But isn’t God a special case by definition? After all, the idea is that the thing is the creator of the universe and an entity to whom the regular rules of the universe don’t apply. So it doesn’t seem accurate to say that claiming some degree of uncertainty about whether such a thing exists and its properties is the same as claiming some uncertainty about whether or not there is a teapot circling Mars. I’m agnostic about string theory not only because I haven’t investigated the subject deeply, but also because I am fairly sure I am not capable of understanding the arguments for and against it as they are mathematical arguments well beyond my ability to understand. Similarly, it seems unjustified to assume that I can confidently rule out the possibility of a deity given that it is fairly certain I would not be able to understand the nature of such a thing.
Granted, of course, I can (and do) make judgements about empirically testable claims about such a being, which makes it possible to dismiss most of the “evidence” presented in support of the idea. That leaves the sort of deistic concept or some unknowable other construct, and I agree that believing in either of those doesn’t seem worth the trouble given their inscrutability and lack of relevance to daily life. Still, I don’t know that it’s fair to dismiss the issue of uncertainty about God by analogizing to fundamentally different phenomena like teapots and deliberate fictions like Santa.
Well, I see what you’re saying. My response would be, like a good philosopher, “Yes and no.”
The problem with deciding whether or not God exists is that the word means so many things to so many people. We’ve had a discussion on here recently about the question as to whether or not there was some “higher power”, and there’s certainly a sense in which I have no earthly idea as to what the right answer is, since the question is so unformed as to be unanswerable.
Same with questions like, “What’s the meaning of life?” I can hazard some general responses, but there’s a sense in which the question is meaningless.
That said, there are some really pretty well formed ideas of God in amongst the dross. There is the traditional God of Christianity, who answers prayers, who created the world, who in some sense was responsible for the Bible, who judges the saved and the damned (at the very least sending the former to heaven), and who is all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good. I’d submit that there’s no fundamental sort of uncertainty with this notion of God that would make us unable to have a reasoned guess as to whether or not he exists.
There’s all kinds of evidence that biology is not consistent with a perfect creator of all living things. There’s all kinds of evidence that the evil in the world is too great to be accounted for by the desires of a morally perfect being. There’s all kinds of evidence contradicting the theory of a soul as distinct from the body. Etc.
Now, this is the kind of God that most people mean when they talk about whether or not God exists, at least in our culture. So I don’t find it at all problematic to simply assume that I’m denying the existence of such a being when I claim to be an atheist.
There may be other more abstract or Deistic sorts of god to which my opinion would be more measured, perhaps agnostic. But one can’t take on all comers at once, and I’m concerned here also about a bait-and-switch. You know the kind: there’s no evidence that a Deistic god doesn’t exist, so that provides evidence that my Christian God exists. Well, no it doesn’t. And since the thin god of Deism is of no religious import (it doesn’t or can’t care about us or respond to prayer, etc.), it really should be beside the point when discussing atheism in the context of any actual religion that people hold.
And re. the general point, I do think that there is a kind of special pleading around religious topics in general and God in particular, in our culture. A sense in which “there one cannot go”. And it’s that sense that leads me to want to re-emphasize all this.