Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When do I know enough to say no?

I saw the following question on Quora this morning:

Since we can't know 100% of the knowledge of the universe, what are the grounds for atheism?

My answer:

The premise of the question is flawed. Even if we did know every fact about the universe, God, if he existed, would be over, above, and anterior to the universe, so complete knowledge of the universe would tell us nothing about a Being who had been outside it all along.

God is not like a sound pitched on a frequency too high for us to hear. If he existed, he would necessarily be on a different plane altogether, living in a realm of being that contained ours and could affect it but could not, itself, be changed by anything that happened inside the universe.

Aside from that, the question could logically apply to a great many things. Since we don't have all knowledge, what are the grounds for not believing that

- Apollo rained a hail of arrows into the camp of the Greeks besieging Troy, because they had dishonored his priest, as recorded in the Iliad?

- A giant raven hatched mankind out from under a turtle shell, as described in some ancient Native American traditions?

- The infant Hercules strangled snakes that had been sent to kill him in his cradle?

- During the rule of Sulla, a loud and dismal trumpet blast filled the afternoon sky over Rome, amazing everyone with its intensity and with no discoverable origin, causing the sages to believe that this heralded the beginning of the 8th great age foretold by the Etruscan sages, as recorded in Plutarch's life of Sulla?

- The spirit of Augustus rose from his funeral pyre and was received into the realms of happiness by the Olympian Gods, as attested by someone who attended his funeral?

- The Angel Gabriel dictated the Qu'ran to Muhammad word for word?

- King Arthur, as a boy, drew a sword from a stone?

- Davy Crockett killed a bear when he was 3 years old?

- The Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and showed him gold plates inscribed in ancient languages?

Lacking all knowledge, I can't disprove any of those things, so this objection is not peculiar to atheism. It suggests, rather, what I often find to be true, that the religious share my skepticism toward all *other* religions but their own, while theirs, by a fortunate exception, is true and proven.

© Michael Huggins, 2013. All rights reserved.


Jerissa said...

I think when a parson hears the term atheist they think that you are saying that you believe with certainty that God dose not exist. What you are saying is that you believe no credible evidence for God exists so you are living your life as though he does not. The term agnostic has become more common in recent years in the US but atheist is still used in UK

Michael Huggins said...

I tend to agree with what Richard Dawkins said: that he could not assert with dogmatic confidence that there absolutely is no God, but that he was agnostic about this only to the degree that he was agnostic about the idea of invisible fairies dancing in his garden. If someone says to me, "Do you know that God does not exist?" I reply that I can't prove any such thing but that I deny it with the same confidence that I deny that a boy named Jack climbed to the clouds on a beanstalk and despoiled a giant's castle.