There is no middle ground in the God debate

I recently browsed through a book titled I Don’t Believe in Atheists. As I have not actually read the book cover-to-cover, I won’t attempt to review it here — or even give my opinion of it.

I will say that one of the general points seemingly made in the book is similar to one I have seen made many times before: Strong advocates of atheism (such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) are characterized as every bit as much extremists as the religious fundamentalists on the other side of the fence. Indeed, atheism itself winds up being equated to just another “faith” — and therefore no more worthy of support than any other faith.

The argument that atheism itself is just another type of religion has been more than adequately rebutted elsewhere (although, as with creationist arguments, that won’t prevent it from going away). So I won’t bother with answering that here.

However, I do want to address the idea that atheists and fundamentalists represent the two extremes on a spectrum — with the implication that more reasonable minds should prefer to seek some more rational middle ground.

Normally, I am a strong advocate of the “middle ground.” Take almost any controversy — and you will almost certainly find that the most extreme advocates for either side have pushed the argument too far. A middle ground is a more sensible approach and, thankfully, often becomes the dominant view. For example, consider arguments over the concept of instinct. One side may say that there are no such things as instincts, that all behavior is learned. The other side may claim that all behavior ultimately emerges from innate patterns, that learning plays at best a minor role in behavior. The truth, almost assuredly, lies somewhere in between.

Still, there are “either-or” propositions for which there is no middle ground. Either the earth revolves around the sun or the sun revolves around the earth. There is no compromise position here. Either O.J. killed his wife or he didn’t. There is no middle ground on this matter. The only ambiguity comes from the public not knowing with 100% certainty what O.J. actually did, not with any ambiguity in his actions.

And so it is with God. Either God exists or he doesn’t. If God exists, the atheists are wrong. If God does not exist, all the theist religions of the world are wrong. There is no safe middle ground to be found. Trying to find some compromise here is simply a waste of time.

We can perhaps agree that, in the absence of 100% proof in either direction, some degree of tolerance should be maintained for both positions. But that’s about it.

However, understand that much of science is based on evidence for things we cannot see. No one has actually visited a black hole. Almost no one (maybe no one really) has seen an atom. We cannot actually view gravity. Yet most people (at least virtually all rational people) believe that these things exist. We don’t consider such beliefs to be based on faith — but rather the result of the preponderance of scientific evidence. Atheists simply ask that a belief in God be established in the same way. Given that no such preponderance of evidence exists, rejecting the idea of God makes more sense.

Or, to turn it around (and as I have said before in other postings), we don’t assume something is likely to be true simply because we can’t prove with 100% certainty that it’s not true. Otherwise, we would have to say that it is plausible that little green men live on Mars. And so it is with God. The fact that existence of God cannot be disproved with 100% certainty, does not make it likely that God exists.

In the end, atheists wind up discarding a belief in God following the same logic that leads science to discard a belief in men on Mars or support a belief in atomic theory. This is not an “extremist” position and there is no need to seek a middle ground for retreat.

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