Conversations with an Atheist

Posted on August 30, 2011

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It has been said that the atheist has created his own religion, where his God is called “Chance”.  That may well be true, but I have found in discussions with one of my friend (the self-proclaimed spokesman for all Atheists) that when an atheist cannot explain why they believe something, they do what they accuse theists of doing, and appeal to Blind Faith.  No, their appeal is not to a Supreme Being or divinely inspired holy text but in something we call the Scientific Method.  For my friend, the Scientific Method has become his personal safety net used to explain everything.  It turns out to be extremely efficient and effective for him, as he no longer has to spend the time considering all the evidence.

Don’t believe me?  Here is a snippet from an email exchange with an atheist friend of mine about the death penalty.

In stating his views on the death penalty, he included the following remark, “….Given that there is no afterlife…”

I was intrigued at how he reached this conclusive belief, considering that the existence of an afterlife is beyond the realm of natural science.  So I replied by pointing out that “given that there is no afterlife” in his personal belief system, did not necessarily make it so.

He replied, “I don’t have a belief system, I have a proof system.”  I am not sure why, but apparently atheists are touchy whenever you insinuate that they might have a belief system.

I responded, “A proof system?  Well, how marvelous.  Please enlighten us on your proof that there is no afterlife?”

He replied, “Scientific method, my friend…”

Having studied science, I was fascinated as it seemed to contradict my understanding of the Scientific Method.  My response, “The Scientific Method…has its limits, of which you don’t seem aware of.  The Scientific Method is not able to measure afterlifes any more than it is able to assess the causation of The Big Bang…the existence of Abraham Lincoln, Galileo, Kepler or Aristotle; yet you have no trouble having strong beliefs about them…”

The surest sign that you are making your atheist friend nervous is when they start to ignore the questions that you are asking and begin to answer questions that you are not even asking.  This is where my friend goes in his response, “Same old Christian strawman.  You attempt to devalue scientific facts with wild, unproven ideas; since there’s the slightest possibility that The Matrix is accurate, then nothing we perceive with our eyes (or scientific instruments) can be believed to be wholly accurate.  And since we can’t trust science 100%, there’s the possibility that there could be an afterlife, even if we can’t measure it. … I freely admit that I have “faith”, but my faith is that science will eventually explain everything, and every year we get closer to my goal.  Conversely, every year science gets closer to disproving those things in which you have faith.  The beauty of your argument is, of course, that you can always say “but you just can’t perceive it…”

I am not exactly sure what point he was trying to make here, what it had to do with the Scientific Method or who he may have actually been responding to, but he completely ignores the limitations of the Scientific Method.  So I try again to explain it to him. “In case you may have forgotten what the Scientific Method is, let me remind you that it is limited to hypothesis that are able to be tested, falsifiable and that the results of any experiments must be repeatable and observable.  Therefore the Science Method cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, the existence of historical personages or any events that cannot be brought into a lab and tested.”

Instead of recognizing that he may have been mistaken in appealing to the Scientific Method in this instance, he continues to lay down a smoke cover so thick that hopefully people will forget what the original point was.  He responds, “How convenient for you, that the basis for your entire belief system “can’t be tested by science.”

He seems to have forgotten that we were discussing his belief system (not mine) that there is no afterlife.  I continued perhaps in vain to explain to him the irony of his statements, “Therefore your appeal to the Scientific Method in relation to determination of an afterlife, shows a misunderstanding on your part of the Scientific Method, which cannot be used in this instance.  Though, it is ironic that it hasn’t stopped you from developing strong opinions on the subject.  I am NOT stating whether or not your opinions are right or wrong, only that you should be upfront about what they are, which is, that they are just your opinions.  There is no proof to which you speak, as any honest scientist would tell you.  Why, because it’s not true?  No, because the Scientific Method is insufficient to assess areas like I described above.”

He again misses the point, “Only insufficient for you, because it disagrees with your position.”

I don’t believe that I stated that it disagrees with my position (mostly because I never expressed one) only that the Scientific Method is insufficient for dealing with issues of this nature.  Again, I try to communicate my intention, not to present my beliefs, only to try to understand his beliefs.  “I have only asked for what you called your Proof, but you have yet to provide any fact to me that support your presupposition [that there is no afterlife]. Since Science can’t measure things like “afterlifes” there is no proof in this area, there is only opinion and theory.  I am not stating my opinion or even claiming to know the truth, in this regard.  That is actually your position. I am not asking you to change your belief; I am only asking that you use accurate labels for them.”

“Why can’t science measure afterlifes?  Because you say so?  That’s crap… According to who is the Scientific Method meant only to measure “natural science”?  Just because it disproves your beliefs, you don’t want it used to measure them?  Sorry, that’s like a fat person saying they don’t want to be measured by a scale because they “don’t feel overweight”.

I am not sure if he was insinuating that I was fat or not, but the discussion continues to unravel from here; keep in mind, that in the course of the discourse:

  • I have not vocalized my beliefs or claimed any position in this discussion
  • I have not even attempted to convince him of any position contrary to his own
  • I am only trying to understand how he used the Scientific Method to arrive at his position, since it was the basis for proof behind all of his beliefs

The exchange is interesting, not only as an anthropological study of how two good friends of over 35 years interact with each other in email, but that it was the one proclaiming a reverence for science that was bludgeoning and besmearing the Scientific Method by using it as the justification for his existing prejudice and bias.  The Scientific Method has limits.  See the Wikipedia definition below.

Wikipedia: Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[1] A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.[2]

I do find it ironic that the people most influential in establishing the Scientific Method (Aristotle, Galileo, Kepler, etc.) believed that Science was and is a search for truth and fact.  Here my buddy was using (or misusing) it to justify an existing bias that he had long held without keeping an open mind and allowing the pursuit of science to establish truth. It was only his opinion and not established fact, as there is no proof one way of the other.  The truth is not mine, his or anyone’s, it simply is the Truth.  Until the truth has been established scientifically in any area, we should not allow ourselves to become so closed-minded that when the truth is finally revealed, it cannot find any room within our minds to accept it.

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