It is on a regular basis that I hear agnostics (or believers) sneer at the atheist position of rejecting the existence of gods and supernatural beings. The argument goes something like this : “You are just like the religious, you believe in something without evidence”. And then they point out how it is intellectually more honest to reserve judgment on the matter until such a day when evidence for or against the notion of gods might become available.
I would argue that this argument is wrong and, in the particular case of whether gods exist, outright nonsensical.
One could make this really easy, and just take Christopher Hitchens’ stance :
What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.
The existence of gods is most certainly asserted over millenia without any proof being offered, all the religious have is the circular argument of their holy books being a supernatural being’s message to them.
Then there is the argument from parsimony. Gods are not required to explain any natural phenomena, we have science chipping away at explaining our world, so it is entirely justified to dismiss the God hypothesis. We don’t need it.
The third argument I want to make here why remaining agnostic about the existence of gods is nonsensical, is that of the evidence for supernatural beings. Think about it, what would such evidence even look like ? You may remember Jerry Coyne’s example of the 900-foot Jesus arriving on Earth and reciting Bible verses that would make him lean towards believing in god. I think a much better example would be that of a person claiming godhood walking through the cancer ward at your local hospital and curing all the patients, followed by strolling over to the orthopedic wing and regrowing every amputee’s limbs. But would that really convince us of this person’s divinity ?
You see, because there is a problem with these last two examples. Reciting Bible verses and healing amputees are observable and measurable phenomena. They are things that happen in our natural world. We can poke them with a pen and stick electrodes into them. Therefore a person healing amputees does not prove the existence of a supernatural being, all it would prove is that a natural being, in the natural world, has some pretty cool tricks up their sleeve.
So I would argue that providing evidence for the existence of gods and the supernatural is not principally possible. And therefore it is time for agnostics to come off the fence on the issue of whether gods exist. There can be no evidence for the supernatural by definition, we don’t need gods to explain any natural phenomena, and we should conclude from the absence of positive evidence and abundance of anecdota to the contrary, that gods and supernatural phenomena are not something we need to concern ourselves with, because they do in fact not exist, or are not having any observable effect in the natural world, which amounts to the same thing. It is the believers in gods that cause all the problems.