As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.
It is taboo in our society to criticize a persons religious faith... these taboos are offensive, deeply unreasonable, but worse than that, they are getting people killed. This is really my concern. My concern is that our religions, the diversity of our religious doctrines, is going to get us killed. I'm worried that our religious discourse- our religious beliefs are ultimately incompatible with civilization.
If faith is what you have to go on, if faith is the link between your beliefs and the world at large, your beliefs are very likely to be wrong. Beliefs can be right or wrong. If you believe you can fly, that belief is only true if indeed you can fly. Somebody who thinks he can fly, and is wrong about it, will eventually discover there's a problem with his view of the world.
I believe in God the way I believe in quarks. People whose business it is to know about quantum physics or religion tell me they have good reason to believe that quarks and God exist. And they tell me that if I wanted to devote my life to learning what they've learned, I'd find quarks and God just like they did.
The problem I want to talk to you about tonight is the problem of belief. What does it mean to believe? We use this word all the time, and I think behind it lurk some really extraordinary taboos and confusions. What I want to argue tonight is that how we talk about belief- how we fail to criticize or criticize the beliefs of others, has more importance to us personally, more consequence to us personally and to civilization than perhaps anything else that is in our power to influence.
As I work in the afternoon on committing to paper some of my morning's thoughts, I find myself just about to close on the knotty question of whether or not I believe in God. In fact I am about to type, 'I do not believe in God', when the sky goes black as ink, there is a thunderclap and a huge crash of thunder and a downpour of epic proportions. I never do complete the sentence.