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I have been reading a bit of Dawkins and the like and they all seem to hold a very strong viewpoint on atheism and its associated ideology. I have not found a direct citation for this but he frequently makes a very close connection, e.g.:

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
The Blind Watchmaker (1986)

I myself do not see how atheism can be scientific in any way.

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.
Atheism, Wikipedia.

The thing is, you cannot prove nor disprove this statement. It's an ethereal concept with no basis in scientific measurement by tests and observation. They seem to be asking a question that has no answer because the whole thing is based on faith.

Atheists point out that you cannot prove god exists nor disprove that Thor exists, which is true, so why are they answering this question in the first place and making a very strong connection to its scientific merit?

As I see it, atheism seems to have the same passion to try and persuade others of their ideology as any religion, with Dawkins even calling himself a militant atheist.

I think agnosticism seems to be the most scientific approach.

What might be some reasons atheism could be considered to have a 'scientific' dimension?

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Dawkins on "Why do atheists care?" Not specifically answering your question but enlightening as to his views with regard to 'Militant Atheism'. –  Andrew Lambert Nov 21 '12 at 7:02
    
I read somewhere that Darwin himself was a committed Christian and feared that the publication of his theory would lend ammunition to those who would deny it. –  Mozibur Ullah Nov 30 '12 at 23:30
    
@MoziburUllah I didn't have this impression. Darwin certainly belonged to a strongly Christian society and feared the uproar that might come from his theory, but, according to Randal Keynes, "Annie's Box" his own lack of belief steadily increased throughout his life, especially in the grieving wake his childrens' deaths. The book also gave the impression that he struggled with the despair his views clearly brought to his devout wife. But, aside from in his early life when he fleetingly thought about becoming .... –  WetSavannaAnimal aka Rod Vance Aug 19 '13 at 5:01
    
... an Anglican clergyman, the book give the impression that he didn't greatly care one way or the other about Christian faith. –  WetSavannaAnimal aka Rod Vance Aug 19 '13 at 5:02
    
This cartoon sums it up: "Then a miracle occurs" at movingimages.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/… –  Dan Christensen Jul 3 at 19:43

17 Answers 17

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Whether atheism can be reached by scientific reasoning depends on whether scientific reasoning is the only way to form justified true belief. Can I only say that I know something if it can be scientifically demonstrated? More weakly, can I only know that a deity exists if that deity can be demonstrated scientifically? I cannot see an analytic argument which results in a "yes" to this question, so I must answer the main question with an overall no.

Science has a very high standard of description of phenomena. One way to explain this is that whatever the dimensionality or 'size' of a model, we need many more data points which match that model to some level of accuracy. To some extent, the choice of where to set the bar, above which one can claim 'knowledge', is a choice that individuals will have to make themselves. If we overlay some sort of purpose on top of this, then we can say that the bar ought to be set at some spot to optimally pursue said purpose. But is any purpose a given? No.

Science is not a complete philosophy. Think about it: "The only way to know something is through scientific reasoning." That statement itself is not obtained through scientific reasoning. Take the following from Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Known as Hume's fork, I believe this is a self-refuting statement: Hume's book contained nothing which would prevent it from being committed to the flames (possible objections). This idea is formalized in Gödel's second incompleteness theorem, which can be understood as saying that "truth is stronger than provability". Because we make use of arithmetic and provability, the second incompleteness theorem applies. I'm assuming that we'd prefer to not adopt a philosophy which is fundamentally inconsistent. So, there will always be true statements which cannot be proven to be true from any given set of axioms.

Anything which dictates what beliefs ought to be formed for the purpose of knowing reality will necessarily come from something 'bigger than' science. Therefore, atheism cannot be reached from scientific reasoning alone. Otherwise, we are in danger of saying things like, "Believing in one or more deities does not aid in the pursuit of science." This only supports disbelief in deities if life is nothing more than doing science, which is not a position held by very many people.

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Godel, Heinsberg , Kant ... mind blown . Thanks for your answer. –  gerdi Oct 15 '13 at 8:45
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The incompleteness theorems really don't have anything to do with this. –  J.P. Jun 30 at 17:27
    
@J.P. Are you saying that the first sentence of my last paragraph is incorrect? –  labreuer Jun 30 at 17:51
    
Do you mean this one: 'anything which dictates what beliefs ought to be formed for the purpose of knowing reality will necessary come from something 'bigger than science''? If so, then I don't have any particular complaints about that claim itself, but it certainly doesn't follow from the incompleteness theorems. –  J.P. Jul 1 at 8:59
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That statement is predicated precisely upon the incompleteness theorems: truth is stronger than provability. When you prove a system as consistent (i.e. a stable foundation for predicating beliefs upon it), you can only do so if it is sufficiently weak, or from within a bigger system. Science cannot prove itself consistent and complete. And yet, this leaves room for ¬atheism. –  labreuer Jul 1 at 15:31

"Atheism" is a lack of belief in deities. As such, it can come about in two ways.

  1. You can decide that you aren't convinced that any theory of the world which requires a deity is correct.

  2. You can become convinced that there cannot exist any correct theory of the world which requires a deity.

It is perfectly possible to adopt position #1 as a scientist, in exactly the same way that you might decide between two potential scientific theories: you examine the predictions of the theories and the evidence for how the world actually works, and you make an informed judgement as to whether a theory seems to work well, either on its own terms or compared to another. You can even tentatively adopt both theories if they are both compatible with the observed evidence (though you might want to bear in mind where and how much the two theories conflict); and you can also reject both theories, deciding that neither of them are even provisionally satisfactory.

In this regard, you can be an atheist simply because you see no particular reason to believe in god; you "have no need for that hypothesis". This doesn't necessarily entail that you reject all possible god-notions out of hand — although you may feel justified in being skeptical of them, just as you would be justified in skepticism of whether time-travel is possible based on awareness of the sorts of paradoxes it might give rise to. But this leads to position #2.

