Another response to criticism of "I lack belief in God."

The following is another response to my paper dealing with "I lack belief in God."  I have reproduced his paper here and responded to it.  His original comments are in black, and my comments are in green.


Matt's first point is that once we are exposed to a claim it is more or less impossible to stay completely neutral to it, and that therefore the claim by atheists that they merely lack belief isn't credible.

This is fine as far as it goes, but I believe it is an oversimplification of the true atheist position which includes a default belief that X is not true, where X is unparsimonious. That is, the atheist rejects claims about God in much the same way that we reject claims about an ice cream factory on Jupiter, as being extraordinary claims that are not supported by evidence.

The atheist has admitted that he cannot remain neutral on a position once he has been exposed to it.  But, how is it an oversimplification?  It is either true, or it is not (is that too an oversimplification?).  Since there are many who claim to be "true atheists" yet contradict each other on exactly what atheism is and since he has not defined what true atheism is, it isn't possible to fully delve into his position.  Nevertheless, basing atheism on a lack of evidence for God's existence has been dealt with in my paper "I don't see any convincing evidence for the existence of God."

I can truthfully say that I believe God does not exist, but it is more accurate for me to say I have nowhere near sufficient positive reason to believe in God, and that, lacking belief in God, I hold to the default position that God doesn't exist.

If he believes that God does not exist, then his atheism is a belief system since he is holding a belief that classifies him in a position.  He said he holds to the default position that God doesn't exist.  I'm not sure if he means he holds that position because of lack of evidence, or that atheism is the default position.  If the former, my paper above dealing with not seeing any convincing evidence is worth reading.  If the latter, then he is simply assuming something that cannot be proven; namely, that atheism is a default position.  No one knows what is automatic within the minds of people at birth.  If atheists assume that non-cognition (non-intellectual contemplation of God) is atheism, then infants, by definition, would be atheists.  But that would also make cats, rocks, and chairs into atheists.  Therefore, the latter definition of atheism would be insufficient.

Is this sophistry? No. Rather, it reflects my thought process and my assessment of the burden of proof. Positive belief in something extraordinary must be established before I will accept it; lacking evidence or reason for such belief, I reject it.

It is not as simple as providing sufficient evidence.  A person's presuppositions strongly effect what evidence is accepted and how it is interpreted.  If a person has an atheist presupposition, then is it possible he can be objective in his examination of theistic evidence?  That would depend on the person, but convincing such a person would be a difficult task at best.

Various evidences have been offered to atheists.  Some have been convinced and converted to theism, while others have not.  Therefore, it is not the evidence that is the issue; it is the atheist.  In other words, different people see things differently.  What is convincing to one person is not convincing to another.  This is why presuppositions are so important.  To someone who "will not see," no evidence will be sufficient.

Finally, this person has not even offered any criteria by which evidence might be assessed.  What would be sufficient evidence and why?  If this person cannot logically describe what that would be, then he hasn't thought through his atheism sufficiently and really hasn't any right to make the claims that the evidences offered aren't good enough.

Describing my position as a lack of belief is sometimes helpful in explaining my position to theists. When someone demands that I prove God doesn't exist (or at least provide evidence that God doesn't exist), it helps to show that my position is not based solely on evidence for and evidence against a particular God concept but more fundamentally on the extraordinary nature of any claims about God and my default assumption about any such claim.

Finally, distinguishing between my lack of belief in gods in general and my specific disbelief in particular God concepts can also be helpful in conversation. I lack belief in an omnipotent God because that is an extraordinary claim I do not believe is supported by the evidence. I disbelieve in any concept of a non-deceiving God who created the Earth 10,000 or fewer years ago because I believe the observable data strongly contradicts this age.

It seems that this atheist has missed the point of my paper on "I lack belief."  I stated that once a person is exposed to a concept, he categorizes that subject.  He does something with it.  Furthermore, I stated that if "I lack belief in God" means that the person has no mental assertions either positive or negative concerning God, then that is an illogical position because people do things intellectually with information and concepts.  Even this atheist, at the beginning of his response, stated he cannot remain neutral on a position once he has been exposed to it.  Yet he wants to hold a "lack belief" system.  This is inconsistent.

Also, this atheist fails to understand that not all Christians, myself included, believe in a young earth.  I believe the earth is old.  What he has done is narrowed the field too far and not allowed for other positions on an issue that he has stated negates belief in God(s).  This is illogical to do and unfortunate.

