The militant atheist movement is built on the belief that there is no evidence for God. Of course, such atheists are entitled to their opinions on this matter, but because of their militancy, and the way it serves their agenda, they will not acknowledge their opinion is an opinion. Instead, they posture as if they have discovered some objective truth – There is no evidence for the existence of God. We’re all supposed to agree.
Yet if we are supposed to agree with this claim, we’d like to know exactly what it is we are supposed to agree with. So we ask the New Atheists what would actually count as evidence for the existence of God. Typically, the New Atheists will tap dance around that question, insisting there is no evidence without telling us what such evidence would look like. This is their Hide-The-Goalposts tactic.
However, if pressed, some New Atheists will spell it out, especially when they are trying to make themselves look open-minded about the issue. One example is New atheist activist Jerry Coyne who, in a blog post entitled, “What evidence would convince you that a god exists?, writes:
There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature. And it explains why so many scientists, who have learned to disregard God as an explanation, have also discarded him as a possibility.
So we have a list. But what we don’t have is a reason for thinking anything on the list should count as scientific evidence for the existence of God. Coyne makes no effort to explain WHY such phenomena would constitute such evidence. He merely asserts it and then moves on. Do other atheists agree such things would amount to evidence for God? No. For example, PZ Myers would not consider any of those events to be evidence of God. So Coyne’s laundry list is simply a list of things that Coyne would personally count as evidence for God (or so he says). That’s not how science works, people.
So why would Coyne personally count these five things as evidence for the existence of God? In fact, what is it that all five things have in common? The answer is the same for both questions – these are gaps that could not be explained by science. Coyne’s is advocating God-of-the-Gaps atheism. He is saying “I am an atheist because there are no Gaps,” which is a position that embraces the validity of the God-of-the-Gaps approach.
In fact, this God-of-the-Gaps atheism is clearly championed in an essay by Victor Stenger (and the essay was endorsed by Coyne):
Many of the attributes associated with the Judaic-Christian-Islamic God have specific consequences that can be tested empirically. Such a God is supposed to play a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. As a result, evidence for him should be readily detectable by scientific means. If a properly controlled experiment were to come up with an observation that cannot be explained by natural means, then science would have to take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.
So if God exists, His existence would be detected by an observation that cannot be explained by natural means. A Gap. Like Coyne, Stenger needs a Gap. The Gap = evidence for God. All evidence for God must be a Gap.
What this means is that Jerry Coyne and Victor Stenger think much like creationist Ken Ham. All three embrace the validity of the God-of-the-gaps argument; they differ simply when it comes to agreeing on whether certain gaps actually exist.
Ham and other creationists think like this: There is a gap, therefore God exists.
Coyne and other New atheists think like this: If God exists, there should be a gap. But there is no gap, thus no god.
Actually, the New atheists are sneakier than this. The New atheists insist there are no Gaps and demand someone provide a Gap. When someone tries to provide a Gap, the New atheists scorn them for relying on Gaps and trying to provide gaps.
If there was real intellectual substance to New atheism, why do they have to build and maintain their position with so much sleight of hand? I think it is time for New atheists to start being honest and admit they embrace the logic of God-of-the-gaps reasoning.