Are Atheists Playing Fair?

As a Christian, you may have had this happen to you:

An atheist challenges your beliefs. You give an explanation and share evidence that points to why you believe in a Creator. They find nothing you are saying convincing. You fire back and challenge the atheist on their beliefs. After all, they have been arguing that we live in a universe that came into existence without an intelligent cause. Let’s see what they got.

Now you find yourself in a perplexing situation. Just a moment ago the atheist demanded that you give good and convincing reasons for your system of beliefs. But when asking the atheist to defend their system of beliefs, the atheist argues that their is no burden of proof on them to support anything. In fact the atheist swears that she isn’t even making a claim at all. She is merely rejecting your claim that “God exists.” The burden of proof then is on you–on Christians.

Is that true? Are atheists not making any claims about God? Is burden of proof on Theists alone? They demand that we have support for our claims, but then they dodge our questions. Is this fair? Let’s examine it for a second.

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Until recently, no one ever questioned that atheists were affirming a position–that is “no god(s) exist.” Now, there is a “new atheism” that says atheists merely disbelieve or reject evidence of God. They echo Christopher Hitchens that atheism, “is rejecting that a certain proposition is true” and “is NOT asserting that a certain proposition is false.” They think that means they can criticize one group’s beliefs and their reasons for believing them and not be obligated to abide by their own rules.

This is a clever move that works too often, but as you’ll see it’s not fair or even logical. Atheists are contradicting themselves and here’s why:

TRY TACTIC 1:

If atheism is merely rejecting that a certain proposition is true, “God exists,” then if that proposition is false, we know that it must be true that “God does not exist.” These are called logically equivalent claims. Seems elementary doesn’t it?

If you present that to the atheist and it doesn’t click try explaining it this way:

TRY TACTIC 2:

Look at the letter A. Let’s make a claim that “A is symmetrical.” We run tests on the letter and discover, YES, A is symmetrical. That claim is TRUE.

Let’s try another letter, Q. If the “claim of symmetry,” when applied to the letter Q, is not true, then we can reject that claim, but we can also say that it is TRUE that Q is “A-Symmetrical.”

Apply this to atheism…

It is NOT the case that we merely lack belief in Q’s symmetry or “reject the claim that Q is symmetrical.” The case is that we can actually positively affirm that Q is A-Symmetrical! Hitchens and those who echo his sentiment are disillusioned.

CONCLUSION

I hate to break it to the atheists, but you ARE making a claim and that claim is, “there is no God.” Hitchens was wrong. Yes, atheists are rejecting that a certain proposition is true. But they are also emphatically asserting that a certain proposition (Theism) is false and are thereby making the logically equivalent claim that Atheism is true. Furthermore, as they love to point out to Christians, for this claim to be substantiated there must be some supporting evidence. You don’t give us a free pass and neither do we give you one. The statement that “there is no burden of proof on atheists to substantiate their claims because they aren’t making a claim,” is obviously fallacious.

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40 replies
  1. Martin says:

    The symmetry of both “A” and “Q” can be tested. The truth behind a claim of symmetry for each leter can be establish and/or disproven.

    This tactic breaks down when trying to establish God’s existence since “A” (or God’s existence) cannot be established to begin with. “Q” remains hopelessly unknown.

    Reply
    • Gil Gatch says:

      I think that you have missed the point Martin. That example is not trying to establish that God exists. It establishes that when atheists say that “they are not making a claim, merely rejecting a claim,” they are speaking illogically. To reject Q’s symmetry is the same as affirming the claim that “Q is asymmetrical.”

      Now, if you really are just rejecting claims, then you aren’t an atheist. If an atheist can be defined as “someone who rejects the idea of God” then that means atheists and Theists could both be RIGHT at the same time. Think about it… that would mean that God could STILL BE TRUE, yet there are people who reject Him. It doesn’t make sense.

      Reply
      • Stephen B says:

        “To reject Q’s symmetry is the same as affirming the claim that “Q is asymmetrical.”

        You’re deliberately choosing a subject that can be tested and to which we all already know the answer.

        Imagine instead a box that contains either a letter A or a letter Q. You can claim (without looking in the box) that it contains a symmetrical letter. I can reject your claim, calling it unsupported, without making a positive claim of my own that it contains an unsymmetrical letter. You have a belief that it contains a symmetrical letter. I do not share your belief, and there’s no burden of proof inherent in my position.