Position #2 is potentially non-scientific depending on how it is presented. But to determine whether or not it is scientific, we must ask some questions which make it even a candidate for scientific consideration, the most important of which is this: What is a god?

  • If a god has all manner of superlative attributes, such as omniscience and omnipotence, then it may fall prone to classical contradictions between such properties, and the debate comes down to whether you think logic is a suitable tool for reasoning about the world. This is the same sort of judgement as claiming that a perpetual motion machine is impossible — in both scenarios you have a theory (classical logic, or the laws of thermodynamics) and a proposed entity (a superlative god, a perpetual motion machine), and where you can use the one to rule out the other.

    This means that if the proposed entity exists, your theory was somehow flawed. And indeed, religious apologists tend to make statements such as "god is not subject to logic", whatever that means. But barring the discovery of such wonderful and extraordinary objects, we don't have any particular reason to suppose that the theory is wrong in the way that would be necessary to allow these things to exist.

  • If god is just the entire universe, and indeed we are a part of it, then fine; by definition god exists — but the same things could be said about unicorns, if we define unicorns also to be the entire universe (and we a part of it); that would also suffice to prove the existence of Unicorn, with a capital U. It becomes a word-game, and does not allow you to infer the sorts of things you might like to be able to claim about gods. The same problem applies if you define god to be an entire ecosystem, or anything which does not in any obvious way have interesting properties in common with the folklore exemplars such as Thor, Apollo, Yahweh, or Make-Make.

  • If you refuse to define the notion, then it becomes unreasonable to demand that someone accept the possibility that it exists, because you haven't really told them what it is that they are supposed to admit the possible existence for. Ignosticism is the philosophical position of refusing to make a judgement about gods before the definition is properly laid out; but it does still necessarily entail a lack of beleif in the unspecified thing.

The problem historically is that there are very few defenses of the existence of "gods" which do not fall in a camp such as these. Because scientists best respect those ideas which are clearly-presented, which have interesting and meaningful consequences, and which do not require the overturning of the tools which they find provide them with reliable results, it is often said that it is "scientific" to reject the existence of gods. It would be much more accurate to say that it is scientific to reject all of the most common arguments for gods, and that if there are any truly good arguments for gods, that they are not very well known even to skeptical people who take an interest in the subject.

Finally, if you consider "agnosticism" to be the position of being uncertain, then in fact this is certainly a more scientific position. But one can be an agnostic atheist, in the sense of considering "Yahweh doesn't exist and also Thor doesn't exist and also Apollo doesn't exist and also Make-Make doesn't exist and also..." the best hypothesis to act on, while being prepared to change your mind if Thor suddenly arrives at your office and allows you to test his hammer Mjöllnir to your satisfaction for fifty years or so, coming to the conclusion that there might have been something to that old Norse folklore after all. For that matter, a scientist should be agnostic about general relativity, and quantum mechanics, and string theory, and everything else; but that doesn't mean that they aren't allowed to form opinions, or that they have to pretend not to have any idea of how the world works at all.

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Once again, excellent answer. –  iphigenie Nov 15 '12 at 16:58
    
I am not to sure how you can be agnostic to general relativity in a scientific manner. We can clearly see and experiment on theories which exist in its construct. I do find that interesting if you mind maybe explaining it a bit more. Thanks –  gerdi Nov 16 '12 at 9:07
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@gerdi: We can be agnostic about it for precisely the same reason that we now know that Newtonian gravity was wrong. Are the Einstein equations correct? All we can say is that we aren't presented with phenomena for which they obviously fail. (The problems with figuring out the global structure of the universe given the matter that we observe, not to mention the acceleration of the universe's expansion, are concievably a examples of a crisis in the waiting, as the precession of the perihelion of Mercury was for Newtonian gravity.) Relativity is our best theory, nothing more or less. –  Niel de Beaudrap Nov 16 '12 at 14:24
    
@NieldeBeaudrap cool –  gerdi Nov 17 '12 at 9:59
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@MoziburUllah: you could define it as a range of frequencies of light; and if you think there's something more to redness than that, which he can never access, that's nothing he must concern himself with. Similarly for anyone who is not by nature inspired for any reason to religious belief; and if any god takes exception to that, it's presumably thee god's oversight that's to blame. –  Niel de Beaudrap Dec 1 '12 at 0:00

There are inherent problems with attempting to prove or disprove metaphysical concepts using physical means. God, being a singular metaphysical concept, can neither be proved nor disproved by physical data.

However, attributes and acts of God can be called into question. For example if you believe an act of God is that He designs everything through a single time specific creative act, as in the story of Genesis, then this is a physical act that can be called into question and subject to scientific reasoning. If you base your belief in God on acts of God, then yes, you could use scientific data to prove or disprove God. But if you believe that God, being a metaphysical agent sitting outside time and space, could create outside the rules of physics, then the act of creation is outside science(dinosaur bones put there to test us for example)

Neither position is scientific, both are talking about metaphysics. If you take your epistemology to be entirely scientific then God is a non-question, and you are correct, agnosticism is the best position

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But Atheism , the non believe in deities, is the context of my question. Not the disprove through scientific means in a creation story of another faith. Basically what i would like to know is, why is the non belief in deities a more scientific approach then the belief in one? Both answer a question that is not scientific in nature yet one is considered a more scientific approach. I think agnosticism is the perfect neutral space for something like this. Or is wrong to assume this is the impression that Dawkins gives when he writes? –  gerdi Nov 15 '12 at 10:48
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Apologies, my response isn't as clear as I meant it to be. Neither position is scientific, both are talking about metaphysics. If you take your epistemology to be entirely scientific then God is a non-question, you are correct, agnosticism is the best position –  pluke Nov 15 '12 at 11:06
    
but I should also say, that an epistemology based entirely on science is quite hard to maintain (this is for another thread I feel!) –  pluke Nov 15 '12 at 11:48
    
@pluke Maybe you should edit your answer and add that comment on science, atheism and agnosticism, that would make for an improvement (: –  iphigenie Nov 15 '12 at 16:02
    
Is 'god' in fact a singular metaphysical concept? What do you mean by 'singular' in this case? –  Niel de Beaudrap Nov 15 '12 at 17:24

Is "God" (just) an ethereal concept?

