Last Sunday there came a knocking at my door, and I opened it to find two gentlemen on my doorstep. They were perfectly polite, introduced themselves, and explained they were going door to door trying to get people to read the Bible. I said , “No thanks. I’m an atheist.” They were unfazed, said thank you, and went on their way. In hindsight, I wish I had engaged these fellows in a discussion of why, exactly, they wanted other people to read the Bible, but I sort of panicked.
Later that day a friend and I were discussing my fondness for the works of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He stated that he just didn’t agree with anyone who insisted they were the only ones who were right. I had to agree, but I went on to argue that that was the beauty of modern atheism: We don’t claim to be “right” about everything—just the stuff for which we have evidence. For example, we have hard, empirical evidence that this planet is approximately 4.5 billion years old. We have no evidence to indicate that it is only 6,000 years old—and no, adding up a bunch of references in a translation of a translation of a two-thousand-year-old storybook does not count as evidence. The only rational thing to do, therefore, is to lean toward the larger number.
In the few discussions I’ve had with people regarding atheism, a popular response has been that there are so many things science cannot explain, God must exist to fill in the blanks. This is called, in atheist circles, the “God-In-the-Gaps” argument. My response is pretty much the textbook answer: The gaps are shrinking with each new scientific discovery, things we attributed to God a thousand, or even a hundred years ago now have natural explanations, blah blah blah. Does that mean there is no such thing as God? No, because you cannot prove a negative. But it makes God’s existence less and less likely with each new breakthrough. I thought of an analogy that I’m gonna whip out next time I hear that argument. Here goes:
Think of our exploration of the universe as the easiest quiz ever devised: Multiple-choice, open book, no time limit, and you’re only graded on the questions for which you give a definite answer. Now, whenever you hit a question for which you do not know the answer, you could take the rational route and either look it up or leave the question blank so you could come back to it later. Or you can take the faith-based route, and just fill in D) “None of the above” for each question you don’t know the answer to. At the end of the test, who will get the better grade? Who will have learned more from the experience?