Another response to criticism of "Is atheism viable?"
Some atheists take their atheism seriously, and others do not. Either way, I am pleased to see atheists attempting to refute what I've written on CARM. The following article is such a case.
I was contacted by a Mr. Dawson Bethrick who told me he had written a response to my paper, "Is Atheism Viable?" After glancing at his piece, I noticed it was a bit condescending. I mentioned this to him in a return email, and Mr. Bethrick proceeded to challenge me on proving his condescension. He further stated that I "obviously could not refute" what he had to say. Anyway, I have reproduced most of his comments in order to address important information. His original comments are in black, and my comments are in green. I have left his typo's and grammar errors intact.
Slick's Fuss: A Review of CARM's "Is Atheism Viable?"
by Dawson Bethrick
The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, or "CARM.org," has an entire section of their website devoted to responding to atheism. One of the site's articles is a short essay called Is Atheism Viable? by author Matt Slick. This essay gives the author's reasons for why he thinks atheism is wrong and indefensible. As is the case with many attempts to make mysticism seem rational, Slick's faulty conceptions leave a lot to be desired.
Mr. Bethrick implies that mysticism cannot be rational. Mysticism is a belief in realities or existences outside our perceptual, and/or one's intellectual, apprehension. This would include the idea that God exists. But, is it irrational to believe that there are things in existence beyond our apprehension? Of course not. Furthermore, he has not demonstrated why belief in God is not rational. He just states it is not rational. In so doing he commits the fallacy of begging the question; that is, he assumes that what he is trying to prove is true. He assumes atheism is true and labels theism as irrational mysticism. This is neither a competent nor logical assertion on his part.
The title of Slick's essay asks the question "Is Atheism Viable?" What does it mean to be viable? Webster's Dictionary defines 'viable' as "capable of working, functioning, or developing adequately"; "capable of existence and development as an independent unit"; "having a reasonable chance of succeeding." Is atheism any one of these things?
Please notice that Mr. Bethrick does not even afford me the respect of calling me Mr. Slick. Instead, it is just "Slick." This is a personal preference, but when I address someone I criticize, I try and show him the respect of calling him "Mr." as in Mr. Bethrick. But Mr. Bethrick mentions "Slick" 84 times by itself in his response, not once with Mr. in front of it. Nevertheless, the issue is not whether someone can or cannot believe in atheism; the issue is whether or not it is a defensible and logical position to hold.
Since atheism is essentially a negation or negative condition, it is up to considerable debate whether atheism can be said to be "viable." One does not typically think of a negation as being "capable of working" or of developing "as an independent unit." But the essence of the Slick's question is clear: Is atheism the proper alternative to god-belief? As an atheist myself, I would answer with an emphatic yes to this question. This is, of course, because I think god-belief is irrational.2
At least Mr. Bethrick is stating an opinion when he says he "thinks" belief in God is irrational. If he had stated it was irrational without logical support, he would be offering nothing but opinion in the place of fact. This is, to be sure, what many atheists accuse Christians of doing by believing in God.
Slick states that, "In discussions with atheists, I don't hear any evidence for the validity of atheism." But what would Slick consider to be "evidence for the validity of atheism"? As he acknowledges in the opening of his essay, he is essentially asking for evidence for the validity of a negation. But a negation is necessarily valid, epistemologically, in the absence of evidence or convincing argument for the positive. To illustrate, consider the example of the Greek god Zeus. Let us call "Zeusism" the belief that Zeus exists and that he is the supreme being. Let the term "aZeusism" mean the absence of such a belief. Clearly, the term "aZeusism" is a negation, just as the term 'atheism' is: it is the absence of a particular kind of belief. Does Slick hold to Zeusism, or to aZeusism? I would wager that he is an aZeusist, i.e., one who has no Zeus-belief. But what would one consider to be evidence for the validity of aZeusism? If Slick is an aZeusist, he would have to present such evidence if he wants to be consistent with his expectation that atheists should present "evidence for the validity of atheism." I don't suppose we should hold our breath.
Mr. Bethrick's defense here is basically worthless. He states that the "absence of evidence or convincing argument for the positive" is what makes atheism viable. But this is nothing more than a statement centered around subjectivity; namely, his subjective atheistic presupposition. Mr. Bethrick's atheistic presupposition does not allow him to view theistic arguments with any serious acumen because he has already stated that he believes theism is irrational. Therefore, by default, any argument proposed for the existence of God must be, according to his presupposition, irrational and invalid from the beginning. Mr. Bethrick has effectively cut off any true and convincing dialogue on the existence of God, and forced all logic and evidence to fit into his subjective mental box, or else it is irrational. This is not the method of serious intellectual inquiry. For more information on this, please read I don't see any convincing evidence for the existence of God.
The expectation that non-believers present "evidence for the validity of atheism" is symptomatic of the intention to evade the onus of proving one's existentially positive claims. If Slick claims that a god exists and he expects others to accept this claim as truth, then he would have to support this claim. Clearly the default is not belief, but non-belief. Pining as Slick does that he doesn't "hear any evidence for the validity of atheism" simply misses the point.
Mr. Bethrick misses the point. Elsewhere on CARM I present evidences for God's existence. Some of it is on the atheism section which, if he had read more thoroughly, would negate his statement here about proving the existence of God. However, I never maintain that I can prove God exists. Instead, I have offered various evidences for the existence of God. But since Mr. Bethrick's presupposition is that God does not exist, any evidence I offer will be, by default, insufficient; and my argumentation must also be suspect and irrational.
