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Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
The general principle seems to be that one is not epistemically entitled to believe a proposition unless you have exhausted all of the possibilities and proven beyond any doubt that a claim is true.
Or put negatively, one is not justified in disbelieving unless you have proven with absolute certainty that the thing in question does not exist. The problem is that we do not have a priori disproof that many things do not exist, yet it is reasonable and justified to believe that they do not: There are a wide range of other circumstances under which we take it that believing that X does not exist is reasonable even though no logical impossibility is manifest.
None of these achieve the level of deductive, a priori or conceptual proof. The objection to inductive atheism undermines itself in that it generates a broad, pernicious skepticism against far more than religious or irreligious beliefs.
That follows at once from the admission that the argument is non-deductive, and it is absurd to try to confine our knowledge and belief to matters which are conclusively established by sound deductive arguments. The demand for certainty will inevitably be disappointed, leaving skepticism in command of almost every issue. The atheist can also wonder what the point of the objection is.
When we lack deductive disproof that X exists, should we be agnostic about it? Is it permissible to believe that it does exist? Clearly, that would not be appropriate. Gravity may be the work of invisible, undetectable elves with sticky shoes. But surely someone who accepts the sticky-shoed elves view until they have deductive disproof is being unreasonable. It is also clear that if you are a positive atheist about the gravity elves, you would not be unreasonable.
You would not be overstepping your epistemic entitlement by believing that no such things exist. On the contrary, believing that they exist or even being agnostic about their existence on the basis of their mere possibility would not be justified. So there appear to be a number of precedents and epistemic principles at work in our belief structures that provide room for inductive atheism.
Below we will consider several groups of influential inductive atheological arguments. A substantial body of articles with narrower scope see References and Further Reading can also be understood to play this role in justifying atheism.
One of the interesting and important questions in the epistemology of philosophy of religion has been whether the second and third conditions are satisfied concerning God. If there were a God, how and in what ways would we expect him to show in the world? Would he be hidden? Martin argues, and many others have accepted implicitly or explicitly, that God is the sort of thing that would manifest in some discernible fashion to our inquiries.
Martin concludes, therefore, that God satisfied all of the conditions, so, positive narrow atheism is justified. Problem of Evil The existence of widespread human and non-human animal suffering has been seen by many to be compelling evidence that a being with all power, all knowledge, and all goodness does not exist.
Many of those arguments have been deductive: See the article on The Logical Problem of Evil. More recently, several inductive arguments from evil for the non-existence of God have received a great deal of attention. See The Evidential Problem of Evil. Cosmology Questions about the origins of the universe and cosmology have been the focus for many inductive atheism arguments. We can distinguish four recent views about God and the cosmos: On naturalistic view, the Big Bang occurred approximately Various physical non-God hypotheses are currently being explored about the cause or explanation of the Big Bang such as the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary condition model, brane cosmology models, string theoretic models, ekpyrotic models, cyclic models, chaotic inflation, and so on.
We can call the view that God caused about the Big Bang There are many variations, but most often the view is that God created the universe, perhaps with the Big Bang God supernaturally guided the formation and development of life into the forms we see today.
Finally, there is a group of people who for the most part denies the occurrence of the Big Bang and of evolution altogether; God created the universe, the Earth, and all of the life on Earth in its more or less present form 6, years ago. Taking a broad view, many atheists have concluded that neither Big Bang Theism, Intelligent Design Theism, nor Creationism is the most reasonable description of the history of the universe. Before the theory of evolution and recent developments in modern astronomy, a view wherein God did not play a large role in the creation and unfolding of the cosmos would have been hard to justify.
Now, internal problems with those views and the evidence from cosmology and biology indicate that naturalism is the best explanation. Justifications for Big Bang Theism have focused on modern versions of the Cosmological and Kalam arguments. Since everything that comes into being must have a cause, including the universe, then God was the cause of the Big Bang.
Craig The objections to these arguments have been numerous and vigorously argued. Critics have challenged the inference to a supernatural cause to fill gaps in the natural account, as well as the inferences that the first cause must be a single, personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being.
It is not clear that any of the properties of God as classically conceived in orthodox monotheism can be inferred from what we know about the Big Bang without first accepting a number of theistic assumptions. Infinite power and knowledge do not appear to be required to bring about a Big Bang—what if our Big Bang was the only act that a being could perform?
There appears to be consensus that infinite goodness or moral perfection cannot be inferred as a necessary part of the cause of the Big Bang—theists have focused their efforts in the problem of evil, discussions just attempting to prove that it is possible that God is infinitely good given the state of the world. Big Bang Theism would need to show that no other sort of cause besides a morally perfect one could explain the universe we find ourselves in.