I do not see how atheism can be scientific in any way. "Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities" (WP:Atheism) The thing is you cannot prove nor disprove this statement. Its is an ethereal concept with no bases in scientific measurement by tests and observation.

First, I take it that by "this statement" you refer to "God does exist" and the like.

Secondly, I understand your argument as roughly saying: Since "God does exist" is not truth-apt, neither is its negation "God doesn't exist".

If I may refer you to an historical antecedent, this point was made a long time ago about disputes over meaningless terms by Rudolf Carnap. What is often forgotten, is that Carnap made an interesting observation precisely over the meaning of the term God. He pointed out that the word is multi-layered, as it were, so that "God" is not just an "ethereal concept":

Another example [of meaningless terms] is the word "God." Here we must, apart from the variations of its usage within each domain, distinguish the linguistic usage in three different contexts or historical epochs, which however overlap temporally.

In its mythological use the word has a clear meaning. It, or parallel words in other languages, is sometimes used to denote physical beings which are enthroned on Mount Olympus, in Heaven or in Hades, and which are endowed with power, wisdom, goodness and happiness to a greater or lesser extent. Sometimes the word also refers to spiritual beings which, indeed, do not have manlike bodies, yet manifest themselves nevertheless somehow in the things or processes of the visible world and are therefore empirically verifiable.

In its metaphysical use, on the other hand, the word "God" refers to something beyond experience. The word is deliberately divested of its reference to a physical being or to a spiritual being that is immanent in the physical. And as it is not given a new meaning, it becomes meaningless. To be sure, it often looks as though the word "God" had a meaning even in metaphysics. But the definitions which are set up prove on closer inspection to be pseudo-definitions. They lead either to logically illegitimate combinations of words (of which we shall treat later) or to other metaphysical words (e.g. "primordial basis," "the absolute," "the unconditioned," "the autonomous," "the self-dependent" and so forth), but in no case to the truth-conditions of its elementary sentences. In the case of this word not even the first requirement of logic is met, that is the requirement to specify its syntax, i.e. the form of its occurrence in elementary sentences. An elementary sentence would here have to be of the form "x is a God"; yet, the metaphysician either rejects this form entirely without substituting another, or if he accepts it he neglects to indicate the syntactical category of the variable x. [p. 4|5] (Categories are, for example, material things, properties of things, relations between things, numbers etc.).

The theological usage of the word "God" falls between its mythological and its metaphysical usage. There is no distinctive meaning here, but an oscillation from one of the mentioned two uses to the other. Several theologians have a clearly empirical (in our terminology, "mythological") concept of God. In this case there are no pseudo-statements; but the disadvantage for the theologian lies in the circumstance that according to this interpretation the statements of theology are empirical and hence are subject to the judgment of empirical science. The linguistic usage of other theologians is clearly metaphysical. Others again do not speak in any definite way, whether this is because they follow now this, now that linguistic usage, or because they express themselves in terms whose usage is not clearly classifiable since it tends towards both sides.

Rudolf Carnap, "The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language", 1932

Please note that one doesn't need to swallow the whole verificationist framework in order to find this analysis pertinent for the question at hand. The distinction between metaphysical and mythological meaning isn't necessarily based on any strict verificationist assumption. We can certainly enlarge our understanding of empirical existence to include theoretical concepts (electrons, strings) and social facts (the existence of five dollar bills, being married to someone). We can even enlarge our understanding of existence to the non empirical domain to include fantastical concepts (unicorns, etc.), such that e.g. in "some sense" we can say true things about Sherlock Holmes.

I'd think that Dawkins & Co. attack the "empirical" viz. "mythological" meaning of God and the question of its existence and in that respect negative claims of the kind "God (most probably) doesn't exist" or "I don't believe in the existence of God" make sense.

Arguing that this kind of "empirical meaning" of God is nowhere implied in the theological discussion today seems to me to miss the mark. For it is certainly not the case that "the whole thing is based on faith" as you say: The existence of God is supported by references to any kind of phenomenological effects in the domain of human experience. Or, to take the semantic spin: They submit that sentences about God are truth-apt.

Now, the proponent in these discussions can always retreat to a "metaphysical" (in the above parlance) understanding of God, but in doing so the whole concept looses much of its punch and relevance. And I would submit that Dawkin & Co. have no particular problem with this metaphysical understanding of God, that's not the target they are after.

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"this statement" was the definition for atheism. I am not referring to "you refer to "God does exist" and the like." "Secondly, I understand your argument as roughly saying: Since "God does exist" is not truth-apt, neither is it negation "God doesn't exist". This was not so much an argument as a question. I cant seem to understand a scientific view on non scientific concept. –  gerdi Nov 16 '12 at 9:53

Atheism is a null hypothesis. Treating atheism scientifically is to say "I don't believe that god(s) have any effect on [thing being studied]". Calling atheism into question is as simple as providing statistically significant data demonstrating an effect where the null hypothesis would predict none.

For example, an experiment to test the efficacy of some arbitrary treatment on some arbitrary disease would be roughly formulated as:

QUESTION: Does [treatment X] have any effect on [disease/condition Y]?

Null hypothesis: Use of [treatment X] is statistically indistinguishable from a similarly-administered placebo.

Now, using 'prayer' or any other supernaturally-themed technique as a possible treatment, it's easy to see that the null hypothesis is one formulation of atheism. To scientifically demonstrate that god(s) exist requires starting from an assumption of atheism and then demonstrating that the null hypothesis fails to explain some set of phenomena. The long history of failure to do so is actually evidence against certain god-concepts, especially interventionist ones.

