According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life findings released this week, 76 percent of Americans believe that the Bible, so much of which reads like the masturbation fantasies of cuckolds, is the word of God. I don’t know a single one of them. I do know, sadly, plenty of agnostics. And while the former group may simply be delusional, the latter has no such excuse. Agnosticism is more a form of intellectual cowardice than anything else.
Regarding a belief in God, there are basically three positions. There are those who believe in God, those who do not, and those who cannot say. For this last group, the agnostics, the existence of God is certainly unknown and possibly unknowable; and the concept of God, as usually defined, is largely or entirely incoherent. Agnostics have proven themselves skeptical of religious and other claims. Yet, because they cannot disprove the existence of a poorly defined God, in all its mutant forms, they withhold judgment.
There are many things that you can never disprove. I can invent two per minute, if you’d like. For instance, wherever you go, are you followed by invisible dancing panda bears in Richard Simmons sweatbands, tie-died wife-beaters and pleather assless chaps? If you say no, well, are they wearing genuine leather chaps? And if the answer is still no, can you prove it? Of course you can’t. If you’re agnostic as regards the existence of God, for intellectual consistency, you must take an agnostic position on the matter. So it is possible that invisible dancing panda bears, in either pleather or leather assless chaps, follow you wherever you go.
There is no reason, however, to treat this claim, or claims for the existence of God, any differently than we treat other claims. It is impossible to prove a negative – that is, nonexistence – but, fortunately, we don’t have to. To debate a thing’s existence we should require a definition, and evidence of its existence, as we do with almost every other claim.
The evidence for God’s existence is, basically, that things exist and life is complex. Therefore, there must have been some creature, one with characteristics surprisingly similar to our own, who created everything, or at least set everything in motion. This creature is God. How else could things exist?
So the reasoning goes. This assumes that we have answers for every question we can ask. We do not, of course. The answer is that we don’t know. We don’t know where everything came from, or how everything works. Much of what we think we know will later prove false. This does not mean that we should create and believe in the existence of all-knowing fictional characters to make ourselves feel less ignorant, as people in all parts of the world, all throughout history, have done. This too – that almost all cultures have believed in gods, and have believed this independently of each other – has been taken as proof of God’s existence. It actually proves the opposite. Few people today would take claims for the existence of Homeric gods as credible. Each god represented some unexplained physical reality; that is, the Greeks created god-concepts to explain these mysteries. When more likely answers came along, the gods of sun and thunder disappeared. In this sense, every time you learn something, God, or at least its power, dies a little.
Many agnostics would agree with most of the above analysis, and yet they don’t deny that God exists. But because there are almost as many definitions of God as there are people on earth, and because the evidence for such a creature’s existence is rather lacking, we should reject its existence, exactly as we would with anything else. There is no positive evidence for the existence of God; there is only negative evidence against its existence, which is of course inconclusive. And that’s enough, just as it’s enough to deny the existence of any other entity you can make up.
As Bishop John Shelby Spong, a Christian atheist, says, religion is more a search for security than a search for truth. Similarly, the motive for a non-religious belief in God is obvious enough. God is a sort of placeholder until we find more likely explanations for what we don’t know. If God exists, then the unexplained has an explanation, and some day we’ll get to know what that is.
Other “evidence” given for the existence of God not addressed above, such as, if there’s no God then there’s no meaning to life or ultimate redress for human suffering, is not actually evidence for God’s existence. These are instead small hopeful prayers for its existence, and are too ridiculous to address.
These do, however, display a psychological need for God out of a fear of the unknown. Humans have created God for this reason, and for exactly this reason we know that God does not exist. Someday, I hope, the same will be said for agnosticism.