Yesterday I posted a quote from Gary Zukav which stated that religion accepts beliefs without evidence whereas science is precisely opposed to such a notion. I noted the similarity in atheistic thought. I want to expand a bit.
The foundation of atheism is that there are no gods. When delving into the position of most atheists, it becomes clear that this isn’t a firm statement. In truth, most atheists will not reject the possibility of a god. Of course, some will and that’s downright silly. Unfortunately, anti-atheist arguments are often mounted upon that idea. It’s a persistent little strawman.
It’s key to the point I wish to make here that it be well noted that atheists do not reject certain possibilities. If one wished to play semantics, there are actually very, very few atheists in the world. Most of them are actually agnostic. But that isn’t very useful terminology. We’re all agnostic to the flying teapot in the semantic world, but in a useful sense we all reject its existence.
The reason atheists reject god is largely based upon what Zukav said about science. Belief without evidence is no good belief at all. It may be acceptable in every day life to believe what Susie Q tells us about her day – she went to work, got some groceries, ran into an old friend – even though we have no real evidence of this. There are two good reasons for this. First, practicality. Demanding evidence for every nuance of life isn’t really worth one’s time, nor even possible to ascertain. Second, our every day experiences are really that incredible. If Susie Q talked about that friend just the day prior to running into her, there is no need for evidence of all these things. That is a common occurrence which is statistically probable when considering the experiences of the population as a whole. In other words, it’s far from incredible. Indeed, it is credible on its face. But the game changes when the claim Susie makes is extraordinary.
If Susie tells us she stopped a train in its tracks a la Superman, we would rightfully demand some real evidence of this (assuming we didn’t outright reject her claim as obviously false). We would even call Susie’s claim impossible. But that isn’t to actually say it is impossible. In theory, at least, it could have happened. All the atoms which made up the train could have spontaneously disassembled in a manner consistent with how they would have been altered had Superman actually been standing in front of the train. Of course, there is a huge difference between something being possible and something being plausible. This scenario fits the former while falling far short of the latter.
Atheism is much the same. The claim that such-and-such god exists is unevidenced. There isn’t any way one can confirm or deny the existence of a supernatural being, much the same way celestial teapots or fairies cannot be disproved. The theist can only rely upon faith and personal experience. Faith is nothing more than belief without evidence. If it was belief with evidence, it’d just be called evidence. Personal experience may be useful to an individual, but it cannot be used to make a very convincing case to anyone else. Only one person can have that precise experience. A mere description of it does nothing to confirm it actually happened. All that is confirmed is that the individual believes he experienced something. His claim tells us nothing of what he actually experienced. A theist may also use his theology, but it is false to believe that is evidence. Ignoring for a moment two important factors – theology is nothing more than literary criticism with a horribly narrow focus, and Biblical writers and scribes are horribly fallible – any theology inherently assumes the existence of its particular, cultural, local god. Assuming the premise in an answer is a logical fallacy (“begging the question“) and not evidence.
So the atheist has a major fact on his side: there is no evidence for any gods. Again, the average atheist does not therefore rule out the possibility of a god existing. He is ruling out the plausibility and probability of a god. This is scientific in its nature.
Science is all about disproving. The scientist has his hypothesis and he seeks to falsify it. Through repeated falsification, he narrows down the possible explanations for the observed phenomenon. This becomes his proof. No person has ever falsified modern gravitational theory. This is very strong evidence for its existence.
With gods, they cannot be falsified. They therefore cannot have any evidence. To be clear: evidence is had in falsification. By saying “It isn’t this or this or this…” the possible answer is whittled down. So if there are 10 possible answers to a question and we show that 9 of them are actually false, we have de facto proof of the remaining 1 answer even though it has never been proven. Of course, science goes a bit further and is far more rigorous, but this does explain its essence. And in this essence does atheism live. There is no good evidence for believing in supernaturalism, so the rejection of any given god* is a reflection of scientific values at their core.
*Of course, some may claim a natural existence for their god. But that isn’t much of a god at all, is it?