Does it make sense to live your life on an unsupported premise, simply because you can't disprove that premise with absolute certainty?
And is it reasonable and right to try to talk people out of their unsupported beliefs, even if you can't disprove those beliefs with absolute certainty?
For some reason, I've been running into the "You can't disprove religion with 100% certainty, therefore it's reasonable for me to believe in it, and therefore you atheists are being intolerant for trying to talk me out of it" argument a lot more than usual lately. I've pointed out the glaring flaws in this argument before, more than once, as have many other atheists. And yet, people keep making it. (What's the matter with them? Don't they read my blog?)
So today, I want to get at this argument in a different way.
There's a point that a lot of atheists make about this argument, which is this: Believers don't apply this sort of thinking in any other area of their lives. In most other areas of their lives, believers base their actions, not on what might be hypothetically possible, but on what is most likely to be plausible. Their car might start running on sugar water, the rocks in their backyard might have turned into candy, if they jump out the window there might be invisible fairies waiting to gently carry them down to earth... but they don't act as if these things are true. But with religion, people will happily argue that it might hypothetically be true... and therefore, it's reasonable for them to act as if it were true, and the rest of us have to take it seriously.
So here's the argument I want to have with the invisible theist in my head.
It is hypothetically possible that, if you jump out of a fourth- floor window, invisible fairies will catch you and carry you gently down to earth.
Are you, therefore, going to jump out of a fourth- floor window, based on that slim but not 100%- dismissible fairy hypothesis?
Or are you, instead, going to go with the far more plausible hypothesis that you should probably take the stairs or the elevator, since if you jump out the window, the chances are excellent that you will plummet to a squishy death?
And if you don't go with the fairy hypothesis just because "you can't absolutely prove that it's not true"... then why should you go with the God hypothesis?
Now. At this point, the invisible theist in my head is arguing, "But why do you care what other people believe?" (Unless they're trying to argue that the God hypothesis is more plausible than the fairy hypothesis, because lots of other people believe it or something. In which, I direct them here, and then go watch Buffy reruns.)
But assuming that my invisible theist is in fact arguing, "But why do you care what other people believe?"... here is my answer.
If you saw someone getting ready to jump out a window because they believed that invisible fairies would carry them to the ground... wouldn't you try to stop them?
People are jumping out of the religion window every day.
And they're pushing other people out.
There are the blindingly obvious cases: the suicide bombers, the people flying planes into buildings, the Pope telling people in Africa that condoms make Baby Jesus cry. There are the less obvious cases: the children who are taught to reject and despise science and evidence and reality in general; the wives who are told by their preachers to stay in abusive marriages; the sick people who put their lives in the hands of faith healers.
And there are the cases that are so woven into the fabric of our society we often don't even notice it. The children who are traumatized by visions of the horrible tortures of Hell. The ministers and other religious leaders dispensing life advice with no training in counseling, based only on the dogma of their faith. The families who barely talk to each other, or don't talk to each other at all, because of religious differences. The teenagers who are taught that God thinks sex is sinful and disgusting and they should therefore save it for the person they marry. The gay teenagers who are taught to hate themselves.
I could go on, and on, and on. I have.
That is an awful lot of misery and death to be inflicting, on the off-chance that there might be invisible fairies carrying you to the ground when you jump.
So I ask again: If you saw someone about to jump out of a window -- or about to push someone out of a window -- because they believed that fairies would carry them to the ground... wouldn't you try to stop them?
That's what the atheist movement is doing. That's why we care what other people believe. We care what other people believe because people act on their beliefs... and with many of those actions, people are hurting themselves, and each other. We see people jumping out of the religion window, and pushing other people out of it, on a daily basis.
Now, if you think we're mistaken -- if you think God really exists and there's good evidence to support that theory -- then by all means, convince me. Show me the money.
But if all you have is "My holy book says it" and "Lots of other people believe it" and "I feel it in my heart"... then I'm sorry, but what you have on your hands is invisible fairies who are going to carry you down to the ground if you jump out the window.
And it is not intolerant for atheists to try to talk you out of it. It is not intolerant for atheists to try to show you why there are almost certainly no invisible window fairies. It is not intolerant for atheists to try to persuade you that the fairy hypothesis, while not absolutely unproven, is far less plausible than the "plummeting to your death" hypothesis... and to try to persuade you to take the stairs instead. It is not intolerant for atheists to try to show you that you may be hurt if you jump... and that you may hurt other people if you push them.