        Reply
        • Terry L says:

          Stephen, your example isn’t quite right either. You’re assuming a case where no evidence exist for or against the box holding a symmetrical letter. In the presence of evidence, your case breaks down.

          Imagine the same box, but it contains exactly one non-blank Scrabble tile.

          If you have evidence to indicate that the letter must be one of the first 12 characters in the English alphabet, then your odds change. If you have evidence that it is made up of three lines, then your odds change again.

          By eliminating all of the letters that cannot be in the box, it is then possible to make a logical claim based on the probability of the symmetry of the remaining letters. It is illogical in this case to state a position either way without offering a reason why you accept or reject the theory of symmetry.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “That is agnosticism”

            No Matt – agnosticism deals with knowledge, not belief. My point stands.

  2. Robert says:

    Okay I’ll play along. Like Hitchens, I’m an anti-theist I will say and prove there is no God. There is actually a lot of pretty clear and convincing evidence that God does not exist. Of course it’s difficult to prove a negative. However there are a lot of things that should or should not be true if God does or does not exist. For example there is no clear evidence of the existence of any gods which is not surprising of no gods exist. Arguments for God’s existence suffer from irreparable logical flaws, which should not be the case if there really is a God. Religion demands faith and discourages attempts to verify its claims through testing and experimentation. This fact is less surprising if there is no God. Religion has a history of intolerance and violence, and this not likely to be true if there is a God. Science is a very effective way of gaining knowledge. Revelation and scriptural study are not, as people disagree about both and this fact is more likely to be true if there is no God. Religion attempts to suppress outside examination and criticism, and this fact is less surprising if there is no God. Religion has cruel, dangerous and repressive doctrines which it is morally incumbent upon us not to support. This should not be true if religion is true. There is a vast amount of religious confusion and disagreement between people who are members of the same religion. This fact is less surprising if there is no God. Religion is fragmented into sects that cannot agree on key issues of doctrine or ethics, and this should not be true of religion is true. Religions emerge in isolated areas and only then spread in space and time, rather than appearing in every society at once. If there is a God this should not be the case. The mind has a physical basis, and this fact is less like to be true if there is a God. There is too much gratuitous evil and unnecessary suffering. This should not be true if there is a God. Naturalism is the norm and supernaturalism cannot be verified which makes sense if there is no God. The Bible contains many contradictions and historical inaccuracies, and this fact is less surprising if there is no God. For the most part belief in God is a force for stagnation and against progress. This should not be true if there is a God. Atheists are no less happy or fortunate than believers and usually more so. This should not be the case if God exists.

    Now Gil all it would take to convince you of this would be for me to also convince you that you will suffer for all eternity if you believe in God. If we’re being honest here we must admit that the fear of eternal punishment is the only reason you believe in the God of the Bible. We atheists also do not believe in any of the other absurd bogies you accept without question such as angels, demons, Satan, giants, wonder-workers, life after death, heaven, hell and whatever else other people have convinced you to believe. Christianity only appeals to the base emotion of cowardice. I’m not a coward. I deny the existence of Jesus Christ too and do it proudly. I know your religion’s supposed penalty for this. I laugh at the thought of it. We all do. It’s cookoo.

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      True, belief is hell is a huge motivator. Additionally, what one chooses to believe goes back to the very basic statement that Frank like to make, “Either you believe nothing created something from nothing, or something created something from nothing. Which is more logical?”

      Reply
      • Stephen B says:

        More like ‘either you believe that something must always have existed, and it’s something we already know exists now (the universe), or you believe the universe was created by something ELSE that always existed’.

        Both involve something having always existed. But the former is a simpler explanation.

        Reply
        • Terry L says:

          Except that if what has always existed is what we see around us (the universe), it introduces all sorts of philosophical and scientific anomalies that must be explained.

          The burden of proof is on you for that one, I’m afraid.

          Reply
          • Stephen B says:

            ” it introduces all sorts of philosophical and scientific anomalies that must be explained”

            Can you expand on that, making sure that the anomalies are ones that disappear when one posits a God?

          • Terry L. says:

            Happy to!

            Happy to!

