A common argument is made, and I have seen it a few times recently, that with all the information we don’t know about the universe, how can the atheist rely upon what little we do know to say there isn’t a god?
It usually looks something like this: “Think about all the information there ever was about the universe. How much does the smartest person in the world know about the universe? 10%? 5%? It seems likely, realizing there are 100 billion galaxies with 100 billions stars that we know less than 1% of the total knowledge there is about the universe. Isn’t it possible that within the 99% that we don’t know, a god exists? An atheist is relying just as much on faith as a theist by relying upon 1% to say what is true about the other 99%”
Of course there are minor variations on this argument, “how can you rely upon finite knowledge when humans have been shown to be wrong,” etc. There are numerous problems with this.
Let’s all be agnostic Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the theist really believed that we should not make positive (or negative) assertions about the universe until we have more than 1% of knowledge, then they also cannot make the positive assertion there is a God. If it is possible within the other 99% there is a God, it is equally possible there is not a God.
Why stop there? It is equally possible there are more than one gods, and more than one universe. In fact, with our limited capability, we should refrain from making any claims about anything, until we know more. Clearly, the theist does not hold to this proposition for their own position, why, then, impose it on others?
Look at what we do know Within our little 1%, we know that the Easter Bunny is made up by humans. Doesn’t exist. We know that Santa Clause is made up. Doesn’t exist. We know that severed arms do not re-attach and, with the wave of a wand and a few magic words, start functioning normally.
With what we do know, we can make assertive statements, regardless what the other 99% consists of. If there is a supernova exploding on the other side of the universe, does it make a difference whether it is going blue or red, as to whether there is a god? Nope. Since that is part of the 99% I don’t know, it does not provide any new information as to God’s existence, so who cares if we don’t know it?
Or, look at it this way. I am sure I know less than 1% of American History. When we look at all the facts of all the things that have happened in America over the last 400 years, I am certain I know less than 1% of 1%! Yet even with this miniscule knowledge, I am aware that Daffy Duck was never President of the United States. Can we say, “A-ha! You don’t know 99% of American History, therefore you cannot know this?” Of course not. The minute amount I do know lists the Presidents that have been elected, and Daffy Duck is not one of them.
What is interesting is that the theist will often point out what they don’t know, and therefore claim they do know there is a god. This hardly makes sense. “Within the 99% of what we don’t know is how, exactly life formed on earth, whether there is life elsewhere, what existed prior to the Big Bang, how much dark matter there, and therefore within the 1% of what I do know, I will claim there is a god. One we don’t know 99% about.”
If the theist is able, within ,their 1% of knowledge declare there is a god, why am I prohibited from using the same knowledge and saying there is not? Why must I have to wait for the other 99%, and they do not?
Further, the “limitation” of human knowledge is what we have to work with. Even if there was a supernatural being, the only way that we as humans can know it, is by our own knowledge—i.e. human. This presumes there is something “other” than human knowledge, which is a bit silly, considering the only way to discuss it, or even conceive of it, is by discussing with other humans, and interacting with their knowledge.
Guess what? Every single thing we know is confined within human knowledge. There isn’t anything beyond it. The instant one starts to talk about some knowledge “beyond it” it becomes part of human knowledge!
What happens when knowledge increases? We weren’t always at 1%, or whatever number one wants to put on it. We used to be less. As knowledge of the universe and the world about us has increased, we have modified what we can theorize and surmise about the other 99%. At one time, within our little amount, we did not know that light had a speed, acted as a wave and a particle, and can be moved by gravity. As we learn these new facts, we modify our information about what the other 99% looks like.
In fact, part of what little we know, is that Heisenberg Uncertainty principle, which states we cannot state at a moment in time, the exact nature of the universe. The more certain we are as to the direction of a moving particle, the less certain the speed, and vice versa. We can never know 100%, by the very limitations as to how we can observe the universe.
While our little bits of knowledge increase, we are able to modify and reduce the possibilities of what the other 99% is like. Is theism equally willing to change?
Upon learning through textual and higher criticism that the works of the Bible were not accurately copied and recorded, is theism willing to modify its belief regarding canonization and inerrancy. Upon learning that the earth is billions of years old, and was not made in spurts and spats, is theism willing to embrace evolution?
See, within the naturalist 1% of knowledge is the ability and recognition to modify its understanding of the other 99%. If a person began to regularly perform miracles, won the Randi challenge, and exhibited unexplained supernatural phenomena, every naturalist I know would be willing to abandon their 1% naturalistic ideal, and study the new, supernatural concept. But a theist, with their 1% of knowledge, only rarely will view facts and reason, and modify their beliefs, to the point of becoming a naturalist.
Theism fails to provide for any ability to modify its belief.
Faith So is each claim, “no god” vs “a god” a matter of faith? That somewhere out there in the other 99%, whatever a person happens to believe, may be confirmed, but in the meantime both parties are relying upon unsubstantiated assertions?
Here is the problem with that. Other than pantheists, the theist has made a non-faith based determination. They have eliminated, as possibilities, other deities as even remotely being possible in the other 99%. In the same way that a theist says, “Isn’t it possible there is a god, because of what you don’t know?” I could say, “Isn’t it possible there is a different god than the one you subscribe to, because of what you don’t know?”
Within this small scope of knowledge, the theist uses reason to eliminate all other god(s) except the one they hold onto. Can they do that, and yet claim I cannot, because of the vast unknown? What they are saying is two contradictory statements: “Within the 1% that we know, we do know that this god, and that god, and those gods, and these gods cannot possibly exist. You, the atheist, cannot say that god’s don’t possibly exist.” Yes, I can. I apply the same method the theist does to their god, with the same limitation of knowledge, and poof—there is no proof.
“We don’t know” does not equal the possibility of a God.