Answering 5 Questions from a Christian

Here are 5 questions a Christian asked, along with my answers. Some of this repeats stuff I’ve written here before, but perhaps repetitive questions require repetitive answers.

1.What percentage of the universe have you explored?

An extremely tiny fraction of a single percent.

2. For someone to say that God does not exist, wouldn’t they need to be omniscient?

No. Not necessarily.

For someone to say that no gods at all exist anywhere might require omniscience. I’m not sure.

However, for someone to say that a specific God does not exist as claimed or described doesn’t require omniscience, when the claims are falsifiable and / or when the descriptions are logical impossibilities. Without searching the entire universe or knowing all there is to know, we can be sure that there is no god who is both A and Not-A in the same way at the same time, just like we can know that there is no square-circle anywhere in the universe.

So, for example, if the claims are made that (1) God is love; and (2) love is not jealous; and (3) God, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god — we can be 100% sure that no god exists that is both jealous and not-jealous. Or, if claims are made that (1) God is love; and (2) love does not keep a record of wrongs; and (3) God judges people based on his record of their wrongs in his books — we know that there can not be any God that both does and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Likewise, if it is claimed that (1) God is perfectly just; and (2) God punishes some for the wrongdoings of others — we can be 100% sure that no god exists who meets both those mutually contradictory claims.

Or, if we’re told that God’s prophesies always comes true — and then we’re also told that God foretold that through his power King Nebudchadnezzar will destroy Tyre completely, break through Tyre’s walls, bring down its pillars, put all the people to the sword, scrape it to bare rock never to be rebuilt, etc., and then God will submerge Tyre under the sea, and Tyre will never be found again … and yet Tyre was never fully destroyed, never had its walls broken through by Nebudchadnezzar, and the population was never annihilated, and Tyre was never scraped to bare rock, never submerged under the sea, never lost, etc., and Tyre is still thriving to this day, right where it’s always been. We can be 100% sure that there is no God whose prophesies always come true, who also made this failed prophesy.

These are just a few of many examples of how, in some circumstances, it’s possible to know that particular gods do not exist as claimed, through logic and / or testing. Not only is omniscience unnecessary, it’s not even necessary to understand what people mean when they say “God” (which I don’t), to know that such claims can be definitively ruled out.

3. Since you are not omniscient, what evidence can you offer that God does not exist?

If you’re talking about a particular god as per specific claims made in some scriptures and / or claims made by adherents, then see my answer above to understand what kind of case can be made against the existence of some specific gods as claimed.

If you’re talking about gods in general: I don’t make the positive claim that no god exists, I merely assert that I don’t believe in any gods.

You might have trouble distinguishing between “I don’t believe” (i.e., I have an absence of belief in the existence of any gods), and “I disbelieve” (i.e., I have a presence of belief in the nonexistence of gods). Or you might even be one of those who contend that non-belief and disbelief are really the same thing, regardless what people like me say. Let me give you an illustration to help clarify the difference:

Imagine we’re talking about items in my refrigerator. Do you believe that I have buttermilk in my fridge, right now as you’re reading this? Probably not. I haven’t said that I do and I haven’t said that I don’t. Nor have you looked in my refrigerator. You are simply without the necessary information for a sensible opinion about whether there’s buttermilk in my fridge, and so you probably have no belief. Does that lack of belief mean you have an active disbelief, a feeling of certainty that I have no buttermilk in my refrigerator? Again, probably not, because you are still without the necessary information. Just like your absence of belief that I have buttermilk in my refrigerator does not equate to disbelief that I have buttermilk in there, one’s absence of belief in any gods does not necessarily equate to disbelief in all gods.

Since I don’t make the claim that no gods exist, why would I need to offer evidence for a position I don’t endorse? The burden of proof is on those who assert that God does exist to back up their claim, not upon me to back up a claim I don’t make.

4. Since you cannot do that, doesn’t that make you an agnostic rather than an atheist?

I am both an atheist and an agnostic.

As someone without any beliefs in the existence of any gods, I am an “atheist.”

As someone without knowledge whether any gods exist, I am an “agnostic.”

The two words, by the definitions I’m using, are on two entirely different continuums — one about belief (or lack thereof), and the other about knowledge (or lack thereof). From this view, you can be both an agnostic and an atheist. They’re not mutually exclusive.

I see many Christians insist that folks like me don’t even know what “atheist” means, and we’re using the word incorrectly, and we need to use it the way they tell us to. To those who take this stance and make it an issue, here are a few quick points to consider:

(A) The dictionary definitions of “atheist” include the way I’m using the word, as you can see here.

(B) Even if the dictionaries didn’t, dictionaries are meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, they’re meant to tell how words are being used, not tell you how you’re supposed to use words. And since we know that one of the ways the word is being used is the way atheists like me are using it — we thereby have a descriptive understanding of that definition of “atheist.”

(C) Etymologically, the words’ roots mean the meanings I’m using. I am an “atheist” as a straight etymological construction of a-theist — someone who is not a theist / someone without theism, i.e, someone without beliefs in the existence of any gods. I am an “agnostic” as a straight etymological construction of a-gnostic — someone who is not knowing, i.e., someone who does not have knowledge whether gods exist.

(D) Regardless whether “atheist” should only refer to those making claims of certainty that no gods exist, the quibble over definitions and which words should be used has no bearing on the actual content of the discussion — the rationality, logic, and veracity (or lack thereof) of the positions, propositions, and arguments about whether gods exist. Once the parties in the discussion clearly understand how the words are being used by each other, pressing the definition and word usage issue any further is just a weak diversion from the real topic at hand.

5. So, then, wouldn’t you agree that there is no such thing as an atheist?

No. As I explain above, being agnostic does not exclude being atheist.

I could agree with you that those who claim to be absolutely certain that no gods exist appear to be holding that position irrationally, but the majority of atheists do not claim absolute certainty.

 

Lastly, your questions are a perfect opportunity for you to apply the Outsider Test for Faith to your Christian beliefs. How do your own beliefs fare by the standards you apply for others? To find out, direct your questions back at yourself, and answer them with the same outsider’s skepticism that you use with others. Ask yourself: What percentage of the universe have you explored? Would you need to be omniscient to say that the Norse gods, the Egyptian gods, the Aztec gods, the Greek gods, the Hindu gods, the Sumerian gods, and the Mayan gods do not exist? What evidence can you offer for their nonexistence? Doesn’t that make you an agnostic rather than an atheist about all the non-Christian gods? So, then, wouldn’t you agree there is no such thing as a Christian?

If you sincerely apply these questions to your beliefs, you’ll find that your line of questioning is a double-edged sword, more troublesome for your Christian position than for my atheist position. If you still embrace the “reasoning” that you use on me, then consistency demands you declare that it’s possible that any or all of the other gods anyone has ever claimed also exist, thereby jeopardizing your compliance with Christianity’s core trinitarian-monotheistic doctrines. Alternatively, if you answer the questions about other gods the way I answered the questions about yours, you thereby accept the validity of my agnostic-atheist positions about your god.