I want here to add a little on what I said in a previous blog entry:
A ridiculous conception of God.
Let's remind ourselves of the analogy I employed there.
Let's suppose that in the future the bots in a computer game become conscious. Some bots think their world (computer game environment) is designed and a creation of some intelligence, others do not (let's call them atheists).
The atheist bots assume that should there be a creator/designer of their world, then it must be some entity within their computer game environment. That is to say, any designer must either equate effectively to some particularly coloured pixels or failing this to at least influence the environment in some way. However, since no such appropriately coloured pixels have ever been detected, and their world operates according to discernible rules (physical laws), they regard it as being highly unreasonable to believe in the existence of a designer. Certainly if there is such a designer then the onus is upon those who suppose he exists to supply some evidence for his existence.
However, many of the theist bots think that this concept of a designer is utterly ridiculous and think of a designer in a quite different sense -- namely a computer programmer who exists "outside" of their reality (game world) altogether. However, they do disagree and quarrel about the name and personality of the designer (programmer).
This computer game analogy is not necessarily analogous in all respects, at least not with a sufficiently sophisticated conception of God. Hence the analogy conveys the notion that God created the Universe but that the Universe is ontologically self-subsistent -- that is, to say, nothing keeps the Universe in existence, it has the ability to exist all by itself without the need for an external cause keeping it in existence. But instead of God causing the Big Bang then sitting back with his arms folded playing no further role, another possible hypothesis is that God sustains the existence of the Universe on a second by second basis. In this scenario the Big Bang would not constitute a special event -- it's not as if only the Big Bang required an external cause to bring it into being, and then all other events did not. This concept of God implies that physical laws, the physical constants, the behaviour of a physical primitive such as an electron, and the fact that these values do not vary over time, is due to God's ongoing activity. Physical laws on this understanding would then be an approximate codification of God's behaviour.
However, I find that atheists do not tend to have this conception of God at all. Incredibly this also applies to professional philosophers who are atheists. To give a few examples.
The philosopher John G Messerly has said:
we should remember that the burden of proof is not on the disbeliever to demonstrate there are no gods, but on believers to demonstrate that there are. Believers are not justified in affirming their belief on the basis of another’s inability to conclusively refute them, any more than a believer in invisible elephants can command my assent on the basis of my not being able to “disprove” the existence of the aforementioned elephants. If the believer can’t provide evidence for a god’s existence, then I have no reason to believe in gods.
And near the end of the same article he more flippantly asserts:
You might comfort yourself by believing that little green dogs in the sky care for you but this is just nonsense, as are any answers attached to such nonsense.
And the famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell has said:
nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.
And what about the famous philosopher Antony Flew? From here:
Two people return to their long neglected garden and find, among the weeds, that a few of the old plants are surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other, ‘It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these weeds.’ The other disagrees and an argument ensues. They pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. The believer wonders if there is an invisible gardener, so they patrol with bloodhounds but the bloodhounds never give a cry. Yet the believer remains unconvinced, and insists that the gardener is invisible, has no scent and gives no sound. The skeptic doesn’t agree, and asks how a so-called invisible, intangible, elusive gardener differs from an imaginary gardener, or even no gardener at all.
Such a conception of God mirrors the countless references to flying spaghetti monsters, invisible unicorns and the like strewn throughout the net.
We can agree that if a creator is in any way comparable to invisible elephants, giant teapots, invisible gardeners, flying spaghetti monsters and the like, then such a creator is just as unlikely to exist as the foregoing. But, of course, it is this concept of God which is at fault. It's the concept of a God analogous to that which the atheist bots in the computer game hold; namely a concept of god that equates effectively to some particularly coloured pixels in their computer game world. A group of coloured pixels which somehow intervene with the programming of the game.
Why do seemingly the vast majority of atheists have such a ludicrous conception of God? One possible answer is that this is the only concept of "God" they have ever entertained. I imagine this might apply to a large number of atheists, but surely not to professional philosophers? The suspicion naturally arises that what we have here, at least in the case of atheist professional philosophers, is an example of the widespread practice of attacking either the weakest articulation of a position, or resorting to attacking straw men, and then concluding that the belief held has no merit. If so then this is ridiculous because it achieves nothing whatsoever apart from perhaps persuading others that the notion of any type of "God" is foolish. But one can always attack the most naive concept of x -- whatever x might stand for -- and show it to be untenable. Surely, and especially for professional philosophers, what they ought to be interested in is getting to the truth. To that end what, in fact, ought to be done is to address the strongest or most compelling articulation of a person's position on any subject and try to show that it doesn't hold up. So they ought to address the most compelling conception of "God" and attempt to show that it is reasonable to reject the existence of such a "God".
Often people defend attacking the weakest articulation of a position by pointing out that many people do in fact subscribe to such an interpretation. Hence, I have heard atheists say that this concept of God as a being existing within physical reality is the one that most theists actually subscribe to. Now that might or might not be the case, but so what? To justify calling themselves atheists they must think it is reasonable to reject any type of entity or reality which it would be reasonable to label "God". But the vast majority of atheists simply do not give any arguments attacking more sophisticated conceptions of God. Indeed often they appear to have difficulty in grasping the concept of God I articulate.