One of the frequent arguments we see against the idea of God or gods or Supreme Beings of any kind is that there is no empirical evidence to prove that God exists. This evidence is seen as irrefutable and anyone that disagrees are labeled as ignorant, close-minded people. Typically we see this line of thinking come from outspoken Atheist leaders. That makes It easy to believe that all atheists think like this, but the reality is a bit more complex than this. Most atheists see these viewpoints as belonging to an extreme fringe of the overall atheist spectrum.
I have a cousin that is an outspoken atheist on Facebook who refers to “extremist atheists” as being as problematic as fundamentalist Christians. While he is firmly atheist and feels that all evidence points to there being no God, he also recognizes that this is his choice when looking at the vast sea of evidence. His main point, which I agree with, is that there is really no strong empirical evidence for or against God if we are all being honest with each other. We basically choose which side sounds better to us in the same way we choose our favorite ice cream flavor.
Almost all atheists I know confirm this same position. Very metamodernist of them – they are convinced that what they think is truth, but realize that when dealing with society in general their position really doesn’t hold more or less weight than the others. So in other words, be nice to each other and try not to be jerks over what amounts to a personal choice that you can no more prove than what is a the best ice cream flavor.
However, as my cousin has also pointed out, the minority of extreme atheists seem to grab headlines and attention for their extreme empirical views just like the Westboro Baptists of the world gain attention for theirs. This idea that everything has to be proven by empirical evidence is an extreme outworking of empirical ontology that is actually rare even in academic circles. There are man other scientifically satisfying ways to examine reality – logic, constructivism, even relativism all inform scientific thought and debate outside of empirical evidence. Of course, bring up constructivism (or even worse: social constructivism) to an extreme empiricists and they are likely to give you the cold shoulder or roll their eyes and mumble something about “soft sciences.”
Most of the logical problems that extreme empiricists have with any sentient being can be pretty easily dismissed by social sciences. Why dd God do those illogical thing? Well, because he/she/it just wanted to. If humans don’t follow their own logic half the time, why would a supreme being? Because that being has to be just and fair? How do we know that we are just misunderstanding fairness, or that we have social constructed a different view of fairness than God originally intended?
An old atheist colleague of mine also added this thought to the mix: we only know something like 10% of everything there is to know out there (some would say even less). Even if we get to knowing 100% of everything there is to know about this existence, all we can honestly say is that if there is a God or Supreme Beings of any sort, they created this existence so that it is impossible for their creation to discover empirical evidence of their reality. Kind of like in video games when you wonder why you can’t open certain doors or climb certain mountains: the video game programmer just made it so you can’t. So in other words, we will never be able to prove empirically that there is no Supreme Being. We may only be able to prove that it is impossible to empirically prove there is Supreme Being, or stumble upon some empirical evidence that a Supreme Being exists. That’s kind of the great scientific conundrum with Supreme Beings.
This also connects with the great scientific conundrum with Christianity: the entire religion is built on “faith,” but if you could empirically prove that Christianity is real, you would no longer need faith. You would have no choice in believing any more than you have a choice in believing in gravity. Therefore, proving the Christian God isn’t real is as much proof for God as against. It could mean that you have proven that we have to have faith to believe as much as you have proven there is no God. Where you fall between the two is really a personal opinion thing more than anything else.
If we are really honest with the possibilities for reality of the Divine, there are really only three logical conclusions:
- God, gods, or supreme being(s) are not real. We find no evidence because he/she/it/they do not exist.
- God, gods, or supreme being(s) exist, but free will doesn’t. We are all robots controlled by the divine, who make us choose different beliefs in the same way screen writers create characters with different beliefs. We are all just a part of a huge cosmic narrative and don’t have free will. Not finding empirical proof is just part of the narrative.
- God, gods, or supreme being(s) exist and we have free will. In order to have free will, we have to be totally free to believe or not believe, and therefore there is and never will be any way to empirically prove that God, gods, or supreme being(s) exist; this is by his/her/its/their intentional design in order to maintain that free will.
To be honest, I have great respect for anyone that has any three of these belief systems, even though I personally disagree with the first two. I’ll go into why in future blog posts, including why I don’t agree with things like Calvinism that are supposedly a mixture of #2 and #3 but logically still have to be #2. Many like to treat people that have come to different conclusions as ignorant at best or intentionally deceived at worst (as in, they know the “Truth” but intentionally try to fight it). I don’t agree with that at all – it takes a lot of time and thought to come to any conclusion on the nature of reality. We all need a healthy dose of humility in how we interact with those that have come to different conclusions than our own.