When we hear the assertion “God does not exist,” we know this is intended to be equivalent to saying “there is no God.” But “God does not exist” is an interesting formulation of the thought. It is incoherent, read literally, because it seems to be saying that there is a God, but then that the God just mentioned doesn’t exist.
We hear the “God does not exist” statement all the time. Why would the atheist thesis be put forward in this convoluted way? Perhaps because doing so sets up a leap of logic. It might seem logical to then proceed to argue against an ultimate reality which includes supernatural reality, rather than for materialism, an ultimate reality which excludes supernatural reality.
If an atheist instead says: “there is no God,” it’s more difficult to then argue that theism bears the burden of proof about what comprises ultimate reality. It’s more difficult to conjure a straw man to then dispose of.
Burden of Proof
This matters because theists and atheists argue all the time about who has the “burden of proof.” Both theists and atheists are making claims about what constitutes ultimate reality, however, so there is no reason why theists should have any more of a burden to prove that there is a God, than that atheists should have to prove that there isn’t. Why would atheism be the default position?
Instead of arguing that there is no God, atheists should argue that their vision of reality is true. It’s not enough to just argue that competing claims about reality are false.
Points to Prove
Here are some of the points that an atheist necessarily asserts to be true. Matter creates mind. Something can come from nothing. Universally-held transcendent values are products solely of evolution. Man’s consciousness is solely a matter of brain functioning. All of man’s morality is solely a product of evolution. All the laws of physics that bring order to the cosmos sprang into being from nothing.
Most atheist arguments never even attempt to explain the orientation to seeking truth, that is the basis for the whole discussion. In fact, the atheist point of view precludes it, as we remarked here. They are not propositions that are self-proving or that amount to the absence of a case. It’s not “nothing.”
It’s Not “Proving a Negative”
Atheists sometimes assert that they’re being asked to prove a negative. How, they ask, can they show affirmative evidence for the absence of a God? Well that’s a very interesting question. Do they mean that it’s impossible to do? If so, then why do they believe there’s no God? Isn’t that believing something with no evidence to support it — the same thing that religious believers are accused of doing? An atheist who takes this tack would have to be allowing for the possibility of God, but atheists don’t actually do that.
Atheism means belief in nature, x, as comprising all of reality. Theism means belief in supernatural reality, y, in addition to natural reality, x. Atheists should prove that reality is limited as they contend it is; that x is all there is. Atheists say reality = x. Theists say reality = x + y. Atheists are reasonably asked to prove their proposition; that reality = x. It is reasonable to ask them to demonstrate how the overwhelming evidence of God is somehow a delusion.
Phenomena Unexplainable by Atheists
No one among the atheist polemicists does this. Once in a while we get a back-handed acknowledgement that there is a little bit of a problem with the phenomena readily explainable by God, such as existence, as when Lawrence Krauss tried to tell us that everything blipped into existence from nothing. We should note that he said that because he’s trying to fill a huge gap in the atheist position. But then it turned out that he wasn’t actually talking about nothing-nothing. He admitted that he was really talking about something from something else.
When the science advanced to the point that the “fine-tuning” of the universe clearly reduced the probability of material reality existing as it does, we were treated by speculative theorists to the idea of a multiverse, as the only way to explain that. This unnecessarily multiplies complex explanations.
In the world of neuroscience, we’re told that because we can probe the brain in certain places and see physical reactions, everything we experience is the result of neuronal impulses. But that does not even begin to explain human consciousness.
No one has ever explained (without God) how it is that we have order to what we experience, in the way we process things in our mind; by our universal sense of morality; by our orientation to truth; by transcendent ideals; by abstract concepts; by laws of physics that somehow just exist; by our shared sense of beauty.
We can just experience all these things like a fish experiences water. But unlike fish, we can think abstractly about what our “water” is comprised of, and about phenomena beyond the water. We are capable of seeing that this is water; it’s not something that just is. There is a reason for being, consciousness, ideals, and existence. None of it is explained if we just pretend that that the “water” just is, and is all.
It’s easy to get stuck in a mode of thinking that atheism involves the same way of thinking about reality as theism, but subtracting God. That way of thinking is false, however. Those who are persuaded to the puerile rants of the “new atheists” seem to fail to grasp how essential God is to understanding reality. If they remove Him, they’ve got a lot of explaining to do, for how their point of view makes any sense. Materialists don’t give this explanation, and one way they manage to avoid doing so is to attempt an argument against theism, rather than making their own case.
2 thoughts on “Atheist Passivity”
Thanks for thinking and writing. Do you think most atheist’s have honest blind spots regarding assertions of ultimate reality that disallows the supernatural, or are they consciously fortifying themselves against belief in God? It would seem volitional at some point; maybe it slides into passivity.
By the way, attended an RZIM lecture this week in Atlanta regarding how atheists’ find meaning in life. Some of panel discussed surveys an interviews of atheists, an attempt to simply understand them without an attempt to change their thinking (taking considerable restraint at times).
That’s a great question. I think most atheists pride themselves on being quite rational; being willing to “follow the evidence where it leads.” Often that self-perception is joined with the belief that Christians do the opposite, which is come to conclusions based on emotion and desire rather than hard facts. I do think they have honest blind spots, however. I would point to two as being chief among them.
One is holding the notion that their atheism is not really a belief, but only a non-belief. That’s flawed thinking because obviously they hold beliefs about ultimate reality, but they (not always, but usually, in my experience) think of this only as subtraction of theism from their conception of ultimate reality. But that is materialism, and materialism cannot explain phenomena like existence, consciousness, formation of life, and the a priori orientation to the good, the true, and the beautiful. If they adopt this false notion — that they believe in nothing — then that abets a slide into passivity. If you think what you believe in is nothing, then it must seem that there’s no reason to identify what you believe.
Two is that science is somehow a side-by-side substitute for religion. Atheists often say “I believe in science,” by which they mean not just the process of science and not just the discoveries of science, but science as representing the empiricist orientation to all truth. They overlook that science is by definition limited to the study of the natural world, and therefore does not even attempt to explain the existence vel non of a supernatural world.
These are blind spots, but your question also had to do with whether they (atheists) consciously fortify themselves against belief in God. I would say no, not consciously, precisely because ruthless empiricism would disallow that, and it is precisely that ruthless empiricism they cling to. But I would say yes, unconsciously, mainly because (and I don’t mean this to be snarky, I just don’t want to do a long explanation right now): fashion.
About the lecture. Are you suggesting (or did they at the lecture suggest) that Christians should only make an attempt to understand atheists, and not attempt to change their way of thinking? The study going on behind this site is certainly an attempt to understand atheists, but the content produced is an attempt to change their way of thinking. Not by hammering someone with how wrong they are, hopefully, but rather by highlighting the logical extension of the atheist proposition.
Thanks much for commenting.