Falsifying the Unfalsifiable
Reading through this whole, excellent series on atheism, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. has been an extremely worthwhile experience. As I wrote in the comments to Chris’ post (you have no idea how much I’m loving that we have a student of theology in our little crew here):
I’m reminded of the old – and classic – Simpsons episode with Stephen Jay Gould, in which the judge orders “religion to stay five hundred yards away from science,” but in which Gould acknowledges that he was unwilling to test whether the apparent bones of an angel were real or fake. I’ve long thought this was one of the most poignant Simpsons episodes; I also think it (ie, the episode as a whole) does a good job illustrating the way in which faith (which as you correctly note is synonymous in many ways with trust) should not – and cannot – attempt to masquerade as science, even as science should not – and cannot -seek to take the place of religion.
I think this old Simpsons reference gets to the crux of the problem, not only with respect to overly evangelistic atheists, but also to overly evangelical, uhh, evangelicals. It also explains why I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in its original incarnation in the context of the Kansas Intelligent Design debate, was perfectly within the realm of legitimate dialogue…and why its occasional subsequent use as a way of mocking religion is not.
I think Chris is absolutely correct when he writes that “faith=trust,” and that “I’ve never met a human who does not trust in something or someone.” This, to me, is the central issue – ultimately, even the most hardcore atheist must put a certain amount of blind trust in SOMETHING, even if that trust is something as fundamental to atheism as the idea that reality exists and can be understood purely through rationality.
But whereever one chooses to place their trust, the fact is that whether that trust is properly placed is more or less unfalsifiable, and not subject to scientific proof or disproof. For the religious person, there is simply no way to prove through science that god exists or does not exist – as long as there is something in the universe that cannot rationally be explained, there is a basis for trusting in the existence of god. For the atheist, there is likewise simply no way to prove through science that god exists or does not exist – as long as a scientific or rational explanation for anything in the universe is theoretically possible, there is a basis to trust in the ability of reason to explain everything, and no basis to trust in the existence of god.
And this is why I think Chris – and E.D. – are absolutely correct in stating that the proper response to the question of the existence of god is “Who Cares?” The existence of god simply cannot be proven or disproven through pure reason, and neither side does themselves any favors when they insist otherwise.
Indeed, in insisting otherwise, both sides insure the continued conflation of science and religion, and both science and religion get demeaned in the process. For instance, when religion gets up in arms over the teaching of evolution in science class and demands that intelligent design theory be given equal time – also in science class – it must pretend to be something it is not, and was never intended to be. Religion is not science, and in attempting to gain acceptance as a science, it allows itself to be treated on the same terms as science. In other words, it begs to be treated as if it were falsifiable, when the entire point in faith is that it is something that is unfalsifiable. Worse, it forces religion to get tied up in arguments that have precious little to do with the elements of faith that are so very important: things like morality, conscience, meaning, etc. And so it loses the forest for the trees, to use a cliche.
But similarly, science demeans itself when it used as a proof of the non-existence of god. Science is not meant to provide unfalsifiable answers, nor is it intended to answer questions that can only admit of unfalsifiable answers. To do so is to turn the scientific method on its head. And in so doing, science demeans itself because it loses part of its very essence.
In this sense, the use of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the context of the evolution debate was absolutely brilliant, and well within the realm of acceptable discourse, in my view. In that context, it existed to demonstrate the lunacy of religion attempting to masquerade as science. But its use outside the context of refuting religious pseudo-science is in many ways problematic because scientific evidence is utterly irrelevant to the ultimate question of whether God exists.
There is, to be blunt, no scientific way to prove or disprove the existence of God. Both theists and atheists would serve their causes much better if they kept this in mind.
One more thing – I completely agree with Chris that a Pastafarian theology would be a wonderful thing to behold.