Doubt and Denial in Pursuit of Reality

“Does God exist?” Of the near-limitless variety of questions that can be posed by human beings, few are as profound, as important (or to certain fanatical Nietzsche lovers, as inane and tiresome) as this one. Few other questions have such a powerful effect over daily life, politics, and human interactions as this one simple query, and any given individual’s reply to it speaks volumes about his or her worldview.

For billions of people on planet Earth, its answer is a resounding “Yes!” – a declaration of faith so central to their lives that even a moment’s hesitation or doubt can induce feelings of severe guilt and internal conflict.  For a large and growing multitude however, the answer to this question is instead a confident but qualified “No.” And yet, for many others still, the only sensible reply is “Maybe,” “I don’t know,” or even “It’s impossible to say.”

Although plenty of people simply don’t care one way or the other, rolling their eyes and far preferring not to talk about it or even think about it, that’s just dodging its repercussions. No matter who you are or what you think, it truly is the most important question there could possibly be, for the simple reason that if the overwhelming majority of our species who answer “yes” are correct – if God is real and is anything like the way he’s described in the world’s major holy books (concerned with our thoughts and behaviors, listening to prayers, occasionally suspending the laws of physics to perform miraculous interventions, etc.) – then all of eternity hangs in the balance. If what they believe is true, then this life is just a test and all that matters is that you get a passing grade.  Every other concern – job, relationships, money, education, possessions, health – all of it pales in comparison, for they’re all but drops in an endless sea of time.

If, however, the answer is anything other than “yes” (or if God is just some abstract being uninvolved in our affairs as the deists and pantheists would have it), then an awful lot of people are wasting an incredible amount of time, energy, money, resources, and emotional commitment on a mass delusion – not to mention perpetuating the thousands of years of needless oppression and suffering endured by those who disagree with them.  This is why emotions run so high around the subject and it’s why it keeps popping up no matter how hard one may try to avoid it.

In attempting to fairly assess the question, for all those not content with relying on faith for the answer, any sound approach almost inevitably involves wading into philosophy – specifically, into the foundational disciplines of ontology and epistemology. The first concerns the study of existence or being, and the second pertains to the nature of knowledge and how we humans go about acquiring it.  For the purposes of this essay and in the interest of brevity, we’ll confine ourselves to just a quick look at the latter, epistemology.  Although it can be a rather arcane and convoluted subject and has a way of rapidly descending into metaphysical abstractions, it’s possible to touch on it in a relatively simple manner that should at least make clear the position and reasoning of the various camps.

Within the broad spectrum of possible beliefs about knowledge, on one extreme lies the position called “philosophical skepticism” or “radical empiricism” which asserts that nothing can ever be known with certainty.  For instance, you may think you’re sitting in front of a computer right now reading this essay, but perhaps you’re actually just an isolated brain floating in a vat of nutrients in some mad scientist’s laboratory, and everything you experience as the world is nothing more than a Matrix-like simulation.  Or perhaps the inputs you receive from your senses are wholly unreliable and don’t give a true impression of the external world around you.  Some would even argue that there is no external world and nothing exists but the mind.

While there are technical names for all of these various sub-positions (such as solipsism, idealism, etc.) and they differ considerably in their particulars, they all share in common a rejection of everyday common sense perceptions and the natural feeling that the world is pretty much like it seems – that if you stub your toe on a rock it’s because there really is a rock and you really have a toe that just collided with it – a straightforward stance known as direct or naïve realism.

The idea of absolute skepticism outlined above, while counter-intuitive, is a very old argument, one of the first to be addressed by the ancient Greek philosophers.  Without going too far into it, suffice it to say that the most powerful rejection of the statement “Nothing can be known with certainty” is the simple reply, “Are you certain?” for to assert universal uncertainty with certainty is to undermine the entire premise of the argument.  It gets reduced to the muddled and antithetical statement, “It might be possible that some things can perhaps be known with certainty.”

Practically speaking, to reject such a skeptical stance is almost a no-brainer, for if you choose to assume that the feeling of hunger is imaginary and food is not necessary to survive, you won’t be long for the world (as evidenced by the recent case in Switzerland where a woman died after several weeks of trying to subsist on sunlight alone).  As Lucretius phrased it over two thousand years ago:

If anyone thinks that nothing can be known, he does not know whether even this can be known, since he admits that he knows nothing … If you did not dare trust your senses so as to keep clear of precipices and other such things to be avoided and make for their opposites, there would be a speedy end to life itself.

