Belief in God: Subtle Evidence, Belief-Risk

It’s obvious to me that:

  1. There is no obvious, overwhelming empirical evidence for God. God doesn’t do miracles on demand, booming voices, sky-writing, etc. Any argument/evidence for God will be fairly subtle (e.g., the Fine-Tuning Argument).
  2. There will be belief-risk when believing in God. That is, there will be, at best, substantial risk that belief in God is mistaken, given even the best arguments/evidence for God’s existence.

My impression is that, for most atheists, the above alone is enough to make believing in God unreasonable, something to avoid. Anyone trying to make a case for belief would have to find a way to deal with the above two points first: that subtle evidence is enough, and that belief-risk is sometimes worth taking.

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Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Evidence: Did William Lane Craig Make a Mistake Here?

William Lane Craig is a Christian apologist and philosopher, famous for his debates with atheists. I do enjoy his debates: even if you don’t agree with Craig (or the atheist he is debating), there is value in the debate itself. For me, what’s most important is that the issues are constantly laid out in clearer ways, and debate is an engaging way to do this.

But here I wonder about Craig’s response to the common atheist aphorism, “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.” His response is that the proverb would prevent us from accepting that a particular ticket won the lottery, as the probability of any single ticket winning the lottery is very low. For him, one cannot just consider the inherent probability of a claim, but how improbable the observations we observe regarding the claim would be if the claim weren’t true. In the case of the lottery, it would be very improbable that a winner would be announced on the media if, in fact, that winner didn’t really win the lottery. So in this case, even if the probability of that person winning the lottery is very low, we can accept that she won.

The same goes for miracles like Jesus’ resurrection. Resurrections are improbable, but the odds of our relevant observations (the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, the disciples’ radical belief changes) would be very improbable if the resurrection didn’t take place. Thus Craig argues that we can accept that Jesus rose just as we can accept that the lucky lottery ticket holder won.

I don’t disagree with Craig’s claim that explanatory power, discussed in the previous two paragraphs, is just as important as inherent probability. But that doesn’t disprove the aphorism. In fact, it’s completely compatible with it. The aphorism allows for the accumulation of evidence, that is, explanatory power, to override initial skepticism. It only requires that the evidence be extraordinary.

What the aphorism claims is that we can’t just look at evidence for a claim, expecting that if an amount of evidence  is enough for one claim, it should be enough for every other claim. It points out that less inherently probable claims require more evidence that mundane claims. Claiming that I drove to work requires less evidence than the claim that I flew to work, using my arms as wings.

So here I think is where the real dispute is between Craig and skeptics. Skeptics think the inherent improbability of God’s existence or the resurrection of Jesus is so low as to require a very radical amount of evidence to overcome it. Atheists I’ve talked to or listened to online mention a universally observable breakdown of the natural order, something like what’s in the Book of Revelation, to meet the evidential burden: nothing less than that would suffice. That is, the skeptics focus on what they take to be low prior probabilities, generally seeing any currently attainable amount of evidence as insufficient. Craig, however, focuses on the explanatory power. But I think that both need to be considered.

One other note, skeptics do think God is very improbable; just as improbable as Zeus, Big Foot, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. True, the last three are inherently improbable, but does that make God inherently improbable? That would depend on how similar God is to those things. I don’t see a great similarity. God is completely immaterial, while the last three are either unusual physical objects or physical objects embedded with divine characteristics. I don’t think you can compare them. So I would submit that God’s prior probability is unknown,  and not low.

My Problem with the Fine-Tuning Argument

I’ve heard the fine-tuning argument for God many times. I’ve yet to be convinced.  I’ve heard objections, but none of them really work for me either (however passionately or confidently expressed by atheists). I think I have finally figured out why I find the argument hard to accept.

It’s that the argument, by itself, offers clear indication of God’s activity only once in the history of the cosmos. I feel that if God really did create the universe, we’d see evidence of God’s work not only in the initial conditions, constants, and laws of nature, but throughout the history of the cosmos. But, it seems, everything else could be explained by blind forces. Once a complex universe is in place (it is for this complexity that fine-tuning is required), with billions upon billions of planets, it seems a matter of course that at least one would evolve life like ours, and all that follows from life like ours. And once the initial conditions, constants, and laws of nature are in place, we will have that complexity. So all that we have God doing is fine-tuning those initial 3 things. Then life will occur, by chance, if you will, somewhere in the universe, just as once the lottery is set up, someone will probably win at some point, even if the odds of any one person winning are extremely low.