Indeed, if god(s) exist, we might expect to see some unambiguous statistical trends such as:

  • People who follow the teachings of [deity D] live longer than those who do not
  • People who invoke [prayer P] are much more likely to win the lottery than chance would suggest
  • Hospitals would recognize [prayer group G] as a valid treatment for [serious condition S] and could back it up with stunning success rates

The base position in a scientific endeavour is that we don't assume something to exist (or to have some specific attribute) until we have some reason to think that it does - i.e., evidence to support it.

So yes: atheism is both scientific and supported by the current body of evidence. If you can design a proper experiment and collect data that casts doubt on the current atheistic conclusion, go for! Just know that your god-concept will not only have to explain your own experimental results but also the decades of null results.

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I think this isn't bad but you might want to distinguish between atheisms rather than assert "atheism is null hypothesis." I think that is one form of atheism. –  virmaior Jul 3 at 9:37
    
I agree that there are multiple facets to atheism wonderfully complicated by the number of paths one might follow to at least tenuously hold an atheistic position, but with respect to the question "In what sense is atheism scientific?" I find that this formulation most directly provides an answer. –  Dave B Jul 3 at 13:43
    
I don't mean multiple facets. I mean the word is unclear in meaning by itself, so you should specify how you're getting to your definition before jumping off from it. –  virmaior Jul 3 at 15:12
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@virmaior even if your response, you're demonstrating the problem. lack of belief != denial of a belief. You need to be clear as to how you are defining atheism. Is it the negation of a posit or the assumption of the null hypothesis in the absence of evidence? You seem to jump between these two definitions without seeing there's a difference between them. –  virmaior Jul 4 at 15:03
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I don't think I misunderstood you due to character limits. The negation of a belief is not the same as non-belief. They are importantly distinct. Negation implies an active response. I have no opinion whatsoever on the existence of a star named QX-123-B. I reject the idea that the flying spaghetti monster exists. (i.e., I actively negate it). I think there are multiple kinds of atheists. There are null-hypothesizers, there are "religious" atheists, there are atheists who are really angry that other people do believe in a God. All of these are different things called atheism wrt negation. –  virmaior Jul 5 at 1:09

It all depends on the definition of atheism.

I do not share your definition of atheism in its broadest sense as a rejection of belief in deities.

In its broadest sense, atheism merely states not making a positive claim of the necessary existence of any deity.

An atheist is simply not a theist. Nothing more, nothing less. An atheist does not necessarily know he is an atheist, as he may just have not been introduced to a certain god concept.

Is such a position scientific viable: Yes, as each hypothesis must have some merit in explaining world we live in. The god-hypothesis does not solve any problem, it obscures it. Replace a god did it with a with wizard did it and it would be such as revealing.

Does it mean that each atheist acts scientifically? No, because an atheist still can uphold other irrational views. Such as homeopathy, astrology or conspiracy theories.

As to arguing that agnosticism would be the scientific position, well, this too stems from your strict definition of atheism as rejection of belief. Just ask some self-proclaimed atheists, and you realize that many, and I, disagree with that notion.

Also there is this misconception that agnosticism would be some kind of middle ground. Agnosticism is the notion that something cannot be known. Not that one is unsure which of multiple positions is true.

I would argue that atheism entails rational agnosticism as a subset. Since if you think something cannot be known, it would be irrational to claim "I think it cannot be known, but I believe it is true independent from any evidence whatsoever".

What I very much do reject is the notion that Darwin made it possible to be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist". There were many before him that were had enough reason enough to be atheistic, e.g. in Ancient Greece.

Darwin merely made a strong argument for evolution which contradicts many but not all religions. Evolution in itself has nothing to do with atheism. Assuming evolution would not have been discovered as of yet, I would still be an atheist. Confronted with the question of the origin of our species I would simply state: "I do not know."

As with everything: Stating that one does not know is often the rational decision. Introducing a god to fill that gap is not necessary.

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The existence or non-existence of God is not a scientific issue since it can't be settled by experiment. However, the explanation for why this is the case is a criticism of theism, not atheism. Agnosticism is also a bad position for reasons I will explain below.

Having said all this, I am not a militant atheist. I don't think that eradicating religion by law would be a good idea. I also think it is possible religious people have some ideas that are morally better than the corresponding ideas held by secular people. We should aim to retain the best parts of any tradition by reforming it to keep its best parts and get rid of the chaff unless there is some reason this can't be done. For example, I doubt that Nazism could be reformed because it was just an excuse for mass murder and conquest, it had to be destroyed. Christians aren't Nazis.

The standard atheist line is that since you can't prove God exists (or that he probably exists) he doesn't exist. This is wrong because you can't prove any position (or show it is probable) and so this argument doesn't pick out theism as being any different from any other position. Any argument requires premises and rules of inference and it doesn't prove (or make probable) those premises or rules of inference. If you're going to say they're self evident then you are using the same argument as a theist who claims it is obvious that God exists. If you don't say they are self evident then you would have to prove those premises and rules of inference by another argument that would bring up a similar problem with respect to its premises and rules of inference. Another approach that is sometimes used is that reason has to do with how the human mind works, but since how your mind works doesn't necessarily have anything to do with truth, that doesn't get us anywhere. Knowledge is not justified true belief: justification is impossible.

In reality all knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism. You notice a problem with your current ideas, propose solutions, criticise the solutions until only one is left and then find a new problem. Experiments are useful only as criticism. Ideas can't be derived from experiment any more than from any other set of premises. Rather, the idea is that you work out how the consequences of one theory differ from those of another. Then you conjecture ideas about experimental setups that would enable you to see the relevant consequences and criticise them. Once you have a setup that works about as well as you can make it work you use it to do the test. If the results are compatible with one theory and not the others then you may have successfully refuted some false ideas. Sometimes a purported successful experimental test will be successfully criticised because a test is a conjecture about something that happened and that conjecture may be wrong, so experiments don't prove anything.

