I'd dare say you've noticed, whether you're a theologian, apologist, an average believer, or someone who doesn't believe and has talked with them or read their writing on the topic. Apologists and theologians use the phrase "If God exists, then..." a lot.
But of course they do. I would go so far as to say that I think that this phrase is the hallmark phrase of theology, whether the person in question is your everyday pastor at a small, quiet church, one of the blogging/podcasting types (like Tom Gilson and Phil Vischer, with whom I've recently been discussing the term "faith"), or the so-called greats. I assert that this phrase--if God exists, then--is the central idea of all of theology, and I think that's a problem.
So, now, about that "if."
Theologians and apologists
get a lot (read: all) of their play riding on the conditional word
"if." "If there is a God, then..." Yes, if. And that's not established.
But there's more.
"If" implies possibility, as every child knows. In fact, looking at how some children use the term--especially the question "what if?"--reveals that it often works like an indicator light to tell you that the imagination is engaged. "If," though, only implies merest possibility--supposing the object of the conditional isn't logically impossible (e.g. square circles). Possibility doesn't tell us much. As gets noted frequently, unicorns are possible, for example. (Note that, speaking of unicorns, people literally have no problem whatsoever dismissing non-theological claims of this kind. This indicates that something different is going on with theological claims, which I would chalk up to two primary phenomena: cultural protectionism and faith.)
It's not just "if God exists" and "let's go," then, because starting with an "if" and then making use of the object of that "if" presents the notion that there's some noteworthy probability that God exists,
making the use of the conditional meaningful. Notice the shift from possibility to probability here--and notice further that with religious beliefs, the probability actually held by the believer is not likely to be a probability like 1/1000; it's very frequently absolute certainty. Note, in fact, that many belief traditions require full assent to the faith, including Christian "salvation" (in quotes because I think it's a nonsense idea).
Though I'm quite sure it is actually false, for the purposes of keeping this simple, I will grant that there's "always"
some plausibility value for a hypothesis, e.g. the God hypothesis. With regard to the God hypothesis, I've argued in two books now (with much more detail in the second, Dot,
Dot, Dot) that there are good reasons to accept that the probability
value entailed by a mere possibility is zero (almost surely--a technical term). "If God exists..." is such a case.
I've gone on to
describe the quality of "extraordinary evidence" required to overcome a
probability zero prior for an existence claim (the answer is almost
surely certain evidence). For example, we could (and most of us do) confidently assert that the plausibility of the hypothesis that Ewoks (from Star Wars) exist is zero, almost surely. Presented with an actual Ewok would constitute almost certain evidence to the contrary, and with that we could still reliably update our plausibility estimates, here to the same almost-certain existence we can say of dairy cows. Though the story goes that Jesus chastized him for it, so-called "Doubting" Thomas was no fool.
So, the apologist's and theologian's "if God exists, then..."
statements all hinge on the plausibility hidden by that "if." Without a
reasonable degree of plausibility, the statement is utterly empty and
should be treated the exact same way you would treat a claim like "if unicorns exist,
then their blood will keep you alive on the edge of death, but at a
terrible price." If, indeed.
Note also that if X is a hypothetical, meaning something we don't already know exists, there is an important asymmetry in this respect between statements that assert "if X exists" and "if X does not exist." Any hypothetical could be covered by "if X exists," and thus it stands to reason that "does not exist" is the more sensible default if we wish to be careful enough to be taken seriously, especially if making important commentary in public discourse. Any public servant who proclaimed that the unicorns urged him to vote this way or that on a particular topic would be urged to seek medical help, not re-election.
And here we find the heart of the ongoing discussion about faith. So far as I can tell, when apologists present "if God exists, then," they have already concluded (on faith) that the statement carries significant weight. It does not. Possibility does not imply any nonzero plausibility--or if we must cede to the strict Bayesians who insist it must, it does not imply a plausibility large enough to require so much as a second glance. Plausibility must be established, and at the least a falsifiable model is required to do that, and even then the plausibility is quite low without some evidence that has been carefully screened for contamination by biases.
In short, "if X exists," by itself, is insufficient justification even to talk
seriously about the topic, hence Boghossian's call to keep it at
the "Kids' Table."
Note: I've added a tag to all of my posts in this evolving discussion about faith: Faith Discussion. Please check it out. It's been most interesting and had tons of attention already.