In these popular debates about God’s existence, the winners are neither theists nor atheists, but agnostics — the neglected step-children of religious controversy, who rightly point out that neither side in the debate has made its case. This is the position supported by the consensus of expert philosophical opinion.He notes that
In various ways, [philosophers such as Hume, Wittgenstein and Plantinga] have shown that everyday life is based on “basic” beliefs for which we have no good arguments. There are, for example, no more basic truths from which we can prove that the past is often a good guide to the future, that our memories are reliable, or that other people have a conscious inner life. Such beliefs simply — and quite properly — arise from our experience in the world.The crux of the biscuit here is "'basic' beliefs for which we have no good arguments." Gutting neglects to properly qualify this statement: these "basic" beliefs have no arguments that professional philosophers consider good. But why should we restrict our evaluation of arguments to the standards of professional philosophers? Indeed, it is not necessarily a given that philosophers have any actual expertise at all in arguments.
Just because a bunch of people do something all the time doesn't necessarily mean they're good at it. Physicians before the germ theory of disease practiced medicine — if by "practice medicine" you mean they did what physicians typically did — all the time, and yet they not only did not employ effective treatment, they actively resisted even such obviously and scientifically demonstrable measures such as washing their hands before treating or even operating on patients.
Gutting gives us a clue as to what he considers a good argument: one that "logically derive[s its conclusion] from uncontroversial premises."
Gutting is absolutely correct: we cannot logically derive either atheism or theism from uncontroversial premises.
Indeed if you ask any question at all of professional philosophers, you will find that, as in the debate between theism and atheism, the winners are "agnostics ...who rightly point out that neither side in the debate has made its case." Gutting admits to this "dirty secret" in so many words: "philosophers have never been able to find arguments that settle the question of God’s existence or any of the other “big questions” we’ve been discussing for 2500 years."
This admission bears not just repeating but shouting out loud:
Philosophers have never been able to find arguments that settle the question of God’s existence or any of the other “big questions” we’ve been discussing for 2500 years.
Without exception, every philosopher I have written or spoken to directly has been at best an expert in saying "Fuck if I know" in complicated, hard-to-understand language and at worst a complete bullshit artist who asserted that he did know while desperately trying to obscure the hideous errors in his reasoning. (There are a few philosophers who are not a complete waste of intellectual space — Dan Dennett springs immediately to mind — but even these philosophers seem intelligent and perspicacious despite and not because of their philosophical education.)
Will someone please tell me why a man who admits in so many words to being a useless bullshit artist has a nice middle-class life while person such as myself who has been a useful, productive member of society for thirty years can't find a job? And can someone tell me why I should treat philosophers not just as irrelevant doofuses but with contempt tinged with a bit of envious hostility? If you can't come up with a single answer in 2,500 years, what excuse do you have for even pretending you're doing anything more intellectually meaningful than a circle jerk?