By Mathew Goldstein
Our modern picture of the world counter-evidences the religious conviction that our universe has a transcendent aspect or purpose. Epistemic humility mandates the conclusion that our picture is incomplete. We all operate under conditions of irremediable uncertainty. We are not following out a proof. But when it is proposed that proteins fold into their three-dimensional configurations under the direction of ghostly beings, the proper reaction is to reject the proposed explanation.
We must reject interventions by ghostly beings because we do not need to know everything with certainty from proof to know enough to confidently conclude that our universe operates within the physical constraints of indifferent natural laws. To reach this conclusion we need a commitment to truth and a recognition that the only reliable way to discover what is true about how our universe functions is to follow the empirical evidence. We are compelled to the recognition that we are dependent on empiricism by tallying the historical success versus failure ratio of various methods of finding the truth.
Rain and war dances, prayer, meditation, incantations, voodoo, fasting, hallucinatory substances, exorcism, seance, astrology, tarot cards, tea leaves, crystal balls, worship, faith, intuition, imagination, divine revelation, are among the multitude of non-empirical methods that people have turned to resolve problems and obtain answers. These methods have an unbroken track record of failure. The only method of finding the truth about how our universe operates that has a consistent track record of success is a skeptical empiricism. A nutritious meal, a sound sleep and a mid-day nap, some physical exercise, good music, meditation, maybe even a hallucinatory substance, etc., can all contribute, but only empiricism rejects what is fake and connects us to what is real.
The available empirical evidence is sufficient to speak decisively against our universe possessing transcendence or purpose. Contrary to what agnosticism claims, the evidence is not silent on this question. Every area of human inquiry that speaks on this question speaks consistently, unanimously telling us that our universe operates mechanically and is indifferent to our fate. To continue to believe in a universal transcendence or purposefulness or higher power is to refuse to confront what the evidence says.
The unavoidable need for interpretation to get from the evidence to any given conclusion is sometimes cited as justification for accepting a wide range of conclusions. However, skeptical empiricism connects the evidence to a particular conclusion by best fit. Best fit discards unnecessary accouterments and attaches itself to the most economical conclusion. Equality and pluralism are important and valuable social principles, but they are counterproductive as principles of rationality.
All conclusions are not equally good. For those of us who are committed to responsibly matching our beliefs to the evidence, any religious belief, from the most literalist to the most metaphorical, has ceased to be a live option. It would be otherwise only if our universe was different. We did not choose the universe we were born into and therefore we cannot choose our conclusion. Atheism is the best fit with the available evidence conclusion given our universe as it actually is and therefore we are atheists.