This objection remains even if the multiverse alternative isn’t used. With one universe only, the fine-tuning is uncanny, but unique. It provides, at best, an argument for deism, not theism. The multiverse, if it really does exist, multiplies the problem. For the usual reply to the multiverse objection, that the multiverse “generator” itself would have to be fine-tuned, would, again, leave God to be a very lazy god, only acting once in all the histories of all the universes.

Add to this the observation/common objection that life is either unique to Earth, or very extremely rare in the universe (something we’d expect with blind forces, but not so much with God), then we have a rather tenuous case for God with the fine-tuning argument.

Maybe my problem is with deism. It seems less likely, inherently, than theism. Why fine-tune a universe at all if God doesn’t plan to interact with it? The fine-tuning argument is only interesting to me if it’s an argument for theism, not deism.

It is here that some of the usual objections gain a bit more force. One is this: the science behind the fine-tuning-argument is legitimate, but immature. The future might find more convincing explanations of fine-tuning than “God did it.” A deistic explanation is just not as worthy of defending against this and other objections. It would be better to wait for a natural explanation, even indefinitely, than accept deism. We gain nothing from accepting deism. At least theism has the comforts of religion as a possibility.

For me, right now, clear, post-big-bang, evidence for God would be needed to supplement this argument. It cannot stand on its own.

 

 

Path to Atheism, the Second Most Rebellious Worldview

I think that a lot of atheists would insist that their path to atheism is one of discovering that it is unreasonable to believe in God, much like discovering that it is unreasonable to believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. My hypothesis is different. It seems to me, the more I look at debates and such between theists and atheists, that atheists make a choice about how they view the world that prohibit belief in God a priori (that is, right at the start, before any evidence is examined). This choice seems so natural and obvious to atheists that they may not even see it as a choice. It’s the choice of epistemology (way of knowing, forming beliefs). I think that this choice is ultimately rooted in the desire for autonomy and a bit of rebelliousness.

The Surface Path

To be clear, I’m not saying that atheists reject God for purely emotional reasons, of course (a lot of Christians seem to think this — they probably do because many of them are pretty emotional themselves). I’m not saying that people get pissed-off at religious people and become atheists because of this. Or that they might be horribly disappointed at unanswered prayer, or something really bad happening to them or someone else, and reject God as a result. Intellectual steps are what I’m interested in. Here’s what I think they are. They aren’t always made explicit, but I think that atheists usually go through these.

1. Choose an epistemology that focuses on (perhaps exclusively) tangible, practical, “hands-on” values and goals either through usable knowledge, or theories that aid in the prediction/control of nature.

2. Point out that such an epistemology has no need of God.

3. Claim that the fact that such a godless epistemology is successful in meeting tangible goals is evidence against God.

4. Reject God.

I don’t think reflective atheists would deny that they have went through all of these at some point in their adoption of atheism. To them, these steps seem obviously right. Key to this path is the first step.

The choice in 1 goes back a long way, with roots in Francis Bacon, and later, explicit endorsement in John Dewey and his “bulldog” Sidney Hook. A current example of 1 is Sean Carroll’s rejection of God as a hypothesis because it doesn’t produce new information about how the world works. Atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss also seems to point to this, as does the atheist philosopher Alva Noe. Noe points out that belief in God will not help you fix your car. To be fair, Carroll (and the others as well, probably) also rejected God as a hypothesis because he didn’t think it was testable. However, the multiverse hypothesis isn’t really testable either, yet they are all willing to entertain it. I think that for them, as for most atheist scientists, it is 1 that is doing most, if not all of the work.

In general, natural explanations are the ones that have hope of allowing us to predict and control nature. These are, in turn, what are useful in developing new technology and solving social problems. In short, natural explanations are what best suit humanistic goals.