Critics have also doubted whether we can know that some supernatural force that caused the Big Bang is still in existence now or is the same entity as identified and worshipped in any particular religious tradition. Even if major concessions are granted in the cosmological argument, all that it would seem to suggest is that there was a first cause or causes, but widely accepted arguments from that first cause or causes to the fully articulated God of Christianity or Islam, for instance, have not been forthcoming.
In some cases, atheists have taken the argument a step further. They have offered cosmological arguments for the nonexistence of God on the basis of considerations from physics, astronomy, and subatomic theory. These arguments are quite technical, so these remarks will be cursory. God, if he exists, knowing all and having all power, would only employ those means to his ends that are rational, effective, efficient, and optimal.
If God were the creator, then he was the cause of the Big Bang, but cosmological atheists have argued that the singularity that produced the Big Bang and events that unfold thereafter preclude a rational divine agent from achieving particular ends with the Big Bang as the means. The Big Bang would not have been the route God would have chosen to this world as a result.
StengerSmithEveritt Many authors— David HumeWesley SalmonMichael Martin —have argued that a better case can be made for the nonexistence of God from the evidence. Salmon, giving a modern Bayesian version of an argument that begins with Hume, argues that the likelihood that the ordered universe was created by intelligence is very low.
In general, instances of biologically or mechanically caused generation without intelligence are far more common than instances of creation from intelligence. Furthermore, the probability that something that is generated by a biological or mechanical cause will exhibit order is quite high.
Among those things that are designed, the probability that they exhibit order may be quite high, but that is not the same as asserting that among the things that exhibit order the probability that they were designed is high. Among dogs, the incidence of fur may be high, but it is not true that among furred things the incidence of dogs is high. Furthermore, intelligent design and careful planning very frequently produces disorder—war, industrial pollution, insecticides, and so on.
So we can conclude that the probability that an unspecified entity like the universewhich came into being and exhibits order, was produced by intelligent design is very low and that the empirical evidence indicates that there was no designer. See the article on Design Arguments for the Existence of God for more details about the history of the argument and standard objections that have motivated atheism. Arguments from Nonbelief Another recent group of inductive atheistic arguments has focused on widespread nonbelief itself as evidence that atheism is justified.
The common thread in these arguments is that something as significant in the universe as God could hardly be overlooked. The ultimate creator of the universe and a being with infinite knowledge, power, and love would not escape our attention, particularly since humans have devoted such staggering amounts of energy to the question for so many centuries.
Perhaps more importantly, a being such as God, if he chose, could certainly make his existence manifest to us. Creating a state of affairs where his existence would be obvious, justified, or reasonable to us, or at least more obvious to more of us than it is currently, would be a trivial matter for an all-powerful being.
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So since our efforts have not yielded what we would expect to find if there were a God, then the most plausible explanation is that there is no God. There may be reasons, some of which we can describe, others that we do not understand, that God could have for remaining out of sight. Revealing himself is not something he desires, remaining hidden enables people to freely love, trust and obey him, remaining hidden prevents humans from reacting from improper motives, like fear of punishment, remaining hidden preserves human freewill.
The non-belief atheist has not found these speculations convincing for several reasons. Furthermore, attempts to explain why a universe where God exists would look just as we would expect a universe with no God have seemed ad hoc.
Alternately, how can it be unreasonable to not believe in the existence of something that defies all of our attempts to corroborate or discover? God would be able, he would want humans to believe, there is nothing that he would want more, and God would not be irrational. So God would bring it about that people would believe. In general, he could have brought it about that the evidence that people have is far more convincing than what they have.
He could have miraculously appeared to everyone in a fashion that was far more compelling than the miracles stories that we have. It is not the case that all, nearly all, or even a majority of people believe, so there must not be a God of that sort. Schellenberg has developed an argument based upon a number of considerations that lead us to think that if there were a loving God, then we would expect to find some manifestations of him in the world. If God is all powerful, then there would be nothing restraining him from making his presence known.
And if he is omniscient, then surely he would know how to reveal himself. He would wish to spare those that he loves needless trauma. He would not want to give those that he loves false or misleading thoughts about his relationship to them.
He would want as much personal interaction with them as possible, but of course, these conditions are not satisfied. So it is strongly indicated that there is no such God. Schellenberg gives this telling parable: For days and days … the last time when a jaguar comes at you out of nowhere … but with no response. What should you think in this situation? In your dying moments, what should cross your mind? Would the thought that you have a mother who cares about you and hears your cry and could come to you but chooses not to even make it onto the list?
