Strict Atheism Is Not Unscientific

Please excuse the double negative. This post is a direct reply to an article by Ross Pomeroy in Real Clear Science titled Why Strict Atheism Is Unscientific. I have never heard of Pomeroy before, and that may be a lack on my part; perhaps he is a well known thinker and writer in some circles. I just know that his existence and mine have never intersected before today.

I sometimes read the Holy Post section of the National Post, and it was there that I found a link to Pomeroy’s musings. His intentions are not only obvious in the title, but in his choice of a religiously loaded word in the second paragraph.

“Scientists, if you’re not an atheist, you’re not doing science right,” PZ Myers — a well-known blogger, biology professor and atheist — regularly preaches.

As so many religious apologists do, he jumps right into a straw man argument.

Staunch atheists often falsely characterize followers of religion as being “all-in” with their beliefs, opining that they ascribe to the whole creationist, woo-y shebang. “Where’s your evidence?” atheists mockingly question. “You can’t prove that God exists!” they accuse (correctly). Yet, hypocritically, strict atheists are guilty of the exact same crime: belief without evidence.

Um, no. Most atheist writers will argue most vehemently against creationists because they pose a direct threat to both eduction and science. I don’t know of any who are so narrow minded they treat all things religious in such a black and white fashion.

Just as it’s a leap of faith for a religious person to assert that God incontrovertibly exists, it’s an equally large leap for a strict atheist to declare, without question, that God does not exist….

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. As this statement applies to science, so does it apply to religion.

Pomeroy is technically correct in the cliche that “absence of evidence is not evidence of

From Wikipedia

absence”, however, that is simply not useful in all situations. To use an equally old cliche in reply, “you can’t prove a negative”, and sticking with the old tropes, we can jump to Bertrand Russell’s cosmic teacup. Some beliefs fall so far outside of what has been proven that they are not worthy of consideration. Any definition of God that runs contrary to those same proofs also not worth consideration.

He then quotes neuroscientist David Eagleman on the idea of “possibilianism“.

Ultimately, the key is not to be swayed to one extreme or the other — fundamentalist religion or strict atheism — but to walk a reasoned middle path. Eagleman believes that path is “possibilianism,” the concept of holding multiple beliefs or hypotheses whilst exploring new ideas.

I’m not really sure what he is getting at here. Most scientists and critical thinkers use a hypothesis as a springboard for examination or experimentation. The hypothesis of God, as a supernatural entity is, by definition, outside of our natural or experimental world. Scientific research, also by definition, can only examine natural causes or interactions; thus the hypothesis of ‘god’ is untestable. Since god is unverifiable, every scientist must be atheistic about their particular research. The answer that “god did it” is a complete dead end. No further investigation is possible, and it is that further investigation that leads us into a deeper understanding of the universe. So far, in every instance, the concept of god has been either totally unnecessary or just plain ridiculous. There is absolutely no reason to suspect that this will change.

Even with all this, most atheists are only ‘strict’ in the sense that without a testable definition of god, the most appropriate attitude is that the probability of the existence of the supernatural is so close to zero that it is just not worth consideration. Richard Dawkins describes this in his Spectrum of theistic probability.

Strict atheist is not only scientific, it is the only intellectually honest form of scientific research.

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