This post conglomerates two questions that people asked Elucidations on Atheism: “Why can’t you provide any empirical evidence that God doesn’t exist? Atheists are always asking believers to prove that God exists, but they never offer any counter-evidence” and “Why don’t you believe in God?”. The themes were similar, so I fused them.
Carl Sagan and Bertrand Russell both told little allegories to explain why you do not need evidence of God’s nonexistence to withhold belief in His existence; the rational way to process claims is to not accept a claim until you have access to sufficient evidence. The alternative is to accept every claim until someone brings evidence to the contrary. That approach would mean you should believe in aliens, psychics, zombies and vampires; after all, what evidence do you have that they don’t exist?
Carl Sagan’s parable is that of an incorporeal dragon. Sagan asks us to imagine a person has just told us there is a dragon in his garage. We immediately ask to see his garage, and he dutifully leads us to the garage and opens the door. Alas, the garage is empty. Indignantly, we point out this obvious fact. But the man tells us we are wrong; the dragon is invisible. So we insist that flour be spread across the floor to track the dragon’s footprints. The man admits this is an excellent idea, but will bear no fruits; the dragon flies all the time. Next we ask for infrared imaging, to see the heat of the flames; the dragon eludes this test with heatless fire. We want to throw paint around so that some of it may hit the dragon making it visible; the dragon eludes this test by being incorporeal.
Ask yourself this: what is the difference between this dragon and a dragon that does not exist? There is no evidence that could disprove this dragon; as we devise a new test, the man invents a way for the dragon to not be susceptible. There is nothing in reality that would be different, whether this dragon existed or not.
This is what God looks like to me. The big four definitions of God are that He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all-loving. You can find evidence that such a Being does not exist. One of the most pertinent and repeated is that of suffering. People definitely suffer. If God is real and omnipotent we are left with two choices about where that suffering comes from: God did it to us or God watched it and permitted it. In order to account for this, the “all-loving” dimension of God becomes malleable: his benevolence becomes a preference for our freewill so that other people can make us suffer; it becomes the capricious game of a Games Masters who tests us to breaking point. We are told He loves us and never gives us more than we can handle, which outright denies that some people do have more than they can handle, hence suicide. Claims of absolute benevolence and never giving one more than they can handle are patently false: He would rather we were free to suffer than destined to be happy.
Bertrand Russell’s example is a little better known: the teapot between Earth and Mars. It’s too small for our most powerful telescopes to see it, but it is there. There is no evidence to the contrary, and any satellite we send to find it can always be said to have looked in the wrong place. But do you believe it? Of course you don’t. The problem is not evidence that such a teapot is not there, but instead that before you believe something you need a reason to believe it: you need sensible evidence.