That is, many people have carefully considered the evidence available to them, and have actively sought out more in order to determine what is reasonable concerning God. They have fulfilled all relevant epistemic duties they might have in their inquiry into the question and they have arrived at a justified belief that there is no God. If there were a God, however, evidence sufficient to form a reasonable belief in his existence would be available.
So the occurrence of widespread epistemically inculpable nonbelief itself shows that there is no God. Atheistic Naturalism The final family of inductive arguments we will consider involves drawing a positive atheistic conclusion from broad, naturalized grounds. See the article on Naturalism for background about the position and relevant arguments.
Comments here will be confined to naturalism as it relates to atheism. Methodological naturalism can be understood as the view that the best or the only way to acquire knowledge within science is by adopting the assumption that all physical phenomena have physical causes. This presumption by itself does not commit one to the view that only physical entities and causes exist, or that all knowledge must be acquired through scientific methods. Methodological naturalism, therefore, is typically not seen as being in direct conflict with theism or having any particular implications for the existence or non-existence of God.
Ontological naturalism, however, is usually seen as taking a stronger view about the existence of God. Ontological naturalism is the additional view that all and only physical entities and causes exist. Among its theistic critics, there has been a tendency to portray ontological naturalism as a dogmatic ideological commitment that is more the product of a recent intellectual fashion than science or reasoned argument.
But two developments have contributed to a broad argument in favor of ontological naturalism as the correct description of what sorts of things exist and are causally efficacious. First, there is a substantial history of the exploration and rejection of a variety of non-physical causal hypotheses in the history of science. Over the centuries, the possibility that some class of physical events could be caused by a supernatural source, a spiritual source, psychic energy, mental forces, or vital causes have been entertained and found wanting.
Second, evidence for the law of the conservation of energy has provided significant support to physical closure, or the view that the natural world is a complete closed system in which physical events have physical causes.
At the very least, atheists have argued, the ruins of so many supernatural explanations that have been found wanting in the history of science has created an enormous burden of proof that must be met before any claim about the existence of another worldly spiritual being can have credence.
Ontological naturalism should not be seen as a dogmatic commitment, its defenders have insisted, but rather as a defeasible hypothesis that is supported by centuries of inquiry into the supernatural.
As scientific explanations have expanded to include more details about the workings of natural objects and laws, there has been less and less room or need for invoking God as an explanation.
It is not clear that expansion of scientific knowledge disproves the existence of God in any formal sense any more than it has disproven the existence of fairies, the atheistic naturalist argues. However, physical explanations have increasingly rendered God explanations extraneous and anomalous. Blind, petitionary prayer has been investigated and found to have no effect on the health of its recipients, although praying itself may have some positive effects on the person who prayers Benson, Geology, biology, and cosmology have discovered that the Earth formed approximately 3 billion years ago out of cosmic dust, and life evolved gradually over billions of years.
Wide, positive atheism, the view that there are no gods whatsoever, might appear to be the most difficult atheistic thesis to defend, but ontological naturalists have responded that the case for no gods is parallel to the case for no elves, pixies, dwarves, fairies, goblins, or other creates.
A decisive proof against every possible supernatural being is not necessary for the conclusion that none of them are real to be justified. The ontological naturalist atheist believes that once we have devoted sufficient investigation into enough particular cases and the general considerations about natural laws, magic, and supernatural entities, it becomes reasonable to conclude that the whole enterprise is an explanatory dead end for figuring out what sort of things there are in the world.
The disagreement between atheists and theists continues on two fronts. Within the arena of science and the natural world, some believers have persisted in arguing that material explanations are inadequate to explain all of the particular events and phenomena that we observe. Some philosophers and scientists have argued that for phenomena like consciousness, human morality, and some instances of biological complexity, explanations in terms of natural or evolutionary theses have not and will not be able to provide us with a complete picture.
Therefore, the inference to some supernatural force is warranted. While some of these attempts have received social and political support, within the scientific community the arguments that causal closure is false and that God as a cause is a superior scientific hypothesis to naturalistic explanations have not received significant support.
Science can cite a history of replacing spiritual, supernatural, or divine explanations of phenomena with natural ones from bad weather as the wrath of angry gods to disease as demon possession. The assumption for many is that there are no substantial reasons to doubt that those areas of the natural world that have not been adequately explained scientifically will be given enough time.
