons or fairies as any kind of rational explanation. Nor should it. To say that atheism is somehow "unscientific" is disingenuous. Another way to put it: Gods, demons and fairies are simply not a part of the language of science. – Dan Christensen – 2014-07-02T18:26:26.403

@DanChristensen as well as finding out about falsificationism, you ought to find out what the word "disingenuous" means (lacking in candour or frankness). As I explained *exactly* why atheism is not a scientific position (unfalsifiable), I could hardly have been more candid about the matter. It is a shame that discussions on forums such as this tend to end with such accusations, which is why I am taking no further part in it, and have deleted my previous comments as you clearly are not willing to pay any attention to what has been written. – Dikran Marsupial – 2014-07-03T06:43:57.083

If anyone wants to do "science" citing the actions of gods, demons and fairies, they are free to do so. They just shouldn't ever expect to be taken seriously by actual scientists. – Dan Christensen – 2014-07-03T15:32:42.317

Perhaps atheistic is too loaded a term in this context. How about "non-theistic" instead? A non-theistic explanation of some observable phenomena could be thought of as one that no makes reference to miracles or any supernatural agents, e.g. gods, demons or fairies. If such an explanation is falsified, that would not mean that such miracles, gods, demons or fairies actually do exist. By definition, I think you have to say that, in this sense, any scientific explanation is necessarily a non-theistic explanation. – Dan Christensen – 2014-07-03T20:55:50.840

1@DanChristensen Your lack of an apology for the unjustified accusation of disingenuousness is noted. As is the continuation of your spamming of the comments to my answer to reassert your answer to the question without apparently having paid any attention to mine. It is a pity that on-line forums attract such poor behaviour. – Dikran Marsupial – 2014-07-04T06:20:27.567

1

First, I must say I do not completely understand your question. If your question is in what way can atheism be reconciled with science: Atheism is a philosophy or belief system that the origins of the universe lie in a single, higher power, namely god. Atheists attempt to scientifically explain the origins of the universe (Big Bang, etc...). In that way, one could say that atheism is a philosophy that attempts to explain the origins of nature as purely scientific.

If your question is whether atheism is a subset of science, namely a branch such as physics and biology, or perhaps philosophy, then cannot completely call it that. Atheism, like and branch of science, accepts certain axioms and assumptions, and continues forward with its theory of how the universe can work based on those assumptions. But whether one can do research in atheism and make advances in atheism: one cannot. And so atheism, in my opinion, functions as a combination of a religion and a philosophy.

0

The existence or non-existence of God is not a scientific issue since it can't be settled by experiment. However, the explanation for why this is the case is a criticism of theism, not atheism. Agnosticism is also a bad position for reasons I will explain below.

Having said all this, I am not a militant atheist. I don't think that eradicating religion by law would be a good idea. I also think it is possible religious people have some ideas that are morally better than the corresponding ideas held by secular people. We should aim to retain the best parts of any tradition by reforming it to keep its best parts and get rid of the chaff unless there is some reason this can't be done. For example, I doubt that Nazism could be reformed because it was just an excuse for mass murder and conquest, it had to be destroyed. Christians aren't Nazis.

The standard atheist line is that since you can't prove God exists (or that he probably exists) he doesn't exist. This is wrong because you can't prove any position (or show it is probable) and so this argument doesn't pick out theism as being any different from any other position. Any argument requires premises and rules of inference and it doesn't prove (or make probable) those premises or rules of inference. If you're going to say they're self evident then you are using the same argument as a theist who claims it is obvious that God exists. If you don't say they are self evident then you would have to prove those premises and rules of inference by another argument that would bring up a similar problem with respect to its premises and rules of inference. Another approach that is sometimes used is that reason has to do with how the human mind works, but since how your mind works doesn't necessarily have anything to do with truth, that doesn't get us anywhere. Knowledge is not justified true belief: justification is impossible.