Mr. Bethrick again assumes too much. He says, "Clearly the default is not belief, but non-belief." This is again nothing more than guesswork. What "default" is he speaking about? If he means that babies are born without belief in God, that is nothing more than a guess. How does he know what is, or is not, in the mind of a baby? If we define belief as a cognitive assent, then babies don't believe in God since they do not (we assume) cognitively assent that God exists. But if we define belief as the presupposition that God exists due to some innate quality in a person, then a baby does believe in God. It depends on definition, and since Mr. Bethrick has not been specific here, we cannot be sure what he means. Also, we cannot know the minds of infants, so we cannot authoritatively state which is the case.
Finally, I am not "pining." His use of the word means that I am nostalgic, or have a lingering desire. Desire for what? God? I do not "pine" for God's existence. There is no nostalgia involved in this. I simply believe that God exists and that the Christian revelation of God is the only correct one. I would prefer that Mr. Bethrick stick to the issues instead of trying to play the mind-reader and disclose to the world what he thinks are my motives and emotions concerning God. To further commit such errors of argumentation is a demonstration of clouded judgment on his behalf.
However, Slick does give some indication of what he would consider to be "evidence for the validity of atheism" when he states, "There are no 'proofs' that God does not exist." Of course, this is the expectation that one prove a negative, an onus which non-believers do not bear. To illustrate, how does Slick prove his claim that "There are no 'proofs' that God does not exist"? This is a negative claim, but where's the proof? Does Slick special plead his case, assuming that he has no onus to prove that "There are no 'proofs' that God does not exist" while those who do not believe the claim that there is a god must "prove" that god does not exist? How does Slick know that "There are no 'proofs' that God does not exist," and how does he show this claim to be true?
As I said earlier, my evidence for God is elsewhere on CARM, and a section is devoted to it on the atheism section -- which Mr. Bethrick, apparently, has not chosen to examine or mention. Here is the paragraph that Mr. Bethrick is referring to from my paper:
"In discussions with atheists, I don't hear any evidence for the validity of atheism. There are no "proofs" that God does not exist. Of course, that isn't to say that atheists haven't attempted to offer some. But their attempted proofs are invariably insufficient. After all, how do you prove there is no God in the universe? Besides, if there were proof of God's non-existence, then atheists would be continually using it. But we don't hear of any such commonly held proof supporting atheism or denying God's existence. The atheist position is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove since it is an attempt to prove a negative. Therefore, since there are no proofs for atheism's truth, and there are no proofs that there is no God, the atheist must hold his position by faith."
I make one clarifying comment here. To say "there are no proofs of God's existence" is not completely logical, since I cannot know all proofs that might exist. I could really only state that so far I have not seen any sufficient proof for God's non-existence. But, in the paragraph above, the context is dealing with the conversations I've had with atheists where I "don't hear any evidence for the validity of atheism." It is within that context I have said there are no proofs for God's non-existence. Furthermore, how do you prove that in all places, and in all times, and in all dimensions, God doesn't exist? In order to do that, you'd have to be God to know all things in order to know there isn't a God, which is not logical. Nevertheless, I have since modified the paragraph in the original paper to make the point more clear.
The irony of Slick's predicament, however, does not stop here. For even Slick, after announcing that "attempted proofs [that God does not exist] are invariably insufficient," asks, "how do you prove there is no God in the universe?" (I thought Christians believed that God exists "beyond" the universe) Does Slick think that "a proof of God's non-existence" is necessary for atheism to be the proper response to theism? If so, why does he think this? Apparently, Slick thinks that god-belief - indeed, his god-belief - is true until proven false. It seems that he thinks a proof for God's existence is not necessary. One does not need a reason to believe; rather, one needs a reason not to believe. How consistently would Slick apply such a reversal of rational principle?
Mr. Bethrick misses the point and offers a distraction instead of addressing the issue. I asked "how do you prove there is no God in the universe?" Instead of addressing that question, he offers a non-sequitor by stating "(I thought Christians believed that God exists "beyond" the universe)." It seems Mr. Bethrick needs to adjust his thinking, since we Christians believe that God is also in the universe as well as outside of it. He is, after all, omnipresent. Mr. Bethrick then goes on to raise issues which are constructed upon his erring premise. He asks several questions about what I might be thinking, and then tries to address the straw man answers he's constructed. Again, Mr. Bethrick should leave the mind-reading and guess-work out of this discussion, adopt a more logical approach, and stick to the issue at hand.
Slick continues: "Besides, if there were a proof of God's non-existence, then atheists would be continually using it." This would only be true if the atheists in question a) knew about the supposed proof, and, perhaps, b) considered the proof to be consistent with their own worldview outlook. However, as indicated above, a proof of the non-existence of something is certainly not warranted simply because someone makes the claim that the something in question exists. One does not inherit an obligation simply because another presents a claim.
It is the atheists who claim atheism is valid. Why is the atheist not able to prove his position or offer evidence for its validity? He can't. That is why Mr. Bethrick is trying to shift the onus of proof onto me by trying to get me to prove God exists. I may not be able to prove God exists, but I do have evidence (as given on CARM). It is up to Mr. Bethrick if he wants to examine it or not, but given his atheistic presupposition, I am sure that all such evidences would be insufficient.
The problem for Mr. Bethrick is, as I have stated before, that atheism can only survive in a theistic vacuum. It only exists in the minds of atheists who claim a position that is, as far as I can tell, logically unprovable. I do not see how anyone could prove there is no God in all the universe, since we cannot know all things about all places in all times about the universe in order to determine there is no God. If there is some other way of proof, i.e., logic, then let's see it. But until then, I am "atheistic" about atheistic proofs for God's non-existence and will stick to the evidence supporting the reality of God.
Again, Mr. Bethrick is not addressing the real issue. He is attempting to shift the topic to theistic proofs. This is only a demonstration of the validity of my premise that atheism exists in a theistic vacuum, which it must construct by presupposing God does not exist, and then negate all proposed theistic proofs. But, since there are no known atheistic proofs, atheism is not a viable option. It is only a belief system; that is, a belief system which states there is no God -- or lacks belief in God.