2 is insisted by every atheist. Just about anything you can think of could possibly have a natural explanation (How does one rule out all possible natural explanations?). So it’s a short logical step to God not being necessary for such an epistemology.

Regarding 3, that godless science is successful in meeting tangible goals, is obvious to everyone. Theists have to agree. But is this really evidence against God? Only if there’s reason to expect that natural science wouldn’t be successful if God exists. I honestly can’t see why it wouldn’t be successful: if anything, the success of natural science is something God wants, just as long as we don’t see it as the end of all knowledge. Natural science is certainly successful, but limited in its scope (Phillip Goff makes a similar point here about math, physics and subjective experience).

Ok, so the atheistic conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the above premises. But maybe, for atheists, it’s more like this: God is not useful, for atheists have all that they want in a science that doesn’t need God. I find it hard to argue with this; given what atheists value (see 1 above), it makes perfect sense to ignore God in the way that they do.

The Deeper Path

tumblr_ndg58ybg4m1tr3d06o1_500Well, now that the intellectual path is out of the way, maybe I do need to return to emotions: to know what is useful one has to know what is valuable. And what is valuable to a person is rooted in what they want. What is it that atheists want, at bottom, anyway? I can’t speak for all of them, but I think that it’s expressed very well by atheist philosopher A.C. Greyling; it’s autonomy. It’s doing what you want, choosing your own path.

Atheism is the second most rebellious worldview: it won’t bow down to or follow any mere person. One’s personal autonomy is limited by only one thing: empirical reality, “the facts.” It is surpassed in rebelliousness by one worldview only: postmodernism. Postmodernists refuse to bow down to anything, not even reality! *

Consider another passage from the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel:

. . . I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself . . . It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. . .Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world. (From The Last Word)

Compare atheism with Islam, the Arabic word for submission. Theism is all about bowing down to a person. The apostle Paul tells Christians to “present their bodies as living sacrifices.” Atheists devoted to personal autonomy could never accept this, even if they believed in God.

So, as a result of this basic preference, or choice, atheists choose an epistemology that is all about how they can know more, predict more, control more, do more. This epistemology finds no ultimate purpose in the universe, but this doesn’t bother atheists; for them, purpose is what they make it. All this epistemology can do is find out how to get from A to B. They decide whether B is worth getting to.

God, of course, could never be part of such an epistemology, for God will not be controlled, predicted, or used. Any epistemology that could learn of God would also have to be prepared to submit to God.

So, in essence, it’s really down to autonomy versus submission. I’m reminded of Milton’s famous line: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

Notice that none of this has to do with the truth about whether or not God exists. It’s more about whether a person could discover God, should He exist. Atheists make epistemological choices that forever make God unfindable. They claim to be open-minded, but they really aren’t. Once one commits himself to this sort of pragmatic empiricism, and only accepts explanations/hypothesis that “tell him how the world works,” he will never, ever, ever, find God. God will have no part of that. And even if God obliged and provided, say, an obvious miracle, the atheist’s methodological naturalism, empiricism, or whatever you want to call it would prevent him from accepting the miracle, and he would find some other possible way of explaining the miracle naturally, or, at worst, would simply say “We cannot know what really happened here.” Even God couldn’t get through to this person!

My feeling is that atheists would reply, “Well, there are no such obvious miracles, so your point is moot. Show me the obvious miracle, and then we can talk.” I think this misses the point, however. What I’m discussing are the logical implications of choices atheists make; it logically follows from the epistemology that atheists adopt that they can’t ever find God. It would be pointless for God to perform one for them, for it would have to fall on deaf ears, as long as they hold on to their epistemology. To be truly open-minded they would have to let go of the epistemology.

A Complication

The complication in this is morality. Although some atheists deny that morality is real, in my experience the vast majority of them do hold to an objective morality that they feel everyone should submit to. This morality is, of course, not empirically knowable (Hume, G.E. Moore, and a host of others have made this point). They also, for the most part, try to follow it. So autonomy is limited further still — it’s limited by “the facts,” and it’s limited by what’s right and wrong. Just as we do not get to choose the facts, we also do not get to choose what is right or wrong. We merely decide whether we will obey. And, by in large, atheists do choose to obey. Atheists, in general, desire rebelliousness, not wickedness.