In reality all knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism. You notice a problem with your current ideas, propose solutions, criticise the solutions until only one is left and then find a new problem. Experiments are useful only as criticism. Ideas can't be derived from experiment any more than from any other set of premises. Rather, the idea is that you work out how the consequences of one theory differ from those of another. Then you conjecture ideas about experimental setups that would enable you to see the relevant consequences and criticise them. Once you have a setup that works about as well as you can make it work you use it to do the test. If the results are compatible with one theory and not the others then you may have successfully refuted some false ideas. Sometimes a purported successful experimental test will be successfully criticised because a test is a conjecture about something that happened and that conjecture may be wrong, so experiments don't prove anything.

Theism can't be experimentally tested. If God existed he could have made the world any way he liked, so no feature of how the world actually works can rule out his existence, even in principle. For example, he could have made the world 6000 years ago with fossils and stars and photons travelling through space in just the way we see them. Nor can God explain anything about moral philosophy. Perhaps God had some reason for making the world the way it is, in which case we can just say the world is that way because reason X. For example, if he made eyes so that we can move around without bumping into stuff any mechanism that would respect the priority of not bumping into stuff will do, God is not necessary. For example, if not bumping into stuff helps spread genes for not bumping and genes for bumping don't spread, then evolution can explain non-bumping. If God make the world the way it is on a whim, then we might just as well say "shit happens". One reason why theism can't be tested is that it doesn't solve any problem. It is also incompatible with good explanations, it can't be the case that God made the world 6000 years ago and that evolution is the only way to explain adaptive complexity. So theism is untenable.

Now, the standard agnostic line is that we can't be prove whether God exists or not so we shouldn't say he doesn't. The problem with this is that you can't prove anything so this is an irrelevant objection to any particular position, including atheism. Moreover, it is better to take the strongest possible form of any position. The reason is that the strongest form has more implications. This makes it more useful if it is true, since you can rule out more bad ideas with it. And if the position is false, then it is easier to find out that it is false since there are more implications that can potentially be refuted.

For more on epistemology that is not justified true belief junk, see "Realism and the Aim of Science", Chapter I and "Objective Knowledge" Chapter 1 by Karl Popper as well as "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch. See also http://fallibleideas.com/.

2"strongest form has more implications" - could it not be said that these implications could be negative? Take Nazism. After world war 1 Germany went into hyperinflation, their country was falling apart, yet the jews did not suffer ( as a majority ) Nazism bought unity to a large group of people with the idea of not starving to death based on the suppression of their people through the reparations. In terms of survival and well being it seems like the strongest possible form for their position. This however had very negative effects. – None – 2014-07-04T07:26:32.423

Anybody who read Hitler's publicly stated positions, e.g. - in Mein Kampf, could have known that he would murder Jews and conquer other countries. The problem wasn't that Hitler stated his position, but that other people ignored it, e.g. - the plurality of Germans who voted for Hitler. If they had read what he wrote, criticised it and come up with a policy to counter it, Hitler wouldn't have done such terrible things. The problem was that they failed to take the opportunity. I don't know if you really think that "jews did not suffer" but if so that's anti-Semitism and false. – alanf – 2014-07-04T09:01:42.063

1Mein Kampf, although it had racial undertones never mentions genocide or murder. Even Heisenberg, at the time, considered nazism a political solution. A very popular idea at the time was eugenics, with the secularization of the the evolution theory. Which brings me back to the point that even the assumed strongest form for a position can still be the wrong position to take. – None – 2014-07-05T07:49:12.033

If the strongest form is wrong then so is the position itself. Nazism was no good at all. MK states that if Jews "had been held under gas" at then start of WWI, Germany would have won, so the book plainly advocates murder. Eugenics is a moral theory that it's good to selectively breed people. As it is a moral theory it doesn't follow from a factual theory: evolution. Many variants of eugenics are flawed and so it is wrong to advocate it without being more specific about your position. – alanf – 2014-07-07T08:32:46.103

Not to sure where you get that quote from. If you could provide a link that would be helpful. With retrospect it is easy to see that the idea was wrong as is the same with eugenics. How can we state it being wrong at the time without enough evidence. With respect to the OP , there is no evidence to work with at all. @alanf When i stated "the Jews did not suffer" the context was the period after ww1 during the hyperinflation. Although they probably did the common consensus was that they did not. – None – 2014-07-08T07:56:30.557