Theism can't be experimentally tested. If God existed he could have made the world any way he liked, so no feature of how the world actually works can rule out his existence, even in principle. For example, he could have made the world 6000 years ago with fossils and stars and photons travelling through space in just the way we see them. Nor can God explain anything about moral philosophy. Perhaps God had some reason for making the world the way it is, in which case we can just say the world is that way because reason X. For example, if he made eyes so that we can move around without bumping into stuff any mechanism that would respect the priority of not bumping into stuff will do, God is not necessary. For example, if not bumping into stuff helps spread genes for not bumping and genes for bumping don't spread, then evolution can explain non-bumping. If God make the world the way it is on a whim, then we might just as well say "shit happens". One reason why theism can't be tested is that it doesn't solve any problem. It is also incompatible with good explanations, it can't be the case that God made the world 6000 years ago and that evolution is the only way to explain adaptive complexity. So theism is untenable.

Now, the standard agnostic line is that we can't be prove whether God exists or not so we shouldn't say he doesn't. The problem with this is that you can't prove anything so this is an irrelevant objection to any particular position, including atheism. Moreover, it is better to take the strongest possible form of any position. The reason is that the strongest form has more implications. This makes it more useful if it is true, since you can rule out more bad ideas with it. And if the position is false, then it is easier to find out that it is false since there are more implications that can potentially be refuted.

For more on epistemology that is not justified true belief junk, see "Realism and the Aim of Science", Chapter I and "Objective Knowledge" Chapter 1 by Karl Popper as well as "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch. See also http://fallibleideas.com/.

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"strongest form has more implications" - could it not be said that these implications could be negative? Take Nazism. After world war 1 Germany went into hyperinflation, their country was falling apart, yet the jews did not suffer ( as a majority ) Nazism bought unity to a large group of people with the idea of not starving to death based on the suppression of their people through the reparations. In terms of survival and well being it seems like the strongest possible form for their position. This however had very negative effects. –  gerdi Jul 4 at 7:26
    
Anybody who read Hitler's publicly stated positions, e.g. - in Mein Kampf, could have known that he would murder Jews and conquer other countries. The problem wasn't that Hitler stated his position, but that other people ignored it, e.g. - the plurality of Germans who voted for Hitler. If they had read what he wrote, criticised it and come up with a policy to counter it, Hitler wouldn't have done such terrible things. The problem was that they failed to take the opportunity. I don't know if you really think that "jews did not suffer" but if so that's anti-Semitism and false. –  alanf Jul 4 at 9:01
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Mein Kampf, although it had racial undertones never mentions genocide or murder. Even Heisenberg, at the time, considered nazism a political solution. A very popular idea at the time was eugenics, with the secularization of the the evolution theory. Which brings me back to the point that even the assumed strongest form for a position can still be the wrong position to take. –  gerdi Jul 5 at 7:49
    
If the strongest form is wrong then so is the position itself. Nazism was no good at all. MK states that if Jews "had been held under gas" at then start of WWI, Germany would have won, so the book plainly advocates murder. Eugenics is a moral theory that it's good to selectively breed people. As it is a moral theory it doesn't follow from a factual theory: evolution. Many variants of eugenics are flawed and so it is wrong to advocate it without being more specific about your position. –  alanf Jul 7 at 8:32
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I got it from Mein Kampf, which is available online: Google MK and the quote I'm not linking it. You have to be careful about "evidence": the Nazis might regard the number of Jews as evidence of policy success. The problem with that argument is that if you kill somebody who has a correct objection to your policy you prevent him from refuting your policy. So the policy of Jew murder can't be rational because it destroys evidence relevant to assessing the policy. There is no need at all to try the policy to see that it is garbage. –  alanf Jul 8 at 9:53

Being an atheist is about as scientific as being anti-flying spaghetti monster. Now, scientists may by and large not believe in the FSM. But, what scientists believe is not the same as science. Science is hypotheses confirmed or invalidated by empirical evidence. If your hypotheses can neither be confirmed nor denied, then it isn't science. Therefore, atheism isn't scientific.

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An atheist doesn't reject the possibility that one or more "gods" exist. The atheist has decided for herself or himself that the likelihood of the existence of "gods" and that such an existence could have any influence on her or his life is so low that it can be ignored.

On the other hand, people who make claims that being an atheist would be in some way unscientific, similar to a fundamentalist muslim or similar, that does affect an atheist, and will make him object.

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A commonly accepted criterion for a scientific theory is the possibility of its falsification. I would regard both theism and atheism as not being scientific as the requirements of their falsification are likely to be unreasonable and possibly impossible depending on the nature of God. I suspect that for most atheists, in order for them to change their mind, they would require direct evidence of God's existence (such that he manifest himself in a way that made himself unequivocally observable). Some religions (e.g. Christianity) would say that God has already done this, but the evidence for this is not accepted by atheists. If the nature of God were such that providing proof of his existence would hinder our free will in choosing between good and evil, providing the required proof would be contrary to his will.

If someone else can come up with a better suggestion of how atheism could potentially be falsified, I'd be interested to hear about it.

This doesn't mean that atheism is not rational, but that it is not scientific. One of the objections I have to Richard Dawkins is that he gives a rather poor impression of what science is about!

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You are missing the point, namely that citing the actions of supernatural agents (e.g. gods, demons and fairies) simply cannot be a part of any scientific explanation of anything. It would be a scientific dead-end. I suppose it is remotely possible that supernatural agents are sometimes at work, but, like I said, it is a scientific dead-end. For a scientist is makes for a very poor working assumption. Citing the actions of demons or fairies, for example, would amount to giving up on ever truly understanding something. –  Dan Christensen Jul 1 at 3:44
    
Science is dismissive in some sense. And rightly so. Almost by definition, it does dismiss the actions of supernatural agents as an explanation for any observable phenomena. A scientist can be religious, but his/her religion should not influence his/her scientific work other than perhaps on ethical issues. I am saying the scientific method should have nothing to do with gods, demons or fairies. Do you not agree? I will just leave at, not being superstitious is not a theory that needs to be falsifiable. We will have to agree to disagree. –  Dan Christensen Jul 1 at 15:44
    
