Unknown Unknowns And Atheism

You atheist types are an obstinate sort
You could choose to believe, but you won’t
You say there’s no god in the world we can see…
Ah, but what of the world that we don’t?

What percent of reality really is known;
What percent have we left to divine?
With an unknown infinity left to explore
Who says your view is better than mine?

I choose to believe in the things we can’t see
In the not-yet-discovered reality
With no data at all, I still choose to believe
That there’s something transcending mortality

I won’t limit myself to observable facts
I won’t bow to the mere scientific
While the views I’ll admit are remarkably vague
My religion is very specific.

My God thinks as I do; what’s right and what’s wrong
His will is as clear as can be
You atheists want to know why I believe?
It’s all there… in the things we can’t see.

So at my previous post, I got a comment:

There is an important question which needs to be asked here.

How many percent of reality do you know?

How many percent of all the parallel universes?

How can you consider it unlikely that there might exist entities somewhere else who are so wonderful and powerful that they cannot be comprehended by a human mind?

I’ve never read or heard convincing answers from self-proclaimed Skeptics.

Kind regards from Europe.

It linked, by the way, to a post which approvingly linked to a very poor argument attempting to shift the burden of proof onto atheists by narrowly defining atheism (in a manner which few atheists actually agree with–I, for one, much prefer a privative definition) and by conflating knowledge and belief (thus arguing for agnosticism as an alternative to atheism, rather than as orthogonal concepts).

But, yeah, it always seemed odd to me to play the “there’s so much we don’t know” card against atheists. There’s a quote, attributed to Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, and Josh Billings (with a variant attributed to Ronald Reagan), “it’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble, it’s what we do know that just ain’t so.” To claim that the vast amount of the universe we do not know may hide something akin to a god, flies in the face of the claims of religions, who are awfully specific about the attributes and adventures of their gods. It’s not that some god might exist in a parallel universe, it’s that they lived atop Mt. Olympus. It’s not that some hidden corner of a far-off galaxy might have time-traveling magicians, it’s that one was born to a virgin in Bethlehem. It’s not that maybe on some distant star there are levitating humanoids, it’s that one ascended to heaven from a rock in Jerusalem.

Atheists are not discounting the possibility of unknown things occurring in unknown places. We don’t have to. These events and places are unknown. No one is making a positive claim that needs to be evaluated. There is nothing to deny, nothing even to comment on. But that has little or nothing to do with the actual and specific claims of religion. If, tomorrow, a time/space traveling alien materialized at, say, MIT, and provided evidence (the alien equivalent of DNA, and demonstrations of technology) of something “wonderful and powerful”, then A) skeptics would evaluate the evidence and (assuming it is sound) conclude that their world had just been expanded beyond their previously wildest beliefs, and B) it would not provide the slightest bit of evidence for any of the world’s religions.

And if, by some extraordinary chance, it turns out that this alien provided hard evidence that its alien race was behind the miracles of the bible, that they had actually occurred just as written, and that some version of Christianity (not all of them; they disagree with one another) was absolutely true… then skeptics and atheists would largely say “well, damn, I was wrong.” But that extraordinary evidence would not change the fact that, up until that evidence was provided, there was no reason at all to suspect it ever would be.

And right now, that alien has not visited, and right now, the existence of unknown mysteries in unknown corners of the universe is not, in the slightest, an argument in favor of any religion.


  1. Randomfactor says

    OK, let’s estimate we know 1 percent of what there is to be known.

    What are the chances that the one percent we know just HAPPENS to be the ONLY one percent that hasn’t got any god in it? One in a hundred?

    And how much less was known back at the time most holy books–even “Dianetics”–were written? (Hubbard didn’t even know about plate tectonics and that Piltdown was a hoax, when he wrote his scriptures.) If they found the black cat so easily, isn’t it possible that they just didn’t yet have the evidence to prove them wrong?

    Or is he squeezed into say 50 percent of the universes and absent from the other half? If so, SOME evidence for him he should probably show up in the next doubling or two of human knowledge, right? Unless he’s just messing with us.

  2. rq says

    Even if those entities exist out there somewhere in parallel worlds, they’re so far removed from us by virtue of not being in our universe, that it doesn’t matter.
    This universe, this one, right here, doesn’t have such entities, doesn’t need them, and I refuse to believe in them.

  3. abusedbypenguins says

    I only know this; in my imagination there is no deity rattling around causing problems. Anyone who has a problem causing deity in their head has a personal problem that I want no part of. It is beyond my ability to comprehend how any intelligent, educated person could possibly believe in such ridiculous nonsense as an imaginary deity.

  4. fulcrumx says

    I don’t know why anyone thinks it’s smart to try to make the argument that their ignorance is proof their god is real.

  5. bad Jim says

    Wikiquote credits Josh Billings with this version:

    I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

    Everybody’s Friend (1874), repeating an observation attributed to Socrates

    We could call it the razor of Socrates, although it’s thought he didn’t shave.

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