By Charles Moore
You often meet them for the first time at secondary school. The typical teenage atheist is more likely a boy than a girl, stronger on science than the arts, and at the high-ish end of the academic spectrum. He tells you that he has studied the nature of matter, the universe etc, and can prove that God does not exist.
Already, you are plunged into the thick of the problem, which is one of category. The teenage thinker treats the existence of God as a scientific matter, but it isn’t. Science can certainly disprove some claims that believers make about their God – or, to be more exact, it can prove that these claims are incompatible with science – but it can have nothing to say about something that lies outside its realm.
A few atheists realise this, and so, while trying to devise concepts of a good society without God, they give the subject of God’s existence a wide berth. Charles Darwin followed this cautious approach. For the most part, however, they devote themselves to the wearisome and surprisingly difficult business of trying to prove a negative.