With the Universe as My Crime Scene

I am not a fan of language games. I consider them things to be solved or fixed; I consider them tricks and deceit. However, in the religious debate language games abound. One of the biggest ones is about definitions. The one I want to discuss now is the claim that “there is no proof that atheism is true”. This classes as a language game to me because proof is an unobtainable level of confidence; you can’t even get it in mathematics (blame Kurt Gödel). The second reason is that atheism is not a truth claim. Atheism is the position of being unconvinced by the claims that at least one god exists. The last part of this language game is a philosophical error. The assumption is that is atheism were a truth claim and had no evidence for it then theism must be true. But the correct philosophical method is “no data; no conclusion”.

Each time I meet this I am not sure whether the theist that says it genuinely doesn’t understand or if said theist has a counter ready if they can convince an atheist to argue under these assumptions or it, perhaps, they are preaching to an audience they don’t need to convince. However, I am knowingly going to accept the assumptions and I’m going to make my case for atheism. There is evidence.

For the sake of my case, I shall assume that the universe is a crime scene.

Not a single fingerprint

There is a lot of evidence for a lot of things. Fossils are evidence of dead animals. Silt soils are evidence of former river beds or floods. Certain erosion patterns are evidence of sand and wind, where others are evidence of water (those following the Mars Rover will recognise that!). However, a Being supposed to be the most powerful thing conceivable, which created the universe, didn’t leave behind any identifying evidence; not a single fingerprint.

We see scuffled leaves and the religious are quick to try to rationalise why the only possible scuffler of said leaves is God. But the truth is it could equally be physics, nature or Chuck Norris.

“Examples?” you ask. Okay, the Cosmological argument is exactly that. There was nothing (possibly) and now there is something (arguably). This is our pile of scuffled leave. The religious would tell us that the only scuffler of said leaves must be God. Cosmologists have a number of other suspects.

Not His modus operandi

God, real or not, has a modus operandi (MO). He has a way that He operates. It is, as I’m sure the religious know, perfect. And so God’s actions should be perfect. So is the obscured and smeared foot-print-in-the-mud that is biology the sign of a Mastermind with an MO of perfection? Is my might-suddenly-kill-me appendix the perfect fingerprint of God? Or is the undirected process of evolution a better suspect.

Love and omniscience and omnipotence are also part of His MO. The evidential problem of suffering does not conform to His MO either. According to our documentation on Him, it is also His MO to hang around the scenes of His crimes and loudly and proudly announce Himself—“I am the LORD thy God”—but in our experience this isn’t happening.

Marks on the murder weapon

All of our scientific study on the weapon of creation has told us one thing: it is entirely consistent with natural understandings in physics. There are no signs of the blemishes or fingerprints of intervention.

On this evidence, any jury would have to judge God not guilty. Because I can’t gather what theists allege the positive claims of atheism are, I shall leave this as it is now. As soon as I can figure out (or someone tells me) what the positive claims of atheism are I shall put up my case for atheism’s guilt. But for now, I think we can rest assured that God is not guilty.


10 thoughts on “With the Universe as My Crime Scene”

  1. Hey, interesting post…
    Just want to clear up something –
    The dictionary definition of Atheist: someone who denies the existence of a god or gods. (The sweeping declaration that there are no gods or a god, is in fact a truth claim.)
    The dictionary definition of Agnostic: that nothing can be known about the existence or nature of a god or gods, or of anything other than material phenomena. (This would correspond more fully with your statement of “no data, no conclusion”.)

    It sounds like you’re in fact an Agnostic, instead of an Atheist…unless you prefer to retract your statement about truth claims.
    I also want to challenge you on your use of the word “data”. Data lends the veneer of scientific credibility to material phenomena that both the Atheistic and Agnostic positions cannot lay claim to. It is an axiom, an assumption, in fact the same sort of assumption as a theological person’s assumption of a god or gods. In fact, the word “data” in this context is misleading. We might as well substitute the word “blip” for the patterns in Nature we think we can predict.
    Atheism, Agnosticism, and Religion are all in a way hypotheses, or worldviews. Different way of trying to put together the stuff, the “blip”, we experience every day. However, Atheism and Agnosticism don’t provide the philosophical basis to prove that the “data” is really objectively data. This was the reason Logical Positivism died in professional philosophical circles.

    Once we strip away any objectivity to your use of “blip” or data, your following section on scientific evidence, or fingerprints, loses it’s philosophical basis and the conversation moves away from philosophy and into the realm of science – where the data we receive from our senses etc. must be assumed to be objective because otherwise it becomes impossible to reach any conclusion. But the philosophical underpinnings you use to substantiate your claim to objective science are unsound.

    This isn’t to weigh in on either side, either for or against Atheism as a hypothesis. I simply want to clear up some vagueness in your terms and let you know that you made a flying leap from philosophy to science without making sure the philosophical foundation for the leap was firm.

    Loved the blog post! Keep it up!