Bringing the discussion back around to where it began, those who answer the question of God’s existence by saying they don’t personally know, or it’s not possible for anyone to ever truly know the answer – two positions collectively referred to as “agnosticism” (Greek for “without knowledge”) – are essentially falling into the same trap as the radical skeptic.  Or at least, those subscribing to the second position are. How can they know what is possible to know?  To have such knowledge would require complete knowledge of everything in the universe (something which ironically, only a god would have).  Arguing about it becomes as futile of an exercise as Donald Rumsfeld rambling on about “known knowns” and “unknown unknowns” in the lead-up to the Iraq War. It also completely discounts the incredible power of human potential and cleverness, and of the possibility of future discoveries and technological advances.  To make such a statement, while seemingly neutral and open-minded, is actually a terribly arrogant and untenable stance to assume.  Think how many people throughout most of history must have answered the question, “What’s on the dark side of the moon?” with the smug response, “We’ll never know.”

There’s a segment of feisty agnostics out there of this latter persuasion who are constantly attacking atheists, lumping them in with the theists and smearing them with the charge of having arrogant certitude in their belief that God is imaginary.  This is either a comical misunderstanding of what atheists actually believe, or else it’s just a cowardly way of discarding religion without having to face the societal consequences of “denying God” and all of the negative stereotypes that are attached to atheism.  Personally, I’d say it’s an even mixture of both.

Technically, an atheist (from the Greek root a meaning “without” and theos meaning “god”) simply means being without a belief in a god or gods.  It says nothing about the reason for this lack of belief.  It could be that the person has lived alone on a desert island all her life and has simply never heard of the concept of God.  Every newborn baby is in this sense an atheist, for no child is born spouting Bible verses or bowing towards Mecca.  Or perhaps, like most outspoken atheists, they find the idea of God far too improbable or far too injurious to take seriously.

Whatever their underlying motivation though, for most atheists, when they say, “There is no God,” what they’re really saying is, “I have seen no compelling evidence whatsoever to make me think that there is a God and I’ve seen plenty of evidence to suggest that there isn’t, therefore, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to operate under the working premise that there is no God.  If at some point I am presented with undeniable evidence that God does, in fact, exist, then and only then will I change my mind.” That’s quite a mouthful, so it’s easier to condense it into the statement, “There is no God.”

Just to be crystal clear, what atheists are not saying is, “I’m absolutely, one hundred percent positive that there is not, and never could be, any kind of god or higher power or vast intelligence of any type anywhere in the universe or beyond. I, as knower of everything, am categorically ruling out the concept in any way, shape, or form for all time.” Now that would be arrogant and closed minded.  Luckily, it’s a view held only by straw men or perhaps by a few random outliers who haven’t fully considered the logical consequences of what they’re saying.

Compare the first statement above (the one atheists actually make) to something more commonplace, like the belief that the earth is round.  It’s easy to forget, but for much of human history (including the time when the Bible was written), the prevailing wisdom said that the earth was a flat square or disk, like the way it appears on most maps. If you’ve never been taught otherwise and you’ve never had the opportunity to go into orbit and witness the truth firsthand, this seems an eminently reasonable and obvious thing to assume – especially when it’s implied by your holy book.  Along these same lines, for those who believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God and who therefore take it at its literal face value (46% of Americans at last count), the earth must be flat, for how else could the devil have taken Jesus to “an exceeding high mountain” from where they could view “all the kingdoms of the world”? (Matthew 4:8)

We now know of course, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the earth is actually a slightly distorted sphere, and its seeming flatness is merely the result of it being so massive compared to ourselves that it appears flat when viewed from ground level. Living in the 21st century, almost everyone has seen the famous photo taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts of the earth rising over the moon, looking like a blue marble in the vastness of space. Anyone who owns a cell phone equipped with GPS takes advantage of the fact of Earth’s roundness every time they place a call.  Anyone who has ever traveled internationally across time zones has keenly experienced the results of this roundness – especially if they phone home from the other side of the planet at noon only to find that it’s midnight for the person on the other end of the line.

Thus, it could be said that anyone who accepts that the earth is round necessarily rejects the idea that the earth is flat, and by holding such a belief, it by definition makes them an “a-flat-earthist” – someone without belief in a flat earth (as opposed to a “flat-earthist” who believes the opposite).  To carry this analogy to its logical conclusion, to be agnostic about whether the earth is round or flat is to answer the question, “What is the shape of the earth?” by saying, “I don’t know,” or “We’ll never know.” Of course, you’re highly unlikely to find many people in the modern world who would claim to be agnostic about such an objective and easily demonstrated fact, and any who do so are probably just being obstinate or so absurdly open minded that their brains have leaked out of their heads. It’s the less easily demonstrated facts that get tricky though, and that’s where the agnostics hang their hats.

To be agnostic about the existence of God comes down to one of two things. It’s either “the argument from personal ignorance” meaning, “I personally don’t happen to know the answer therefore I’m unqualified to provide one,” (fair enough) or it’s the paradoxical claim of having knowledge that the answer is forever unknowable. Or, equally likely, it’s, “I really don’t believe in God but I’m scared to say it out loud for fear of being rejected by my society, so instead I’ll play it safe and essentially just refuse to answer.” And they wonder why atheists don’t take them very seriously!