Increasingly, with what they perceive as the failure of attempts to justify theism, atheists have moved towards naturalized accounts of religious belief that give causal and evolutionary explanations of the prevalence of belief. See Atrans, Boyer, Dennett 5. Cognitivism and Non-Cognitivism In 20th century moral theory, a view about the nature of moral value claims arose that has an analogue in discussions of atheism. Moral non-cognitivists have denied that moral utterances should be treated as ordinary propositions that are either true or false and subject to evidential analysis.
I want you to share those negative feelings. They are not the sort of speech act that have a truth value. They are more like emoting, singing, poetry, or cheering. They express personal desires, feelings of subjugation, admiration, humility, and love. As such, they cannot and should not be dealt with by denials or arguments any more than I can argue with you over whether or not a poem moves you. When I do these things I feel joyful, I want you to feel joyful too.
Rather, when people make these sorts of claims, their behavior is best understood as a complicated publicizing of a particular sort of subjective sensations. Strictly speaking, the claims do not mean anything in terms of assertions about what sorts of entities do or do not exist in the world independent of human cognitive and emotional states. The non-cognitivist characterization of many religious speech acts and behaviors has seemed to some to be the most accurate description.
For the most part, atheists appear to be cognitivist atheists. They assume that religious utterances do express propositions that are either true or false.
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Positive atheists will argue that there are compelling reasons or evidence for concluding that in fact those claims are false. DrangeDiamond and LizenburyNielsen Few would disagree that many religious utterances are non-cognitive such as religious ceremonies, rituals, and liturgies. Non-cognitivists have argued that many believers are confused when their speech acts and behavior slips from being non-cognitive to something resembling cognitive assertions about God.
Insisting that those claims simply have no cognitive content despite the intentions and arguments to the contrary of the speaker is an ineffectual means of addressing them. So non-cognitivism does not appear to completely address belief in God.
Future Prospects for Atheism 20th century developments in epistemology, philosophy of science, logic, and philosophy of language indicate that many of the presumptions that supported old fashioned natural theology and atheology are mistaken.
It appears that even our most abstract, a priori, and deductively certain methods for determining truth are subject to revision in the light of empirical discoveries and theoretical analyses of the principles that underlie those methods. The prospects for a simple, confined argument for atheism or theism that achieves widespread support or that settles the question are dim.
That is because, in part, the prospects for any argument that decisively settles a philosophical question where a great deal seems to be at stake are dim.
The existence or non-existence of any non-observable entity in the world is not settled by any single argument or consideration. Every premise will be based upon other concepts and principles that themselves must be justified.
So ultimately, the adequacy of atheism as an explanatory hypothesis about what is real will depend upon the overall coherence, internal consistency, empirical confirmation, and explanatory success of a whole worldview within which atheism is only one small part.
The question of whether or not there is a God sprawls onto related issues and positions about biology, physics, metaphysics, explanation, philosophy of science, ethics, philosophy of language, and epistemology. The reasonableness of atheism depends upon the overall adequacy of a whole conceptual and explanatory description of the world. The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. An evolutionary and anthropological account of religious beliefs and institutions.
Boyer, PascalReligion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. An influential anthropological and evolutionary work. Religion exists to sustain important aspects of social psychology.
Famously, Clifford argues that it is wrong always and anywhere to believe anything on the basis of insufficient evidence. Important and influential argument in discussions of atheism and faith. No being can have the power to do everything that is not self-contradictory.
That God has that sort of omnipotence is itself self-contradictory. Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. Twelve years after The Origin of Species, Darwin makes a thorough and compelling case for the evolution of humans. He also expands on numerous details of the theory. No explicit mention of humans is made, but the theological implications are clear for the teleological argument.
Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Important work among the so-called New Atheists. Dennett argues that religion can and should be studying by science. A collection of articles addressing the logical coherence of the properties of God.
Drange gives an argument from evil against the existence of the God of evangelical Christianity, and an argument that the God of evangelical Christianity could and would bring about widespread belief, therefore such a God does not exist. A useful discussion of several property pairs that are not logically compatible in the same being such as: Drange argues that non-cognitivism is not the best way to understand theistic claims.
The Non-Existence of God. Everitt considers and rejects significant recent arguments for the existence of God. Offers insightful analyses of ontological, cosmological, teleological, miracle, and pragmatic arguments. The argument from scale and deductive atheological arguments are of particular interest Findlay, J. If there is a God, then he will be a necessary being and the ontological argument will succeed.