Slick himself acknowledges the problematic nature of his expectations when he states, "The atheist position is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove since it is an attempt to prove a negative." If it is the case that it "is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove a negative," then what exactly is Slick's fuss? And, furthermore, if perchance an atheist were to present a proof that god-belief is irrational, would Slick accept it and abandon his god-belief? Again, I am not supposing that we should hold our breath. Reason as such does not seem to be his epistemological absolute. Instead, a commitment to a primitive worldview, complete with invisible magic beings, is what he considers to be non-negotiable. Reason is dispensable when it gets in the way: he has no onus of proving his positive claims, but those who do not accept his claims bear an onus of disproving those claims. Where is this man's confidence?
First of all, Mr. Bethrick has admitted his difficult position of substantiating atheism by saying, "Slick himself acknowledges the problematic nature of his expectations when he states, 'The atheist position is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove since it is an attempt to prove a negative.'" Exactly correct. Mr. Bethrick agrees with me that it is problematic for atheists to prove their position, which only supports my premise in the original paper. Thank you, Mr. Bethrick.
Also, it is not me who is making a fuss. It is Mr. Bethrick. My paper was on the viability of atheism, but it seems that Mr. Bethrick is addressing something I haven't written. Note how he quotes me saying atheism is "very difficult, if not impossible to prove," and yet ignores the implications of that statement by saying I am making a fuss. In other words, he offers no rebuttal. He says I am making a "fuss," something children are known to do, instead of addressing the issue.
Furthermore, I suggest that Mr. Bethrick stop holding his breath. If I see a proof that there is no God, I'll become an atheist. After all, proof is proof. It would not be rational for me to believe in God in light of "proof." Furthermore, I would abandon Christianity if it can be reasonably demonstrated that Jesus did not rise from the dead. I say these things because long ago I came to grips with the acceptance of facts and evidence. I am not a brainwashed, non-thinking believer who holds on to God so desperately that nothing, not even the facts, can shake it. On the contrary -- I have no fear of the facts and welcome them. I welcome any atheist proofs and counter-evidence. I welcome any proofs that there is no God. I would love to see them -- or it.
Mr. Bethrick is the one, in my opinion, who is dispensing with reason. The paper "Is atheism viable" is not about proofs for the existence of God. It is about whether or not atheism is logically viable. I suggest that he reread the paper, and then address what it actually says instead of what it does not say.
Slick concludes his point with the following statement: "Therefore, since there are no proofs for atheisms truth and there are no proofs that there is no God, the atheist must hold his position by faith." I am compelled to ask: how does he show that "there are no proofs for atheism's truth"? Even Slick himself makes the point later in his essay that atheists "cannot say there are no evidences for God because the atheist cannot know all evidences that possibly exist in the world." Where does Slick present an argument which soundly concludes, "therefore, there are no proofs for atheism's truth"? Indeed, he nowhere presents such an argument so far as I can determine. Perhaps he knows of one, but insists on holding back?
Just as Mr. Bethrick asserts that I must provide proof for the validity of the position I hold, I ask where is the proof of the validity of the atheistic position that he holds? Is this a double standard? Atheism, as I have said before, lives in a theistic vacuum. It exists only by attempting to disprove theistic evidences, and/or offering attempted reasons why no God can exist. But, I have already stated above that the atheist has no proof that God does not exist because it is impossible to prove that in all the universe, in all places, and in all times, God does not exist; at least, I don't see how it is possible. If Mr. Bethrick would like to show me how that is possible, I'm open to that discourse. Nevertheless, since it seems that the atheistic position is not provable, how is atheism intellectually viable based upon logic, proofs, or evidence? I have asked this question and Mr. Bethrick has not answered it.
However, atheism is viable in one sense: it is simply a possibility. But, being a possibility does not mean it is a reality.
But Slick's immediate agenda comes quickly to light when he insinuates that "the atheist must hold his position by faith." Apparently, holding a position "by faith" is philosophically suspicious in Slick's view. I would agree. But even before we attempt to examine Slick's dependence on faith, we must ask: does Slick present a sound case to establish the supposition that "the atheist must hold his position by faith"? I thought atheism was a negation, yet here Slick is treating atheism as if it were a positive belief. If atheism is the absence of god-belief, then atheism is properly classed as a negation, not as a positive belief. Atheism "means not believing in God - which leaves wide open what you do believe in."3 This is a point which Slick and other theists need to integrate into their thinking.
I did not say that holding a position by faith was philosophically suspicious. This statement by Mr. Bethrick demonstrates that he is trying to add into what I am saying in order to bolster his position. Since the atheist cannot prove that God does not exist, since at best all he can do is offer negation to theistic proofs, and since he has not negated all theistic proofs, he holds his position that there is no God, at least to some extent, by faith. That is, he believes the future will not provide proof contrary to what he already believes. This is an act of faith, not fact.
And yes, I do treat atheism as a positive believe system. I have stated this already on my website and in public debates with atheists. If you read my paper dealing with the atheistic position of lacking belief in God, you can see this. Also, different atheists have different definitions of what atheism is. So far, Mr. Bethrick has not stated which particular position he holds. Atheists consistently, and in all practicality, assert that God does not exist. If they say that they merely have no intellectual position or commitment concerning belief in God, then I ask why they go through such a long and arduous effort to denounce and disprove theistic proofs, as well as refute papers attacking atheism -- as he has done here. In other words, he is behaving as though he believes there is no God by trying to refute my paper dealing with the viability of atheism. He is therefore confirming my assertion which he complains about; namely, that atheism is a positive belief. He is behaving consistent with his belief, and his behavior is to substantiate atheism. Therefore, it is a positive belief system.