While there is much more to science than atheism, science is necessarily atheistic. Science can never cite the actions of supernatural agents such as gods, demons or fairies as any kind of rational explanation. Nor should it. To say that atheism is somehow "unscientific" is disingenuous. Another way to put it: Gods, demons and fairies are simply not a part of the language of science. –  Dan Christensen Jul 2 at 18:26
    
@DanChristensen as well as finding out about falsificationism, you ought to find out what the word "disingenuous" means (lacking in candour or frankness). As I explained exactly why atheism is not a scientific position (unfalsifiable), I could hardly have been more candid about the matter. It is a shame that discussions on forums such as this tend to end with such accusations, which is why I am taking no further part in it, and have deleted my previous comments as you clearly are not willing to pay any attention to what has been written. –  Dikran Marsupial Jul 3 at 6:43
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@DanChristensen Your lack of an apology for the unjustified accusation of disingenuousness is noted. As is the continuation of your spamming of the comments to my answer to reassert your answer to the question without apparently having paid any attention to mine. It is a pity that on-line forums attract such poor behaviour. –  Dikran Marsupial Jul 4 at 6:20

As I said in another more recent thread on this topic, an explanation that cites the work of supernatural agents (e.g. gods, demons or fairies) is not a scientific explanation. Rather, it is a scientific dead-end.

We might, for example, ask why are there so many similarities between the species. An explanation that this is just the way the gods created them closes any further discussion and investigation. You can't then reasonably ask, why or how did the gods create them in that way? They just did. They are all-powerful and can do whatever they want. End of discussion. All very anti-science.

So, in this sense, a scientific analysis is necessarily an atheistic analysis.

EDIT:

Or if "atheistic" is too loaded a term, how about "non-theistic?" A non-theistic analysis could be one that makes no reference to miracles or any supernatural agent. Falsifying it would not be proof that miracles or any supernatural agent exists. Using this terminology, we would no longer have to consider whether atheism as a scientific theory on its own is falsifiable or not.

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If you don't have to consider the plausibility of falsification, it isn't science (at least according to Popperians). Tinkering with the wording doesn't change that. –  Dikran Marsupial Jul 4 at 7:08
    
@DikranMarsupial Whether or not atheism is, in itself, a scientific theory (i.e. is falsefiable) turns out to be a bit of a red herring. The fact is, any notion of miracles, gods, demons or fairies have no place in a scientific analysis. –  Dan Christensen Jul 4 at 15:03
    
such things only have no place in scientific analysis because theories involving them are likely to be unfalsifiable. Science shouldn't rule out any theory a-priori, as you suggest, but there are good reasons why science cannot address every question, e.g. falsifiability. Science requires open-mindedness and self-skepticism, to dismiss anything a-priori "End of discussion" is in my opinion, unscientific, there can be nothing less self-skeptical. –  Dikran Marsupial Jul 4 at 15:20
    
@DikranMarsupial A scientist should never accept an "explanation" that some observable phenomena is the work of unseen gods, demons or fairies. I guess we will have to agree to disagree. –  Dan Christensen Jul 4 at 15:36
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Sadly, this exchange merely provides an example illustrating what I wrote about the main problem with people like Dawkins is that they give people a strange idea of what science is. :-( –  Dikran Marsupial Jul 4 at 16:01

First, I must say I do not completely understand your question. If your question is in what way can atheism be reconciled with science: Atheism is a philosophy or belief system that the origins of the universe lie in a single, higher power, namely god. Atheists attempt to scientifically explain the origins of the universe (Big Bang, etc...). In that way, one could say that atheism is a philosophy that attempts to explain the origins of nature as purely scientific.

If your question is whether atheism is a subset of science, namely a branch such as physics and biology, or perhaps philosophy, then cannot completely call it that. Atheism, like and branch of science, accepts certain axioms and assumptions, and continues forward with its theory of how the universe can work based on those assumptions. But whether one can do research in atheism and make advances in atheism: one cannot. And so atheism, in my opinion, functions as a combination of a religion and a philosophy.

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Something to add to pluke's answer:

The "scientific method" is to only believe what you can prove (and to actively try to disprove any hypothesis). So although you can't disprove that God exists, if you can't prove it, it is more in line with that principle to disbelieve it than to believe it.

So I agree 100% that God can neither be proven to exist, or not to exist, but to apply Occam's razor and believe the simpler -and closer to physical proofs that DO exist- theories, the more scientific we are being.

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"To only believe what you can prove" is positivism, not 'the scientific method'. The so-called scientific method is meant to be to attempt carefully to test hypotheses, and then reject hypotheses which don't hold up to testing, which is much more like falsificationalism. If there is to be some sort of "correct" scientific position on the subject of gods, I would say it is Laplacian indifference: there's no particular use in contemplating the hypothesis. –  Niel de Beaudrap Nov 15 '12 at 16:21
    
@NieldeBeaudrap - I don't disagree, the "correct" position does seem to be indifference, (or "most correct", maybe?) - the question was whether atheism was "more correct" than a belief, which I believe it is, given the lack of evidence. I don't think it can be called scientific at all to believe something without any evidence supporting it (evidence that doesn't fit into some other system of belief more comfortably). –  Ryno Nov 16 '12 at 10:22
    
scientific method is limited to only empirical prove. but God may be proved by non-empirical methods mostly in labs. if God is not made of material then basically can not be proved by scientific method or in lab. –  Battle of Karbala Nov 29 '12 at 11:53
    
Hey, cool answer. you say apply "Occam's razor" , what if someone has an "enlighted" experience that would cause him/her to then assume there is a god because the only logical outcome based on his/her experience would be that of a being greater then his current reality. Would it be wrong then for this person to believe in god even with the lack of scientific evidence, with only his personal experience? –  gerdi Jun 26 at 20:15
    
Yes, he should stop taking drugs, or stop believing that everything he experiences while on them is real. If there were no drugs involved, then perhaps there should be, of the anti-psychotic variety... –  Ryno Jun 27 at 1:34

Agnosticism was coined by T. H. Huxley. It was morally repugnant the insistence of the orthodox that their dogmas required sheer unswerving acceptance, and that breakdowns in argument or intelligibility were simply occasions for the exercise of an intensified faith. T. H. Huxley was forthright. In “Agnosticism and Christianity” he wrote, “I, and many other Agnostics, believe that faith, in this sense, is an abomination.” A growing mass of data and theory supplied by the physical sciences was prima facie at variance with biblical history and cosmology. There was the new time scale of geology, the impersonal and amoral Darwinian evolutionary theory, and the radical textual, historical criticism of the Bible itself. For Huxley agnosticism was “not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle”: Reason should be followed “as far as it can take you,” but undemonstrable conclusions should not be treated as if they were certain.

