I'd expect better from a professor of philosophy than William Irwin's poorly reasoned essay in the New York Times, "God is a Question, Not an Answer."
I really have no idea how he can defend statements such as this:
Dwelling in a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God marks an honest approach to the question. There is no easy answer. Indeed, the question may be fundamentally unanswerable.
Here's how the question of the existence of God is answered: with the best evidence available. This is how we humans answer all questions. There's no other way.
Yes, the history of science, indeed the history of everything, shows that answers often are wrong or incomplete. Aristotle famously thought that heavier things fall faster than lighter things. People believed this for a long time.
Until Galileo came up with the bright idea of experimenting to see if the evidence fit the supposed fact. It didn't. So Galileo provided a better answer to the question of gravity.
Which also was wrong in certain ways. Einstein's Theory of General Relativity was a further advance in our understanding of gravity. So it would have been absurd for someone to say that "Gravity is a Question, Not an Answer."
Gravity is a question with different answers, depending on the state of knowledge and evidence at the time. Ditto with the question, Does God exist?
Except in this case the answer has always been the same: there is no demonstrable evidence that God exists. Likewise, there is no demonstrable evidence that fairies or goblins exist. Sure, there are myths about fairies and goblins, just as there are myths about God.
Yet would any philosopher seriously argue that "Fairies are a question, not an answer"? We can be pretty damn sure that fairies are nonexistent, so there is no point debating any other questions about the nature of fairies.
The only reason Irwin can have his essay published in the New York Times is that so many more people believe in the God myth, compared to the fairies myth. But a myth without any convincing evidence that it is true is still a myth, no matter how many people believe in it.
I enjoy reading the top-rated "readers' picks" comments on NYT essays like this one. They're always well-written and thoughtful. Here's #1 and #2 on Irwin's piece:
This atheist has no doubts. I don’t spare a thought for Zeus, or Baal or that Old Testament genocidal monster or any other fairy tale creature conjured up by illiterate iron-age tribal collectives to cement their authority and frighten the peasants.
The current trend is for atheists to say that we don’t claim that there definitely is no god, but that we have examined the evidence for god and find it unconvincing.
Sorry, but I say there is no god. It’s not merely about lack of evidence. It’s because the stories of miraculous visitations and resurrections and invisible worlds full of superbeings are patently absurd. If any of these things were true the world would have the consistency of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Everything we know about physics, biology, chemistry, cosmology and every other science would be wrong.
The appeal to agnosticism as the only logical position is insidious. Agnosticism has been a boon to theists because it raises the epistemological floor from “you must be kidding” to “you might be right” with no more effort than making an unprovable claim.
History is strewn with discarded gods that weren’t even there to receive the prayers of the faithful or the sacrifices that they made, sometimes at gruesomely high cost. It is an insult to our integrity as rational beings to sacrifice our self-respect on the altar of mindless credulity and superstition.
"Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be a God after all - if not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then a God of some kind."
This atheist has no doubt that God - of any kind - does not exist.
Why do believers feel they can speak for non-believers? (They don't.) It's a common, but empty, tactic when debating an issue - suggest your opponent doesn't really believe what he says.
Of course atheists can't prove that God doesn't exist. But that doesn't lessen our certainty. As Christopher Hitchens said, if something is asserted without evidence, it can be rejected without evidence.
The fact is, there is no evidence that a God of any kind exists. Maybe one day humans will dispense with belief in imaginary beings, and use the time they spent worshipping for more productive activities.