Mr. Bethrick has not read my information on this subject, which explains why he has not incorporated my comments about this subject into this paper. I suspect that Mr. Bethrick may have only read one paper and then decided to tackle it without reading the rest of what I have a written on atheism. Again, this is not the best way to do things.
In contrast to what Slick apparently desires, he does not establish that atheists must assume their positions as a matter of faith. He seems to be assuming that one must either hold a belief by proof, or by faith. While there are good reasons not to accept this dichotomy4, Slick overlooks the fact that atheism is not a belief, but the absence of a belief. Does one need faith not to believe that Zeus exists? It would be preposterous to suggest this, yet this is precisely what Slick is suggesting when he wants to conclude that "the atheist must hold his position by faith," even when Slick himself has recognized that atheism is a negation.
I do not agree with his assertion that atheism is simply an "absence of belief." As I have stated in other papers on atheism, when atheists behave in such a manner as to demonstrate their belief that there is no God, then I am forced to conclude that the particular belief system they adhere to is the one that says "I believe there is no God." I would assume that if Mr. Bethrick were asked directly if he believes that a God exists or not, he would conclude that one does not exist. After all, this is how he is behaving in his attempts to verify atheism. Of course, I could be wrong.
Mr. Bethrick has apparently missed this point that I have raised before on the website concerning this issue. It is regrettable that he has not included this information in these comments.
Slick states that faith "is not something atheists like to claim as the basis of adhering to atheism," thus making the whole matter sound like it's an issue of likes or dislikes, or whimsical preference. Apparently Slick resents the prospect that non-theists are justified in not accepting his god-belief claims, so he attempts to derogate non-belief as such. This is a sign that such a course is all Slick has: make atheism as such appear to be ridiculous. But to do so, he must characterize it in such a way to make it appear ridiculous. If Slick's god-belief had a genuine rational basis, he would not need to do this. All he would need to do is present his proofs for the existence of his god, and leave it at that. Those who do not accept his proofs certainly do not need Slick's approval not to accept them.
For the most part, atheists' preferences are not "whimsical." However, I have yet to meet an atheist who actually likes the idea of the existence of God. My experience with atheists has lead me to conclude that they actually dislike theistic proofs. This makes sense since theist proofs would challenge their presuppositions, and people don't like their presuppositions challenged. This has been consistent with every atheist I have encountered. Mr. Bethrick seems no different.
Furthermore, Mr. Bethrick again tries to sidestep the real issue about the lack of intellectual viability in atheism as a verifiable position/system by trying to attack the rational basis for belief in God. This is typical of atheists, and is a verification of my earlier comment that atheism must exist in a theistic vacuum which atheists must try and maintain. So far in his response, he has offered nothing at all for the validity of atheism. The only thing he has tried to do is attempt to demonstrate that my thinking is incorrect. Perhaps it is. But in so doing, he has taken his eyes off the subject and tried to misdirect to another topic. Again, where is his validity for atheism? He has offered none.
What we have here, and with so many apologists (particularly on the internet) is a kind of sobbing complaint: "they don't believe my god-belief claims, those horrible atheists!!" To say that this non-acceptance of god-belief claims is itself an expression of faith, is to miss the point and set up a straw man. In addition to these, such subterfuge on Slick's part simply closes him off to an honest examination of reasons why god-belief is irrational (indeed, look what defending god-belief drives Slick to do!). Thus, he vilifies atheism to spite himself.
Now we see a caricature introduced by Mr. Bethrick in his condescending rebuttal. This caricature of a sobbing and whining apologist is a misrepresentation of the facts. Mr. Bethrick fails to understand the point that since atheism has no proof that God does not exist, and since it can only exist in an evidential and theistic vacuum, and since it has not refuted all evidences, it must therefore be held, at least to some degree, by faith. This is perfectly logical. Of course, Mr. Bethrick does not afford the same consideration to Christians as he does to himself or other atheists. If a Christian were to present evidences (i.e., the biblical accounts of Christ and his resurrection, etc.), these cannot be accepted due to the atheist's non-God presupposition, and therefore the atheist judges the Christian as irrational -- even though the Christian can offer evidence. But the atheist, at least Mr. Bethrick, who has no evidence or logical proofs for his position of atheism, is considered rational. Again, I cannot help but notice he does not provide any evidence for the truth of atheism. All he is doing is trying to unravel a paper that exposes the fact that atheism has no proof.
Slick then makes the charge that "atheists must go on the attack and negate any evidences presented for God's existence in order to give intellectual credence to their position." Exactly who is "on the attack"? Atheists in western society are not a new thing per se, but their freedom of expression is relatively new, thanks to secular rights-affirming philosophy and documents like the US Constitution. Slick ignores the fact that, historically, atheists in western cultures have for the most part found themselves in a predominantly theistic society where god-belief is the norm and atheism has been vilified and discouraged, even at the level of the state, sometimes to the point of intolerable persecution. If anyone has been "on the attack," history shows that it has not been the atheist, but those theists who believe they are charged with the mission of converting the world. To say that "atheists must go on the attack" is symptomatic of Slick's myopia on this larger context of the matter. Apparently he considers it to be an affront to him personally when people do not accept his god-belief claims.