Justifying agnosticism as a philosophical position requires a careful investigation of the limits of our cognitive powers. Specifically, it must be shown that human reason is simply incapable of reaching either affirmative or negative judgments concerning the existence of the God of traditional theism. Statements about the god of traditional theism, or other supernatural entities are neither analytic nor empirically verifiable in principle. Naturalism’s basic thesis is that the only things about which reliable knowledge can be obtained are things that can be investigated by the methods of science. The supernatural eludes investigation by the methods of science. Since naturalists tend to hold that the only individual things of whose existence we have reliable knowledge are physical things, the conclusion is drawn that the existence or nonexistence of a god is unknowable, then there are no sufficient truth-conducive reasons to support belief.

No one ought to hold a belief on insufficient evidence. Why the believer feels compelled to use the extraordinary language he does use? It has become much unconvincing to use religious experience as an argument to a god’s reality. Naturalistic forms of explanation, have been proposed for religious experience; and analogies are often drawn between religious or mystical experiences and drug induced or pathologically abnormal states of consciousness. Philosophical sense still needs to be made of the connecting of revealed content with the alleged divine source.

Religious people say a good many mysterious things about their Absolute, things that, by their own account, were strictly unsayable. Problems arise when it is claimed that ultimate reality or God are altogether beyond all conceptual descriptions. This kind of strict ineffability is incoherent, because to be described as ineffable is itself a description. We have good reason for thinking there can be no such ineffable X ‘out there’. It is very difficult to see what use positing an ultimately ineffable X would have, religiously, practically, philosophically or scientifically. Very few religions rule out in principle all conceptualizing of God, even if they are quite wary of such theorizing, and so philosophers they still engage in conceptual analysis when they are already cut off from the religions they are attempting to explore philosophically. The questions here are not questions of credibility but of conceivability. Notions such as self-existence of a god and creation of universe by an external agency involve symbolic conceptions of the illegitimate and illusive kind. This justify to describe as atheist one who rejects religion on the grounds that talk about a god is unverifiable talk, or that the concept god contains inner illogicalities.

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"No one ought to hold a belief on insufficient evidence." Belief formation in practice is almost always a sociological rather than empirical process. You believe in atoms because people you trusted told you they were real, not because you were sceptical and repeated the fundamental experiments yourself. This is true of almost everything you believe about the explanations of things that happen in the world - you make a decision based on who's telling you and how they tell you. You hardly ever use evidence. It's a fun philosophical position but you're very unusual if you keep it up in practice. –  AndrewC Aug 4 at 1:13
    
What is the difference of faith and trust in a God and the layperson faith and trust in the scientific community? We can trust in science testimony because of science has peer review. When religion must abandon an old, false belief, it often doesn't. Science has methods with which to identify error. In contrast, religion makes assertions that can never be proven false even if they are completely untrue. The response to errors is more important than the errors themselves. –  Ricardo Aug 5 at 3:31
    
@AndewC Science is progressive in simplicity, predictive accuracy, comprehensiveness, and requirements for consistency. Is belief without evidence progressive? We can trust in science testimony because science's process of justification is reliable but faith no. Faith is trusting or believing something without evidence. Where science is concerned, there's virtually nothing but evidence. So scientists don't have faith in science. Faith claims universal truth, but it is correlated mainly with the place where someone grew up. –  Ricardo Aug 5 at 3:33
    
@AndrewC We cannot trust in faith's testimony because faith disable reality checks when it encourages people to believe in beings of untestable existence and in undetectable forces, making people more vulnerable to oppression, fraud, and abuse. A religion reject the other religions precisely because they are faith-based and there is no evidence for them. –  Ricardo Aug 5 at 3:35
    
You missed my point about belief when you imply science has some sort of universal truth to it. Your beliefs about science are correlated mainly with what decade and school you went to. Science doesn't claim truth of any kind, it claims to have a model that on average fits test data. You're OK if you say science gives us an accurate model but not if you believe it. Was Newton right or wrong? It's a silly question - Newton had a pretty accurate model. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics don't fit together, which upsets people because they want to believe them, but that's a mistake. –  AndrewC Aug 5 at 7:23

It is not in anyway scientific. It just happens that science self appointed spokespeople tend to be atheist. TO think science teaches atheism is to insult thousands upon thousands of religious people all over the world.

The thing is, you cannot prove nor disprove this statement. It's an ethereal concept with no basis in scientific measurement by tests and observation. They seem to be asking a question that has no answer because the whole thing is based on faith.

I disagree with this. It is very much provable. The problem is when you think that somehow the scientific method is going to give you an answer to this. The scientific method cannot say much to this in the same way as science cannot tell you who to vote for. This does not mean just because the scientific method is ill equipped to explain who to vote for you cannot know who to vote for. It means their is boundaries or limits to what the method can try to explain.

If I can use an example to illustrate my point. You can ask the question... What scientific evidence is their that Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939? None? Therefore Poland was not invaded in 1939? or it is impossible to know if Poland was invaded in 1939? No you need a different method to prove a different type of query.

Atheists point out that you cannot prove god exists nor disprove that Thor exists, which is true, so why are they answering this question in the first place and making a very strong connection to its scientific merit?

