I see that everyone and their dog is in a holy uproar over the non-event of Richard Dawkins repeating the trivial factoid that there can be no absolute certainty about anything, from scientific theories to matters of personal belief.
Dawkins said in the recent debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he has done before in “the God Delusion” and various TV interviews :
Could Dawkins disprove the existence of God? He could not, he confessed, describing himself not as an atheist but as an agnostic – to gasps from Twitter, where the unlikely #dawkinsarchbishop hashtag was trending. On his own atheism scale of one-to-seven, the Professor suggested, “the probability of any supernatural creator existing is very, very low, so let’s say I’m a 6.9″.
Now Daniel Fincke and others are treating this like some kind of deep philosophical or epistemological problem. Which it isn’t.
Death, famine, earthquakes, oppression of women, stoning, the Milky Way going to crash into Andromeda, babies born without brains, cancer, priests found dead in rubber suits with dildos up their ass, religious gay hate advocates found out to be gay, hardcore Muslims holding orgies with hookers in Saudi-Arabia, the Dark Ages, the thousands of dead and abandoned gods who were once revered and worshipped, religious wars over whose god is the right one, and so forth ad nauseam. This is really not a matter of philosophy, but rather one of common sense.
Those who are treating Dawkins’ statement as some kind of admission by the world’s most famous atheist that he is “just an agnostic”, and “not actually sure” about the existence of gods, have it completely ass-backwards.
A scientist keeps an open mind, and acknowledges the possibility that things may change, and new evidence may change our current best theory on any given topic.
But this does not apply to the supernatural, and claims of the existence of supernatural beings. We cannot prove that any such being exists in the positive, so it is completely irrelevant that, as with anything else, we can not be 100% certain of the negative claim. Dawkins as a scientist realizes that, and the confused and the religious not surprisingly pounce on such a statement, and try to spin it to their liking.
It’s just that Dawkins gets it, while most religious people, and most of the media, does not. A few thousand years down the track, and no gods have shown up, but plenty of humans who believe in gods have fucked things up, and continue to do so. We atheists are justified to dismiss gods as superfluous, flawed and harmful concepts, based on the track record of those who invoke these invisible entities to commit atrocities against their fellow human beings. No epistemological or philosophical sophistry required.
Here’s the debate in full, for those who have 90 minutes to spare :