1I got it from Mein Kampf, which is available online: Google MK and the quote I'm not linking it. You have to be careful about "evidence": the Nazis might regard the number of Jews as evidence of policy success. The problem with that argument is that if you kill somebody who has a correct objection to your policy you prevent him from refuting your policy. So the policy of Jew murder can't be rational because it destroys evidence relevant to assessing the policy. There is no need at all to try the policy to see that it is garbage. – alanf – 2014-07-08T09:53:04.493

0

I'd like to point out something that seems to get easily lost in this context:

Before one asks "Does science reject the concept of god" one should first consider the related (and much more important, in my opinion) question: "Does science reject the concept of a god who interferes in his creation?"

The god of deism (that means a "watchmaker"-god who created the universe and set it in motion but after that keeps his hands off it) might be compatible with science, but a god who answers prayers, performs miracles, sends visions and so on? Hardly.

If you disagree, consider the following thought experiment: You are a scientifically thinking person who happens to be in Jerusalem around the year 30 A.D. Someone comes running to you and shouts "Hey, remember that Jesus guy who was crucified three days ago? He just came back from the dead!"

What do you do? Fall on your knees and pray? Or do you point out: "Unless I receive compelling evidence to the contrary, to me it seems rather more likely that it was only apparent death, or that his death was faked."

With that in mind, the gap between theism (in this case, christianity) and deism seems much wider and much more noteworthy than the one between deism and atheism. (And agnosticism, for that matter.) Probably that's because organised christianity, like most or even all religions I guess, is almost impossible to separate from the belief that its religious rituals (including prayer) have actual power and its religious taboos are actually dangerous.

(If you are not sure what I mean by "religious taboos", try to remember if you felt uneasy reading the expression "that Jesus guy" a few lines earlier. Not because I was being impolite to christian readers, but because god might actually punish me for dissing his son.)

An interesting aside here is that I have the impression that although deism and agnosticism should in theory reject the idea of religious rituals and taboos having actual power, they do not like to emphasize that. I'm getting a bit into speculation here of course, but it seems to me that often only atheism is seen as actively taking a stand against organised religion, whereas deists and agnostics are perceived as saying "please, we don't want to cause any trouble, just leave us alone" - i.e. they are just fence sitters to unimportant to bother with.

To get back to the original question, you ask whether agnosticism might be a more scientific approach than atheism. While I guess technically I agree, I suspect that agnosticism is misunderstood by too many people to mean something like "there's a fifty-fifty chance that god exists". It's important to remember that miracles, answered prayers and religious rituals are not just from the atheistic, also from the agnostic point of view not much more than superstition. That may seem a bit unrelated to the actual question, but I suspect it's the elephant in the room.

EDITED to reply to the following comment by gerdi: "The OP was actually more to do with scientific method in the viewpoint of atheism as taken by some very outspoken scientists. Not deism. I want to understand what science is used in their ideology, to get to the point where they push their ideas like that of their zealous religist opponents."

Fair point. But you seem to imply that if atheists like Dawkins are militant, agnostics are not. In the sense that atheists insist that god does not exist, while agnostics do not insist, that may seem a fitting description.

What I wanted to point out is the following: Aside from the question if god exists, I'm pretty sure those atheists also "militantly" criticise the belief in miracles and similar interfering actions of a theistic god. And I think in that "battlefield" a scientifically motivated agnostic would have no choice but to take a stand against religion, too.

If I understand Neil Meyer's answer correctly, he claims that there are lots of scientists who are also happily religious. That's probably true in so far that those persons either avoid to confront the problem, or mean something rather different with "religious" than most people (i.e. deism). I cannot see how one can take the scientific method seriously and still accept a theistic concept of god. So a confrontation here is pretty much unavoidable (unless you choose to avoid the topic to stay out of trouble).

And if you have become militant in that arena, you might chose to go all the way and call yourself an atheist, to avoid misunderstandings and to send a message that you are not afraid of controversy.

That's at least why I would call myself an atheist rather an agnostic.

