/* ken added for verification to get Google analytics */ Spiritual Material: Disproving the Existence of God

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Disproving the Existence of God

In a New York Times article entitled "Darwin's God" (March 4, 2007) Robin Marantz Henig reviews the work of several current scientists, most notably Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, as they seek to explain why spiritual beliefs have been and remain so prevalent in the lives of us humans. Atran and other confirmed atheists find that, on the face of them, religious beliefs and practices are simply irrational. These men of science have taken it upon themselves to find the scientific groundings of what they believe to be little or nothing more than a collective irrationality.

The science they call upon is powerful. Atran's research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology. Employing standard yet elegant research, he presents much verifiable and convincing evidence from those fields which demonstrates quite clearly a human propensity for believing in an all-powerful and all-knowing god, an afterlife, a divine hand at work in the lives of humans, and other beliefs characteristic of religions. Atran's work aligns with that of Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, another best-selling author Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, and Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University who wrote Breaking the Spell. These and still other scientific atheists, armed as they are with the force of sciences which have transfigured the modern planet, should provide a withering deconstruction of everything spiritual and leave all religion in smithereens and nothing more than scattered museum relics of quaint and by-gone days. But they fail.

In academic logic, a discipline which has been practiced by thousands of scholars for more than two thousand years— since Aristotle— it is accepted wisdom that, absent a mutually exclusive positive statement, a negative statement is impossible to prove. That is to say, it's impossible to prove a statement that something doesn't exist unless you can prove some other statement which precludes its existence. For example, when I was a young kid, I worked with an old guy who, growing up on a farm out in the country, didn't believe that the astronauts really went to and walked on the moon. His alternate explanation of what he saw of it on television was that the entire moon trip was actually done in a Hollywood studio. His logical fallacy was that the two premises aren't mutually exclusive. That is, even if it were proven true that what we all saw of the moon landing and moon walk were done in a Hollywood studio, it's still possible that the astronauts did indeed go to the moon. Both events could have happened. Both statements could be true. They aren't mutually exclusive statements. So even if the old guy were able to prove that the footage of the astronauts on the moon was made in a Hollywood studio, it still wouldn't logically disprove that astronauts went to the moon, that the trip to the moon didn't exist.

The small but fatal flaw in the scientific atheists' thesis— indeed, their entire endeavor— is, likewise, that, regardless of the number and quality of the facts cited, there's no logical argument to prove a thing's non-existence. Everything they argue may very well be true. A belief in a spiritual entity might indeed favor a group's evolutionary survival. An overly safe or moral attitude toward the world and others brought about religious convictions might well have been bred into humans by evolution. For those facing death and for their loved ones a belief in an afterlife could certainly provide emotional comfort and so be a plausible reaction of the human psyche. But all such psychological, anthropological, and cultural explanations woven together into a seamless whole still cannot prove God's non-existence. They can provide at best only an alternate explanation for spiritual beliefs, but one which does not preclude a spiritual dimension to our lives. Just as my former co-worker's assertion that the moon landing was filmed on a Hollywood studio doesn't preclude that the moon landing actually happened, the arguments of the scientific atheists, regardless how good the science, cannot— can never— logically preclude the possibility that God or some spiritual dimension does in fact exist. As good as their science may be, their thesis fails the test of logic and so is their project misbegotten from its start. As the existentialists might say, with matters spiritual we're condemned to uncertainty.


  1. Along the same line we cannot disprove the existence of the flying spaghetti monster or Zeus/Thor/Athena/etc. etc. etc. However just because the existence of these Gods cannot be disproved doesn't mean that we should argue that they exist. The one thing that Evolution has that the others don't is EVIDENCE, simply pointing to a book and saying that because the book says it is true it MUST be true is idiotic

  2. Nice straw man, you've argued against "believing not" when the atheist position is not believing.

    Also, you've neglected to prove the theist claim for the existence of god.

  3. Anonymous #1,

    I agree with you and wasn't arguing the theist position or against evolution, only that the scientific atheist position contains a logical fallacy.

  4. Anonymous #2,

    You need to clarify your first statement. As for the second, I wasn't intending to prove the existence of any god, don't feel obligated to do that, and don't know that it can be done with any scientific rigor.

