Second response to criticism of "Is atheism viable?"

This article is my response to an atheist's response to my original paper, Is Atheism Viable?  The atheist's response was originally posted on the CARM discussion boards.  I have copied it here so that I might respond.  The atheist's responses are in brownMy comments are in green.




In this thread I'm going to discuss the article "Is Atheism viable" by Matt Slick. The original article is in italics with my commentary in standard text.

Atheism is essentially a negative position. It is not believing in a god or actively believing there is no God or choosing to not exercise any belief or non-belief concerning God, etc. Whichever flavor is given to atheism, it is a negative position.

In discussions with atheists, I don't hear any evidence for the validity of atheism. There are no "proofs" that God does not exist in atheist circles--at least, none that I have heard--especially since you can't prove a negative regarding God's existence. Of course, that isn’t to say that atheists haven’t attempted to offer some proofs that God does not exist. But their attempted proofs are invariably insufficient. After all, how do you prove there is no God in the universe? How do you prove that in all places and all times there is no God? You can't. Besides, if there were a 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 agree with everything up until the claim that the atheist must hold his position by faith. I'm going to argue that a negative position held in light of no positive evidence is not a position held by faith. If someone said that there is a flying spaghetti monster on the far side of the M33 galaxy, then I would say "Ok, show me evidence. Until then, I'm going to just assume that you are wrong." Is that really a faith based position? He made a claim with absolutely no basis. If you start with no assumptions and only accept that which you have evidence for, then I argue that your positions are not based on faith.

An assumption is a position; and his assumption is that there is no spaghetti monster--to which I agree.  Nevertheless, would he tell us that it might be possible it exists even though there is no evidence to support it?  Or would he assert that no such thing exists?  Since he assumes that no such thing exists, then it is definitely a position he holds.  Positions are held for reasons--not for "non-reasons."  He is holding his position because he sees no evidence, and I assume that he believes no such evidence is forthcoming.

The atheist position is one of "no God."  Since this "no god" stance is essentially a position held based upon the supposed lack of evidence, it seems logical to conclude that it is a position held by faith.  After all, it is certainly possible there is evidence that the atheist has not yet seen which would conflict with his assumption.

Faith, however, is not something atheists like to claim as the basis of adhering to atheism. Therefore, atheists must go on the attack and negate any evidences presented for God’s existence in order to give intellectual credence to their position. If they can create an evidential vacuum in which no theistic argument can survive, their position can be seen as more intellectually viable. It is in the negation of theistic proofs and evidences that atheism brings its self-justification to self-proclaimed life.

There is, however, only one way that atheism is intellectually defensible, and that is in the abstract realm of simple possibility. In other words, it may be possible that there is no God. But stating that something is possible doesn't mean that it is a reality, or that it is wise to adopt the position. 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. Simply claiming a possibility based on nothing more than it being a possible option, no matter how remote, is not sufficient grounds for atheists to claim viability in their atheism. They must come up with more than "It is possible" or "There is no evidence for God;" 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.

This is the first time I've ever seen the possibility argument turned on its head. I'm sure this has been argued a thousand times before, but the burden of proof lies on the ones making the positive assertions. With the ice cream factory example, the person who claims that the ice cream factory exists is making the positive argument. If that person can't show any evidence for his assertion, then everyone can just assume that he is wrong. In contrast, if somebody claims that there is no evidence of an ice cream factory on Jupiter, and therefore there is no reason to believe that it exists, then they are taking the negative stance. That position is the most viable position until somebody can provide positive evidence of the ice cream factory. Without using this line of logic, people would be so gullible that they would literally believe absolutely everything that they couldn't disprove, which includes an infinity of beliefs. And then you have to take into account how an infinite number of those infinite beliefs are mutually exclusive. Is there an ice cream factory there, or is it a sherbet factory? Maybe it's not a factory at all, but instead it's a flying spaghetti monster. How do you know which one to believe? There's no negative evidence for any of them, so under the gullible mindset they are all equally viable. The point is that for obvious reasons the burden of proof is on those who make the positive assertion.