The OP was actually more to do with scientific method in the viewpoint of atheism as taken by some very outspoken scientists. Not deism. I want to understand what science is used in their ideology, to get to the point where they push their ideas like that of their zealous religist opponents. – None – 2014-06-26T11:05:49.447

Cool.. This is actually a point i wanted to bring up but thought it might be more for the skeptics channel. "scientifically motivated agnostic would have no choice but to take a stand against religion, too." Now , that is not completely true. And this is why i think agnosticism is far better for discernment. Militant atheists seem to have a very "absolute" in science , which is fair to say for certain aspects.But consider godel's incompleteness theorem. If a proof cannot be given for a "miracle" then all possibilities exist. – None – 2014-06-26T20:05:27.997

That is to say if for some reason a scientific explanation does not exist in the context. This context i am assuming to be a hypothetical in which there is no proof nor disproof for said "miracle". An agnostic cannot disprove without proof against based on emotion or based on the mere fact that it seems illogical. All of quantum mechanics seems illogical, yet it is beautiful. – None – 2014-06-26T20:11:11.303

I agree that this point would deserve its own question... I'm not sure I correctly understand what you mean, so just a few notes: Science must assume that all observable phenomena are caused by (directly or indirectly) observable phenomena, otherwise it has no point. – elias_d – 2014-06-27T05:33:25.857

Even if you cannot disprove a bizarre claim, if it explains the facts not better than a simpler explanation, Ockham's razor recommends to choose the explanation which makes the least unusual assumptions (until further evidence allows to solve the problem better). David Hume's argument regarding miracles: Check if it is more probable that the miracle actually occured or if the persons reporting it are lying or unreliable observers. – elias_d – 2014-06-27T05:34:27.153

Quantum mechanics may seem illogical, but it's not, it's just very different from the rules of nature we are used to in everyday life... Quantum mechanics is the best explanation for the experimental results, and allows correct predictions, that's why scientists think it's true. – elias_d – 2014-06-27T05:36:44.717

Occam's razor:"the fewer assumptions that are made, the better." This is completely relative to a "miracle" without proof and kinda absurd to introduce into scientific method. QM does seem illogical .. it does seem illogical . It completely breaks down proofs of reality itself REF uncertainty principle ergo the search tie QM and general relativity. Just take matrix and wave .. which model is right, both .. right , there is a rabbit hole , but this is getting off-topic. – None – 2014-06-27T20:07:42.507

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According to the definition you gave:

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.

Atheism, Wikipedia.

Yes, atheism is not Scientific, and, by inference, yes, agnosticism is more in line with Science.

(Although if by chance you reference the subculture/identity/movement of Atheism, which includes figures such as Richard Dawkins, the definition of the tenets of this movement encompass both the definition given above and your concordant definition of agnosticism.

Another definition of 'atheist' is simply the negation of 'theist' i.e. anything which is not Theism, as in, to encompass not only agnosticism but also the explicit view that deities do not exist.)

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Not to hate on wikipedia but the definition is the result of edit wars. Most people who are Atheists I know are unconvinced by the evidence available. Most theistic traditions followers rely on faith (aka. beliefs vs. evidence).

This is not to say evidence does or does not exist but where each groups primary justifications tend to lay. Relating it to science, you can say Atheists they are basing it on the evidence or lack there-of vs. a belief (aka. faith). You could say science to a degree says "show me the evidence".

So you can look at it as different people take different approaches and value different types of evidence in various ways. As philosophers, what tends to be more important are principles of how we arrive at the truth.

Namely,

• There are no topics or ideas off limits for discussion.
• Apply the same method and rigor to all claims.
• Look for logical fallacies in all claims asserted.
• The size of the claim determines the standard of evidence.
• etc.

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I think agnosticism seems to be the most scientific approach.

I tend to agree with you. Science is never truly proven. All it takes is one disproof for a scientific theorem to be false. Atheism is a belief system. A "philosophy", if you will.

