Does God exist? On the surface, this may appear to be a rather straightforward (not to say easy) question. But the disagreement between those who answer “yes” and those who answer “no” is not straightforward at all. It is, rather, “one of those fundamental disagreements that extends to how the disagreement is to be characterized,” as the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once observed. Atheists and theists not only disagree about whether God exists; they also disagree about what it means to disagree about whether God exists.
This disagreement over disagreement is at its most obvious when it comes to popular debates about science and religion. Against those who profess belief in God, there are those who profess that modern science renders such belief irrational. According to these “scientific atheists,” as we might call them, the existence of God is a hypothesis of the same kind as the hypotheses of natural science, and thus may be tested empirically in the same way that we test other such hypotheses. Unsurprisingly, the “God hypothesis” fails such tests, and so scientific atheists conclude that the hypothesis is false and that belief in God is unwarranted and irrational.
Implicit here is a misunderstanding of what is at issue in the debate over God’s existence. For theists, God is not the kind of thing that could be tested by the methods of natural science. The reason is that God is not a part of the observable universe, but rather the transcendent cause of the universe. So the inability of modern science to confirm God’s existence does not show that belief in God is unwarranted or irrational; but only that modern science does not have a monopoly on warranted rational belief about what exists.
. . .