You often meet them for the first time at secondary school. The typical teenage atheist is more likely a boy than a girl, stronger on science than the arts, and at the high-ish end of the academic spectrum. He tells you that he has studied the nature of matter, the universe etc, and can prove that God does not exist.
Already, you are plunged into the thick of the problem, which is one of category. The teenage thinker treats the existence of God as a scientific matter, but it isn’t. Science can certainly disprove some claims that believers make about their God – or, to be more exact, it can prove that these claims are incompatible with science – but it can have nothing to say about something that lies outside its realm.
Some atheists – Dawkins, Sigmund Freud, AJ Ayer – resemble, in essence, that clever young schoolboy. They believe they have brilliantly proved religion to be a load of hogwash.
Of course, we can expect New Atheists to complain they never claimed to prove that God does not exist. Instead, they champion Sophisticated Atheism – there is no evidence for God, thus no rational basis for believing in God.
But Sophisticated Atheism looks more like a clever public relations strategy than a matter of principle. Doubt me? Well, then refresh your memories: