I have for some time been asking theists to provide falsifiable evidence for their claims of the existence of God. So far, none has been forthcoming. This then raises the question of what separates theists from atheists. This post looks at some matters that might help to answer that question.
I will take it for granted that children try to make sense of the world around them, and by so doing learn to crawl, then walk, then speak, listen, read, write, and go onto higher things thereby. Everybody has a choice about how far they are prepared to drive that sense of trying to understand the world: do they drive it to its limit, or do they stop short of that limit. I suggest that the answer to that dichotomy can produce completely different understandings of the nature of reality.
Young children are credulous, accepting any statement without judgment. It is only as they grow up that they acquire the skills needed to question things. Common examples include the tooth fairy and Father Christmas. One example of driving this questioning skill to its limit is “How can I verify that my consciousness has been created by some entity that I am not aware of, and that the ‘people’ that I find around me are nothing more than a hoax created by that same entity feeding false information into my ‘neurons’?”. This question cannot be answered, as there is no means of testing for the existence of such an entity given the assumptions of the question. It is convenient to assume that such an entity does not exist, and also to assume that people are indeed numerous, even though the latter assumption cannot be derived logically from the former assumption.
Having made the assumption of people being numerous, and that the world that we perceive around us is not a hoax, we can then go on to ask questions that are personally useful, such as “How can I make fire?”, “Is that food good to eat?”, “How does the human immune system work?” and “What is the nature of the sub-atomic world?”. This can be broadened into asking questions about how we ask questions, which includes legitimately challenging the scientific method. One response to challenges to the scientific method is that the scientific method is the only method that has so far been discovered that produces material benefits to people, those benefits including housing, food, warmth and better health. All these benefits arise from examining falsifiable evidence. One recent and somewhat spectacular falsification of evidence can be found here.
It is useful to now consider phlogiston, which is a scientific theory first propounded in 1667. This theory was examined, and the evidence that arose was found to be false. More specifically, phlogiston was required to have negative mass. It is a theory which was held by some to be true, but eventually it was abandoned by the scientific community in the face of overwhelming countervailing evidence.
The theory of God has been around 2,000 years. Anybody wishing to challenge the preceding statement might wish to have a look at their local religious bookshop. The problem with the theory of God is that, unlike the theory of phlogiston, it is untestable. Like Douglas Adams, I could claim that the Universe was sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure. That theory also is untestable. There is no falsifiable evidence to support either theory. It is at this point that this challenge is often made: “Prove that God does not exist!”, which is a form of intellectual cop-out. (This, and other forms of logical fallacy, can be found at yourlogicalfallacyis.)
As far as I can see, the only reason that people believe in God is ultimately because their parents and teachers said so, a tradition that goes back to the scientific ignorance of ancient Rome. Such people are handing their own responsibility for understanding the nature of the world onto others, an abdication of their own responsibilities to themselves. What causes such abdication I leave to others to conjecture.