It should also be pointed out that like it or not, to any dedicated theist, being agnostic makes you just as much of an infidel as being an atheist, for you’re still not accepting God into your life and for that you’re still going to burn in Hell or be denied his everlasting love and radiance. So you might as well put aside your sense of superiority and take your rightful place on the non-believer team instead of always trying to erode it from the inside.

Coming back to atheists, for us to say that we don’t believe in God is no different than saying we don’t believe the earth is flat. There is no credible evidence to suggest that an all-powerful anthropomorphic being created mankind and the universe. There is no rational reason to accept that the claims of Christianity have any more validity than those of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, or any of the thousands and thousands of other religions (many of them now extinct) that have entertained the fancies of humans for millennia.

Not only that, but there is plenty of evidence to actively indicate that there is no such cosmic being.  Biology has revealed numerous vestigial organs and DNA traces that are a result of our having evolved from simpler life forms. Psychology, computer science, and cognitive neuroscience have made incredible, if tentative, advances into understanding how the physical organ of the brain gives rise to intelligence and all of the subjective experiences – what some call “spirituality” – that come with being self-aware.  Physics and astronomy have uncovered mind-blowing facts about the workings of space, time, matter and energy that make up the universe and give clues as to its formation.  There is simply no reason to resort to the God hypothesis. There is no reason to have faith in the ignorant ramblings of frightened and superstitious tribesmen who lived at the dawn of civilization. This is what we as atheists believe and we are perfectly comfortable living our lives as such.

Remember, everyone more or less does the equivalent in their day to day lives. Everyone accepts certain basic truths, such as the existence of gravity or the necessity of breathing, as being knowable aspects of reality – if nothing else, just for the sake of getting out of bed in the morning and getting on with their day. They don’t cower under the sheets, trembling with indecision, and claiming it’s impossible to commit to any particular position. While it’s perfectly okay to remain agnostic about a question like, “How many dogs on Earth just barked in the past ten seconds?” – a question to which there is a real, specific answer, and yet for the foreseeable future there is no way to go about finding it – it’s not reasonable to be agnostic about the need to drink water or whether the sun is the source of daylight.

Atheists have often pointed out that while most sane adults don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, there’s no need for them to go around calling themselves “a-toothfairyists.” It’s simply not that critical to the future of humankind.  But nor is there need to proclaim ignorance on the subject.  It’s a pretty safe bet that there is no tooth fairy so there’s nothing wrong with saying so. In the remote chance that it’s someday proved otherwise, you can always change your mind then, glad to have had your false belief or erroneous thinking corrected.  In the meantime, what can possibly be gained by sitting on the sidelines of the tooth fairy debate? (Other than sparing the feelings of a credulous six year old.)  Well, it’s no different with God.

Now I know just from the amount of spiteful commentary articles like this inevitably generate, that there are obviously many people – even a lot of fellow heathens – who dislike atheists, finding us overly serious, overly certain, overly concerned with something we purport not to believe in; but my challenge to such people is this: What are you going to do about girls forcibly getting their clitorises chopped off in the name of Islam? What are you going to do about children here in the U.S. not being vaccinated or given medical treatment because prayer alone is supposed to be all they need?  What are you going to do about the catastrophic warming of the earth’s atmosphere, enabled in large part by the Christian belief that God promised Noah he would never again flood the planet and therefore the glaciers and snowcaps couldn’t possibly melt? These are very serious matters, regardless of your disinterest, and as compassionate human beings we have every right to take them seriously. So screw you for ignoring them and for calling us jerks for doing otherwise.

The question of God’s existence is not merely academic; it’s something with profound consequences for our species no matter what its actual answer, so everyone had better think long and hard about where they stand and what that means for our ability to coexist on one small planet sharing limited resources. Otherwise, humanity will only continue in its downward spiral of war, environmental destruction, and the short-sighted pursuit of endless wealth, and the future will be anything but bright.

Colby Hess is a freelance writer and photographer living near Seattle, WA. He is currently writing a book about science, philosophy, and freethought. Follow him on Twitter @ColbyTHess.

Colby Hess

Colby Hess is a freelance writer and photographer living near Seattle, WA.He is currently writing a book about science, philosophy, and freethought.Follow him on Twitter @ColbyTHess.

59 Comments on "Doubt and Denial in Pursuit of Reality"

  1. Why do some of the atheists always monopolize right(s) to know and understand it all. Yes, there is/was evolution, yes, there most probably was a Big Bang in the beginning – but serious scientists (and atheists) tell you, that they have no idea what was before the singularity – which still leaves space for a deity, nomatter how he/she/it may “look” like.

    • JohnFrancisBittrich | Jun 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |

      I don’t think there are many atheists who would dispute your point. They may however dispute the notion that conjecture with regards to who or what that deity is is a worthwhile intellectual pursuit since, at the end of the day, we have no real way of knowing and any answers we can derive are purely speculative. Kind of like how lots of people love novels, mythology, comic books etc. but there are also people out there who only read non-fiction. To each his/her own.

