I am a gnostic atheist, a small category within the membership of non-believers. My contention is that, not only do gods not exist, but they cannot exist.
I don’t come to this position lightly, and I am well aware of the arguments that lead others to remain agnostic. Some think that the only honest position is to admit that this is something that we cannot know.
There are worthy rational and logical arguments to support the agnostic position. I think that they could be summed up with the idea that unless we can look everywhere in the universe as well as everywhere outside the universe (should there be such a thing as ‘outside the universe’), we cannot know that a god does not exist somewhere.
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, they say.
I’m primarily concerned with how we actually believe things. Are there fairies? I can answer easily: no, there are not. But wait! How can I say such a thing? How can I know that there are not, somewhere, fairies? It’s not that difficult. If there were such a thing on Earth, then they would not fall into any known group. I mean, fairies are creatures that fly, have wings, and are very small, and are very close to humans in shape. If someone should find some insect that resembled this in some way, that would not be a fairy, it would be an insect that resembles our imaginary concept of a fairy.
If there were something on some distant habitable planet that perfectly fit our conception of what fairies are, then than would not be a fairy either because when we speak of fairies we are not speaking of otherworldly aliens – we are speaking of mythical creatures native to our own planet.
So fairies must, by definition, be within a certain set of parameters. One of the features of fairies is that they are reputed to be and expected to be magical. That is, they have some magical abilities in their nature. I reject magic. I reject it because, although I’ve seen a lot of tricks and I can be fooled, I have yet to see any sort of magic hold up to scrutiny. Being a member of a species that is notorious for hallucination, misapprehension, wishful thinking, dreaming, and overworked imagination I conclude that it is likely that any sort of magical events are the result of those attributes rather than an actual magical event. I have no doubt that there were those in the first century CE who raised the dead on a regular basis or healed the sick. It’s a great trick and is still the sort of thing being practiced by the likes of Benny Hinn. In an era when people were not competent to even judge whether a person was actually dead, it’s difficult to take it seriously, and in modern times the escapades of the crooked faith healers has been thoroughly debunked.
Now, to the question of gods. In a universe that is devoid of magic the idea of gods creating things magically becomes not worth discussing. That does not in itself disprove gods, but it does disprove most of the gods claimed by believers except for the deist version, who still leaves the question of how exactly he created a universe, if indeed that is the claim.
The biggest problem with the cosmological arguments comes into play here: where did the god or gods come from? That question is one that can be asked of all god-believing traditions. For they all assume that the god was just there. Either the god or gods existed before the universe, or they took existing matter and formed it into the universe. My rather humorous question regarding the Christian God is, if the universe encompasses time, then when did God create it? (Ignoring for the moment the question of where or when was the God.)
Our most modern science is on the cusp of the cosmological question. The view of physics is that nothing is never really nothing and existence is a natural occurrence. This is all non-intuitive and not of much use to we laymen, unless we accept that a self-generating universe is far more likely than a god-generated one. Using Occam’s Razor we should conclude that multiplying entities (god or gods) beyond necessity (because a universe doesn’t need them) should be avoided.
Back to the question of how we know things:
When someone tells me that there’s a new gadget on the market I file that information somewhere in my brain. When they tell me someone died or someone did something important, I file that away, too. As more information on these subjects comes along, I sort things, unaware that I’m doing so, and come to conclusions about them. When I hear about a new iPad, I don’t immediately check through my logical fallacies to see if it comports with data I’ve already accepted. I don’t check to see if it’s a slippery slope or if it’s mathematically sound. I simply add it to my store of info and look for more data about it, watching news items for example to see if it’s well-accepted or flawed or the neatest thing since sliced bread.
I don’t think most people examine everything with logical tools. Just as we know there are no fairies, we can as easily know there are no gods. Belief and credulity are antithetical to knowledge. If I tell you I have a Ferrari, you might be a bit skeptical. If I tell you it’s invisible, your skepticism should greatly increase. For some reason, religion always gets the pass – if Jesus has an invisible Ferrari, then it’s all right. And who can say that he doesn’t?
The universe plods coldly on, uncaring whether our planet contains life. An asteroid could wipe out all life here, or a large portion of it. We know this because we know it has happened in the past. Had it not happened before it is highly unlikely that I would be here to type this. In other words, we can trace a line of causation from 65 million years ago to now – a story line that leaves out the influence of gods.
Why would we want to add gods to the story? Could it be that at least some of us are insecure with that cold, lonely universe? Reality does not depend upon our insecurity. Could it be that we are simply storytellers and that the stories of gods are comforting? The universe doesn’t care. Emotions and caring are products of animal brains, not of vast spaces and star’s fusion. Empathy is the end product of a very long story, and so far it appears to be a very rare story, this animation of matter, this thing we describe as life.
As I always like to point out, the scientific description of the universe I live in is always changing. My understanding of it is not a stable thing. Today, the so-called Big Bang is a dominant theory. Tomorrow, perhaps a steady-state universe will be a better explanation and I will change my thinking to accommodate a better theory. Sometimes science is two steps forward and one step back. I don’t have a problem with that.
And with religion, I fully admit that I could be wrong. I consider the likelihood of that to be infinitesimally small, but not non-existent. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. I don’t have a problem with that, either. I live in a world in flux. I am willing to be wrong, and if I realize it I have no problem admitting it. To err is human after all.
In my universe, there is no room for magic. My universe, which I have constructed in my mind of bits of knowledge gleaned from thousands of sources, is a natural set of processes that although not yet fully explained seems to me to be better explained all the time. I can conclude that our explanations will only improve, and that they will not include magical beings.
Therefore, I am certain that there are no gods, and that there could not be any. I am a gnostic atheist.