Atheists Do Not Exist
Being an atheist is impossible. Everyone believes in the supernatural and in miracles.
Our headline and subheading – outrageous! some atheists must be responding. Well, don’t take our word for it. New Scientist (a very Darwinian atheist-leaning site) just printed a story, “Most atheists believe in the supernatural, despite trusting science.” What?
Belief in the supernatural is still alive and kicking, even among people who don’t believe in a god. Research on atheists and agnostics around the world has revealed that almost nobody can claim to completely reject irrational beliefs such as life after death, astrology, and the existence of a universal life-force.
The UK-based Understanding Unbelief project interviewed thousands of self-identified atheists and agnostics from six countries – Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, US and UK. It found that despite their godlessness, a majority believe in at least one supernatural phenomenon or entity.
We rest our case. Well, there’s more to say. Whoever wrote the editorial in New Scientist put forward a false dichotomy: science vs irrationality. Let’s first dispense with that bit of irrationality itself. Then, we want to take the argument further and say that not only do “most” atheists believe in the supernatural, everyone does. Finally, we want to prove that being an atheist is impossible. Hang on to your seats!
False Categories and Self-Refutation
Assuming that supernaturalism is irrational, the author of the New Scientist article gets comments from two atheism experts. The second one, Marjaana Lindeman of the University of Helsinki in Finland, was surprised by the findings. They don’t match her experience talking to atheists. “If you don’t believe in a supernatural being like God it is quite difficult to believe in other types of supernatural phenomena,” she says, stating her version of the false dichotomy. “It is about thinking, reasoning, knowledge and argument.” Unquestionably, a lot of supernaturalism is irrational (e.g., spiritualism, alien abductions). That does not mean that all of it is (see non-sequitur in the Baloney Detector).
The other expert, Jonathan Lanman, an anthropologist at Queen’s University Belfast and one of the leaders of the project, concludes that “Humans are not rational.” In this, he saws off the limb he sits on, unless he can exempt himself from the human race, because it makes him not rational. Perhaps he assumes that rationality can be learned through scientific training. But that, too, is self-refuting (stay tuned). The take-home message of the article is that a survey of thousands of self-identified atheists and agnostics showed that they were inconsistent with their atheism. Some believed in karma; some believed in life after death; some believed in underlying forces of good and evil; and some believed in other non-physical influences.
The Impossibility of Atheism
One cannot be an atheist. Why? Because atheism presupposes immaterial, eternal things. Strict atheism, or physicalism, only allows for particles and forces and the laws by which they interact (see the late Robert Jastrow explain this as he talks about his own agnosticism in a touching video by Illustra Media, “God and the Astronomer“). What are some of these immaterial, eternal things? Try the laws of logic. Try truth. Try morality. If any of these things are mere human behaviors or conventions, they can change. They could even evolve into their opposites in another time or culture. That reduces to relativism – “your truth is not my truth.” If the laws of logic evolve, or if morality evolves, or if truth evolves, then the foundations for conversation about those things collapses. In fact, one cannot even think about them, because thinking presupposes the supernatural. C. S. Lewis said it best:
Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.
The argument for the impossibility of atheism goes beyond even this. Anyone wishing to consider the truthfulness of a proposition or the morality of a policy has to believe in non-physical, unchanging principles. The laws of logic brook no evolution. If those laws evolve (for instance, if you are allowed to believe in contradictory premises), you can prove anything—therefore nothing. You can prove you are not an atheist!
Morality requires eternal standards, too. Some atheists can act like very moral people, saying that they ascribe to the Golden Rule or even the 10 Commandments (but if they so claim, they are already lawbreakers of #1-4). For an atheist to ascribe to such things, he or she must believe that they are universal and timeless, because if they can evolve, they collapse into subjective feelings, not morals. Every atheist that employs reason or morality, therefore, believes in the supernatural. Moral principles and laws of logic are not “natural” features of physical atoms and forces. They are beyond nature. Our understanding of logic or morality can change, but as concepts toward one must aspire, they are timeless, universal, necessary, and certain.
Atheists believe in miracles, too. No theist could ever concoct a bigger miracle than the belief that the universe popped into itself from nothing. They believe in a whole string of impossible miracles, from the big bang, to the evolution of heavy elements, stars and planets, to the incredibly improbable origin of life, to the origin of multicellularity, and sex, and consciousness, and of rational beings like Homo sapiens.
Atheism is impossible. Q.E.D.
Recommended Resource: David Rives recently posted a short video called “The Pantheon of Atheism” See his list of 3 gods atheists worship by watching the video here.