2nd debate, Atheism and Morality, 3rd Round, Atheist's Post

Third Round:  Chad's Post

Note: the ">" signifies an earlier post


>Matt2: Modification offered. "Atheism is lack of belief in
>God or gods and/or denial of the existence of God or gods 
>due to supposed lack of sufficient evidence supporting the
>existence of any God or gods.
>Matt2: I don't understand this statement (as well as possibly
>evidence indicating the non-existence of specific concepts of
>God or gods).

What I mean by this is that depending on how God is defined, an atheist may not believe in that God concept either because of lack of evidence OR because she believes that there is evidence that said God could not be real.

As an illustration, I do not believe in a creator God because I see very little evidence that one exists. However, I specifically disbelieve in God as you've defined Him because the God-concept you describe is (if I've understood you correctly) incompatible with common descent. Since I believe the evidence for common descent to be overwhelming, I must also believe that the evidence against "your" God to be overwhelming.

(By the way, I know that saying "your" God or "God as you've defined him" may seem wrong to you since you believe that God has defined Himself via the Bible, but I know of no other sensible way to talk about the different definitions of God presented by different Christians.)

>Matt2: I added the word "supposed" in there.

I would say "perceived" rather than "supposed" but that's probably a meaningless quibble. The point (if I understand you correctly) is that it is a lack of evidence in the atheist's opinion rather than a lack of evidence, per se. It could be that the atheist's opinion that the evidence is insufficient is not a reasonable one or not the only reasonable one.

>Matt2: Of course, I agree with you that there is a lack of
>evidence for gods. I would join you in refuting the idea that
>there are gods. However, I acknowledge that there is only one
>God in all existence, in all places, and in all time.

That is where we differ. IMO, the same lack of evidence that exists for gods in general also exists (for the most part) for a single creator God.

>First, I believe that the majority of atheists attempt to
>articulate their atheism in a strategic way as to make it 

That is a common perception among theists, although not one that I agree with.

The term "I lack belief in God" is a good
>example. If someone lacks belief in something, then it is
>difficult for the counter position to refute a "lack of
>something." After all, how do you disprove/attack/deal with
>something that isn't there, i.e., a lack of belief?

You can't disprove a lack of belief, but you also can't prove disbelief. What you can do is challenge the grounds of either, e.g. argue that the evidence is sufficient to merit belief.

>if an atheist states that he has looked at the evidence and
>has concluded that it is not strong enough to merit belief in
>God, then he actually has a position that the evidence doesn't
>support God's existence sufficiently for him to become a
>theist--not that there is no evidence presented but that
>the evidence is not sufficient in his assessment. I think the
>latter "position" is more rational and straightforward.

If you ask, I bet you would find that 99% of atheists who define atheism as "lack of belief in God" would also say that they have looked at the objective evidence and concluded that it is not strong enough to merit belief in any God or gods.

The whole "lack belief" thing is not, IMO, a dodge -- it is a description of where the atheism comes from, i.e. a lack of evidence that would cause belief in X, rather than contrary evidence that would cause belief in ~X. "No Gods exists" is thus a working assumption based on the lack of perceived evidence that any Gods do exist rather than a conclusion drawn from evidence that no Gods exist.

>Second, would you say that actions flow out of disbelief or

I think you're committing a fallacy of false dichotomy here, by ignoring things other than belief/disbelief as cause of actions. I'll explain below what I mean.

Is it more reasonable to state that actions are the
>result of beliefs or that they are the result of lack of
>beliefs? I would say that actions follow beliefs rather than
>lack of beliefs and that it is irrational to act based on a
>belief that a person claims he does not have. Therefore, I
>think it is logical to conclude that a lack of belief in
>something results in lack of action concerning it. For
>example. I don't believe there are Martians. Therefore, I
>don't defend my not believing in Martians, nor do I promote my
>non-believing in Martians. But, if I actively believed there
>were no Martians, I am more likely to present arguments
>supporting my belief that there are no Martians, and I would
>attempt to refute evidences for Martians. My actions would
>reveal my beliefs, namely, that there are no Martians.

