Many people have muddled thinking about atheism. Proving a negative claim, they often say, is impossible. You can’t look everywhere. You can’t convince everyone. You could always be wrong. You can’t possibly give a proof that there is not a God the way that we can prove that the interior angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. God’s too big, we’re too little, and we’d expect that whatever God would be, it would surpass our abilities to understand. So proving there is no God is short-sighted hubris.
There’s a lot here that worth reacting to, but I’ll confine it to two distinctions:
A wide atheist is someone who think there are no gods, no divine or supernatural beings whatsoever. And a narrow atheist is one who just thinks that there no classic God of the Judeo-Christian, Islamic tradition exists. There is no omnipotent, omniscience, and all good being. But narrow atheism by itself leaves open the possibility that some other sort of divine being might exist.
A lot of people, even skeptics and narrow atheists, think that wide atheism is unreasonable. Wide atheists are a rare and foolish breed, they think. Even among the people who have warmed to the idea that you can make a convincing case against the omni-God, they figure that you could never prove that no gods at all exist.
Wide atheism is correct, however.
Here’s a very brief argument in favor of wide atheism. It’s no more challenging to make a compelling case that no elves, pixies, dwarves, fairies, goblins, or other mythical creates exist than it is to argue that there are no Gods. I don’t have to give a decisive proof against every possible mythological, magical being in order to conclude that none of them are real. At some point, once you’ve thought about, reflected on the general considerations about natural laws, magic, and supernatural entities, it becomes perfectly reasonable to conclude that the whole enterprise is an explanatory dead end for figuring out what sort of things there are in the world. Even though scientific naturalism has managed to explain every single alleged supernatural phenomena in the past entirely in natural terms, should we insist on being agnostic about the few magical beings that people still stubbornly cling to? Surely I don’t have to be agnostic about invisible, supernatural beings that might be responsible for those remaining phenomena that we are still trying to explain. All of the instances of phenomena that were alleged to be supernatural but that turned out to be natural give me as much proof as we can hope for that the God idea should go the same way as evil demons did as an explanation of mental illness.
Monday, January 7, 2008