Although I myself don’t believe in existence of God, or other supernatural entities, I find what I call proof game – both parties, religious and atheists, demanding proofs from each other, or providing proofs for fellow members in order to tackle the enemy – quite amusing.
A typical scenario is this. A religious man, extremist or not, talks about existence of God and an atheist, extremist or not, demands proof. After some trying, the religious man resorts to saying “Alright, can YOU prove God doesn’t exist?” to which the atheist says “You don’t understand the concept of burden of proof. I am not obliged to prove his non existence, rather you are”, often in a very condescending tone. The condescension increases as his amateur knowledge of science increases. Such people I call Dawkinians.
The atheist is right in this regard. The accepted intellectual convention is that those who make extraordinary claims are obliged to provide proofs for their claims. However, what is not right is the idea held by the atheists that they have successfully proven non existence of God because the religious couldn’t prove the existence of God.
A cursory survey of such encounters reveals that almost all atheist proofs are a sort of initial condition problem, and like any initial condition problem, starting from a different point will yield vastly different result. Typically, the religious make the claim so hold the burden of proof, which they cannot handle optimally. A nice variation would be instead of the religious claiming existence of God, they simply pose it as a question to the atheists. When the atheists say “no”, emphatically, the religious come out on top – now the burden of proof is with the atheists.
Many atheists are quick to argue that proving a negative is against the principles and conventions of philosophy, thus making it absurd. However, the better informed among the atheists, the Dawkinians, recognize that it is not really absurd to do that and they set out to prove the non existence. They use a familiar method used in mathematics – assume something is true, show that it leads to absurdity, and conclude that it cannot therefore be true. A canonical example of this in mathematics is to prove that square root of two is irrational.
The Dawkinians treat the claims made by religious people and their scriptures as true and show that there is an abundance of things that happen contrary to the ‘facts’ espoused by the religions, or that plenty of things happen despite the claims in the religions. For the first kind the preferred topic is evolution, and for the second kind the preferred topic is prevalence of crime and suffering. Therefore, the Dawkinians say, there does not and cannot exist anything like God.
However, if you look closely at the proof, you will see that the Dawkinians have only managed to prove that a particular religious doctrine is false. They haven’t proven anything about God. It is akin to disproving a theory that tried to explain an experimental result. Just because rules of logic concluded the theory to be absurd doesn’t make the result an illusion. A cursory look at history of science shows how many theories came and went trying to explain things like light and atoms. Did the disproving of the theories have any bearing on the ‘reality’ of light or atoms? Did it disprove existence of light or atoms?
Religion is also a theory to explain the universe and everything humans perceive, such as thunder, earthquakes, dreams and death. But this theory is based on perception and emotion instead of experiments and analyses using modern scientific rules and ideas.
There are plenty of things that science can’t explain. The standard response to that by Dawkinians is ‘we don’t know yet but we will find out eventually via science’. A religious person can never say something on those lines because religions are set in stone. This makes the atheists believe that they win, albeit in some future date. What the atheists don’t know is that the religious have a trump card of their own – “only god knows best’. Every god based religion can use this trump card and there is nothing Dawkinians can do about it, and it infuriates them to the maximum. The Dawkinains know they can’t counter this trump card because it is exactly same as what they say, albeit based on different theory. Some desperate Dawkinians claim such statements by religious is an informal conceding of defeat because we can’t possibly know what God knows, and God might know nothing. Of course, they don’t see the absurdity of their arguments. It isn’t surprising then that frustrated Dawkinians mock, insult and bitch about religion and religious people at every available half chance, often unprovoked.
The proof game is indeed very amusing.
As for my belief, I don’t believe in any superhuman entity that has created everything, but if you ask me “then how did every thing come into existence”, and keep prodding deeper and deeper, we will reach a point where I would say “I don’t know, we don’t know, but we are going to figure it out as much as possible, and it certainly isn’t due to any God”. I guess that makes me some kind of an agnostic. You might wonder how can I be “certain” about non existence of God. The answer is two fold. First, the argument that life & universe is too complex and needs a creator means the creator itself is at least as complex and thus need a creator, which is paradoxical, as God is said to have no creator etc. Second, it is a gut feeling exactly similar to those who believe God exists. If you can accept the latter, why not the former?