    • mannyfurious | Jun 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm |

      There are a lot of things they can’t answer about what is after the singularity either.

      I like David Eagleman’s approach. Eagleman is a neurologist and writer. Ostensibly, he’s an agnostic with a strong inclination toward atheism. Ostensibly, I’m an agnostic with a strong inclination toward pantheism. However, Eagleman is very open minded and aware of how little science has been able to answer up to this point and that’s why I enjoy his work. He calls himself a “possiblinarian” or something like that, which means he believes mostly in the possibility of just about anything. It’s refreshing that someone as smart as he is isn’t so self-assured and smug. 

    • >>they have no idea what was before the singularity – which still leaves space for a deity

      Actually scientists (and atheists) have at least 2 good ideas that they can choose from…

      1. Book of Genesis: before this world there was a deity, a creator god. Historical fact.

      2. Physics: the Big Bang / singularity was a historical event, beginning our universe’s space-time. So there was no beforehand. cf. Lawrence Krauss

      • mannyfurious | Jun 7, 2012 at 11:18 am |

        Number 2 is just as much of a problem and a leap of faith as number 1. That’s my problem with Atheists. 

        The entire scientific paradigm is based on a causal relationship understanding of the world. Every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause. Science gets itself into a mess either way because either the Big Bang had an infinite amount of causes or it was an “uncaused first cause.” Both statements are absurd to the reductionist logic. 

        • I’ve noticed you keep riding the “Big Bang Theory” horse.  Just because science does not yet have the information to see or understand the ridiculously labeled “first cause” doesn’t mean it is a mess.  Just like lightning, magnetism, rain, and virtually all other natural phenomenon, science starts with mystery and slowly solved them.  You seem to revel in your “mess” as if no knowledge “proves” something and that is very silly! 

        • Kris Snow | Jun 22, 2012 at 6:52 am |

           Great thing about science is if you carried it through until it achieved the highest level of understanding about the universe that is possible, and then deleted all of that knowledge and started from scratch, it would eventually arrive at all the same answers. This strikes me as highly likely given the nature of scientific method and its reliance upon the repeatability of results. The story about the the burning bush that talks just doesn’t strike me that way. You can have a problem with it all day long and I still won’t care 😉

        • >>just as much of a problem and a leap of faith

          Just as much? a leap to virtuous Faith by credulous faith?? Come on. The B of G is literally incredible. Not credible. Even if the original scribe accurately dictated what the god claimed he did.

          >>either the Big Bang had an infinite amount of causes >>or it was an “uncaused first cause” 
          >>Both statements are absurd to the reductionist logic.

          No chance there’s an alternative you’ve missed? Okay, divine miracle it is then. The god who claimed he was the only god? Or an alternative one?

          • From your other posts here I see you have an alternative creator god in mind. I submit that the universe that pantheists have in mind doesn’t include a godlike creator being. Therefore agnostic pantheists ought to side with the rest of us in trusting the contemporary academic consensus regarding all history, including 14.6 billion years ago.

          • mannyfurious | Aug 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |

            I do side with the “rest of you” most of the time. I am by no means anti-science. And, in fact, I’m very, very sick of the so-called Abrahamic religions and the hate and ignorance and arrogance they promote. I just don’t think, when we break down each argument to its core, as objectively as possible, that the creation of the universe by one side is any less absurd than the other. 

          • mannyfurious | Aug 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |

            There might be alternatives and I’m willing to hear them.

            Also, the whole point is that even if science is somehow correct in it’s reasoning, the creation of the universe from a void is no less of a miracle than believe some kind of creative force was behind it. 

          • Recognize that “the creation of the universe from a void” is the Genesis 1:1-3 fiction. The historicity of its main character is the question that monotheism-cum-academia has answered.

            Science doesn’t observe voids and creation miracles. Nor theorize about them. We look at our universe and trace backwards to what really existed when time-space began (almost nothing, but not nothing) and what really happened (the Big Bang, inflation, no glitches in physics). And scientific predictions are spot on, thus we can say correct and increasingly so.

            What triggered the Big Bang? Itself. Physics says “almost nothing” is always unstable. So that “miraculous” historical event wasn’t even a statistically unlikely random fluke. It was no miracle at all.  

            Hear this, Kruass:

      • The Book of Genesis isn’t a good idea, historical fact-wise, whether or not there is a God.  It’s obviously allegorical poetry.

      • emperorreagan | Jun 7, 2012 at 11:42 am |

        There are far more interesting cosmological models then resorting to the “it’s meaningless to ask” viewpoint.

    • Because you have to prove a divine being exists before you can “leave it space.”  And “what it looks like” is extraordinarily critical to virtually every religion I know that believes in a divine being…. 

  2. Hmm…. I might have hit a nerve with a comment on that last article.

    I suppose we could have a semantics circle-jerk til Jesus returns (an event I’m pretty sure won’t ever happen) and never quite sort this issue out.

