Counter-Apologetic to:"You're not an atheist! You're agnostic because you're not certain."

Many Theists make this argument at some point, but it was Carl Sagan who said it with the most clarity:

“An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.”

--Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was an amazing man and will always be my personal hero, but was certainly not omniscient. This single paragraph is a dazzling example of how a person could not be more right about the “relegation” of God, but could not be more wrong about certainty.

I personally find it puzzling that the average individual goes about his daily life perfectly content with practical certainty, and then suddenly insists on absolute certainty once he catches a whiff of philosophy or metaphysics. I am practically or reasonably certain that my car is still parked on the street where I left it. And if anyone asks where my car is, that is exactly what I will tell them. Many things are possible—it could have been towed, or stolen, or hit by a meteorite. Even if I were to look out the window and point to my car, that person might ask me if I can prove that I’m not in a dream, or in the Matrix? Or perhaps they would venture into solipsism, but I’d probably kick them out of my house at that point.

I am practically certain that Sylvia Browne is a fraud. She could possess psychic powers that just go on the fritz from time to time, but I’ve seen her give so much completely false information over the years that as far as I’m concerned, the case is closed.

I have the same level of certainty that Theism is false, for the same “relegation” reason that Carl Sagan was obviously aware of. Gods supposedly existed in trees until we cut them down, in mountains until we climbed them, in pharaohs and kings until they were deposed, in the sky until we invented hot air balloons. Even up until Sputnik launched, no small number of people were convinced that it would slam up against God’s crystalline spheres (or something like that) and shatter, because God of course wouldn’t allow it to punch through Heaven.

Now, in 2013, God is relegated to the “outside of space and time,” in what can only be called the Phantom Zone. If humanity ever does manage to explore this fictional realm sometime in the theoretical future, it would be a simple matter for William Lane Craig’s grandson (Billy the Third?) to invent an Uber-Phantom Zone, and put his cherished idea safely out of reach again.

I don’t bother with absolute certainty. It’s a red herring, it’s useless and most likely impossible. I’m interested in practical certainty, and have no interest in believing any idea that survives by virtue of being ill-defined rather than true.

Views: 328

Tags: Carl, Sagan, agnosticism, apologetic, arguments, atheism, certainty, epistemology, religion

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Comment by Gene Griffis on January 1, 2014 at 8:27am

The comment by Joan Denoo is unfortunately missing the point. We can indeed prove a tea cup isn't one of the planets. Why? Because we can observe our solar system. Because we can make scientific observations and conduct experiments. With the concept of god it would be impossible to do scientific experiments seeing god does not exist. The point isn't weather or not god is or isn't. The point is to give absolutes without being able to present the evidence in a manner that is able to be tested and reviewed by the scientific community isn't fact; it's garbage. You can't prove or disprove an imaginary being that defies all logic and laws of science and nature. We don't require evidence that god does not exist because nothing, absolutely nothing proves or even suggest the existence of god. If we become people who insist that we know god does not exist we are then living by faith and I refuse to.

Comment by Craigart14 on December 31, 2013 at 7:31pm

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make the absurd claim that zombies do not exist, which is a very difficult paradigm shift for me because I am currently watching the "Walking Dead" marathon.  Nevertheless, until someone can produce verifiable evidence that there are dead people walking among us, I will continue to believe that there are not.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Comment by Idaho Spud on December 31, 2013 at 4:47pm

I'm with Loren Miller and dyslexic's DOG.  No matter what anyone calls me, logic, reason, and scientific evidence proves way beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no gods.

Comment by Warren Jappe on December 31, 2013 at 4:12pm

I think that my take on atheism on my part that I don't think a god exists at all is if evidence were offered, and by now there should be evidence that I am not inclined to believe the hearsay no matter how old and by so many people that god and miracles exists. I am reminded of Carl Sagan's invisible dragon story, if you can't give me any real evidence that something exists, why bother believing it at, why waste my time even considering it. You might as well tell me that Santa Claus exists, But aside from the fact that there is no evidence, the logistics of how he operates is impossible.

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on December 31, 2013 at 7:59am

True Napoleon, atheists can believe in ghosts and spiritual realms, so long as there is no supreme being or deity in control.

I dated an Atheist Psychic, who believed she could speak to the dead, but the dead live in a spiritual realm that is parallel to our own, material realm, the spiritual realm had no leader or God, so she is definitely an atheist, but a Spiritual Atheist.

Comment by Joan Denoo on December 31, 2013 at 2:02am

We can know there is no god just as surely as we can know there is no teacup floating around the sun. We can't prove either isn't; we can't prove either is. Belief without evidence is nonsense. Faith without evidence is no better. Just get over it. 

If evidence is found of one or the other, we can change our thinking to match the evidence. 

Comment by Gene Griffis on December 30, 2013 at 7:19pm

I understand what Kara is saying. I happen to believe that there is no such thing as god and so does she; If I am understanding her correctly. Do I know that there is no god? I don't know everything and neither does anyone else or we would be god. To say; "god doesn't exist" is certainly an acceptable comment seeing there is absolutely no evidence of the existence of god. To say that you know that there is no such thing as god would suggest that somehow you can prove scientifically that god indeed does not and cannot exist. It really isn't being agnostic. An agnostic leaves the possibility that god exist and the other is saying god does not exist unless you can actually prove me wrong.

Comment by Michael Penn on December 30, 2013 at 8:15am

There is and cannot be any absolute certainty because the empirical evidence may change, and you have to change your model of things. You can say with certainty that there is no evidence of god (or gods) and no evidence that some supreme being is trying to communicate with you. Theists are not even certain. They believe by "virtue of faith" which they imagine is a "mark of truth" for them, but what it really means is that they made it all up!

BTW, I like how you explain things. Especially what you have said about your car. LOl

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on December 29, 2013 at 1:10am

I strongly believe that anybody whose Atheism is even slightly shaken by reports of seemingly authentic supernatural claims from Books, News and Magazines, should put themselves through the online 10 lecture Course by Ray Hyman from the James Randi Education Foundation.

The 10 lecture course is available on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8MfjLNsf_mg9p_Dl2jLbMPxiCVwh...

The course companion guide can be downloaded from here: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/jref-news/2222-free-course-how-...

It shows you how to consider any such dubious claims.

Yes, all paranormal claims are indeed dubious, it pays to look at them with an extremely critical skeptical view.

The James Randi Education Foundation is of course also a fantastic source of information that can be used to debunk dubious claims.

Here is their forum on "What Evidence Would Be Sufficient To Prove Reincarnation?"

http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=180078&page=7

The JREF is a worthy organization that deserves our support.

Ray Hyman's Course is an eye opener for many and the knowledge of how easily us mere humans can be deceived by those making paranormal claims is itself frightening.

Comment by Napoleon Bonaparte on December 29, 2013 at 1:03am

Thank you Kara, there has been further exploration and better understanding of the universe in the last 34 years and nothing unnatural or supernatural has been discovered as we would expect. The cosmos and it's natural history is complex and not easy to comprehend for me and there is so much more to learn. Nonetheless, I am satisfied that everything happens naturally and can be understood scientifically and there isn't a supernatural dimension to the universe. There is no basis in fact for a higher power.

By the way, the dictionary definition of Atheism is a ruling out of the existence of Gods and not a ruling out of the supernatural entirely. In other words a legitimate Atheist could believe in ghosts and some do, and still come within the definition. A new word would do.

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