    1. I would love to see the dictionary you are using… especially given that “agnostic” as word is not specialist to the religious debate, and means to be without knowledge, not to think that knowledge is unattainable. Atheism (“A-” without; “-theism” belief in a god or gods) means to be without believe in gods, or to reject belief in Gods; no to believe there are no Gods. No data; no conclusion; no belief.
      I also challenge the idea that my use of the word “data” is misleading. The only way it could be misleading is if you are making the presuppositional argument that objectivity itself is dependent on a transcendent God. From your later comments (about atheism and agnosticism not providing a philosophical basis for data being objective) I assume you are a presuppositionalist. (see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QMtj0vXWAc)
      I know very well what the word data means, I have studied data and information technology and communication. Information is what data becomes after it is processed. There is no to support God.
      I also don’t see how one can slip from philosophy to science when science is a philosophy (it’s just that science is the near-objective philosophy that has built a world where we can have this conversation over the internet, and built the LHC etc).
      Nature does not work as a series of “blips”. In fact, nature is a continuum that has, so far, been shown to perform without blips–and a constant provision of data.

  2. Your initial point is excellent: atheism is not a truth claim. But then you go into reiterating a bunch of arguments against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God as if it IS a truth claim. So I don’t know what to make of this post as a whole.

    Atheism may not be the truth claim “No gods exist”, but it does generally entail a few assertions that ARE truth claims. These might include:

    “Belief in a god or gods is unjustifiable, intellectually dishonest, and/or psychologically damaging.”
    “Any particular list of deities can be demonstrated not to exist as described by their adherents.”
    “The absence of sufficient evidence for theistic beliefs necessitates a humanistic worldview.”
    “Religion causes more harm than benefit in the modern world.”

    And so those are the truth claims usually being questioned in attacks on atheism.

    1. I get your concern. I spend time refusing the question “what is the evidence for atheism?”, and so I have never been in a situation where I can just accept the strange assumptions the challenger has made and rebut accordingly. So I have, intentionally, accepted the assumption that it is a truth claim and argued accordingly; fighting on their ground. In part it is to see if they’ve laid any traps on their ground. I suspect there are a few.

      The only claims you have presented here that interest me in this forum are the first two: it’s unjustifiable, and given a decent description they can be demonstrated to not exist, and “absence of sufficient evidence…”. These I think I touch on.

      But, like I said, I am as much experimenting to see if I can find traps in this post as I am making my point. Sorry if I haven’t made that clearer.

      1. I definitely understand.

        Of course, when it comes to actual back-and-forth, I say stick to your guns. People might think you’re a prick, but at least it’ll get them thinking in terms of reductionist dialogue.

        Would you say that Truth Claim One is entailed by the demonstration of Truth Claim Two?

        1. Not for Truth Claim 1 and Truth Claim 2; that would almost certainly be a false dichotomy. But for Truth Claim 1 and Truth Claim not-1, they clearly are related to each other.
          If you can find incompatible truths then the same is true of two Truth Claims, the truth of one impacts on the other (which is what The Problem of Suffering is).

  3. “All of our scientific study on the weapon of creation has told us one thing: it is entirely consistent with natural understandings in physics. There are no signs of the blemishes or fingerprints of intervention.”

    While I don’t overtly disagree with much of what you’re saying, I believe you overreach a bit with the above statement. First, because there is no ‘natural understandings in physics’. Physics is very, very good at what it does, but what it does is to describe rather than to understand. It is commonly admitted that once you reach into the quantum realm, understanding goes out the window. It is described in polite circles as counter-intuitive. In less polite places, crazy. How can a particle also be a wave? How can a particle be over here and over there at the same time? How can two particles light-years apart know instantaneously what is happening to each other? We can measure it. We can observe it. We cannot understand it.

    In fact, one of the most profound problems in physics (according to Roger Penrose of Cambridge) is that it cannot explain how a random event takes place. For instance, if a particle must choose one of two paths, how does it choose? It has no mind, no will. It has no predisposition for one path over the other. There is absolutely no mechanism that pushes it one way or the other, yet it does go one way or the other. How? Statistically, we can say what 1,000 particles will do, but we cannot say what a single, particular one will do. That is randomness and we haven’t the foggiest of clues as to how it happens. Since random events are at the very heart of a non-theistic worldview, without an explanation of them you are standing with both feet planted firmly in the air, so to speak.

    Secondly, I must point out that a blind man may have a difficult time finding a finger print. The Bible says there are many who have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. It also says that even the ability to see is a gift from God.

    I agree the charge “there is no proof that atheism is true” is a weak argument. However, so is the idea that science can say much about the existence of God.

    1. We do have a physical understanding. We actually don’t have a description.
      Now it is true that we could be blind to the evidence, which is fine. But the question remains that if we are blind to the evidence, how on earth can anyone claim to know?

      1. We have a physical understanding, but not a description? I’m not sure what you’re saying. Please elaborate.

        We can claim to know because, rather than relying on our limited sight, we hear God’s voice speaking to us. Now, I don’t want to push this metaphor too far, but the Bible (one way that God speaks to us) does say that there is a willful component to our blindness. We fail to see because our fallen nature doesn’t want to see. We shut our eyes to what is plainly visible.

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