A-Theism, For Real?

Just read this blog by prominent atheist Massimo Pigliucci. He makes Alvin Plantinga, one of my favorite philosophers, out to be an intellectual lightweight. He criticizes Plantinga for saying that atheism is not justified by a mere lack of evidence, for, according to Pigliucci,  a-unicornism (which is close enough to atheism) is. I believe there is a misunderstanding, or perhaps dishonesty, on Pigliuicci’s part.

Pigliucci, and most of today’s atheists, define atheism differently than most theists. Atheists seem to be defining it as sort of an “a-theism”, that is, lack of belief. This grants the atheist a burden of proof advantage; it’s a non-claim, and non-claims require no support.

I don’t like this definition: most vocal atheists aren’t merely non-committal or unopinionated about God. No, they really think God doesn’t exist!! They think God is improbable, ridiculous, like a unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Flying Teapot. They think that God needs to be opposed, eradicated. They aren’t “a-theists”, they are athe-ists.

The vocal, anti-theistic atheists (like Pigliuicci) should be more honest. They should embrace the traditional definition (athe-ism), instead of the more recent, watered-down, a-theism*; they should deny God’s existence. And this sort of atheism does have a burden of proof, for it is making a claim.

Pigliucci does bring up Plantinga’s reply that there is a disanalogy between unicorns and God in that unicorns are known to be improbable, whereas God isn’t. I agree; unicorns are improbable because they are physically complex objects. They are hence unlikely to exist just on their own, and the place most likely to have evolved them, Earth, doesn’t. Thus, they are unlikely to exist.  None of this is true of God; we have no reason to think that God would be unlikely to exist on His own. He is immaterial, and not subject to the laws of physical probability/physical complexity. On my view, all we can say that God’s inherent probability is unknown, which is not the same as saying that it is low.  This means that atheism, as traditionally defined, really does have just as much a burden of proof as theism, and that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That is, the lack of evidence argument endorsed by Dawkins and, here, unfortunately by Pigliuicci, is just another example of the argument from ignorance fallacy.

All this is missed, I think, by Pigliuicci, and other atheists, because they’re always saying, dishonestly, that they are a-theists.” But it’s hard to imagine people who are so anti-God being merely a-theists. Come on guys, own up! Besides, even Dawkins, who has made the lack of evidence argument, doesn’t claim to be an a-theist anyway: he goes the whole atheist route. So should you.


*The earliest use of a-theism I am aware is Anthony Flew’s use in his 1972 paper, “The Presumption of Atheism.”