Rabbi Adam Jacobs wrote “An Open Letter to the Atheist Community,” the title of which is sort of based a misunderstanding. The only thing atheists share is an absence in a belief in something. That is not grounds to be called a community. Atheism tells nothing of what a person actually believes to be true. Just because two people lack a belief in something does not mean they necessarily will share any common values. Where you do find atheist groups, their priorities are to meet fellow free-thinkers to see if they do share any common interests or values and to reduce discrimination against them.
To his major points, the rabbi begins his letter with an immediate misunderstanding of atheism. He said “that there really are no true atheists” because such a belief would require absolute knowledge of the universe. But again this is wrong for at least three reasons.
Atheism is a lack of belief in a god, meaning there is no empirical (fact-based) evidence to support a belief in a god. For many atheists, that is the extent of their claim. They do not say that the existence of a god is impossible, only that they do not possess any empirical evidence to believe there is one.
The second fault in the rabbi’s thinking is that the burden of proof is not on atheists to prove that there is no empirical evidence for theism. The burden of proof lies with theist to prove that they have empirical evidence for their belief, since theists are the ones making a positive claim. A belief without empirical evidence is arbitrary, as in not grounded in reality, and therefore neither true nor false. If such definitive empirical evidence existed, there would be no reason to rely on faith, which is the act of acquiring a belief in knowledge in the absence empirical evidence or, more often, in spite of the available empirical evidence.
Even with those clarifications, the third fault in the rabbi’s reasoning is that we can prove by logical deduction that there is no god. Part of the difficulty in proving there is no god is that there are so many definitions for the word “god.” Some will say god is love or energy or the perfect good. We already know what those notions are or at least understand the thinking behind them, so there is no reason to use the word “god,” which brings with it supernatural connotations. At a minimum, “god” is defined as an eternal incorporeal being responsible for the creation of existence. Existence would be defined as the totality of all that had existed, that does exist and that will exist. The notion “god” can be proven to be self-contradictory and therefore non-existent in reality in the same way that a square circle cannot exist. Self-contradictory notion can be used as figurative tools, but it would be pointless to search the universe for a square circle, a married bachelor or an instance where two plus two is five.
Logically proving the self-contradictory nature of the notion “god,” an eternal incorporeal being responsible for the creation of existence, is as follows.
- Consciousness is the faculty to perceive that which exists.
- Consciousness can only occur if something exists to perceive.
- In the absence of existence, nothing exists to be conscious of to perceive.
- A being that lacks consciousness is unconscious.
- An unconscious being cannot act purposefully to create existence.
- The notion “god” exists as a manifestation of the human mind, which is an entity in existence.
- Therefore, there is no god.
The basic summation is that if there were a god, it could never act. By the fact that existence exists, there can be no god.
The supposed attributes of quantitatively infinite goodness, presence, knowledge and power are themselves self-contradictory as well. As Leonard Peikoff said, ” ‘Infinite’ as applied to quantity does not mean ‘very large’: it means ‘larger than any specific quantity.’ That means: no specific quantity—i.e., a quantity without identity. This is prohibited by the Law of Identity.”
Having shown why the notion “god” contradicts the fundamental meta-physical principles of reality, I do not think that the rest of the rabbi’s open letter is founded. However, he does mention the good that has come of people’s belief in Judaism. Even if it were the case that Judaism was less opposed to human happiness and equality, that should not warrant its belief. Considering the teachings of other religions, Judaism had a pretty low hurdle to cross. Of the points he made about the positive impact of his religion, in no way is a religious belief required to perform them. Atheists are just as capable of justice and love as atheists.
Pointing to “Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot” as examples of secular injustices gives his case away. In the case of Hitler, he was very outspoken about his Christian belief. What united all of them were beliefs shared almost universally by theists, the virtue of self-sacrifice to the collective.
To the rabbi’s final point, atheism does not have to be asserted on faith. He added, “Being a rationalist, of course, you know that failing to make such an observation is different from proving that there isn’t one [a god], which, by its very nature, is an impossible task.” That is what the rabbi does not understand. A negative statement, such as one that there is no god, can be demonstrated as true if it is true. To demonstrate that two plus two is not five or 20 or 55 only takes proving that two plus two is four. To demonstrate that there is no god only takes demonstrating that existence exists and A is A, both (irrefutable) axiomatic primaries of logic. To say that one cannot prove a negative statement is itself a negative statement. So if the statement is true, it refutes itself. If the statement that one cannot prove a negative is false, that means negative statements, including that one, are then arbitrary and therefore meaningless. In either case, the statement that one cannot prove a negative is untrue. The purpose for the rabbi’s use of the statement that it is impossible to prove “that there isn’t one [a god]” is to deny that knowledge is even possible. If it is impossible to rule out the possibility that two plus two is not five, it is equally impossible to claim knowledge that two plus two is four. If I cannot prove that this thing I am punching my fingers on is not a poisonous snake, I cannot claim with certainty that it is keyboard either. The statement that one cannot prove a negative statement is a claim to knowledge that denies knowledge is possible.
Forgiving the fact that the rabbi completely misunderstands atheism and peddles the idea that we cannot use reason, even as he communicates through the use of our reason, I welcome having an “open mind and a spirit of appreciation for our shared humanity.” It is just that so many theists do not see it that way. The goal of this post is not to rob people of their beliefs, and for the most part I do not initiate conversations about religion with theists nor do I support violence in the name of my beliefs — if only I could say the same for statists, some theists and some anarchists (for that matter).