Does atheism require faith of any sort? It's a question I've been thinking about.

To get started I need a definition, so I'll use this one:

"Faith is a belief in something that cannot be proven".

As I see it, using this definition, an Atheist does require some basic elements of faith, although these elements are in complete contradiction to the axioms that underpin all theistic religions.

These elements of faith are:

1 - The universe operates under immutable and invariant laws
2 - One should believe the simplest explanation that does not contradict evidence (Occam's Razor)

The first axiom underpins the Atheistic knowledge system. The second dictates how Atheistic beliefs are shaped. Most importantly it can be easily demonstrated that all theistic religions reject these two axioms.

"The universe operates under immutable and invariant laws"

Some may recoil from the assertion that this is an article of faith. However the atheist must accept this point on faith alone (ie as an axiom) because science simply cannot PROVE that the laws of the universe are immutable and invariant.

Obviously science has found no evidence to the contrary, and there is no evidence that even hints at the possibility. Regardless, there is no way of definitively proving, say, that the mass of a hydrogen atom won't suddenly change tomorrow.

If atheists COULD prove this, then this would prove that there is no supreme force outside the laws of the universe, which would prove that there is no God.

All monotheistic religions believe that their deity is supreme in the universe, which logically dictates that their deity can alter the laws of the universe at will. (If not, then their deity is no longer supreme.).

The Biblical God is clearly able to alter the laws of the universe at will, as this is the only way that much of the Bible's narrative can be understood.

For example in the flood story, one of the huge scientific problems is with the volume of water that would be needed to cover the Earth. One plausible estimate puts the volume at 300% of the current global water supply. A rational question thus becomes: where did this water come from and where did it go afterwards? Also if it was fresh water, how did the salt water marine life survive? (Or vice versa)

If you accept that the laws of the Universe do not apply to God (ie. the laws are NOT immutable), then the simplest and best explanation is that God materialized all the water he needed to cover the Earth to a depth of six miles, and then simply made it all vanish when it was no longer needed.

He could then just materialise fresh and salt water where needed, and keep the two from mixing (not being subject to osmosis). Alternatively he could have just let all of the sea-life die during the flood and divinely restocked it afterwards.

Even as an atheist, I find this "100% divine" explanation to be far more plausible than the alternative - "God somehow accomplished the flood without breaking the laws of physics".

The laws of physics dictate that some form of positive evidence would be left behind, and that rational explanations can be provided for all of the evidence which directly contradicts it. Even if I accept that the flood pushed up mountains like the Himalayas (see this Young Earth Creationist argument) I still don't understand why those (heavier than water) seashells that have been found at the summit didn't just sink to the lowest point as the waters receded.

So to be an Athiest means accepting that the universe is constant, that its laws are unchanging and no supernatural being can alter them at will. As it is impossible to prove this, it is accepted as an axiom, ie. as a matter of faith.

OK that's it for now. My next blog will examine Occam's razor. If you think I've missed an axiom, let me know.

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Comment by Manning Bartlett on April 3, 2010 at 8:24pm
Look my apologies if you feel slighted - I don't slam anyone ever. You are clearly an intelligent human being whose insight I would love to benefit from. My frustration was that you seemed to be persisting with a misinterpretation despite numerous attempts on my part to clear it up.

As an example, with input from Felch below, I realised that I had drafted the argument from the wrong direction. Rather than frame this as an "atheist" axiom, I should have drafted it as a theist axiom - ie the universe is arbitrary.

If the universe is arbitrary then it follows that all evidence is inherently meaningless for we cannot presume that tomorrow's evidence will be consistent with today's. From that I believe it directly follows that reason is meaningless (though I have not yet established this rigorously).

The athiest position is simply the reverse of this - the universe is invariant, therefore evidence is reliable and reason has meaning and validity.