You can very easily prove that Thor does not exist and the Christianity's ideas of God does exist. You have not proven every goss darn religion false if you prove that Thor does not exist. Is it hard to believe that different religions have different merits and that one can be true and others not?

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how is it provable? I am not too sure on your example of Poland. That does not seem to make sense. That action is very provable."On 8 October, after an initial period of military administration, Germany directly annexed western Poland and the former Free City of Danzig and placed the remaining block of territory under the administration of the newly established General Government.". This action was actually the start of WW2 as Poland had alliances France and the United Kingdom –  gerdi Oct 14 '13 at 9:48

I'd like to point out something that seems to get easily lost in this context:

Before one asks "Does science reject the concept of god" one should first consider the related (and much more important, in my opinion) question: "Does science reject the concept of a god who interferes in his creation?"

The god of deism (that means a "watchmaker"-god who created the universe and set it in motion but after that keeps his hands off it) might be compatible with science, but a god who answers prayers, performs miracles, sends visions and so on? Hardly.

If you disagree, consider the following thought experiment: You are a scientifically thinking person who happens to be in Jerusalem around the year 30 A.D. Someone comes running to you and shouts "Hey, remember that Jesus guy who was crucified three days ago? He just came back from the dead!"

What do you do? Fall on your knees and pray? Or do you point out: "Unless I receive compelling evidence to the contrary, to me it seems rather more likely that it was only apparent death, or that his death was faked."

With that in mind, the gap between theism (in this case, christianity) and deism seems much wider and much more noteworthy than the one between deism and atheism. (And agnosticism, for that matter.) Probably that's because organised christianity, like most or even all religions I guess, is almost impossible to separate from the belief that its religious rituals (including prayer) have actual power and its religious taboos are actually dangerous.

(If you are not sure what I mean by "religious taboos", try to remember if you felt uneasy reading the expression "that Jesus guy" a few lines earlier. Not because I was being impolite to christian readers, but because god might actually punish me for dissing his son.)

An interesting aside here is that I have the impression that although deism and agnosticism should in theory reject the idea of religious rituals and taboos having actual power, they do not like to emphasize that. I'm getting a bit into speculation here of course, but it seems to me that often only atheism is seen as actively taking a stand against organised religion, whereas deists and agnostics are perceived as saying "please, we don't want to cause any trouble, just leave us alone" - i.e. they are just fence sitters to unimportant to bother with.

To get back to the original question, you ask whether agnosticism might be a more scientific approach than atheism. While I guess technically I agree, I suspect that agnosticism is misunderstood by too many people to mean something like "there's a fifty-fifty chance that god exists". It's important to remember that miracles, answered prayers and religious rituals are not just from the atheistic, also from the agnostic point of view not much more than superstition. That may seem a bit unrelated to the actual question, but I suspect it's the elephant in the room.

EDITED to reply to the following comment by gerdi: "The OP was actually more to do with scientific method in the viewpoint of atheism as taken by some very outspoken scientists. Not deism. I want to understand what science is used in their ideology, to get to the point where they push their ideas like that of their zealous religist opponents."

Fair point. But you seem to imply that if atheists like Dawkins are militant, agnostics are not. In the sense that atheists insist that god does not exist, while agnostics do not insist, that may seem a fitting description.

What I wanted to point out is the following: Aside from the question if god exists, I'm pretty sure those atheists also "militantly" criticise the belief in miracles and similar interfering actions of a theistic god. And I think in that "battlefield" a scientifically motivated agnostic would have no choice but to take a stand against religion, too.

If I understand Neil Meyer's answer correctly, he claims that there are lots of scientists who are also happily religious. That's probably true in so far that those persons either avoid to confront the problem, or mean something rather different with "religious" than most people (i.e. deism). I cannot see how one can take the scientific method seriously and still accept a theistic concept of god. So a confrontation here is pretty much unavoidable (unless you choose to avoid the topic to stay out of trouble).

And if you have become militant in that arena, you might chose to go all the way and call yourself an atheist, to avoid misunderstandings and to send a message that you are not afraid of controversy.

That's at least why I would call myself an atheist rather an agnostic.

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The OP was actually more to do with scientific method in the viewpoint of atheism as taken by some very outspoken scientists. Not deism. I want to understand what science is used in their ideology, to get to the point where they push their ideas like that of their zealous religist opponents. –  gerdi Jun 26 at 11:05
    
@gerdi - Edited my answer to reply to your comment. –  elias_d Jun 26 at 19:33
    
Cool.. This is actually a point i wanted to bring up but thought it might be more for the skeptics channel. "scientifically motivated agnostic would have no choice but to take a stand against religion, too." Now , that is not completely true. And this is why i think agnosticism is far better for discernment. Militant atheists seem to have a very "absolute" in science , which is fair to say for certain aspects.But consider godel's incompleteness theorem. If a proof cannot be given for a "miracle" then all possibilities exist. –  gerdi Jun 26 at 20:05
    
That is to say if for some reason a scientific explanation does not exist in the context. This context i am assuming to be a hypothetical in which there is no proof nor disproof for said "miracle". An agnostic cannot disprove without proof against based on emotion or based on the mere fact that it seems illogical. All of quantum mechanics seems illogical, yet it is beautiful. –  gerdi Jun 26 at 20:11
    
I agree that this point would deserve its own question... I'm not sure I correctly understand what you mean, so just a few notes: Science must assume that all observable phenomena are caused by (directly or indirectly) observable phenomena, otherwise it has no point. –  elias_d Jun 27 at 5:33

According to the definition you gave:

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.

Atheism, Wikipedia.

Yes, atheism is not Scientific, and, by inference, yes, agnosticism is more in line with Science.

(Although if by chance you reference the subculture/identity/movement of Atheism, which includes figures such as Richard Dawkins, the definition of the tenets of this movement encompass both the definition given above and your concordant definition of agnosticism.

Another definition of 'atheist' is simply the negation of 'theist' i.e. anything which is not Theism, as in, to encompass not only agnosticism but also the explicit view that deities do not exist.)

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