Unfortunately, Matt then shifts from attacking the position to ad hominem, attacking the motivations of atheists.

Matt: Lack of belief is really an attempt by atheists to avoid facing and defending the problems in their atheistic position. You see, if they say they have no position, by saying they lack belief, then their position is not open to attack and examination and they can quietly remain atheists.

The irony of this is that the great majority of atheists on these boards who describe their atheism as a lack of belief in gods are quite willing to explain their views in depth, including exactly what they mean by lack of belief (as I've described here), as well as positive beliefs they do hold. Matt knows this, so for him to claim otherwise is both an ad hominem and a straw man.

My concern is to not produce ad hominem attacks.  They are weak.  However, the context of my comment he quoted above was at the end of the paper where I draw a conclusion after attempting to demonstrate that the "I lack belief" position is weak.  Having done that, I draw the conclusion that some atheists are indeed trying to avoid the weaknesses of atheism in general.  Nevertheless, I have modified the comment on that paper by adding "In my opinion."

Stating what I know and do not know is risky business.  My experience on the CARM discussion boards with the atheists has been that only a few are willing to discuss their "lack of belief" position in depth for very long.  But, this is my opinion.

Matt: The problem for atheists, however, is that atheism is coming under more serious attack by Christians and others who recognize its problems.

How is this a problem for me or for any other atheist? Matt must presuppose that atheists do not want to find truth, since if they did any challenge to their position could only be a source of knowledge, not a problem. More ad hominem?

This atheist asks how is it a problem for atheists that atheism is coming under more serious attack from Christians?  Well, it is a problem in that many of their arguments have been answered--some of which I've demonstrated on the atheism section here on CARM.

I admit this is a subjective statement I am going to make here, but my experience with atheists over the past twenty years is that they have generally moved away from saying "There is no God," to "I lack belief in God."  I'm not the only one who has noticed this shift.  Why?  Again, my opinion is that atheists are discovering some weaknesses in their position and are adapting their atheism (even redefining it in some instances) so as to make it less vulnerable to attack.  Whether or not this critic wishes to acknowledge this matters little since I am offering my opinion based on my observations.

Matt: Without a doubt, there are far more people in the world who believe in God (or a god) than dont and more and more Christians are tackling atheism as an untenable position.

Irrelevant. If popular vote decided what is true, astrology would work. More interestingly, the sun would once have revolved around the earth, with the relationship switching sometime in the past few thousand years.

It is not irrelevant.  If it were irrelevant, then why is this atheist responding here?  I am one of those included in "more and more Christians" who are attacking atheism.  This atheist has just proved the relevancy of my comment that atheism is being tackled by Christians. Furthermore, I did not commit the fallacy of ad populum that the majority belief is correct.  I made no such statement.  I only said that more and more Christians are tackling atheism as an untenable position.  Atheism's validity is not determined by "more and more."  It is determined by logic and evidence.

Matt: After all, how does an atheist defend atheism? He cant. He has to attack theism in its different forms. This is why atheists attack Christianity, the Bible, and other religious systems and try and invalidate them. That really is all they have to go on.

More ad hominem . . . and simply false. It would be more accurate to say that the atheist doesn't have to defend atheism rather than that he can't, since atheism is a perfectly reasonable default view. In any case, Matt would do better to challenge (real) atheist logic or arguments than to mind-read and tell the rest of us why atheists debate with theists.

It may be that I committed the ad hominem fallacy here.  Instead of defending the statement and after rereading my final comments on that paper, I have modified it to the following:

The problem for atheists, however, is that atheism is coming under more serious attack by Christians and others who recognize its problems and are exposing them.  Without a doubt, there are far more people in the world who believe in God (or a god) than don't, and more and more Christians are tackling atheism as an untenable position.  The majority belief doesn't make something true, but the increase of examination of atheism has made it more difficult for atheists to defend their position.  This also explains why atheists seem to become more aggressive in their attacks on theism in its different forms.  There is an intellectual battle being waged, and both defensive and offensive measures are being taken on both sides.  In the end, the truth will be known.

I thank this atheist for trying to address the paper and for helping me improve it through my modification.  However, I do not believe that he sufficiently addressed all the issues raised in it.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.