But the ontological argument and our efforts to make it work have not been successful. So there is no God. The meaning, function, analysis, and falsification of theological claims and discourse are considered.
University of Notre Dame Press. Gives an account of omnipotence in terms of possible worlds logic and with the notion of two world sharing histories. It attempts to avoid a number of paradoxes. On the Nature and Existence of God.
Gale gives a careful, advanced analysis of several important deductive atheological arguments as well as the ontological and cosmological arguments, and concludes that none for theism are successful. God cannot be omniscient because it is not possible for him to have indexical knowledge such as what I know when I know that I am making a mess.
Grim outlines several recent attempts to salvage a workable definition of omnipotence from Flint and Freddoso, Wierenga, and Hoffman and Rosenkrantz. Indexical problems with omniscience and a Cantorian problem render it impossible too. Religious Belief and Religious Skepticism.
Useful for addressing important 20th century linguistic and epistemological turns in theism discussions. The End of Faith. Another influential New Atheist work, although it does not contend with the best philosophical arguments for God.
Harris argues that faith is not an acceptable justification for religious belief, particularly given the dangerousness of religious agendas worldwide. A popular, non-scholarly book that has had a broad impact on the discussion. Hoffman, Joshua and Rosenkrantz, A good overview of the various attempts to construct a philosophically viable account of omnipotence. Howard-Snyder, Daniel and Moser, Paul, eds.
If there is a God, then why is his existence not more obvious? Howard-Snyder argues that there is a prima facie good reason for God to refrain from entering into a personal relationship with inculpable nonbelievers, so there are good reasons for God to permit inculpable nonbelief. Therefore, inculpable nonbelief does not imply atheism.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith, Oxford: Getty Images In addition to helping us navigate the dangers of the world and find a mate, some scholars think that System 1 also enabled religions to evolve and perpetuate.
Millennia ago, that tendency probably helped us avoid concealed danger, such as lions crouched in the grass or venomous snakes concealed in the bush. But it also made us vulnerable to inferring the existence of invisible agents — whether they took the form of a benevolent god watching over us, an unappeased ancestor punishing us with a drought or a monster lurking in the shadows.
Similarly, System 1 encourages us to see things dualistically, meaning we have trouble thinking of the mind and body as a single unit. This tendency emerges quite early: This disposition easily assimilates into many existing religions, or — with a bit of creativity — lends itself to devising original constructs. Our minds crave purpose and explanation. Getty Images On the other hand, science — the system of choice that many atheists and non-believers look to for understanding the natural world — is not an easy cognitive pill to swallow.
Science is about correcting System 1 biases, McCauley says. We must accept that the Earth spins, even though we never experience that sensation for ourselves. We must embrace the idea that evolution is utterly indifferent and that there is no ultimate design or purpose to the Universe, even though our intuition tells us differently.
We also find it difficult to admit that we are wrong, to resist our own biases and to accept that truth as we understand it is ever changing as new empirical data are gathered and tested — all staples of science. Even without organised religion, they believe that some greater being or life force guides the world. Additionally, non-believers often lean on what could be interpreted as religious proxies — sports teams, yoga, professional institutions, Mother Nature and more — to guide their values in life.
As a testament to this, witchcraft is gaining popularity in the US, and paganism seems to be the fastest growing religion in the UK. Religious experiences for non-believers can also manifest in other, more bizarre ways. Anthropologist Ryan Hornbeck, also at the Thrive Center for Human Development, found evidence that the World of Warcraft is assuming spiritual importance for some players in China, for example. The threat of an all-powerful God or gods watching for anyone who steps out of line likely helped to keep order in ancient societies.
Getty Images And again, insecurity and suffering in a population may play a role here, by helping to encourage religions with stricter moral codes. In a recent analysis of religious belief systems of nearly traditional societies from around the world, Joseph Bulbulia at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and his colleagues found that those places with harsher weather or that are more prone to natural disasters were more likely to develop moralising gods.
Helpful neighbours could mean the difference between life and death. In this context, religion evolved as a valuable public utility.
Across cultures, people who are more religious also tend to have more children than people who are not. Enduring belief For all of these reasons — psychological, neurological, historical, cultural and logistical — experts guess that religion will probably never go away. If not, it would no longer be with us. And even if we lose sight of the Christian, Muslim and Hindu gods and all the rest, superstitions and spiritualism will almost certainly still prevail.
More formal religious systems, meanwhile, would likely only be a natural disaster or two away. As soon as we found ourselves facing an ecological crisis, a global nuclear war or an impending comet collision, the gods would emerge.