Given the above, the key difference between atheists and theists is, once again, personal. I remember having a very long but interesting discussion with an atheist colleague in grad school about the Euthyphro problem aimed at deriving morals from God. Putting the problem’s details aside, for him the worst thing about morality from God is that it is personally derived; this makes morality arbitrary. He could only give credence to moral theories that are based in an impersonal principle. Following a law is reasonable, but a lawgiver isn’t.

So, summing it up, atheists will bow down to the impersonal, not the personal. If morality is indeed impersonal, and somehow either reducible to empirical facts (Patricia Churchland and Sam Harris argue that it can: I’m not convinced), or to some set of objective, but immaterial, impersonal facts (like those of math, logic), then the atheist can be a consistent moral realist (someone who believes morality is objectively real). Otherwise, he will have an internal conflict in his worldview. He will have to either reject atheism, or objective morality.

The Atheist’s Wager

So what of it? Is the atheist unreasonable? In one sense, no. For he’s convinced that God’s existence, from the start, is extremely unlikely, and that there is some secular basis for morality. There is knowledge to be had, and being open to explanations that don’t provide usable knowledge about the world (i.e., “God did it”) could threaten at least some of this. So he puts his bet on natural science. He doesn’t fear the consequences. If he’s right about God’s inherent low probability, then this is a good bet.

But he might not be. For atheists don’t have good reason to think God is inherently improbable. Dawkins’s Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit, for example, is a poster child for bad atheist arguments. Atheist mockery is more telling — from that their intuition that God is inherently improbable comes from false comparisons with beings that really are inherently improbable, such as fairies, Thor, The Flying Spaghetti Monster. But the God of theism isn’t really like these beings (I argue for that here). About that God, all the atheist can say is that he doesn’t know what the inherent probability of God’s existence is. And we can’t forget that saying that God’s probability is unknown is not the same as saying it is low.

Also, there is something that’s sacrificed in this wager: value, ultimate purpose and meaning. Going back to morality, atheists will indeed submit to it. Consider the intuition that right and wrong is somehow based on value. For empiricists (atheists are typically empiricists), value is personal, subjective. It comes from what some person wants, desires. But atheists also put their desires aside to do what’s right. This would be clearly irrational for an atheist to do, if value is merely the desires of some person (somebody else, in this case) and there is no God. The only way a value-based morality could be anything close to objective is if based on the values of God (or some being with universal authority). I would have to admit it wouldn’t be completely objective, as it would be coming from a person, but it would be as universal as the other things God made, including the physical universe.

Also, purpose and meaning themselves seem to be worth something. Even the ardent atheist Daniel Dennett claimed that the secret to happiness is finding something greater than you are, and committing yourself to it. It’s part of human thriving to be part of something larger, to, well, bow down to something greater than we are. Theism wins this one in spades.

But, at bottom, whether or not a wager is reasonable depends on the probabilities and the payoffs. Here we don’t know what the probabilities are, but we have some idea of the payoffs. Theists can retain much of what atheists want: there is no reason a theist can’t enjoy pretty much all of what science delivers, or contribute to the discoveries science makes. But theists also gain the possibility of true, ultimate purpose, and a more satisfying view of what is right and wrong, and why it makes sense to submit to it. They also gain the riches of experiencing a reality that transcends the material, and the comfort of belief in an afterlife.

One final note. I just saw my father-in-law pass away. When I comfort my wife, imagine the shock she would receive if I told her that her father no longer exists; what existence he has is reduced to the corpse we viewed! The only comforting thing to hear is that he’s in a better place, a place where he is no longer crippled. Theists can take this comfort. Atheists cannot. Given that atheists are, well, betting on unknown probabilities, it’s hard for me to see what the advantage of that is. But that’s just me.

* This one of Richard Rorty’s (well-known pragmatist/postmodernist) complaints about atheist realists (those that believe in reality): they reject the Cross, but they still bow down to the god of science. Rorty bowed to no god.

