This debate between the believer and non-believer points out the difference between not so much the answers offered but the question being asked.
Theists think the question is, ‘Does a God exist? And they would answer ‘yes’. (Note that God is always their image of it.)
But an Atheist sees the question as ‘Can we tell the difference [that a god exists]?’ The answer would be, ‘No’.
It’s two questions, What’s Real? vs What can we know? In philosophy its Ontology vs Epistemology.
When you have the second question and answer, the first becomes unnecessary.
What’s the right question?
Ontology is about what’s real or exists. Theist types claim to know something about how the cosmos works because it is their God who created it. ‘God made the universe the same way a potter made a pot.’ God the Fine Tuner, Designer and Causer of all that takes place.
However, atheists will first ask the obvious question, how can we know any of this? It shifts the debate away from Metaphysics and into Epistemology, or the study of knowledge.
People propose many ideas in the swimming pool of ontology, but you try and prove any of them. By what standard or metric do we test and judge them to be accurate or inaccurate? Where the empirical data we can compare it too?
Many claims of theists need to be clarified. What does it mean to speak of existence outside the cosmos? Does that mean the cosmos is like a box with us inside? Why does there have to be a non-contingent existence? Why does it all have to make sense? Questions previously thought to be vital are now dubious, even absurd.
It highlights assumptions made; 1) there is an answer, 2) our conscious mental faculties or reason can find it, 3) the answer is acceptable i.e. it makes sense/
It shows metaphysics as speculative fiction, twisting reality to fit inside our ideas because we can’t bear the possibility our beliefs are wrong.
The result of all this has been to realise how much insecurity drives our beliefs. It also questions if we need philosophy and religion, or what is Philosophy and Religion for?
Scepticism doesn’t reject God; or the belief; it queries the claims, arguments and assumptions made by believers.
Metaphysics or the supernatural is like a Labelless Can, we can postulate what’s inside. We can hold different beliefs about what’s inside or not. We can be a ‘Chicken soupist’ or ‘Anti-Raviolist’. But the only way we can ever know is to open up the can.
Or think of a Black Box we can’t open. In science, computing, and engineering, it’s system viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs. We can observe what happens when we make some input and record outputs. Then try to make models to explain it’s behaviour. But we can never know what’s inside, our model are always in doubt.
But here, the metaphor breaks because it still assumes there’s a supernatural. So the can is itself in doubt.
It makes metaphysics largely a waste of time regarding the certainty of truth. We can’t know for sure how it all works.
Thus, metaphysical ideas are mysterious, diverse, and fascinating. But they’re also distracting, fictional, and wishful thinking. Our desires, hopes, and fears shape them. Such arguments and ideas say more about us than the cosmos.
We don’t need to know why the cosmos exists or how it arrived at its state; what’s real or not? We can work with what we can observe. We can find out what works and what doesn’t, what causes suffering and liberates us.
Like the smartphone in your pocket, most of us don’t know how it works. But that doesn’t stop us from using the phone.
The two questions above show the God question is unnecessary as is metaphysics and what’s real. It’s more important figure out what we can know, to find our limitations. How do we want to live, and what sort of person do we want to be?
It makes metaphysical ideas like God not foundational truths, but personal paradigms; optional and useful to some but not others. The alternative is to accept the life is a mystery; there is no concrete answer and live accordingly.