I was wondering about how a person of faith - especially those evidently really rather intelligent people engaged in the frequently held public debates on these issues - sits down to argue against an opposite opinion and I presume planning and researching references for their argument and likely rebuttals - thinks about the 'proof' element of an argument.
I use the word 'proof' because I believe (oops, there goes the 'B' word) that arguing has a purpose; namely to state an opinion and to attempt to convince others of the veracity and value of one's own position. Whether or not they come over to another view of the world is another thing. That purpose for argument - at least in my small world - is best served by offering evidence to illustrate reasoned, logical and structured argument.
Since that's how I perceive the 'game' of argument, I have a real problem with understanding how an intelligent person sits down at his or her desk to review their position and discovers a complete absence of genuine evidence. I can say this because, of course, there IS no proof for the existence of any supernatural beings. None whatsoever. All we have are ancient writings - contradictory writings at that - which make vague references to the existence and teachings of such beings. No archaeology, no pictures, no signatures; nothing.
Given that this is so - and as I watch recorded debates, it seems evident that the following is happening - those who argue on the side of religion increasingly, rather than defend the likelihood of the existence of their supernatural superiors, have taken to instead attacking what they perceive to be the weak points in the agnostic, atheistic or other non-belief positions. I can't blame them really; how does a person argue that a supernatural thing exists in the absence of any corroborating evidence? Simply saying "He/she/it exists because my parents and religious mentors taught me so!" is hardly proof, is it? Using the standard principles of argument, debate and the process of legal judgement; proving such a belief is correct is simply not possible.
It's why, in my opinion anyway, in the past religious believers have had to resort that to the rather feeble assertion that proof is not necessary when one has faith. I would agree in one sense; when, for example, a person believes that the moon is made of cheese, concrete, solid physical evidence that this is not so is immaterial to that belief; it doesn't matter to the believer. To everyone who does not share that belief, the conviction that we could go and eat the moon may seem ridiculous, but that too would not shake someone who holds what (I'm sorry to say) would be a wholly irrational, if genuine belief. The fact that, in the case of Judaism for instance, people have believed in a particular god for thousands of years (in, by the way, the complete absence of proof) does not make that belief correct or rational. The same goes for Druidism, Hinduism, paganism and sun worship - any religious belief.
So when an intelligent man or woman gets ready to talk to the world about why they believe what they believe, I wonder; what IS the truthful answer? Do we ever hear it? I can very simply describe why I do not believe in a god of any kind; namely that nothing that happens in this life has led me to believe that such is the case, and the evidence provided by science provides me with the answers to the truth about the universe and life, and myself. Science has not provided answers to everything of course, but I'm OK with that because scientific research and discovery is, after all - and by definition - an ongoing process. If I use scientific discovery to try to chase down the ultimate questions of "WHY?", then I know that science marches on in an unceasing quest to find those kinds of answers. On the other hand, religion taught me to stop asking such awkward questions.
"WHY?" is the hardest question to ask of a religious believer, because ultimately - if pressed - that question leads to the "We are not worthy to try to understand god's thinking!" response. In other words, religion doesn't have the answer to that question - which I find a little strange, because if there were supernatural gods, I would have thought that the 'why' secret would have been shared by now, but shhhh! We're not allowed to ask those questions of god(s). This religious answer to the most searching question abruptly suspends the rules of argument and logic - because the heat is getting a little too intense, and I suspect that the closer we get to this answer, the less comfortable people of faith become. By bringing out this answer, religious people are effectively saying "This structure of debate has suited me until this point but now I don't like this question so I'm going to use my trump card.". In effect, they cannot define the answer to the question, and so they refuse to try (ostensibly because doing so may offend the almighty being).
The difference between the two views is that a science based approach comes from the perspective of "Wouldn't it be great if we could find out?", while the religious perspective seems to be "Whoa! Don't go there!" Why one side doesn't go there is, I think, something fundamental for them to honestly reflect upon.
In the meantime, applying the rules of a criminal court (UK, USA, Canada, Australia etc. etc.) to the debate, which side can provide real evidence rather than superstition and old habits and rules? Which side of the argument, when faced with the other as a prosecution case, would be able to introduce reasonable doubt, and which would have to ultimately resort to "I can't tell you why that might be so, but it might be, so there!" kind of reasoning? I think I know which side would win the argument if we applied the same rules of evidence to either side.