William Lane Craig vs. Stephen Law: Another Case of One Man’s Modus Ponens is Another Man’s Modus Tollens

In October of 2011, William Lane Craig squared off with Stephen Law about the existence of God (video above). Law advanced the hypothesis of an evil god, arguing that just as theodicies aimed at reconciling a good God with evil could be offered, so could “theodicies” aimed at reconciling a evil god with good be offered. This possibility is supposed to discredit theodicies for a good God. Craig accepts that the evil god theodicies are possible, and that is not unreasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

During the rebuttals, it seemed that both Law and Craig were talking past each other. Here’s my attempt to clarify. I think it’s yet another case of “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.” (Hereafter MPMT) In this case I’ll start with  modus tollens first. According to Law:

(1) If theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable, then it’s reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

(2) It’s not reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

(3) Therefore, theodicies for an evil god cannot be reasonable.

Then he continues:

(4) If theodicies for an evil God cannot be reasonable, theodicies for a good God cannot be reasonable.

(5) Therefore, theodicies for a good God cannot be reasonable.

(6) Therefore, it is unreasonable to believe in God.

Most of this is pretty self-explanatory, except (4). One would have to argue that the theodices for a good an evil god are similar enough to support this premise.

Craig’s modus ponens:

(1) If theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable, then it’s reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

(2′) Theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable.

(3′) Therefore, it is reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

And, of course, if Craig’s counter goes through, then (4-6) of Law’s argument breaks down.

Law seemed pretty frustrated with this reply, but didn’t really clearly attempt to refute it. He merely insisted that this wasn’t the way to interpret his argument.

That sort of reply isn’t acceptable. Craig offered a counter argument (on my interpretation), one that needs to be answered. And, as in any case of MPMT, it is a contest between (2) and (2′). Law assumed, and insisted on, (2), but provided no real argument for it. Craig didn’t really argue for (2′) either.

Yet, because Law was on the offence here, I think he needs to support (2). Right now it’s merely an assertion, one that carries a lot of weight in his argument. Craig doesn’t have to accept it. Unless Law supports the idea that the possibility of an evil God is unreasonable (good luck with that — even Descartes struggled with that one), there is no real force behind his argument as a whole.

Perhaps Law is thinking that belief in God in general, whether good or bad, is ridiculous. He’d be in the company of most atheists: they believe God is inherently (apart from any evidence) implausible, (note the many comparisons of God with the Flying Spaghetti Monster). But that’s just an atheist thing. You can’t just assume this in a debate about God without begging the question.

 

Should a Rational, Educated Person Believe in Life After Death?

If you asked a neuroscientist or a science-oriented-person-in-general, you would probably hear, “No.” After all, the mind is the brain and when the brain dies, so does the mind. Nothing survives death. There are no “souls.” The view that the mind is distinct from the brain and can survive the death of the body is called dualism, and it is very unpopular with neuroscientists and philosophers. It is so unpopular, in fact, that well-known philosophers such as Daniel Dennett don’t even need bother with a refutation of it — they just merely say “no one believes that anymore” and dismiss it (see here) to move on to their own form of materialism.

On the other hand, the vast majority of the American public (80% in 2014) does believe in life after death. When Dennett said nobody believes in dualism anymore, he was obviously referring to academics and neuroscientists — they are the ones that matter, I suppose. Are the experts right and the American masses wrong here? Has dualism been proven false?

No. In fact, Dennett himself more or less admits this. Consider this quote regarding dualism:

This fundamentally antiscientific stance of dualism is, to my mind, its most disqualifying feature, and is the reason why in this book I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think I can give a knock-down proof that dualism, in all its forms is false or incoherent, but that, given the way dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up. (Explaining Consciousness, p. 37)

So the reason Dennett rejects dualism (and life after death) because it’s “antiscientific,” because it’s “giving up.” It’s not because it has been shown to be wrong. It stops scientific enquiry. Good enough.

More could be said, of course. Scientists, by in large, follow the principle of methodological naturalism; they do not consider the supernatural in their investigations. This doesn’t rule out the supernatural per se, but when following this principle leads to all the advances the neurosciences has enjoyed, it makes one doubt that there is a supernatural thing like the soul behind it all. Much remains to be explained in the neurosciences, but the fact that so much has been explained has given materialist neuroscientists and philosophers reason to at least place a very heavy burden of proof on those who do believe in souls.