    I may have to take exception to your assignment of Agnosticism to the “Radical Skeptic” category.  It seems likely (but not certain) to me that someone who agrees that something “could” be possible is empirically less skeptical than someone who claims that something simply “is not” possible. If that were the case, that would put the Atheists in the Radical Skeptic camp… Just sayin’…

    I would tentatively agree with your lumping of Radical Skeptics into the same category as Theists, however. That absolute or at least confidently stated and publicly commited certainty of belief seems to be a common element in a destructive ,unhealthy, or at least mildly annoying personality pathology that True Believers seem to possess.

    I’m glad to see that you seem to have accepted the logical impossibility of proving that there’s no god anywhere at at any time. Sadly you do not seem to understand that in common usage, that is the distinction between Agnostic and Atheist.

    As far as the rest of the article goes, which seems to be a fairly typical “Only us True Believers are fighting the Good Fight!” type rant, well.. I’m going to chalk that up to a facet of that personality pathology I mentioned a couple paragraphs back.

  3. The tone of the article seems to be that people all have to believe the same thing for there to be peace. And as an atheist, in order to save the world, it’s your moral duty to convert it to atheism. gee. where have i heard that one before? 

  4. mannyfurious | Jun 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm |

    Proving or disproving a “cosmic being” of some sort is impossible. I get sick of seeing the same old tired, simplified arguments that misrepresent many opposing arguments and think too highly of themselves. This happens with both sides, mind you. This essay would be pretty good for a first-year philosophy class in college, but it ignores so many other aspects of the argument (such as the possibility of an eternalist universe and what it means for evolution, or how causality eventually leads to a reducto ad absurdum [i.e. if time moves forward and every event has a cause, either the big bang itself has a cause, which cause also has a cause, which cause also has a cause ad infinitum, or the big bang has no cause, meaning either causality is wrong, meaningless, an illusion or that the big bang is a metaphysical event, which in and of itself proves the materialist/reductionist viewpoint absurd]. Not that it’s all the writer’s fault, there have been thousands of books written over the course of thousands of years and not one of them–that i know of–adequately covers everything that needs to be covered. 

    • Why is proof of a “cosmic being” impossible?  I mean you don’t have to be 100% certain to summon up support. For example, no astronomer has ever seen a black hole but almost all of them think they exist.  
      The reality is that no one muster a decent argument for God outside of blind faith.  Those arguments that you mention (i.e. “causality”) are museum relics and only studied in history courses.  No modern philosophy class takes it seriously because internally it depends on a analogy to human action that is amplified to imply divine action – much like the deprecated “watchmaker” argument.The author is arguing the nature of atheism/belief in the modern age outside the confides of “philosophy” or doctrine.   

      • mannyfurious | Jun 7, 2012 at 11:13 am |

        1. Technically you’re right, proof–in the traditional scientific sense–of a cosmic being is not “impossible” though it is highly improbable. 

        2. Causality is an old-school philosophic idea in general, but it is still the basis of materialist/reductionist thought. To say it is a “museum relic” is smug as fuck (and wrong). Besides, I only use it to attack the reductionist on his/her own turf. It is also not an obsolete idea when it comes to interpreting time. If time as we experience it is an illusion, then it has major ramifications for how we interpret causality, and, therefore the entire reductionist worldview. 

        3. The problem with your assertion that no one takes causality seriously because “it depends on an analogy to human action that is amplified to imply divine action”– no fucking shit. That’s the whole point. That’s my entire attack on science. Granted, you were very eloquent and concise with how you worded it, but the entire idea that science, which is based on a human idea of rationality, from a human perspective, using human symbols, all of which are limited by how the human mind interprets and makes sense of an external reality, is–when it comes to the big, hard-to-answer questions about the universe–foolhardy. 

        • If God is either infinite or nonexistent, then scientific proof or disproof are both impossible because It couldn’t be added to or removed from an experiment, which requires a control.

          • mannyfurious | Jun 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm |

            Yeah, that’s certainly a good argument. I wonder though (and I literally mean “wonder,” I’m not passing this off as the truth or anything), whether it would be possible at some point to detect a cosmic “energy” or “force” even if it is infinite. I mean space and time are possibly infinite, and we can detect those (at least to some extent, although any measurement is made from the vastly limited human point of view). I mean, we don’t really know what electricity is, but we’re still able to measure it. Maybe something similar is possible (though highly unlikely) with a cosmic force? 

          • Kris Snow | Jun 22, 2012 at 6:49 am |

             Again, only under the current capacities of science.

        • Thanks for your reply – it was thoughtful.  Two observations: Causality is useful for *science* but not as a proof for the divine. Just because you don’t know the cause doesn’t mean “God did it.”  I.e. magnetism happens, don’t understand magnetism – viola – God is the cause!  Ignorance of the cause does not conjure up the divine. That cosmological argument has been on the philosophical cutting room since the ancient Greeks. It always “comes alive” in the face of scientific mystery or confusion (See: Chopra, Deepak – Quantum Mechanics and O’Reilly, Bill – Tides.)  As soon as the mystery is resolved the believers look for another dark corner to nest and resurrect the argument.

