We are willing to claim things don’t exist. I don’t mean atheists; I mean thinkers in general. Do you believe in unicorns, Santa, leprechauns, the tooth fairy or the Flying Spaghetti monster? I know they’re cliché examples, but that is intentional: I want you to realise these arguments aren’t new, but apologists have been ignoring them in the hope you can be fooled into believing one can never be reasonable in claiming something doesn’t exist. I’d be willing to wager that you actually are convinced the things above don’t exist, so you do have some idea of what it takes to claim something isn’t real. No ghosts, no mummies, no vampires.
You haven’t had to go to the end of space and time to make these conclusions; you have not observed every inch of the universe and neither do you need to. You know that.
We recognise the lies of psychics and horoscopes by their vagueness; the fact that nearly anything could be compatible with my horoscope prediction. How could “you will make an important transaction today” be wrong? We also recognise ghost hunters by their excuses for repeated failures. People who claim Bigfoot exists always have a reason for the miraculous absence of Bigfoot poo.
All these claims reveal nothing new about the universe; because anything could relate to my horoscope, it really says nothing at all. Because they reveal nothing, while claiming something, we are comfortable uttering their falsehood.
However, it does not seem to bother the religious that the claim ‘a God exists’ is empirically identical to its negation. Anything that one would expect to see that might be considered unique to a world where a God does exist is absent and apologised for. “God exists” is turned into a content-free utterance as anything that claim might mean is taken away; we don’t see anything it might mean.
I, reasonably, expect universally high human wellbeing, given a God that loves us. Yet, this is not the case, and it is apologised for: it’s our fault. That could make sense when talking about humans hurting humans; our freewill and autonomy are important to us. It doesn’t make complete sense, though. Ghandi had more empathy than a member of ISIS: why one was blessed with compassion and the other not is a curious quandary. More importantly, our freewill is irrelevant to cholera, ebola and dysentery. And yet, “God exists”? The problem here is simple: love is considered a necessary descriptor of God, and that claim is made content-free as suffering and pain and things you wouldn’t allow to happen to those you loves are simply permitted.
You can claim this doesn’t affect the truth of the claim “God exists”, but by doing that you are making my point: what we expect to be able to discover whithers away, and the world starts to look identical, regardless of God’s existence.
I have no intention of stretching out the word count by listing every example of where ‘a world with God’ is defended by post fact apologetics and excuses, resulting in a world that looks entirely identical to ‘a world without a God’. However, another example is biology. God is also defined as the Creator, and a perfect one at that, and in many religions―particularly the Abrahamic ones―this creation is written as being an event. John Zande has already written quite extensively on the question of how a perfect being could have such an imperfect creation (surely it is a sign of a lack of foresight, lack of moral judgement or lack of expertise?)(John’s work here, here and here). But if that Creation event were true, archaeology, genealogy, geology and the fossil record would show a creation event. They don’t.
Instead, each discipline shows evolution. There are only really three rebuttals to this: denial, deceit and compatibalism. Denial is simply to say that these disciplines do not show evolution, even though they do. Deceit is to claim that the devil has orchestrated reality to provide false evidence of evolution (as a trick), which does raise the question of whether the Devil is more powerful than God (or whether God needed the Devil to play such a trick on humanity). Compatibilism is to say that a 13.8 billion year old universe, 4.5 billion year old Earth and 3.5 billion year old life is compatible with “on the first day…” making religious claims flexibly meaningless.
The world without God is, again, identical to the world with. Consider Sam Harris’ description: to say that it is reasonable to believe in a God is to say that you lie in a relationship with God, and that relationship is of a nature whereby you wouldn’t believe in It if It didn’t exist. But the actual description being put forward is one where such a relationship is impossible.
And that is the crux of my complaint here: what would you expect to be different about reality, if a God did not exist? If you cannot answer that question then you are not in a relationship with God of the sort Harris describes, therefore your faith is independent of God’s existence, therefore you’re bolstering my point: God looks a lot like no God.