Anyway, again my apologies if you feel offended.
Comment by Manning Bartlett on April 3, 2010 at 8:04pm
Thank you. In future I'm happy to debate you, but please try to read what is written first. You clearly leapt to some truly bizarre interpretation of what I was saying (ie. "evidence is a deception") and then doggedly criticised that point, despite the fact that I never remotely suggested this.
Comment by Manning Bartlett on April 3, 2010 at 6:19pm
John D - I get the strong impression that you didn't actually read what I wrote, so I can't really reply. I really have no idea why you think I was claiming "evidence is a deception".
Comment by Becca on April 3, 2010 at 11:07am
Atheism is the lack of belief in gods - it's not a refutation of anything. What are gods? Well frankly I don't really care, it's not my job to define what others mean when they say 'god.' However it should be obvious by now that when most people say god they mean the supernatural entity that created the universe. My atheism changes depending on the definition of god presented to me. Sometimes I'm a strong atheist sometimes I'm a weak atheist but most of the time I don't really care or bother with that which has no evidence in it's favor be it gods, angels, esp, ghosts, afterlives ect...

The thing I learned over years of debating the existence of gods and other supernatural entities is this: Don't do it! I'll happily answer a few questions and lay out my ideas and why I have those ideas though. Religious had a great quote about how I feel about 'proofs' and refutations of people's unsupported beliefs:

Bill Maher: "How do you convince people of what's the truth."
Senior Vatican Priest: " You don't, forget about it, you just have to live and die with your stupid ideas."
Comment by Manning Bartlett on April 3, 2010 at 1:26am
Thanks for that comment - it has made me think a bit more carefully. At no stage was I planning to "redefine" atheism. Atheism is simply the refutation of theism, but this requires a definition of theism first.

Your observation leads me to think it would be better to frame my argument as a reliable and global definition of theism, rather than the other way around (as I was trying to do). My "arbitrary" axiom for theism still seems solid at this moment - all theisms argue that their deity can and does change the universe at will (with the possible exception of the weakest form of deism, which features an initiating but otherwise completely uninvolved deity).

Regardless, if theism takes the axiom that the universe is arbitrary (ie - there is some supreme being who can change the universe at will) then it still seems to me that atheism implies the opposite axiom (my so-called "invariant" axiom).

My thought processes (yet to be fully pinned down) are that reason itself is a necessary consequence of this invariance and is impossible in an arbitrary (ie. theistic) universe.

That ultimately means that you can believe in God or in reason - but not both. *If* I can rigorously establish that argument, then I've achieved something useful.
Comment by Manning Bartlett on April 3, 2010 at 12:22am
I don't think this subject is remotely a dead horse - I've spent years researching this angle and have never seen any analysis that follows this line. Your definition of athiesm "to deny the gods" doesn't mean anything unless you define what you mean by "gods". Saying "That's all - get used to it" is simply hand-waving and devoid of any actual meaning.

I'm quite aware of the null hypothesis - I drafted the invariant axiom as a more precise restatement of it. What is missing is any argument as to why the null hypothesis should be accepted (other than it being "self evident", which is just another way of saying it is an axiom.)

My own ultimate objective is to refute theism by establishing that reason and theism are incompatible. This isn't quite the same as proving "God doesn't exist" but it would be a useful tool regardless. (Of course I may not succeed in developing this argument- but that's what I am trying to do.)

Theists often claim that they can use reason to defend their beliefs because it is "simply a tool of the mind". My belief is that reason is a direct consequence of the invariance axiom. If the universe is arbitrary then reason cannot exist (and vice versa).

Hence if you reject invariance then you deny laying any claim to reason. Furthermore, it changes the theism/atheism argument from "prove God doesn't exist" to "prove the universe is arbitrary".

You guys are welcome of course to dismiss all of this as nothing more than philosophical speculation. But I'm convinced there is something here worth investigating. We've all got to have a hobby.
Comment by Manning Bartlett on April 2, 2010 at 9:56pm
Hmm, in your denial you are confirming the axiom. We cannot prove that the universe is invariant, yet we believe it to be so. There cannot (by definition) be any evidence about future circumstances, so it cannot be proven.

Theism takes the reverse position - we cannot prove that the laws of the universe are subject to the will of a deity, yet we believe it to be so.

Reason is a consequence of this axiom, not a precursor. Hence it cannot be used to justify it. Conversely, if you reject this axiom then you must necessarily also eventually reject reason, as can be demonstrated by arguing with any theist.

As far as your point about considering the possibility that the universe may change as being "a waste of time and fancy", while I largely agree, it remains of interest because it seems to be the essential element that underpins theism.


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