Mr. Bethrick again commits the logical fallacy of the red herring. In other words, instead of addressing the issue at hand, he introduces something off-topic. He quotes where I said that atheists must go on the attack and negate any evidence presented for God's existence in order to give intellectual credence to their position. This is true, as is demonstrated by Mr. Bethrick himself. But instead of addressing the issue of the atheists attack, he then mentions the US Constitution, history, persecution, and other emotionally laden concepts instead of dealing with the issue. He concludes this paragraph with yet another emotionally heavy, ad hominim sentence when he says "apparently he considers it to be an affront to him personally when people do not accept his god-belief claims." The truth is, contrary to Mr. Bethrick's faulty guesswork, I do not consider it a personal affront when someone does not believe in God. I have friends who are atheists and we get along fine. I am not offended by their atheism and I do not hound them about their position. The problem with Mr. Bethrick is his lack of concentration on the issues, and his introduction of emotional issues not related to the subject.
Personally, and this is my opinion, I have seen this with atheists before. I believe it is because their position is weak, and they cannot substantiate it with logic and evidence. The only thing they have left to do is exactly what I have said before, and that is to attack theistic proofs and evidences. In this case, Mr. Bethrick is attacking my paper which attacks atheism. This is nothing new.
And, precisely what does Slick take to be "evidences presented for God's existence"? Are those "evidences" the same as those which theists defending a different god present in defense of their god-beliefs? And are atheists necessarily acting "on faith" if they find the "evidences" proposed to support the claim that a god exists insufficient to the task? If one were to claim that the moon is made of green cheese and presented "evidences" for this claim, would Slick be acting "on faith" if he found those "evidences" insufficient to establish this claim and thus did not accept it as truth? What exactly does Slick consider 'faith' to mean? And does he not recognize that the Bible, which nowhere advocates rationality, claims all its "truths" as a matter of faith? 5
If Mr. Bethrick had simply bothered to read a little more of my website in the atheism section under proofs for God's existence, he would have his question answered. Then, being more educated on the topic at hand, he could have addressed that issue instead of asking questions which are already answered in the atheism section on CARM.
In addition, Mr. Bethrick is slowly sliding into more and more irrationality in his arguments. The moon-made-of-green-cheese comment does not logically follow. Furthermore, to say that the Bible nowhere advocates rationality is a statement of his ignorance. The Bible says in Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, and let us reason together, Says the Lord..." Reason deals with logic. God wants us to be logical. Mr. Bethrick is proven wrong on this point and has demonstrated that he does not know the Bible very well - yet he condemns it.
Slick writes, "If they [i.e., atheists] can create an evidential vacuum in which no theistic argument can survive, their position can be seen as more intellectually viable." Why would one have to "create an evidential vacuum" in order to show why theism is irrational? One merely needs to show why the notion of a universe-creating, reality-ruling god is a terminally invalid idea to show that belief in such a being is wholly contrary to reason. Theistic arguments quite literally invalidate themselves before they even attempt to get off the ground.
The logical reason why someone would need to create an "evidential vacuum" in order to show why theism is irrational is because if there is evidence that there is a god, that would disprove atheism. Therefore, atheists don't want theistic evidence to stand, lest their position fail and atheism be proven wrong. This is a simple matter of logic and Mr. Bethrick, apparently, missed it.
Also note that Mr. Bethrick, yet again, offers an unsubstantiated claim. He says, "Theistic arguments quite literally invalidate themselves before they even attempt to get off the ground." I have seen no demonstration of this by Mr. Bethrick. He simply makes the assertion without logic or evidence, and then goes on as though his self-assumed point is true. This is not how debate, nor logic, works.
Slick thinks that there is "only one way that atheism is intellectually defensible and that is in the abstract realm of simple possibility." By this, he is referring to the supposition that "it is possible that there is no God." This, however, Slick holds, is not sufficient to disprove theistic claims since "stating that something is possible doesn't mean that it is a reality or that it is wise to adopt the position." Slick gives an example to demonstrate his point. He reasons:
If I said it is possible that there is an ice cream factory on Jupiter, does that make it intellectually defensible or a position worth adopting merely because it is merely a possibility? Not at all. So, simply claiming a possibility based on nothing more than it being a logical option is not sufficient grounds for atheists to claim viability. They must come up with more than "It is possible." Otherwise, there really must be an ice cream factory on Jupiter, and the atheist should step up on the band wagon and start defending the position that Jupiterian ice cream exists.
Ironically, the very point which Slick is making here is one which works against his own commitment to theism in two fundamental ways. For one, this same objection can serve adequately to parody Slick's god-belief in order to show just how unstable it is. For, simply by saying that it is possible that there is a god which created the universe, does that make it intellectually defensible or a position worth adopting merely because it is suggested as a possibility? Slick should agree with himself here: "Not at all." And he provides the reason why: "simply claiming a possibility based on nothing more that it being a logical option is not sufficient grounds for [theists] to claim viability." Indeed, it's even worse if the proposed possibility in question does not have the advantage of being "a logical option," but turns out to be an idea completely antithetical to the very foundations of logic.
What Mr. Bethrick fails to understand is that we Christians, myself in particular, do not simply offer evidential-less and non-rational reasons for God's existence. I have never stated that believing in God is sufficient simply because believing in God is sufficient. I have no problem with producing logical proofs for God's existence, nor do I have any problem defending the reliability of the biblical accounts of God's miraculous works in the person of Jesus Christ. Simply go to the atheism section for proofs, and the Bible section on CARM for biblical evidences. Mr. Bethrick fails to take this into account -- again.
And notice something else: Slick is obviously assuming the primacy of existence principle in his reasoning here: he is assuming that reality does not conform to one's desires or hypotheses. And he's right - reality does not conform to consciousness. However, it is this very principle, ironically, which tells us why god-belief is irrational, since it is this principle which god-belief essentially contradicts.6 Rather than bolstering his overall case, he simply points to the very principle which one must both assume and deny whenever he makes the claim that a god exists, since the notion of a god is squarely planted on the contradiction of the primacy of existence principle, which is the primacy of consciousness.
