As many long-time followers of Metaphysics of Physics will know, we are staunch atheists. Or at least, that is what most people would describe us as. However, we do not describe ourselves that way. Well, not exactly. But surely there is nothing wrong with atheism?
What do we mean by “atheist”? What do we define atheism to be?
We define atheism as:
“The firm conviction that God or gods do not exist.”
Not only do we believe that they do not exist, we believe that they cannot exist. This is a stronger form of the lack of belief held by many other so-called atheists.
Here is a common definition of atheism you might have seen:
“Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”
Is this the same thing as our definition of atheism? Not necessarily.
Notice that it says, “A lack of belief in”. This indicates that someone simply does not believe that gods exist. It does not necessarily indicate that they believe that they cannot exist. We are mostly discussing the “I do not know” sort, but what we say should apply to the “we cannot know” sort as well.
The problem is that many atheists simply do not believe God exists due to a lack of evidence. As though they are open to the possibility of God existing. But just happen to believe that there is no such evidence. As though they believe that such evidence might hypothetically exist. In which case they might accept that God exists.
We go a step further than this. We know that no such beings can exist. Whereas a great many atheists explicitly state that they cannot be so sure that such beings cannot exist.
That reeks of agnosticism. What does it mean to be agnostic? Let’s ask the English biologist Thomas Huxley. After all, he coined the phrase “agnostic”, so he seems a reliable source.
“Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.”Thomas Huxley
It does not necceasirly refer to the belief that one cannot know whether gods exist. Many agnostics simply profess that they do not know.
By agnostic, we mean someone that claims that they cannot or do not know whether or not there are gods.
[Editorial, below we have added a clarification on why we have defined atheism in this way. It may come across as a tangent, but there seems to be some content over this apparently somewhat controversial issue.]
Before we proceed, yes we know that our definition of atheism is more narrow than the standard definition. According to our definition an atheist does not simply lack belief.
Lots of people lack such beliefs. But, an atheist rejects the existence of such beings.
That means that everyone is in one of three categories: They are convinced in the existence of gods and the like, making them a theist. They are firmly convinced that such beings do not exist, in which case they are an atheist.
Or, they are uncertain and not committed to believing they exist nor that they do not exist. Making them an agnostic.
If you are unsure, you are an agnostic. Even if you think they most likely do not exist, but are not sure. If you refuse to take any position and are unsure, you are an agnostic. If you say “Well, they probably don’t, but maybe” you are unsure and you are uncommitted and an agnostic.
It is important to grasp that here agnosticism is used not just in the sense of “You can’t know” but “I don’t know” as well! This includes all people not convinced one way or another as to whether or not such beings exist.
This is not a redefinition of agnosticism, it is simply using it in the more broad and common sense of the word. While allowing a more narrow definition of agnosticism as specifically the “I cannot know kind”, as long as you specify that is the kind of agnosticism you are talking about.
You might call this “philosophical” agnosticism, the conviction that such things are not knowable.
Why do we define atheism this way? Well, it is less vague. If atheism is merely “a lack of belief”, then this includes agnostics as well. They lack belief, just as do people who reject the divine. So, if someone is an atheist, do they reject the divine or just have a vague non-belief?
This way it is easier to distinguish the two. And you do not have to deal with a “hard” vs “soft” atheism distinction. Soft atheists usually being those who lack a belief, hard atheists being those who reject such beings.
And agnostics being those unsure as to whether they accept or reject such beings.
We think it is important to have a term which clearly and unambiguously refers to those who reject the divine. As opposed to not really clearly indicating this, at least not without further clarification.
Now, we have cleared this up, lets get back to our topic.
What many of these “atheists” seem to believe is that there is no scientific ground upon which to assert that there is no God. But, is this the case? Can we reject God based on science?
It is true that the issue of the existence of God is primarily an epistemological and metaphysical issue and thus not primarily an issue of physics or the other physical sciences. And we certainly reject all gods on metaphysical grounds.
Before going further, perhaps we should remind ourselves what it means for something to be “possible”. We cover the topic of “possible” in this podcast episode:
“X is possible” means: “That according to the context of my knowledge, there is some evidence that X is true and none that proves that it is not”. Note, that there may not be very much evidence that supports X, but there must be at least a little bit.
The existence of God or gods is impossible.
Is there any evidence that the gods are possible? Obviously not. There is no evidence whatsoever that suggests gods exist or even that they might exist. And a great many atheists would agree with this.
Note that just because you cannot disprove that something exists does not mean that it is possible that it exists. A lack of evidence against something is not evidence for it.
Nor does a lack of evidence against something establish any possibility that it is true. For that, you would need evidence for it, not a lack of evidence against it.
Nor is the fact that you can conceive of the existence of God proof that he might exist. The fact that you can imagine something is not proof that it might exist.
The possibility of God has not been established. But that does not prove that he does not exist, right?
That is true. It establishes that any claim that God exists is entirely arbitrary. Since there is no evidence or logic of any kind supporting it, it must be rejected as lacking any observable connection to reality. And thus, rejected as without cognitive value.
Can we go further than that? Can we prove that God is entirely impossible? That is, that he is not able to exist. Of course, we can …
God can allegedly shape reality with but a thought. Which asserts that consciousness as such has a magical power over reality. But as existence is primary and existence is not influenced by consciousnesses, this primacy of consciousness must be rejected.
God can allow things to act contrary to their nature, which is also forbidden by a rational metaphysics. Things cannot act against their nature. Not even if someone tries to make them do so.
God has a contradictory nature, which is also forbidden. To exist is to exist as something with a specific, non-contradictory nature. Nothing is an exception to that, regardless of what kind of being they might be.
And so forth. We thus reject the possibility of any god’s existence.
Obviously, no such entity can exist. Not only does he violate basic principles of a rational metaphysics, but he would also violate countless laws of physics.
Therefore, no reasonable person should consider the idea of any god as remotely possible. Any claim of the existence of any god is not simply arbitrary. It is not simply that there is no evidence for its existence, there are countless reasons you should know that such beings cannot exist.
So, on that basis, every reasonable person should dismiss the idea of any god as entirely false.
This is not a matter of “there is no evidence that God exists, but I will remain open to such evidence.” No such evidence is possible and indeed it is clearly impossible. As by their alleged nature, gods contradict what we know about reality. And such contradictions are not possible.