If God can be an electron .. then i'm agnostic. But if God has to be a bearded man who lives in the sky and hates women .. I think I'm an atheist. – Richard – 2018-08-21T22:37:32.507

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The "scientific method" is to only believe what you can prove (and to actively try to disprove any hypothesis). So although you can't disprove that God exists, if you can't prove it, it is more in line with that principle to disbelieve it than to believe it.

So I agree 100% that God can neither be proven to exist, or not to exist, but to apply Occam's razor and believe the simpler -and closer to physical proofs that DO exist- theories, the more scientific we are being.

4"To only believe what you can prove" is positivism, not 'the scientific method'. The so-called scientific method is meant to be to attempt carefully to test hypotheses, and then reject hypotheses which don't hold up to testing, which is much more like falsificationalism. If there is to be some sort of "correct" scientific position on the subject of gods, I would say it is Laplacian indifference: there's no particular use in contemplating the hypothesis. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2012-11-15T16:21:48.727

@NieldeBeaudrap - I don't disagree, the "correct" position does seem to be indifference, (or "most correct", maybe?) - the question was whether atheism was "more correct" than a belief, which I believe it is, given the lack of evidence. I don't think it can be called scientific at all to believe something without any evidence supporting it (evidence that doesn't fit into some other system of belief more comfortably). – Ryno – 2012-11-16T10:22:47.103

scientific method is limited to only empirical prove. but God may be proved by non-empirical methods mostly in labs. if God is not made of material then basically can not be proved by scientific method or in lab. – Battle of Karbala – 2012-11-29T11:53:38.110

Hey, cool answer. you say apply "Occam's razor" , what if someone has an "enlighted" experience that would cause him/her to then assume there is a god because the only logical outcome based on his/her experience would be that of a being greater then his current reality. Would it be wrong then for this person to believe in god even with the lack of scientific evidence, with only his personal experience? – None – 2014-06-26T20:15:57.293

Yes, he should stop taking drugs, or stop believing that everything he experiences while on them is real. If there were no drugs involved, then perhaps there should be, of the anti-psychotic variety... – Ryno – 2014-06-27T01:34:40.363

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Atheism and science have no links.. other than that scientists may on average be more likely atheists. I know many atheists who are not so because waterfall erosion clearly shows geological time far exceeds 5000 years... Just that it's preposterous to imagine a bearded man in the sky created leukemia.

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Agnosticism was coined by T. H. Huxley. It was morally repugnant the insistence of the orthodox that their dogmas required sheer unswerving acceptance, and that breakdowns in argument or intelligibility were simply occasions for the exercise of an intensified faith. T. H. Huxley was forthright. In “Agnosticism and Christianity” he wrote, “I, and many other Agnostics, believe that faith, in this sense, is an abomination.” A growing mass of data and theory supplied by the physical sciences was prima facie at variance with biblical history and cosmology. There was the new time scale of geology, the impersonal and amoral Darwinian evolutionary theory, and the radical textual, historical criticism of the Bible itself. For Huxley agnosticism was “not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle”: Reason should be followed “as far as it can take you,” but undemonstrable conclusions should not be treated as if they were certain.

Justifying agnosticism as a philosophical position requires a careful investigation of the limits of our cognitive powers. Specifically, it must be shown that human reason is simply incapable of reaching either affirmative or negative judgments concerning the existence of the God of traditional theism. Statements about the god of traditional theism, or other supernatural entities are neither analytic nor empirically verifiable in principle. Naturalism’s basic thesis is that the only things about which reliable knowledge can be obtained are things that can be investigated by the methods of science. The supernatural eludes investigation by the methods of science. Since naturalists tend to hold that the only individual things of whose existence we have reliable knowledge are physical things, the conclusion is drawn that the existence or nonexistence of a god is unknowable, then there are no sufficient truth-conducive reasons to support belief.

No one ought to hold a belief on insufficient evidence. Why the believer feels compelled to use the extraordinary language he does use? It has become much unconvincing to use religious experience as an argument to a god’s reality. Naturalistic forms of explanation, have been proposed for religious experience; and analogies are often drawn between religious or mystical experiences and drug induced or pathologically abnormal states of consciousness. Philosophical sense still needs to be made of the connecting of revealed content with the alleged divine source.

