Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Arrogance of Atheism

“There is no God.”

Some would hail this realization as the outstanding philosophical achievement of our age. We’ve grown up; we’ve moved beyond primitive superstition and ancient folklore. We can cast off the shackles of redundant tradition and embrace a new era of liberty and freedom.

“There is no God.”

What a statement! The rallying cry of all atheists, the comfort of the unrepentant sinner, a soothing balm for the committed materialist. Don’t worry – live your life the way you want, because that’s all that matters. Have as much fun as you like, because this is the only chance you get.

“There is no God.”

What an arrogant statement this is!

That’s an inflammatory way to put it, but it’s true! Think of what such a stance honestly requires. How can it be proved?

Not scientifically.

The scientific method requires that one make observations and hypothesize a theory about the results. Sadly, many atheists jump straight to the second step – the hypothesis (“there must not be a God”) and then backtrack to the first step, observation, in order to find a lack of evidence for God. That’s not science, guys. The scientific method, properly followed, requires observations, hypotheses, empirical tests, and conclusions. But if God is invisible, and transcends (that means, is independent of and is above and beyond) the physical universe, then He cannot be scientifically measured or observed, nor can He be empirically tested. Even if He could, how would one prove He doesn’t exist? Science has a very difficult time proving negatives. How would one prove there are no space aliens, for instance?

In short, one would have to replicate God in order to disprove Him scientifically. “Jenkins, hand me that test tube – be careful, though! It’s powerful stuff...”

When a man like Stephen Jay Gould, the noted evolutionary biologist and an icon of the scientific community, stands up and declares that there is no God, people listen to him as if he is an expert. This baffles me, though. We give far too much authority to his words, simply because he is an accomplished scientist. “There is no God” is not a scientific statement! No matter how good a scientist Gould or any other noted atheist may be, they are just as qualified as you or I to make that statement.

We, in our technology-obsessed Western culture, have an unfortunate tendency to equate science – at least our Western conception of it - with knowledge. This is not true. Not all knowledge is “science,” although all science is knowledge. Knowledge is more than the professional journals and laboratories and doctorates and conventions that form the collective straw man that the Western mind associates with the word “science.”

Theology, for instance, used to be known as a science. Philosophy used to be thought of as a science. The Latin root of the word “science,” scientia, actually means “knowledge,” and applied to far more than knowledge of the physical world. Now that we in the West have equated “science” with the “scientific method,” we have shaved off an entire realm of human knowledge from the idea of “science.” And it is our loss.

What about history, for instance? Can it be observed directly? Of course not. Can it be tested and replicated? How about law? Poetry? Fun? Are these types of knowledge somehow less legitimate because the scientific method is inapplicable for such research? If not, then why is theology and religion any different?

Some people say, “Well, you can’t prove God exists.” Well, you can’t prove He doesn’t. So at the very least, religious belief is as valid and rational as is atheism. But let’s take the “you gotta prove it to believe it” idea as far as it goes. I can’t prove Julius Caesar lived. Yes, we see things he allegedly wrote, and many historical figures talk about him, but these might all be forgeries and lies. There’s no scientific way to “prove” him – we can’t test him, can’t replicate him.

You know what? I can’t prove you exist, either. Yes, I can touch and hear and see you, or even smell you, but what does that prove? My body could be playing tricks – amputees “feel” lost limbs, schizophrenics “hear” voices that aren’t there, sleep-deprived soldiers on exercise see little men with blue baseball caps that aren’t there (trust me on this one). Senses can be fooled, and so all information I collect via those means cannot be “proven” to an exact certainty. I know I exist – that’s the only thing I can thus “prove.” So if I say only I exist, how can you prove me wrong? (And if you think this is laughable, there’s a philosophical position called “solipsism” that believes exactly that).

And even then, how do I know for sure that I am what I think I am? Let me challenge you to do something: Prove that you’re not just a brain in a jar. Prove that everything, including your physical body, isn’t just an illusion, a series of impulses sent by wire to your brain from outside the jar.

Bottom line: the scientific method proves or disproves nothing about God. It is irrelevant to our discussion.