Let's assume that you "lack belief" in Martians because you have looked at the evidence that they exist and find it lacking. However, let us also assume the following:

1. The vast majority of people believe that Martians exist.
2. Some of them want to impose laws on you based on a moral code they think was handed down by the Martians.
3. Your children will be told to pledge allegiance to, "one nation, under Martians" when they are old enough to go to school.
4. You're going to a wedding today that most Martian believers want to make illegal, based on beliefs deriving from the supposed existence of Martians.
5. Martian organizations get favorable tax status.
6. Martian believers actively try to convert you and tell you you're a bad person because you deny the Martians.
7. Many Martian believers think that you and your wife and many of your close friends have committed crimes for things you do not consider criminal at all. Some even think you should be put to death for these crimes...and these people vote.
8. Public schools are under pressure to teach things you (and the vast majority of scientists) consider junk science by people who believe, for example, that planetary orbits are not caused by "macro-gravity" but rather by Martian tractor beams.

Even if you thought there was no specific evidence that Martians don't exist -- only a lack of evidence that they do -- you might be moved to action from the above. Alternately, suppose that the Martian believers had come up with a range of fascinating (but in your opinion logically flawed) arguments "proving" the existence of Martians, and you found that you enjoyed debating these proofs. That might also cause you to spend more effort on the Martian question than you do now.

This is the fallacy I believe you've committed. By limiting the choice to "belief vs. lack of belief" you're ignoring the many things other than belief that might cause a person to spend energy on the question of God's existence.

>Third: The actions of atheists reveal their position. Since
>basically every atheist I've ever encountered expends energy
>trying to refute theistic arguments and defending atheism, I
>would say they are behaving in a manner consistent with their
>position. The stronger the actions, the stronger the
>position. If you have no position concerning God (lack of
>belief), then it seems to me that refuting theistic evidences
>is inconsistent with that position.

As noted above, this is not necessarily true. Moreover, as noted above, lack of belief in God does not mean no position regarding the evidence for God. I believe quite strongly, for example, that the various ontological arguments are unsound; thus, I hold a clear position on the ontological arguments. For me to spend energy explaining to someone why a given OA is unsound is reasonable regardless of my beliefs about God. (I even know a few Christians who will spend energy refuting OAs and other arguments they consider unsound.)

If, however, your position
>is is more positive that there is no God, then refuting
>theistic evidences is consistent with that position. To be
>fair, an atheist could have the position that he believes
>there may be a God, and he is refuting theistic evidences until
>that time he finds one sufficient to become a theist. But if
>this were the case, then he is really an agnostic.

No. A/gnosticism refers to whether knowledge of God is possible. A/theism refers to whether belief in God is held. I am, for example, an agnostic atheist. I do not believe in God (or gods) but consider it impossible for me to know that no God (or gods) exist. One could also be an agnostic theist.

>Fourth: Ridicule, insults, and attacks should not be part of
>attempted theistic refutations by atheists who lack belief in

I agree, but I don't think it's because they lack belief but rather because no one should use insults, ridicule and personal attacks...as a general rule. (I submit that some posters on both "sides" of the debate bring this on themselves...)

>The arguments themselves should be addressed and
>attacks on the individual should be avoided unlike many of
>the atheists on this board who attacked me and often
>misrepresented my position.

Bear in mind that many atheists (and some Christians) have said that they think you have misrepresented atheist positions and/or made personal attacks on atheists as a group. Sometimes the insult is in the ear of the hearer.

Their actions reveal their
>position, a very antagonistic one, which is based on, it would
>seem, an active belief that there is no God. I say this
>because many of their actions were quite strong in their
>attempt to refute me.

As noted above, given the many reasons atheists have to take the God question seriously, I think it is a mistake to infer an active belief from their strong efforts to refute your arguments.

>Conclusion: These are some of the thoughts I've been having
>as I think about the atheism represented here on this
>discussion board. As we approach the issue of morality and
>atheism, I think understanding atheist actions will help us
>see atheist "beliefs"--if I might be so bold to say--and
>more accurately see the relationship between atheist behavior,
>atheist beliefs, and atheist morals.

I look forward to the discussion of morality and atheism. I hope that if I have not persuaded you that "lack of belief" is both coherent and more accurate than "active belief that there is no God" I have at least explained why I believe it.


----  Supplemental Post ----

>You can't disprove a lack of belief, but you also can't prove
>disbelief. What you can do is challenge the grounds of
>either, e.g., argue that the evidence is sufficient to merit

The first sentence should read, "You can't disprove a lack of belief, but you also can't disprove disbelief". My point is that while of course you can't disprove my assertion that I lack belief in God, the same would be true if I said, "I believe God doesn't exist."


About The Author

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