Religious people say a good many mysterious things about their Absolute, things that, by their own account, were strictly unsayable. Problems arise when it is claimed that ultimate reality or God are altogether beyond all conceptual descriptions. This kind of strict ineffability is incoherent, because to be described as ineffable is itself a description. We have good reason for thinking there can be no such ineffable X ‘out there’. It is very difficult to see what use positing an ultimately ineffable X would have, religiously, practically, philosophically or scientifically. Very few religions rule out in principle all conceptualizing of God, even if they are quite wary of such theorizing, and so philosophers they still engage in conceptual analysis when they are already cut off from the religions they are attempting to explore philosophically. The questions here are not questions of credibility but of conceivability. Notions such as self-existence of a god and creation of universe by an external agency involve symbolic conceptions of the illegitimate and illusive kind. This justify to describe as atheist one who rejects religion on the grounds that talk about a god is unverifiable talk, or that the concept god contains inner illogicalities.

"No one ought to hold a belief on insufficient evidence." Belief formation in practice is almost always a sociological rather than empirical process. You believe in atoms because people you trusted told you they were real, not because you were sceptical and repeated the fundamental experiments yourself. This is true of almost everything you believe about the explanations of things that happen in the world - you make a decision based on who's telling you and how they tell you. You hardly ever use evidence. It's a fun philosophical position but you're very unusual if you keep it up in practice. – AndrewC – 2014-08-04T01:13:13.327

What is the difference of faith and trust in a God and the layperson faith and trust in the scientific community? We can trust in science testimony because of science has peer review. When religion must abandon an old, false belief, it often doesn't. Science has methods with which to identify error. In contrast, religion makes assertions that can never be proven false even if they are completely untrue. The response to errors is more important than the errors themselves. – Annotations – 2014-08-05T03:31:30.307

@AndewC Science is progressive in simplicity, predictive accuracy, comprehensiveness, and requirements for consistency. Is belief without evidence progressive? We can trust in science testimony because science's process of justification is reliable but faith no. Faith is trusting or believing something without evidence. Where science is concerned, there's virtually nothing but evidence. So scientists don't have faith in science. Faith claims universal truth, but it is correlated mainly with the place where someone grew up. – Annotations – 2014-08-05T03:33:10.800

@AndrewC We cannot trust in faith's testimony because faith disable reality checks when it encourages people to believe in beings of untestable existence and in undetectable forces, making people more vulnerable to oppression, fraud, and abuse. A religion reject the other religions precisely because they are faith-based and there is no evidence for them. – Annotations – 2014-08-05T03:35:40.880

You missed my point about belief when you imply science has some sort of universal truth to it. Your beliefs about science are correlated mainly with what decade and school you went to. Science doesn't claim truth of any kind, it claims to have a model that on average fits test data. You're OK if you say science gives us an accurate model but not if you believe it. Was Newton right or wrong? It's a silly question - Newton had a pretty accurate model. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics don't fit together, which upsets people because they want to believe them, but that's a mistake. – AndrewC – 2014-08-05T07:23:20.583

Your beliefs are a sociological construction, mainly non-scientific and non-falsifiable. People's beliefs in the moon landings differ, partly because they're no longer a scientific question, they're a historical question, and not open to experiment. Some believe, some don't. I believe I love my wife, but all you can test scientifically is whether I react physically to her, and the experiment is unrepeatable in other countries, so can never become part of science. I can't even prove to a sceptic I have a wife! You're incorrect if you believe you only believe scientifically proven things. – AndrewC – 2014-08-05T07:30:15.453

Is the thinking that faith is a personal truth, a personal truth? If truth is relative to a faith, the dissolution of truth is complete. If a faith is only defensible by his own guidelines, it is just as much everything else will be, only defensible by his own guidelines. If truth is relative, is there a fact about whether there are gods? Science is progressive in simplicity, predictive accuracy, comprehensiveness, and requirements for consistency. Is belief without evidence progressive? Faith disable reality checks, making people more vulnerable to oppression, fraud, and abuse. – Annotations – 2014-08-05T13:40:32.413

