[ExI] "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Tue Oct 28 01:41:31 UTC 2008

At 11:49 AM 10/28/2008 +1130, Emlyn wrote:

>I've had some faithful types that I know see this, and comment on
>"probably", like it's a big flaw, and say "isn't that just
>agnosticism"? I think probably here means the same as it would in
>"Santa Claus probably doesn't exist"; the probability is really really
>close to 1.

On that same general point, Russell Blackford recently commented on his blog:

<I don't think an atheist is someone who thinks we can know for 
certain that there is no god. For me, it just means that you don't 
believe any such being exists. I don't believe that unicorns exist, 
but it's not something I know for certain. I am open to the idea that 
a unicorn will be found some day, perhaps on a distant Earth-like planet.

While I'm not a big fan of certainty about anything, I'm very 
confident that the providential, loving, yet all-powerful and 
all-knowing, deity described by traditional Abrahamic theologians 
does not exist. I'm also very confident that it's worth being 
outspoken about the likely non-existence of this being and about the 
suspect credentials of the monotheistic religious traditions.

That's enough for me to call myself an atheist. It's possible, for 
all I know, that there are very powerful intelligences somewhere in 
the universe with abilities beyond anything we'll ever be able 
achieve using techno-science. It's possible, for all I know, that 
there's a deist creator/designer, or something similar. I see no good 
reason to believe in the existence of any such beings, but I don't 
think that claims about them are totally meaningless or that their 
existence can be ruled out to any terribly high degree of confidence. 
We just don't know. But that's not terribly relevant, morally and 
politically. The issue I consider relevant is whether the actual 
monotheistic religions that we see around us trying to influence 
public policy and tell us how to live our lives have any claims to 
authority, and on that I am confident - no, they don't.

Their god does not exist, and their belief structures are built on a lie. >

Someone raised the agnostic bid, and RB replied:

<there are several issues here and I can't do justice to the nuances 
of any of them.

First, if you want to say I'm agnostic it's only in the technical 
sense that I can't rule out certain empirical or metaphysical 
possibilities. Despite that, I have no actual belief in anything that 
could be called a divine being. Indeed, I think that the widespread 
belief in such beings can be given reasonably good debunking 
explanations. In my view, such beliefs persist for historical and 
psychological reasons despite the lack of evidence.

Still, I can't rule out (to a very high level of probability) 
something that is described in a sufficiently vague way. On some 
descriptions, the claim might amount to no more than one about 
panpsychism or metaphysical idealism, or something. I don't believe 
in any such doctrine - I'm a pretty hardcore philosophical naturalist 
- but I can't be certain about such elusive issues.

But second, nor do I think those issues matter in the here and now. 
What matters is the truth or otherwise of the actual religious 
systems that we face in the contemporary world: Islam (in its various 
guises), Roman Catholicism, various forms of Protestantism, etc., 
etc. These have given pretty detailed descriptions of God - detailed 
enough that I think we can rule out to a high degree of probability 
the existence of any being of that kind.

If you still want to say this is an agnostic position, fine. But it 
will be in a very technical sense.

And notice, third, that self-styled "agnostics" are often people who 
want to sit on the fence about the existence of the god described by 
orthodox monotheists in the Abrahamic tradition. Indeed, they are 
often unwilling to give offence by denying the existence of the 
Christian, etc., deity, or the truth of revealed religion. I don't 
sit on the fence about that - I'm confident that no such being exists 
and am happy to say so.

All the evidence points to the non-existence of this being and to the 
conclusion that the religions in which this being is described are 
human constructs; none of them are supernaturally revealed. Or so I argue.

As a final point, don't confuse belief and certainty. We hold many of 
our beliefs on the basis that we have a high degree of subjective 
confidence in them and would, in an intuitive way, assign them a high 
degree of probability. We claim to have knowledge if those beliefs 
are justified by relevant evidence or something similar. That is not 
the same as certainty. Certainty about anything at all complex is 
pretty rare, or should be. >


Damien Broderick 

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