          I respectfully submit that your attack on science is confused and simply wrong headed.  First, atheist do not need “science” to dismiss divine claims. They can use comparative religion, history, or just plain “personal observation.”  That science has jettisoned divine claims is simply a reflection of the uselessness of  religion in advancing knowledge.  To that end you can truly say it’s not personal – just professional.  Hard to answer questions have been on the scientific menu thousands of years and “God” has never been found to be the correct answer to ANY of them. Not one.  On that basis I’m willing to wager that it won’t be the answer to any current problems either.  

          The second observation is that you use materialism and reductionist thought as if they are the same thing. They are not.  Materialism as a scientific construct is, ahem, a museum relic – it was deprecated, by science, well over a hundred years ago!  (See: Einstein – Gravity) Reductionist thinking is merely a problem solving tool involving breaking problems into discrete, smaller ones to answer questions. It can and is abandoned when necessary to make cogent observations (Quantum mechanics for example.) 

          It is quite obvious that religion is not going to solve the problems that plague mankind – human thinking is all we’ve got….

    • Kris Snow | Jun 22, 2012 at 6:48 am |

       It just isn’t possible by us yet. How can you know it is not possible all around? You don’t.

  5. emperorreagan | Jun 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm |

    Personally, I find the argument from incomprehensibility to be the most persuasive for agnosticism.

  6. and to those of us who have developed our spiritual faculty, there is no need to question or argue. God and the many beings above and beneath it/him/her are all there for everyone to engage with. People that spend their lives reading books and never actually try to follow the spiritual path in any of its many many shapes, really shouldn’t be claiming to know anything at all on the subject. It is not an academic pursuit, though I have hopes that science will somehow connect with that world in the near future.

    In my opinion you either don’t care, thus you don’t have any personal experience; you only pretend you care, but don’t actual do anything about it; you do care, but are/have been too lazy to pursue your interests; you very much care and have spent decades trying to find proof within and without (and of course those that do find proof and those that continue to argue things one way or another regardless of what they experience)

    experiencing anything of a “extra” sensory nature is 99% of the time very eye-opening and life changing. I look forward to better/safer/more meaningful drug use in the near future for those to lazy to put in the time to experience such things with only their minds.

    •  in regards to the bit about people who dislike atheists bring equivalent to people who ignore all sorts of blatant science and immoral behavior: that’s just generalizing millions of people into a simple category and I can’t go along with that. Given, the majority of outspoken people are idiots, the loudest of the religious no doubt being the ass-backwards “evangelicals” but trying to group a Buddhist with an Evangelical, or trying to pair me with some fanatical islamic mutilation practice is just silly and nonsensical.

      Nor do I dislike atheists nor should any intelligent person finalize their thoughts to “dislike” a group or “type” of people. That does not coincide with your notions of peace and inclusion. On the other hand there are clearly a lot of people who do not like atheists, or who do not like anyone of any religion, or who just plain don’t like people in general, so I know where you’re coming from saying what you’re saying XD

      It’s just a bummer the quiet, and extremely powerful modern day saviors get grouped with the outspoken whackos; or for that matter the fact that so many people around the world consider the word “savior” to be almost evil, and something that needs to be attacked =/

      • Well, it seems to me in some people I’ve observed to do this, pronouncing oneself a ‘saviour’ or ‘messiah’ assumes some sort of power over the person being ‘saved’. Almost like you’re saying ‘without me, you are lost’. Maybe that’s why some people don’t like them. I imagine there are alot of people out there who would feel indignant if they weren’t looking for a saviour in the first place.

        •  I understand and agree with that. I think it’s important to practice humility though; there are most likely millions of people doing a lot more good for the world than you or I regardless of who you are. Sure we all have our play in things, but there are people (myself not included unfortunately) that “save” tens of thousands of lives in their short 60-70 years.

          Seems like people are just bitter to admit that there are people capable of helping them in ways they never even thought possible, as if that means they are weak or failing. Long story short, the vast majority of us are weak and failing, that’s the Human condition; strive to be awesome or die atop a worthless pile of mansions and money. I would gladly be “saved” if that means being “awoken” to a higher level of thinking by someone better than myself. Ditch the pride, make with the progress me thinks…. now if only I could stick to that plan, ya? XD

    • Kris Snow | Jun 22, 2012 at 6:47 am |

       If there is in fact no need to argue, why have you presented arguments?