You'll find that religeous people think of what they believe as absolutely true. Personal or relative truth is the domain of postmodernism and moral relativism, and I think it's very unusual for religious people to hold to either of those, but there are probably some counterexamples. I know both religeous people and non-religeous people and I can't see any sense in which my religeous friends have been oppressed more, defrauded more or abused more than my non-religious friends, so I can't agree with that assertion you keep making. Again, most of anyone's beliefs are not due to empiricism. – AndrewC – 2014-08-06T07:40:01.640

It seems that your belief “anyone's beliefs are not due to empiricism” is a “sociological rather than empirical process”, just as much everything else will be, only defensible by his own guidelines, according your non empirical "sociology". What you say "gives us an accurate model but not if you believe it" – Annotations – 2014-08-06T22:38:07.973

Of course - I only believe that because I read it in two social science books that claimed that some study or studies show this. I didn't do the testing myself, and I'm not a social scientist, and don't have the tools to make a judgement about whether the study/studies were rigorous and demonstrated the claim, but it seems to me to fit with my experience that you pick up what you believe from people like teachers, friends, parents and the television, not from checking any of it yourself. The error is in believing that you were rigorous because the source you believed claimed rigour! – AndrewC – 2014-08-06T23:05:47.200

Some very popular misconceptions: 1. Science uses empiricism, and you believe in science, so you form beliefs empirically. No, you don't, not unless you repeat experiments and analyse the results statistically; you just believe someone else's conclusions or just accept a few examples as evidence, just like everyone does. 2. You require a high standard of proof to believe things. No, only when you don't believe things 3. Science is full of true facts. No, it's full of accurate models - a correct vehicle for prediction, but not for belief - the best scientists rejected the current model. – AndrewC – 2014-08-06T23:18:24.297

Just believe in present direct experience is radical skepticism. Problems remain regarding the coherence of anyone who accepts the soundness of an argument whose conclusion is that we are not justified in believing past indirect experience. Presuppositions are necessary for the very possibility of intersubjectively valid criticism and argumentation. Self-refutation arises too when truth is relative to a framework. If all justification is framework relative, then there is no fact about whether there are frameworks, the truth meltdown is complete. The true skeptic is skeptical of skepticism. – Annotations – 2014-08-07T02:07:20.347

Yes, which is why most people just go about believing things that fit with their ideas without checking, and reserve scepticism purely for things that don't fit. – AndrewC – 2014-08-07T08:37:16.783

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It is not in anyway scientific. It just happens that science self appointed spokespeople tend to be atheist. TO think science teaches atheism is to insult thousands upon thousands of religious people all over the world.

The thing is, you cannot prove nor disprove this statement. It's an ethereal concept with no basis in scientific measurement by tests and observation. They seem to be asking a question that has no answer because the whole thing is based on faith.

I disagree with this. It is very much provable. The problem is when you think that somehow the scientific method is going to give you an answer to this. The scientific method cannot say much to this in the same way as science cannot tell you who to vote for. This does not mean just because the scientific method is ill equipped to explain who to vote for you cannot know who to vote for. It means their is boundaries or limits to what the method can try to explain.

If I can use an example to illustrate my point. You can ask the question... What scientific evidence is their that Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939? None? Therefore Poland was not invaded in 1939? or it is impossible to know if Poland was invaded in 1939? No you need a different method to prove a different type of query.

Atheists point out that you cannot prove god exists nor disprove that Thor exists, which is true, so why are they answering this question in the first place and making a very strong connection to its scientific merit?

You can very easily prove that Thor does not exist and the Christianity's ideas of God does exist. You have not proven every goss darn religion false if you prove that Thor does not exist. Is it hard to believe that different religions have different merits and that one can be true and others not?

how is it provable? I am not too sure on your example of Poland. That does not seem to make sense. That action is very provable."On 8 October, after an initial period of military administration, Germany directly annexed western Poland and the former Free City of Danzig and placed the remaining block of territory under the administration of the newly established General Government.". This action was actually the start of WW2 as Poland had alliances France and the United Kingdom – None – 2013-10-14T09:48:38.987