Back up the truck. I have made no assumption that reality does, or does not, conform to my desires or hypotheses. His insertion of an irrelevant and unsubstantiated comment further invalidates the ability of Mr. Bethrick to validate his position of atheism. Seriously, what relevance is this to the issue of the viability of atheism? It would be far better for him to actually tackle the issue at hand instead of inserting things into the argument which I have not stated nor assumed. Is he at such a loss for logical response that he needs to introduce irrelevant material?
Moreover, Slick's entire analogy is wholly misapplied in the context of the debate on the existence of a god. He wants to characterize "the atheistic position" with one asserting the existence of an ice cream factory on Jupiter. However, it's more likely to be the other way around: the theist is the proper analogue of the hypothetical somebody claiming the possibility that an ice cream factory exists on Jupiter, and the atheist is the who points out that merely asserting the existence of a god is not sufficient to show that assertion to be true. The theist, like the one making a claim about an ice cream factory on Jupiter, is making an existentially positive claim, for he is the one saying that somewhere a particular something exists. The atheist is making no such claim; he simply does not accept the existentially positive claim which the theist asserts. Ironically, Slick not only inadvertently makes the atheist's case all the more simple to grasp, he also weaves the rope to hang himself in the process.
The truth is that it is Mr. Bethrick's missed application of the information that is demonstrated here in his paper. Atheism is a claim. Atheism is not a "non- position." A non-position has no existence. The atheist has a position called atheism, which he can define and try to defend. How do you defend a non- position? Mr. Bethrick is doing nothing more than dodging the real issue and attempting to introduce concepts not dealt with nor addressed in the original paper. Additionally, he has repeatedly based comments upon what he thinks I believe, know, or assume. At least he has admitted some subjectivity in a few of his comments in this regard, but it is unfortunate that he cannot retain such subjectivity in regards to his unprovable atheistic position.
But the point which Slick should be considering is not whether something is possible simply at the suggesting thereof, but whether or not he can prove the negative. Does Slick believe that "it is possible that there is an ice cream factory on Jupiter"? If he does, how would he substantiate this belief? If he doesn't believe this supposed possibility, how does he rule it out? If Slick accepts the proposed possibility that a god exists, why wouldn't he accept the proposed possibility that an ice cream factory exists on Jupiter? He does not argue in an attempt to prove that there is no such ice cream factory on Jupiter; rather, his whole concern is to point to reasons why one can justifiably dismiss such claims.
I am actually amused (no disrespect meant) at the attempts to try and turn the ice cream factory on Jupiter illustration around against me. Mr. Bethrick needs to read the context again. Atheism, like an ice cream factory on Jupiter, is an intellectually possible position if we were to assert that basically anything is possible. But being possible does not mean that it is probable, let alone an actuality. That is the point of the ice cream factory on Jupiter. Atheism has no proof for its position; it has no evidence to substantiate itself. At best, all it has is attempts to invalidate theistic proofs and evidences. That is it. That is all there is for atheism. Aside from the mere intellectual "possibility" that there might be no god and existence, atheism doesn't have much going for it any more than there is the intellectual "possibility" of an ice cream factory on Jupiter. And, as I said before, trying to claim "non-belief" or "lack of belief" concerning God has its problems as well. For this, see my paper responding to the atheist position of "I lack belief in God."
Slick points out that "there is another problem for atheists." That problem, he holds, consists of the following: "Refuting evidences for Gods existence does not prove atheism true anymore than refuting an eyewitness testimony of a marriage denies the reality of the marriage." How are the two situations which Slick has in mind here at all analogous? In the case of a disputed marriage, what is being debated is a contract between two people. This dispute can be settled simply by asking the couple involved. But is there any dispute that either party of the marriage in question exist?
But even more importantly, Slick simply points to the evasive nature of his god-belief commitment. Where earlier he expected proofs of god's non-existence from atheists, he now admits that he would not allow himself to accept any such proofs as conclusive. In other words, Slick is simply announcing that he intends to believe that there is a god regardless of the rational merits (supposing there are any) of his particular god-belief. As Richard Robinson points out, the essence of faith is "the determination to believe that there is a god no matter what the evidence may be."7 In other words, no matter what criticisms are brought forward against his god-belief, and no matter how irrational his god-belief turns out to be, Slick is determined to believe anyway. So the ultimate question amounts to: what relevance does argument have to Slick's god-belief in the first place?
It is Mr. Bethrick who is being evasive about his atheist belief commitment. He has not demonstrated the intellectual viability of atheism at all -- and that is what the paper was about. Mr. Bethrick has not invalidated the original paper, nor validated atheism. Furthermore, he makes even more inaccurate statements when he says, "Slick is simply announcing that he intends to believe that there is a god regardless of the rational merits (supposing there are any) of his particular god belief." What is that? I did not announce anywhere in the original paper that I intended to believe in God regardless of rational merits. Again, this is another fabrication on the part of Mr. Bethrick in his attempts to weaken the paper. It is a faulty method of defense, and a faulty method of attack. The fact that he has introduced innuendo without substantiation only weakens his arguments.
He quotes a Mr. Robinson who says that faith is "the determination to believe that there is a god no matter what the evidence may be." I do not know who Mr. Robinson is, but I do not agree with what his definition of faith is, and I don't know any Christians who would adopt such a fallacious definition. I do not believe contrary to evidence nor rationality, but this is not something that Mr. Bethrick seems to care to admit. Instead, Mr. Bethrick has only quoted a definition of faith that agrees with his premises. Since the definition is faulty, it is a straw man argument that he is trying to establish.
Mr. Bethrick then goes on to say that I am determined to believe no matter what the criticisms and evidences are. Since I have already stated contrary to that, and since I have already commented upon the lack of, shall we say, mind-reading ability on the part of Mr. Bethrick, I will leave it to the reader to discern whether or not he is being rational in his argumentation, or if he is merely inserting his own prejudices and emotions into the subject in an attempt to dismantle my paper.