  7. happyknownothing | Jun 6, 2012 at 7:28 pm |


    I’m going to use the principle of charity
    here and assume that the author of this piece is just being deliberately disingenuous
    to drum up controversy. His argument that theist agnostics are going to hell is
    childish. It assumes that the only deity that humans believe in is one that
    will send people to hell – that is just ignorance. If I had to label myself anything
    I’d say that I’m weak agnostic. I’m dubious about some of the confident claims
    made by proponents of scientism so I’m agnostic there as well. I once would
    have considered myself to be an atheist but these days I find myself getting
    closer and closer to the believer. I’m being pushed that way by dishonest atheists
    who actually believe in the nonsense that the writer of this article has put
    forth. The continued use of the straw man that religion is the root of the
    world’s evils is repellent and divisive and proves to me that these atheists
    are just out to stir up hatred.

    • Your agnosticism is commendable but I can’t see your demonstration of charity.

      >>assume that the author of this piece is just being deliberately disingenuous
      to drum up controversy
      How about give this author the benefit of the doubt. That he sincerely believes his own rhetoric. Not sneakily crafts incendiary propaganda.

      >>dishonest atheists who actually believe in the nonsense […] of this article

      Dishonest?? Or just making honest mistakes about the facts of theological matters?

    • Kris Snow | Jun 22, 2012 at 6:44 am |

      “I once would have considered myself to be an atheist but these days I find myself getting
      closer and closer to the believer. I’m being pushed that way by dishonest atheists
      who actually believe in the nonsense that the writer of this article has put

      So let me get this straight- you are allowing other people that you feel are dishonest influence your perception of reality? Sounds a bit weak. I see why you say you’re a “weak” agnostic.

  8. 12monkeys1981 | Jun 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm |

    “clitorises chopped off in the name of Islam?”!!! Female circumcision is an african custom, nothing to do with islam.

    • emperorreagan | Jun 7, 2012 at 10:06 am |

      Well, as long as you’re picking on the calls to action:

      The anti-vaccine movement in the US is hardly religious based, aside from the specific case of religious organizations speaking out against the HPV vaccine in recent months.  The Catholic church, for instance, does not take a stance against the ruebella vaccine in spite of it being derived using aborted fetus lung tissue.  The anti-vaccine movement ultimately embraces pseudoscience and panic about autism, not any religious paradigm.

      Likewise, religion isn’t gumming up the response to global warming – if you listen to any of the public debate at all, the primary factor preventing action is the economic impact.  

  9. the majority of the worlds population has lived without a personal god for centuries
    about 3000 years ago a Chinese dude observed:
    The tao that can be told
    is not the eternal Tao
    The name that can be named
    is not the eternal Name.

    nuf said

    • Sounds a lot like 
      Plato but he was a Greek dude. Ripped off.

      •  damn those pre-christian cell phones messing with out history.
        The Tao Te Ching is lots of win by the way, regardless of what you think or believe, that is a GOOD read.


  11. Whenever you give a name to a philosopy that purports to be a religion, you destroy most of the goodness and truth that it may contain because then it will be USED and PERVERTED by those claiming to be authorities or priest-intermediaries of it to keep them in control of you. And the great effectiveness of the religions which those who really control the world have created is that the average member then functions as his/her own gatekeeper to his own “religious” prison, and seeks to spread the poison and prison to his family, friends, and whoever will listen to her bullshit. That is why I am fond of saying that there is no worse or greater PERVERT than a so-called “good Christian”. If you are one of the miniscule few who are not too stupid and too cowardly to relinquish the comfort and security of your teeny-tiny world and religious views, you would do better at realizing and fulfilling your true nature and purpose by implementing the following: “Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.” “Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.” “Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.” Sid Gautama – The Buddha All the “religion” you need can be stated thus: “While each is each, yet all is One.” Realize, therefore, that by loving anyone or any thing, you are really just loving a part of your own self. There will be no peace and happiness on Earth until everyone realizes and practices this simple truth.

    • TruthVybes | Jun 12, 2012 at 11:56 pm |

       ^Wyse words. Never gyve up your NATURE (free wyll) to ANOTHER’s NATURE (free wyll) [‘realyty’]. Each path yz unyque to the beyng experyencyng that path. The pursuyt of ‘truth’ may very well be a block to open myndedness especyally when Relygyons claym to have FOUND the truth. We subconshusly fear the unknown and create ways not to face them… gut feelyng says relygyon had somethyng to do wyth the fear and maynstream psychyatry wyth self-doubt.

  12.  I’m not a fanatical Nietzsche lover, but I still find the question inane and tiresome.

  13. @AntRyanET | Jun 7, 2012 at 3:32 am |

    Great piece Colby! 🙂 @AntRyanET

  14. Most won’t concede your point that science undermines the believability of a creator, which is of course a
    pre-religious idea.

    Those who cares to debate you will be defensive, and religious leaders have provided them with plenty of rhetoric for resisting the disruptive ideas of secular institutions and the godless. (Though theology is sectarian so they disagree profoundly about how to reconcile conflicting teachings about the creator they have in mind)

    And why academic findings don’t overturn their beliefs and teachings (morality, miracles, testamony, etc). Who’s hearts are good guides for what’s right. Whether the academic consensus of the day ought be trusted in some particular politico-religious issue. Etc.

