Being an Affirmed Atheist is not Scientific

I’m sure there is an older thread on this same topic… but frankly, I think this is worth another look…

Professor Marcelo Gleiser, recipient of a Templeton grant, writes this:

From the Salt Lake Tribune :

A Dartmouth College professor who says he is a religious agnostic but whose work has focused on the links between science and the mysteries of creation is the winner of the 2019 Templeton Prize.

While Gleiser describes himself as an agnostic, he is an avowed critic of atheism.

“I see atheism as being inconsistent with the scientific method as it is, essentially, belief in nonbelief ,” Gleiser said in a 2018 interview in Scientific American. “You may not believe in God, but to affirm its nonexistence with certainty is not scientifically consistent.”

One can only hope he did something else to win the prize than make this incoherent statement :slight_smile:



I think @swamidass would agree with this professor’s opinion. To make a definitive assertion of Atheism is not consistent with the scientific method!

I would tend to agree with you, unless they’ve made some kind of previously unseen argument.

But, he is making a strawman:

“You may not believe in God,

OK, you’re an atheist then. So what’s the problem? Also:

belief in nonbelief

I have no idea what this means at all.



It means that based on only the absence of information… a person is throwing in all his cash on the belief that nobody sitting around the card table has a great hand (i.e., there is no divine being).

To me, this is at best an approximation of probabilities… not an assertion of knowledge or certitude.

So… the phrase, “belief that “no belief” is a valid stance”.

I don’t think we have to say all that. To say that atheists “don’t believe” is sufficient. Atheists don’t need to believe in no belief or disbelief.

I guess this is the heart of the issue. Gleiser is talking about people who “affirm (God’s) nonexistence with certainty”, which is fine, but he equates that position with “atheism”, which is much broader in scope in fact.


Atheism is not part of the scientific method as science is neutral on theism or atheism. If a scientist found evidence that either disproves or proves God that evidence would be subject to falsification, collaboration, verification, and review.


Couple of points:

  1. The Templeton Foundation is not a very respectable source of respectability. It turns out that they spent a lot of money funding climate change denial organizations in addition to their science-and-religion kick.

  2. The main force of his argument seems to involve “certainty”, which is not something science deals in. Then again, who says it’s something atheism deals in either? I’d just say that the probability of any sort of being that any theist would recognize as “God” is low enough that we can afford to dismiss it for all practical purposes. I’d say the same thing about phlogiston.

I’m sure Gleiser is just fine as a physicist, but as a philosopher of science (or atheism), he’s lacking.



Well it IS atheism.

But as long as he is clear that he is referring to affirmed or zealous atheists, he is quite right.

Says the affirmed atheist?

Yes. And?

That is certainly a reasonable reaction to Gleiser’s statement. The physicist’s claim is downright bizarre and jarring. It suggests that he doesn’t understand the differences between science and philosophy. Thus, “Being an affirmed atheist is not scientific.” strikes me as almost as jolting as “Being an affirmed atheist is not athletic.”— to which my response would be: “Uhhhh… well… OK. I suppose you could say that.” (But why would anybody say that???)



I dont agree. It is the same kind of distinction that we ask ID folks to make… who refuse to do so.

I’m not sure I follow what you are saying, George. In any case, I would certainly agree that many ID folks do confuse and conflate science and philosophy in equally jarring ways.

This is an interesting and worthwhile thread topic.


Yet another person who forgets that many atheists lack belief but don’t go further and make the claim that gods definitely don’t exist. Atheism only requires a lack of belief, not a belief that gods don’t exist.


It’s one possible atheist position. What if I tried to criticize all religion based on the activity of the crassest televangelists? Or tried to define all religious thought as equivalent to Buddhist philosophy (no offense intended to it!)?

He’s not clear about it at all. That’s the point of my criticism.



You don’t think the statement in the quotes above is clear enough?

What would you add to it?

I would add a “Tu quoque!” to it. (hoping this passes @swamidass meme filter since it is more explanatory and historical than memetic).

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I think it is pretty clear that the Highlander is hoping she will not notice (or at least won’t comment) on his rather sizable tumor…

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Can you please help me to understand this?

If “to lack belief” is “be without or deficient in belief,” then am I correct that you would favor this as an operational definition:

Atheism is a deficiency in belief that gods exist.

If one is “without belief that gods exist” then it would be the same as “possessing a belief that gods don’t exist,” which you disavow.

I’m not trying to be smart, but if there’s an important distinction between lacking belief they exist and possessing a belief that they don’t exist, I would like to understand that. (We can break this out if need be. I don’t mean for it to disrupt the thread.)