Slick reasons, "Since atheism cannot be proven and since disproving evidences for God does not prove there is no God, atheists have a position that is intellectually indefensible." But where does Slick prove that "atheism cannot be proven"? How does Slick establish this claim? All he does is assert it in one form or another. But assertion does not equal proof. Besides, Slick is again missing the point by treating atheism as if it were a positive claim which needs to be proven. As has already been shown, atheism is the absence of a belief, and it is fully justified if the context of one's knowledge does not support the claim that there is a god.
Again, I have offered the proof that atheism cannot be proven by stating that in order to prove there is no god one must know all things, in all places, in all times, in order to determine there is no god anywhere. I cannot see how offering an intellectual proof that God does not exist is possible. If Mr. Bethrick would care to offer some intellectual proof that God does not exist, I would be more than happy to examine it. But since neither he nor any other atheists have provided such proof, as far as I have seen, and since he cannot know all things in all places in the universe, I assume that proof for God's non- existence does not exist. Perhaps I have assumed too much, but since the subject is atheism and its viability, and since Mr. Bethrick has chosen to defend its viability by attacking the paper, I await his proof that there is no god.
I have tackled the "absence of belief" issue on CARM already under the paper titled "I lack belief in God" and attempted to demonstrate in the paper that any atheist who openly states that he lacks belief in God, and in so doing negates proofs and/or evidences for God's existence, is in reality believing that there is no God since his actions reflect his belief system. If someone has a lack of belief in something, then his actions would be consistent with that. I lack belief in the existence of screaming blue ants from Venus; and because I lack belief in them, I do not try and defend the position that I lack belief in them, nor do I go around announcing to people that I lack belief in screaming blue ants from Venus. Unlike Mr. Bethrick, I am not trying to prove or substantiate a negative position or "non-position" about something. In other words, his actions speak louder than his words as he claims that he lacks belief in God, yet behaves as though he believes there is no god.
Slick then admits that "atheists can only say that there are no convincing evidences for God so far presented." But if that's the case, then what precisely is Slick's fuss? If a particular non-believer holds that the "evidences for God" are not convincing, does Slick think that the non-believer should believe anyway? If a person is honest to himself and finds, after reviewing arguments and "evidences" proposed on behalf of proving one's god-belief, that those arguments and "evidences" are insufficient to convince him, he will acknowledge that believing the claim that there is a god would be irrational.
I have no fuss. Mr. Bethrick does not challenge my comment "atheists can only say there are no convincing evidences for God." That is all atheists can really say in spite of what the evidence of the logic might be. Remember, the atheist's presupposition will not allow him or her to seriously entertain the possibility of God's existence, lest he undermine his own belief system; namely, that there is no god. Again, let me say that I am far from convinced that the "lack of belief" position of atheists is anything more than an attempt to get around the weakness of their position. Logically, if they said there was no god, they would be at a great loss to prove their position. If they believe there is no god, this opens them up to further cross-examination. So, atheists tend to say "I lack belief," as if to say they have no position at all about God. But as I have stated elsewhere on CARM (in the I lack belief paper), if the atheist lacks belief, then why is he so adamant about attacking theistic proofs? His behavior reflects that he believes there is no god, and he works to substantiate the belief.
When Slick points out that atheists "cannot say there are no evidences for God because the atheist cannot know all evidences that possibly exist in the world" [sic], he overlooks the fact that an atheist can justifiably say that he does not know of any legitimate evidences for god. And, given that the same "evidences" are offered in support of claims that different gods exists, it is hard to see how any "evidences" can be considered legitimate. Again, knowledge and belief are hierarchically and contextually dependent upon prior knowledge and beliefs, reducing ultimately to one's starting points (assuming one is systematic about the content of his mind). If one is not aware of any "evidences for God," he is certainly justified in not accepting the claim that there is a god. If one has been presented with "evidences for God" and, after examining those evidences, concludes that they are insufficient, he is justified in not accepting the claim that there is a god. Furthermore, if one can present good reasons for why belief in a god is irrational, then by all means, he is fully justified in rejecting the claim that a god exists. Slick does not seem to be aware of these points.
Again, Mr. Bethrick makes another mistake. I stated in the paper "Is atheism viable?", "At best, atheists can only say that there are no convincing evidences for God presented so far." This means, logically, that the atheist does not yet know of any legitimate evidence for God. That is why I said "presented so far."
I am fully aware of the points that Mr. Bethrick has raised in the preceding paragraph, and I have attempted to deal with them in my writing against atheism in other papers by stating that there is a degree of agnosticism among atheists. What I mean is that since the atheist cannot know all evidences, or anti-god evidences, or anti-god proofs, etc., it is logically necessary that there may indeed be such evidence and/or proofs out there not yet known. Since he cannot know there is no god, he can only believe, based upon a "lack of evidences," that there is no god. This is not proof. This is a measure of faith in knowing you don't know enough; hence, the agnosticism, or not knowing for sure.
My position is that the atheist makes a choice to believe there is no god, and/or makes a choice to hold the position of "lack of belief." I further maintain that logic requires agnosticism rather than atheism.
Slick then wants to conclude that "since there could be evidences presented in the future, the atheist must acknowledge that there may indeed be a proof that has so far been undiscovered and that the existence of God is possible." That would be the case if the what is claimed were shown to be a legitimate possibility. However, if one recognizes that god-belief is inherently contradictory to reality and thus irrational, then it would be wrong to think that "there could be evidences presented in the future" for such belief. Thus I cannot accept Slick's contention that an atheist is really only an agnostic "since at best the atheist can only be skeptical of God's existence." Clearly this is not the case for those who embrace reason consistently. One need not "prove that there is no god" nor does he have to worry about hypothetical "evidences presented in the future." If he does not believe, he is an atheist.
