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:

  1. God, gods, or supreme being(s) are not real. We find no evidence because he/she/it/they do not exist.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

metamodern-faith-avatarTo 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.

9 thoughts on “Empirical Extremism and Proof of God

  1. I don’t understand why faith is so respected. All it says is someone is willing to accept something based on little to no evidence. When someone says they’re a person of faith, what they’re really saying is they believe that a suspension from the natural order is possible, which it assuredly is not. As Einstein said, the real miracle is that there are no miracles. Surely, real faith is allowing oneself to be completely cut off from all of their previous thoughts on the matter of spirituality and questioning it through reason and logic – it is a case of jumping into the waters of doubt and hoping you’ll float. I think a lot more beauty and wisdom comes to people who realise these atheists are not extreme in any sense – they’re desperately trying to put forward a very real humanistic common sense.

    • But what we consider to be “natural order” is a socially negotiated construct that is constantly changing and growing as we understand more of the world. People that believed in humans flying to the moon were mocked because we had little or no evidence at the time that we would be able to get to the moon. But many scientists believed in something that wasn’t of the natural order of the time (humans by nature can’t survive in space and so on). All people are trying to put forth what they think is a very real humanistic common sense – its just that we all have different definitions of what that means. What mainstream atheists most commonly refer to as extreme atheism is the idea that only quantitative empirical evidence can prove Truth. This extreme idea ignores qualitative methods as “hokum.” Those of us in the qualitative side of research work with little or no evidence all the time, producing the theories for the quantitative side to test empirically.

    • Of course, you really seem to be speaking more to a fundamentalist evangelical idea of faith, not a more mystical eastern understanding of faith that is rooted in questioning though reason and logic while drowning in the waters of doubt. Or maybe not? “Natural order” tends to be an idea that empirical extremists also reject quite often, so maybe I don’t understand your context for natural order?

  2. “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.”

    This atheist doesn’t believe that nonsense. It’s quite amusing when someone wants to insist that someone with evidence is equal to someone without evidence, themselves. Considering that there is no evidence for your god, no evidence for any of the essential events in the various holy books, and plenty of evidence for entirely other events to have happened in place of them, the claim of a theist that their opinion is the equal to the evidence I have is rather ridiculous. I’ve seen this from lots of theists, the claim that since humans don’t know everything, your god can lurk in the gaps.

    • There is evidence for God. Just because you choose to label it as “no evidence” doesn’t make it go away. You believe that there is no evidence for essential events in various holy books because you only choose to give weight to those that say there is no evidence. But that doesn’t make other view points on that incorrect just because you disagree. This is a common tactics of Christian, Theists, and Atheists – choose a set of evidence that you agree with and then write off all other evidence just because it doesn’t match your chosen narrative. The world is full of evidence for and against all kinds of religious and non-religious beliefs. The difference is I don’t discount someone that accepts a different set of evidence as a “person without evidence.” All people have evidence of what they believe. Empirical evidence is only one avenue to prove something. If its the only one you accept, that is your choice.

      • If there is evidence, present it. I would caution you that most evidence presented by Christians is the same that is presented by other theists, with no way to know which god these claims really apply to.

        I know that there is no evidence for the essential events in holy books. For example, no magical flood. Christians can’t even agree on when it was and often try to claim that it just a metaphor.

        I am not saying that other points of view are incorrect *just* because I disagree. I am saying that they are incorrect because they have no support for them.

        Again, where is this evidence? For your claims that the “world is full” of evidence, strange that you can’t actually give it. It is utter bs when you make the claim that “everyone has evidence”. They do not. There are plenty of cranks in the world who believe nonsense, and have no evidence what they claim. Theists claim that they have an invisible dragon in their garage but when asked for evidence of it, they come up with excuses.

        Let me ask you, why don’t you believe in another religion? Why don’t you set out your shoes for the brownies to shine them?

      • Well, you definitely have a mean, cranky streak in you, don’t you? 🙂 I think you are missing two main things here:

        1) I am not talking about proving specific religions beliefs or stories. I never mentioned that, or what I believe in. This is a mistake many extreme atheists make, and I am told it is why most of regular atheists are starting to refer to themselves as agnostic atheists. You think you can disprove God by proving that the Earth was not created in 6 days or that Noah’s Flood wasn’t real. Those are stories written down by humans, and many Christians don’t even subscribe to them. All that you disprove when you disprove the historicity of those stories is that a) they were written down wrong; or b) they were not intended to be taken literally. Saying that a human writing down something wrong proves there is no God is like saying that a horse’s inability to speak English words disproves the reality of language. The point of this post is about the idea of a Supreme Being or beings that created this existence, not specific religious Holy Books.

        2) You also seem to misunderstand what is meant by evidence in this discussion. Evidence is simply “that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.” Different people think different things prove different things. Everybody has what they think is evidence for what they believe. That doesn’t make those all facts, it just means it is what backs up what they believe in their mind. I know this is hard to accept when you come from an empirical mindset, but not all evidence comes out of a research project.

        The problem the bigger concept of God/gods/supreme beings is that no one has been able to create a scientific experiment to prove or disprove his/her/its/their existence. If God exists, this Being could easily make it impossible to do so just because. This Being would not be shackled to His/Her/Its own creations concepts of evidence or proof or logic any more than we are limited by the logic that we program into computers. We can just choose to do something completely outside of what we programmed, and so could a Supreme Being. That is the ultimate problem.

        All of it comes down to personal opinion, really, You think there is no support for it, but that is still because you have rejected certain things that some people label as “support” and “evidence.” Its as simple as that. Some people feel that because we are here, that the presence of the creation implies a creative force behind it. This has led some atheists to (still to this day) support the Steady-State Theory of the Universe – no creation point, no Big Bang (or just a never ending cycle of big bangs and big collapses). Just always here. Just look at the various atheistic beliefs of where our universe comes from: some contradictory, all claiming support and evidence that is different than the others. The different atheists that chose those different view points chose what evidence and support they agreed with and what they didn’t. But it still boils down to the others being wrong because they disagree with them.

        As far as why I didn’t follow other religions, that I will explore in future posts. But growing up agnostic I decided to read all religious texts as well as scientific views of God (there are many that are not attached to ancient holy books, believe it or not) and other various ideas and writings on gods and nature spirits, demons, devils, atheism, etc, My personal belief system doesn’t fit neatly into many categories, but will be spelled eventually as I get the time.

  3. Evidence brings with it the strictures of causality. If one wishes to claim that God is not subject to those strictures (or indeed, not subject to anything) then the question of why there is or isn’t evidence for God’s existence goes away,
    But then the question becomes, how do we propose to know about this entity(?). I think you are forced to say we know it as a brute fact or not at all.

    • That’s a good point. When we say evidence, though, we kind of need to designate what form of evidence (empirical, logical, sociocultural, etc) we are referring to, and probably what ontology we are evaluating this evidence. Terms like “strictures of causality” have specific ontological implications. What you say is very true from those viewpoints that have the same ontological outlook. But also a good question to ask. I think there are other options, especially from a more metamodernist-leaning ontology, and I will hopefully explore those in the future here.

      But then again,sometimes I get the impression that all people are just wired to believe there is or isn’t a God/gods/supreme being, and nothing they read will change that belief. So who knows, maybe?

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