I would agree that there is a burden of proof that lies upon the one making the positive assertion.  My argument, however, is that atheism is a positive assertion; that is, it is a position that atheists hold to and defend.  This defense means they have a position, a belief, an opinion.  The evidence that shows they hold to a position is found in the fact that they defend it by attacking theistic arguments, attempting to refute articles regarding atheism, etc.  Since the atheist is making a defense, he's defending a position.  Can it be said that he is making a positive assertion?  If not, why is he acting as though he is?  That is the issue raised here.

At least we Christians have evidences for God's existence such as fulfilled biblical prophecy, Jesus' resurrection, the Transcendental Argument, the entropy problem, etc.  There is another problem for atheists. Refuting evidences for God’s existence does not prove atheism true anymore than refuting an eyewitness testimony of a marriage denies the reality of the marriage.

True, but if the only reason for believing in that marriage in the first place WAS that testimony, then once the testimony is refuted there is no reason whatsoever to continue believing in it.

That seems logical.  However, refutation is in the eye of the beholder.  Something as simple as a marriage can normally be proven or disproven.  But theistic arguments supporting God's existence are subject not only to rational analysis of the atheist but also to its presuppositional bias.  What one constitutes as sufficient evidence, another may not.

The point is that we have evidences for God's existence, as listed above.  But I do not believe the evidence is the problem.  I believe the problem lies in the atheistic bias that prevents an objective analysis of that evidence.

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 as previously noted, the burden of proof is not on the atheists. Their position doesn't need to be defended.

That isn't the point here.  The issue isn't us proving God exists (proof is different than persuasion).  I tried to point out that since atheism cannot be proven to be true and since disproving evidences for God's existence does not prove there is no God, the atheistic position is intellectually indefensible.

At best, atheists can only say that there are no convincing evidences for God presented so far. They cannot say there are no evidences for God because the atheist cannot know all evidences that possibly exist in the world. At best, the atheist can only say that the evidence so far presented has been insufficient. This logically means that there could be evidences presented in the future that will suffice. 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. This would make the atheist more of an agnostic since at best the atheist can only be skeptical of God’s existence.

This is the ice cream factory on Jupiter argument again, just in a different form. Until evidence is actually found, there's no reason to believe that it exists. I'm not going to believe in an ice cream factory on Jupiter just because it MIGHT exist. Similarly, I'm not going to believe in an ice cream factory on Jupiter just because evidence that it exists MIGHT exist.

Again, we deal with what is and is not sufficient evidence, and those evidences are subject to atheistic presuppositions.  The issue is not an ice cream factory on Jupiter.  The point I was making was dealing with evidences for God of which such evidence exists (whether or not an atheist admits it).  We have fulfilled prophecy in the Bible, eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection, miracles, the transcendental argument, the argument from entropy, etc.  However, to the best of my knowledge, we have absolutely no evidence for an ice cream factory on Jupiter.  The difference between the two is the fact that there are many evidences put forth to support God's existence, and there are absolutely none put forth for the evidence of an ice cream factory on Jupiter.  Therefore, the comparison doesn't hold.

Also, agnosticism is the epistemological position that the truth of the existence or nonexistence of gods is inherently unknowable. Thus, agnoticism can overlap with both atheism and theism. I know many agnostic atheists. I also know many agnostic theists.

Agnosticism is an intellectual position.  Of course, I disagree that God is inherently unknowable; and I think the arguments to support the unknowability of God are inadequate.

This is why atheists need to attack Christianity. It is because Christianity makes very high claims concerning God’s existence, which challenges their atheism and pokes holes in their vacuum. They like the vacuum.

I can't speak for all atheists, but I personally don't like the vacuum. I always prefer to expand my knowledge rather than limit it. I would love if the existence of God were proven to me, because that would expand my knowledge.

Perhaps I spoke too generically.  My experience with atheists has been overwhelming that they prefer the vacuum.

They like having the universe with only one god in it: themselves.

Perhaps Mr. Slick should add that atheists don't all think they are God to his "labeling atheists" section in his "Mistakes Christians make when dialoguing with Atheists" article.

Perhaps you are right.


About The Author

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