    History reminds us the idea of a creator was once treated very seriously within academia. 

    Fast forward to today, we see university researchers as worlds away from theological training colleges. Yet professors are still causing endless conflict with holymen because they keep discovering profound earthly natural facts (historians, scientists, ethicists, etc) that conflict profoundly with contemporary “religious” proclamations –man-made-mistakes– about that divine creator they have in mind.

  15. When someone asks me whether or not I believe in God, I always kick them in the shins.

  16. kowalityjesus | Jun 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |

    For me, incontrovertible, intimate personal direction in my life-path by a higher power came first.  Christianity as a desire to understand this higher power (as well as the conviction of J.S. Bach) came second.

  17. if there happens to be a god, he/she/it can go fuck themselves

    • Calypso_1 | Jun 8, 2012 at 10:27 am |

      It worked for Atum-Ra

      When I first began to create
      When I alone was planning and designing many creatures,
      There was not a single living creature.
      I planned many living creatures;
      All were in my heart, and their children and their grandchildren.
      Then I copulated with my own fist.
      I masturbated with my own hand.
      I ejaculated into my own mouth.
      I sneezed to create Shu the wind,
      I spat to create Tefnut the rain.

  18. Re6el Sys | Jun 8, 2012 at 12:54 am |

    I disagree, what we need is to learn to co-exist with all of the different individuals and their different thoughts and ideas. I dont need you to think like me, if you have a different idea lets share it and talk about it. And if I didnt know what was on the other side of the moon, and you ask me, i’d say on the other side is the other side.

    • liked.

      it all boils down to education in my opinion. the hardcore Christians are educated to not mix with people of other religions, as are many groups. I was very poorly educated in the American school system, as are many countries citizens. And unleashed off into the world I formed my own initial view of the universe without proper guidance and it took me a long time to break out of that; I think that most people never do.

      I think science, religion, spirituality, really at their true essence all want the same thing and should be working together as many amazing people around the world are capable of and do, but there is a far greater number of people that seem incapable of such wisdom and simple conversational intercourse for that matter, so we pick at the flower rather than looking for the roots. Ego versus ego in self-defense of the ego.

  19. Thebiophysicist | Jun 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm |

    Some good points about agnosticism. While I think Scientists are probably pretty far from a grand unified theory I think we will eventually get there . Look at the advances in the last 3.5k years and the acceleration of knowledge  the last 100. Give us another thousand or million or billion years . That is why I’ve come up with a new religion the tefal heads or Nonstick Pans (Gnostic Pandeists/theists) 😉
    I Iean towards pandeism as the most likely scenario for the origin of the the universe simply because of the evidence. Check out this article talking about the unlikeliness of us being here at all it is a review of a book by the astronomer royal  This is the anthropic principal string theorists seem to be tying themselves in knots to support a view that existence random by postulating 10 to the power of 500 initial universes.see Susskind the father of string thoery. This may be true but seems less likely by Occams razor than some sort of design . I’m not even saying it is an intelligent design the answer may be a mathematical equation. That providence that we are here that the fundamental forces are so finely balanced is my idea of God. That may be sexed up atheism as Richard Dawkins calls Pantheism but it’s the reason I don’t identify as atheist while acknowledging that Atheism is a far more likely scenario than any of the revealed religions. That everything in the Universe is connected is pretty much accepted science fact. See Brian Cox talking about Pauli’s exclusion principal. as Dirac a said pick a flower and you move the furthest star.

  20. I find that this article says something more along the lines of “humanity’s ideas about God have been thus far incorrect”. There is plenty of evidence to support a supreme being. The fact that there is consciousness, for example… a human being’s consciousness is totally outside the “mind” of an ant–it is “higher”. Logically, is there not a consciousness extant which is higher than all others? Would this not be God, though not necessarily the Christian or Muslim God? Religion has no doubt been the cause for many atrocities, but what has this to do with God’s true nature, which, unless one is God, is by nature ineffable? Belief, and not knowledge, is the the pinnacle of human idealization of God.  

    • huntington | Jun 13, 2012 at 5:21 am |

      Supreme beings are a human construct born strictly of human imagination.  That’s why no proof of divine beings exist – it is an imaginary construct.  I’m sure you don’t disagree – just think of all the conceptions of all the Gods ever created – do you don’t believe in Ra? Zeus?  Probably not.

      “Logically, is there not a consciousness extant which is higher than all others?”  This is the old “Think of the highest number you can. That is God” argument – and it just plain stinks. Of course you can’t think of the highest number just as all conscientiousness is human.  “Higher  conscientiousness” or non-human conscientiousness is thus far just fiction.

  21. passing by | Jun 16, 2012 at 6:49 am |

    “If god existed, it would be necessary to abolish him”

  22. Dntbesilly5235 | Jun 18, 2012 at 3:26 am |

    this is so true, i always think that nothing can be known for certain but after hearing the dark side of the moon comment, i realise it’s not the way to think..

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