A strategic response to: “God-belief is unscientific!”

by Blake Giunta

Atheists often complain that the God hypothesis is unscientific. The objection captures a widely publicized sentiment among non-believers that faith and science are in some sense incompatible: the belief that God exists is taken to be subjective and personal, while beliefs about how the world actually is (or objectively is) must in principle be testable by scientific methodology. This is a very clumsy dichotomy, however. Consider responding this way:

STEP 1: Ask the atheist what he means by unscientific. You will likely hear something along the lines of “one cannot test God’s existence by the scientific method” (and/or “the idea that God exists is unfalsifiable”). If you hear either of these, then proceed to step 2.

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STEP 2: Ask the atheist if he is affirming scientism. It is important to confirm what the atheist means before you respond.

E.g., say “Why does it matter that one be able to test God’s existence by the scientific method (and/or that his existence be scientifically falsifiable)? Are you perhaps thinking that the scientific method is the only possible source of genuine factual knowledge? Or is the idea maybe that all true propositions are scientifically falsifiable?”

It might be that simply asking the question will give your interlocutor pause; he will ideally be able to guess what will happen next if he answers “yes.” This occasionally results in him backing up and re-framing the issue in terms of something else, like the claim that God is magic (see link for response). If the atheist does confirm that he means to criticize theism on grounds that God is not knowable by the scientific method and/or is unfalsifiable, then proceed to step 3…

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