  5. Good Article! I wonder if there will ever be a third theory? Science for me is about as equal to Religion as a "choice" of belief, but they overlap. Things like mathmatics are born out of nature, and nature from existance. In science, assumptions have been made based on things like logic, physics, and astronomy. Therefore, science also takes a "leap of faith". Personally, i believe in all of it...

  6. I enjoyed your essay very much.
    There is just one issue I would like to raise.

    "In academic logic, a discipline which has been practiced by thousands of scholars for more than two thousand years— since Aristotle— it is accepted wisdom that, absent a mutually exclusive positive statement, a negative statement is impossible to prove. That is to say, it's impossible to prove a statement that something doesn't exist unless you can prove some other statement which precludes its existence. "

    Absence of belief in god is not a positive statement. In essence, theism shouldn't even be considered as a philosophical stance nor a perspective. Since atheists live in a world that is predominantly theistic through out the history, their default position of lacking belief in god is seen to be a positive assertion.

  7. A mistake often made by many is that God and science are mutually exclusive. If God is the source of everything, then it follows that God created science. Or one could say God enabled man to study the nuts and bolts of the physical universe--a pursuit referred to as science by man.

    The evolution argument, at least from an purely atheistic point of view, is not as watertight as some may think. If one considers that 'survival of the fittest' is an integral part of evolution theory, one must consider that evolution has broken down with the human race. Every effort to save/prolong others' lives, whether that be through advances in medical technology or simply by saving people from burning buildings, is inconsistent with evolution on a very basic level. Whatever 'conscience' responsible for such behaviors surely cannot be the bi-product of a species' need to survive.

    Granted, the existence of God cannot be 'proven' on a scientific level. However the CONCEPT of God, or any other higher being, is not constrained to the known sciences. Any effort to prove/disprove the existence of God via such means is what's truly idiotic.

  8. This article is subject to one major logical fallacy. He states that it is impossible to proove that god exists, but the corrolary to that statement is that it is impossible to proove that God does in fact exist. Yet the faithful, with their righteous "beliefs, and faith" maintain that they are 100% sure that there is a God. This is fundamentally illogical. Furthermore when asked for evidence of God's existence, they say things like: "where do we get morals from? Or, are you calling us all stupid? Bearing in mind that these are unscientific arguments, atheists aremerely offering logical alternatives to what the religious see as inexplicable evidence towards God's existence

  9. Religion and God are constructs of the human mind. Man needs to feel important. It is a product of conscience. "Why are we here?", "What is my purpose?" these are all questions that man has tried to answer. "God" does that for man. It answers everything, yet explains nothing. I was raised Catholic, and it is hard to break away from believing. It's hard to break routine and learning from a young age is difficult. I consider myself agnostic, but more on the non-existence side. If there was a God why would he care about us. We are a horrible race, bent on the destruction of this planet. Face it, God sounds nice but we are alone in this.

  10. God, religion and science can and does co-exist. How?
    Though, ever-so present in the physical with man forcibly fulfilling prophecy (i.e. Terrorism, War, Global Warming and "Revelations"), it’s not in the physical that all can be proven, but all can be imagined in the conscience. Science can view the shift in brain chemistry and activity when a person dreams, prays intensely or receives an alternate reality (due to meditation or hallucinogen drug-use) or near-death/outer-body-experience(s). This is to say, that consciousness does exist and can be measured, proven or disproven.
    Furthermore, science may present alternatives to the existence of God (i.e. "Big Bang", Evolution, etc.), but any scientist can admit to the existence of dark matter and "the great unknown." Man can only measure approx. 4% of the physical of what actually exist (there-here) in the universe.
    So, what exists in the near 96% of the unknown? Is it heaven or God or another dimension, perhaps the 11th (as in string-theory)? Or is it, all that which exists, but we cannot yet perceive, even with the help of ever-growing technology, because the universe, like a human brain that can only control 10% of its actual capacity, does not yet know itself fully or all it has to offer? Perhaps, the universe, like the earth's own sun, is but one of many, not yet at its mid-life marking with an endless range of mysteries to unfold, as it (and we, as a global community) grow and mature.
    Whatever the answer, we'd be better off as a society if we approached the question with great humility and doubt.
    The debate shouldn't be if science can prove or disprove an existence of God. Rather, can science prove existence at all?