But is that all that can be said? Should all the poor, benighted masses stop going to church, believing in the afterlife, believing that loved-ones who have passed away are in heaven as part of their “educational advancement?” I think that the above reasoning could be challenged on two points. The first is the use of burden of proof among soul deniers. They require acceptable evidence for the soul. Unfortunately, this may not be possible even if there are such things as souls, for if anything were claimed to be evidence for the soul, materialists would simply say that there is a perfectly good natural explanation for it.

Emotions are evidence for the soul, you say? Well, we can explain that with the activity of neurons in the hippocampus, the presence or absence of certain neurotransmitters.  What about the ability to learn? Neural nets in computers can do that: we have trillions of such in our brains. Decision making? Look to the prefrontal cortex. Falling in love? Oxytocin. And so on. On the other hand, if there is no current neurobiological explanation for the phenomenon, then the materialist can either say that we should wait for one (give neuroscience some more time, for it has an excellent track record), or say that the phenomenon doesn’t exist. Free will (taken as most people mean it), for example, may not have a neurobiological explanation, but people like Dennett or Patricia Churchland would simply say that it doesn’t exist. The same goes for first-person experience, consciousness. Consciousness (or at least certain features of consciousness, such as the raw experiences known as qualia) is notoriously hard to explain just in terms of the brain. Those aspects of consciousness not explainable by science are deemed fictions, merely a part of a pre-scientific “folk psychology.”

Notice that these moves can be made even if there are such things as souls. And it would be nearly impossible to disprove them, given that they could keep making these same moves against any attempt to disprove them. In other words, materialism is unfalsifiable — even if it were false, there is no observation or reason that could ever disprove it. Hence it is untestable, and ironically, unscientific.

You might say, “Ok, so it’s impossible to win an argument with a die hard materialist. So what? That doesn’t mean there are souls or that we should believe in them.” And you would be right regarding the first point: materialism’s unfalsifiability doesn’t imply that it’s actually false, or that there are souls. But what about the second point? Maybe there might be reason to believe in souls, even if they can’t be proven to exist.

There are practical reasons. Belief in the afterlife gives people comfort. It allows them to hope for loved ones who have passed, and a hope for a reunion in the future. It also gives reason for people to “be good,” even if they can get away with being bad. They might be punished in the afterlife, or the next life. Another is that the afterlife is a central part of most religions. Abandoning it means giving up one’s religion. One other thing, it allows us to forget about death. As we get older, we start seeing the end more clearly. Belief that the end really isn’t the end allows me, at any rate, to not obsess about it as much.

Ok, I know a lot of people wouldn’t see the previous paragraph as much of a motivation. They have settled into a scientific worldview and have become comfortable with it. But I’m not speaking to them. For them, their bet has been made; they are betting on naturalism. But it is a bet; we can’t forget or deny it. Naturalism (the view that only scientific things can exist) is not known to be true. It’s a hunch, a take, a perspective. But so are worldviews that allow a place for the supernatural.

When it comes to whether or not to accept naturalism, it’s not about evidence, really. It’s about what first seems plausible to a person. She forms a worldview. Then she goes and interprets the evidence in light of this worldview. But as to deciding which worldview to take, evidence isn’t the ultimate deciding factor — it’s also about what she values, fears, and hopes for.

Given that naturalism/materialism hasn’t been proven, and that it has such a hard time with consciousness, free will, rationality, and other features of the mind, I don’t see it as the only bet a person could make. One could acknowledge all that neuroscience, as science, and not as philosophy, says, and still bet on the afterlife by believing in it. And for many people, the benefits outweigh the costs.

A-Theism, For Real?

Most of today’s atheists define atheism 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 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.

Also, if an atheist claims that belief in God is irrational, unjustified, harmful, etc, they have a burden of proof as well regarding the irrationality claim, for it is a claim.

So, if you are anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-theist, and you are honest, and you really think God is like the Flying Teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then you should own up to positive atheism, strong atheism, or whatever the vogue term is for denying God’s existence. And you will need to meet some sort of burden of proof.

 

 

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