Mr. Bethrick continues to commit logic fallacies. Here he begs the question. He says, "if one recognizes that god belief is inherently contradictory to reality and thus irrational," as though this is the truth. He has not established its defensibility nor rationality. He simply stated an "if then" premise that is unsubstantiated, in order for him to sound more rational. But it is not logically consistent to base the conclusion upon a premise that is unsubstantiated, which is what he has done here and other places.
Slick closes his little piece with the following statement:
This is why atheists need to attack Christianity. It is because Christianity makes very high claims concerning Gods existence which challenges their atheism and pokes holes in their vacuum. They like the vacuum. They like having the universe with only one god in it: themselves.
While it is the case that "Christianity makes very high claims concerning God's existence," it is not the case that these claims pose a challenge to atheists. Christianity is long on claims, but short on proofs, and even shorter on rationality. Slick seems to think that the recognition of these facts constitutes a "vacuum" and reflects a desire to see oneself as a god. However, it is hard to rule out, judging by Slick's tone of resentment here, that his comments are not motivated by disingenuous intentions. For not believing in the Christian god does not mean that one necessarily considers himself to be the Christian god, any more than not believing that Zeus exists means that one necessarily considers himself to be Zeus. If Slick could achieve any consistency in applying the principles which he himself wants to throw around in his rant against atheism, he might begin to see some of the holes in his own faith commitments.
If the claims of Christianity posed no challenge to atheism, then why are atheists constantly attacking the Bible and Christian theistic proofs? Take this very paper that I am answering. Mr. Bethrick is going to great lengths to "refute" a challenge that he says is no challenge. If it were no challenge, then why is he tackling it?
Again, how does Mr. Bethrick justify his mind-reading abilities by stating my "tone" and my "resentment" and my "disingenuous intentions?" I say mind-reading, because what else could it be? My emotions are not stated in the paper. He must either guess or manufacture information to bolster his position. Either way, he is failing to stick to the issue at hand, as well as failing to present a logical defense of the viability of atheism.
Perhaps it is Mr. Bethrick who needs to examine what true rationality is. I do not know what he thinks, since I cannot claim the ability to read minds. However, by his claiming that belief in God is irrational, he must by necessity also condemn to the ranks of irrationality the likes of Einstein, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Pascal, etc., who all believed in God. Who is Mr. Bethrick to state what is, and is not, rational in light of the intellectual giants of history who have believed contrary to what he claims is true rationality, not to mention the fact that he has been irrational in his paper by playing the mind-reader?
In conclusion, the existence of God is not established, nor verified, by whether or not intellectual giants of history have, or have not, believed in God. To make that assertion is a logical fallacy. I simply stated that those who are rational and brilliant have indeed believed in God. I am far from brilliant, but I do not consider myself to be irrational. My belief in God is based on experience, logic, and evidence. My presupposition allows me to examine evidence even against God's existence. As I said earlier, if it can be reasonably demonstrated that Jesus did not rise from the dead, I would give up Christianity. This is not irrational faith. On the contrary, it is faith based upon evidence and rationality, as well as biblical revelation.
And finally, Mr. Bethrick has not supported atheism in any way.
(1) See for instance my article Definition of an Atheist.
(2) I agree fully with CJ Holmes' arguments as presented in his essay Why God-Belief Is Irrational.
(3) Leonard Peikoff, "Religion Versus America," The Objectivist Forum, June 1986, p. 14.
(4) In response to Christian apologist John Robbins' essentially identical criticism of the Objectivist axioms (insinuating, as Slick does here) that a thought must be either a product of proof or accepted on faith if it is to be believed as truth, Bryan Register points out the fact that Robbins' criticism assumes that there are only two kinds of claims: those one proves and those which one takes on faith. In fact, as the Objectivist literature makes clear, there is a third type of claim: one which is valid because it formulates a fact that is directly perceived. Such are the most fundamental perceptual judgments and such are the axioms. (Has Objectivism Been Refuted?) Thus Slick's own endorsement of the "proof or faith" dichotomy, like Robbins, is simply a ploy in the attempt to discredit non-believers.
There is no "ploy" to discredit nonbelievers. This is a discussion on the validity of atheism -- which Mr. Bethrick has not presented sufficient evidence for its validity.
(5) CJ Holmes has prepared two lengthy discussions about the nature of 'faith' as it is both defined and used in the New Testament. In Some Comments About 'Faith' Part I, he discusses the various ways one can interpret Hebrews 11:1, which is supposed to serve as a definition of 'faith'. In Some Comments About 'Faith' Part II, he responds to a Christian apologist who attempted to defend the idea that faith is compatible with reason, and in so doing he points out the exceedingly problematic fact that the definition for 'faith' provided in Hebrews 11:1 is insufficient given the many examples of faith in the gospels which portray faith as a means of conforming nature to one's will. It is doubtful that someone who is so confessionally motivated as Matt Slick of CARM.org would accept any of these points, even though they must be contended with if one wants to defend the idea that biblical faith is in any way rational.
Of course faith is rational. Jesus himself said in John 20:27, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” Notice that Jesus pointed to evidence, and then said believe (have faith) based upon the evidence. This is a logical conclusion that Jesus made in light of the evidence, and demonstrates rationality in faith.
(6) For details on why this is the case, see Anton Thorn's How the Theist Checkmates Himself and How the Claim "God Exists" Contradicts Itself.
(7) "Religion and Reason," An Atheist's Values, pp. 113-123, quoted in Holmes, Some Comments About Faith Part I.
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