Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Is atheism a religion? Is the many-worlds interpretation pseudoscience?

by Rob - December 9th, 2009.
Filed under: Atheism, Calculating God.

In response to my op-ed piece “A Bright Idea for Atheists” (expanded from a speech I gave at the grand opening of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario), and the essay “Science and God” I wrote for Borders Books to help promote the release, back in 2000, of my novel Calculating God, a friend wrote to me to object to two points I make.

First, he objects to this statement: “Atheism is no more a religion than not playing chess is a hobby.”

Second, he objects to my citing of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (which, coincidentally, Lloyd Simcoe discussed in last week’s episode of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name).

My reply:

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It all comes down, to me, to what a religion is. For me (codifying here in words off the top of my head what I believe) the defining characteristics of a religion are:

(1) a belief in a supernatural sentient being or beings, whether extinct or extant, that has or had an influence on our own existence, and

(2) a systematic undertaking to communicate with, get the attention of, worship, avoid the wrath of, or otherwise interact with or act in response to the existence of said supernatural being or beings.

I freely admit that others have their own definitions of religion, but for me atheism fails to meet either of the above criteria and therefore is not a religion. (It may be a movement, a club, a cult, a lifestyle, or a community, but it is not a religion.)

And I gently disagree on the possibility of alternate realities, many-worlds, or multiple universes being “a pseudoscience that is not falsifiable and can never be ‘proven’ nor ‘disproven’ since the theory itself demands that no information can ever be exchanged between universes.”

I invite you to cite where the theory demands that no information can ever be exchanged between universes; it’s true that there’s no current mechanism for that, but except for the argumentative sleight-of-hand that says “I insist that this theory and all iterations and variations of it have this defining characteristic [that no information can ever be exchanged between universes] because insisting on that characteristic is necessary for me to be able to dismiss this theory as unprovable pseudoscience,” I’m unaware of any laws of physics that prevent individual universes within a multiverse ever exchanging information.

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