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Meditation 843
Atheists Disproving God

by: JT

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In the current issue of Free Inquiry, Victor J. Stenger[1] is quoted as saying:

[Carl] Sagan was often quoted as saying "absence of evidence in not evidence of absence." There is no strong scientific evidence for God, but I would argue that in fact, there is scientific evidence for the God claim - absence of evidence is evidence of absence. I think we can make positive statement that God does not exist - not all conceivable gods, mind you, but, the God that most people believe in. That God should have been detected by science by now and that he hasn't is evidence he does not exist.

Convinced? I'm not.

To me a good argument should logically be able to change a mind. I'm not saying that a mind will be changed, but that it logically should be. But Stenger's argument seems capable only of confirming an atheist in atheism.

That there is an overwhelming lack of evidence for God is apparent to non-believers. On the other hand, many believers consider it equally apparent that there is overwhelming evidence for God. Stenger may think he has slammed the door and locked it; but I contend it is still slightly ajar. Asserting that absence of evidence is evidence of absence may have a degree of validity, but it does not seal the deal.

What about his concluding sentence? ... God should have been detected by science by now and that he hasn't is evidence he does not exist.

Suppose I were to write that the underlying mechanism involved in gravity should have been detected by science by now and that it hasn't is evidence gravity does not really exist. Or that the Higgs boson, little tiny strings in extra dimensions, dark energy, or whatever the flavor of the month in cosmology is, should have been detected by science by now and that they haven't is evidence they do not exist. Those involved in scientific research would find those statements risible. And those are items which have been investigated with significantly more scientific resources than the search for evidence of God.

The argument that science has not yet found God won't wash either.

A few years ago, also in Free Inquiry if memory serves me correctly, though it might have been Skeptical Inquirer, another proof that God does not exist was put forward by two university academics. I intended writing something on it at the time, but never got around to it. It went something like this:

Everything in the Universe occurs in accordance with natural laws.

The supernatural involves a breach of the natural laws.

Therefore the supernatural does not exist in our Universe.

Therefore God, being supernatural, does not exist in our Universe.

Is anyone convinced? I was astounded that in the ensuing months not one letter to the editor was published attacking this - though I am at fault at least in part for not writing such a letter.

The argument is equivalent to the one put forward by Rob Lockett in the ultimately futile discussions to Talkback 86.

God is reality

You believe in reality

Therefore you believe in God

One argument for God - one argument against God; both suffering from the same logical fallacy, call it what you will: begging the question / circular argument / assuming your conclusion. Neither argument stands up to simple scrutiny.

I would like to see a good argument disproving the existence of God, but I have yet to see one. And I think those of us on the side of disbelief, most of us being rationalists and skeptics, have a higher duty towards logic. We cannot allow ourselves to play the same silly games with words that believers do.

Footnote:

  1. Taking a Stand for the New Atheists, A Discussion with Victor J. Stenger; by D.J. Grothe; Free Inquiry, April May 2010, p. 6