Atheism and the Burden of Proof
One of the most frequent statements I hear when I talk about God with atheists is that there is “no evidence” that God exists, and that is usually followed by telling me that the burden of proof is on me, the theist, because I’m the one making the positive assertion.
However, an actual atheist, as I covered yesterday, is making a positive assertion — he is positively asserting there is no God. This is framed negatively, but he isn’t withholding judgement on my assertion. He declares it false.
Withholding judgement is agnosticism — not knowing. In which case, I’m obliged to prove my case (or at least make a reasonable argument for it) for the benefit of the undecided person.
But the atheist has gone beyond withholding judgement. He’s made one of his own, and for that he owes an explanation.
Think this through:
If I say, “God exists!” Aside from, “Praise Jesus, I know he does!” there are two potential replies. (Actually, there are more, but let’s just stick with these two for simplicity sake.)
Someone might respond, “I’m not convinced.”
This is your agnostic. I should lay out my case for him. If he remains unconvinced, we can discuss the particulars. He has no specific position, so he owes me no explanation beyond what my argument lacks.
The other potential reply is: “Poppycock! There is no god, you silly Christian. Science disproves him. Besides, there was never any evidence anyway.”
This is your atheist. It is totally disingenuous for the atheist to think I’m the only one with a burden of proof here. I will still lay out my case, however he needs to both rebut my case and lay out his own — merely rebutting my case doesn’t prove anything other than I have a poor case. It only moves us to agnosticism, being unconvinced. The atheist isn’t “withholding judgement”: he’s convinced that I’m wrong. For that, he owes me an argument.
One needs nothing beyond “insufficient evidence” to withhold judgement, but the moment rejection enters the picture, a judgement has been made and a logical argument for why must be presented. Saying “I lack belief in all gods” is a total cop-out and very lazy debating.
- 8/13/12 at 1:40am EDT because there were a lot of typos. I’m ashamed of that. 1-2 is fine with me because I’m not perfect, but there were probably 4-5!
- 8/19/12 at 12:41am: Another perspective from Steve Wilkinson here.