Think about it. How much knowledge of the world do you, personally, have? Even if you’re a noted, intelligent man like Gould, you don’t possess more than a tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction of all the knowledge humanity has accumulated. Even if Gould – or you – find no evidence of God in all the knowledge you have accumulated, who are you to say that the evidence cannot possibly exist in the other 99.999999999999999% of humanity’s collective knowledge that you do not possess?

If I say that there is not a town somewhere in North America called “Saint-Louis de Ha! Ha!” because I have never seen it on a map, never heard tell of it, never seen a road sign, never met anyone from there, does that mean it’s not true? Maybe I live in Indonesia and don’t have the opportunity to verify this claim. Maybe I live in Ontario, and yet cannot be bothered to look deeply into the question because I don’t think it affects me that much. The fact is, though, knowing that the town doesn’t exist requires that I have comprehensive knowledge of all of North America’s geography and be familiar with a list of all its towns. North America’s a big place – that’s a fair bit of knowledge. But to know that it does exist, I need only be exposed to that little bit of knowledge – I need not know the rest of the continent!

In short, one requires omniscience – full and comprehensive knowledge of all things – to say with “scientific certainty” that God does not exist. Put another way, to disprove God, one must be God. And that’s why it’s such a hypocritical, arrogant statement.


Blogger Erin said...

You are right, Jeff. I loved your post... You are a very intelligent man and I'm proud of you! :)

6:15 PM  
Blogger Brad Jones said...

Jeff, this is awesome! I am going to share this with my doctrine professor!!! Clive Staples step aside!

8:12 AM  
Blogger UberKuh said...

Anyone with an intermediate understanding of informal logic can prove that the god of the Bible cannot possibly exist. To believe in this god's existence, Christians must do so purely on faith, disregarding the fact that faith is founded on reason at its conceptual foundation. The arrogance of one Christian far outweighs the arrogance of all atheists.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Jeff Jones said...

Welcome to my blog, uberkuh. By all means - show me your proof. Our faith is well-founded, and we welcome the opportunity to answer your objections!

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Mike Jones said...

Well well...
So in engineering we study mathematical proofs and techniques for proving and disproving statements. The logic you use is pretty much the same as that used by engineers to determine whether an algorithm will work 100% of the time.

Here's an example. I make the claim that there are an infinite number of prime numbers. Well, there's 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37...
Here is a FACT: ONE CAN NEVER EVER EVER 'PROVE' ANYTHING USING ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE - and even scientists forget this. The fact that it seems that primes keep on going is NOT a proof that there are an infinite number of primes. The only way to prove something is:
a) Show that all cases (infinite) are true (you'll need a good pen).
b) Prove that it is not not true (usually much easier). For example, to prove the claim that all square roots are not primes you just need to show that the sqrt(81) = 9.
Anyway, back to the primes:
Let's say we have a prime p, and a prime q. Well, then the number (p*q)+1 must be a factor of other primes, or it is itself a prime. Thus meaning that we have infinite primes.
That's how proofing works. So apply that to God. All we have on either side is anecdotal evidence. And that evidence is subjective. For example, I view the irreducible complexity of biochemistry as an anecdotal bit of evidence that God exists. But it does not prove He does. If we could prove God, we could define Him, and then He really wouldn't be beyond our understanding, and would thus be contained in our reality. Meaning he can't be proved.

As for uberkuh's comment, i noted that although he stated it could be proved, he did not actually prove it. I await this proof. It must use some sweet logic, like some supernatural form of proof by induction.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Mike Jones said...

err... realized the proof wording is technically incorrect - the number must have other primes as factors, or be a prime itself. (that's what i was thinking, but not what i wrote).
For interests sake, if you didn't understand that before, then just think about it this way: if you multiple all known primes together, then you get a number that has all those primes as factors. Take that number, p1*p2*...*pn = n
Add 1:
n = n + 1
Now this new number must either have primes as factors that are not in the list of primes we used to produce it, or it is itself a prime.
3*5 = 15
16 = 15+1
so, 16 has 2 as a factor. 2 is a prime that was not in the list.
or, 2*3 = 6.
7 = 6 + 1
7 is a prime.
so, just multiply all known primes together (conceptually), add 1, and you get a new prime. yay!

2:42 PM  

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