            1. Scientific data say matter and energy have NOT existed forever. This leads to the obvious question, “where did it come from”. You cannot have a source that is material or that uses energy as we know it. Therefore, the source of this matter and energy must be something altogether, and therefore outside of, our own universe.

            The Challenge to Naturalism: Explain the origin of time, space, matter and energy without resorting to any of the four.

            The Theist Solution: God is not of this universe, and created time, space, energy, and matter.

            2. Assume that the above statement is wrong, and matter and energy have eternally existed. We know that energy moves from a usable state to a non-usable state. This leads to two questions: 1) How did it come to be in the usable state? and 2) Why, after running for an infinitely long time, do we still have usable energy?

            The Challenge to Naturalism: Explain a literally infinite supply of usable energy.

            The Theist Solution: The original premise is wrong. Matter and energy are not eternal. God created the universe and front-loaded it with all of the energy it will ever have. Or need.

            3. Further, if we assume that matter and energy is eternal, this leads to the question of how many days does it take to get to today? The answer, if the premise is true, is an infinite number of days. But it takes an infinite amount of time to traverse an infinite number of days. By definition, you can never reach the end of infinity; it has no defined end.

            The Challenge to Naturalistic Philosophy: Explain how we have traversed an infinite number of days to reach today.

            The Theist Solution: The original premise is wrong. Matter and energy are not eternal.

            Bonus Challenge to the Theist: If the above is true, then how can you say that God exists eternally?

            The Theist Solution: God has always existed, but he has not existed for an infinite number of days. He existed at the point in which time did not exist. He created time, and thus causally precedes it. He has existed the same number of “days” as the universe. This is because “days” came into existence with the universe, not because God has some sort of “beginning” in time.

            4. The information in the cell. Complex, specified information doesn’t come from random sources. We have no evidence of this happening anywhere else in the universe; to claim that it happens in biology requires an assumption of massive proportions and is a violation of the scientific method, as well as common sense.

            The Challenge to Naturalism: Explain where the information in the cell came from. You have three choices: random chance, necessity, or an intelligent agent. Random chance has simply not had enough time, given even the oldest estimates for the age of the Earth. The base pairs are all bound to the frame DNA’s double-helix by the same type of molecular bond; there is no necessity that the base-pairs occur in any order. Therefore, necessity is simply a non-starter. All that is left is an intelligent agent… or you’ll have to come with some other explanation (which will certainly earn you fame beyond your wildest dreams!)

            The Theist Solution: God IS that intelligent agent that designed the information included in DNA and the cellular machinery required to process it.

            In all of these scenarios, science and naturalistic philosophy have ruled out naturalistic solutions. Oh, people keep looking, but you can’t build a case on what you might find tomorrow; you must use the best evidence we have today. Today’s evidence says that all of these are unexplainable without something existing outside of our universe with attributes that match that of the classical definition of God.

          • Terry L. says:

            Oops… left a word out!

            >>Therefore, the source of this matter and energy must be something altogether different,

  3. Robert says:

    You know I was just thinking. What’s so ridiculous about all this God stuff is that if it could be shown, or people could be convinced that life after death was incompatible with the worship of God, the Christians would all reject God and want to become atheists. I mean fear of death and the unknown is what all this religion is about anyway. Christianity would just be another death cult if it had fewer adherents.

    Reply
  4. Jon says:

    Martin, you are right and Gil does not get it. Apologists usually use false analogies.

    Better analogy would have been if you are convinced that the Big Bounce hypothesis is correct. If you don’t accept it, it doesn’t necessary mean your reject it either. You can hold judgement until there is better evidence for or against. Or you can even reject the Big Bounce hypothesis without accepting any other competing hypothesis.

    There is nothing illogical “when atheists say that “they are not making a claim, merely rejecting a claim,”” as Gil claimed. So Hitchens was right.

    The other bait and switch is always “God”. Is that their nomination’s God, their religion’s God, other Gods, deist gods. In the article both God and god was used without defining what is meant by God/god each time. Standard tactic in apologetics.

    Reply
  5. Stephen B says:

    There may be a God, there may not be one. Personally, I lack the belief that there is one. That means I’m not a theist, which also means I’m not an atheist – as the latter simply means one isn’t a theist. I don’t see why this leaves me with any burden of proof. Sure, if I go round saying ‘there is no God’, then I need to back that up. But I see very few people actually making that assertion – Robert above is one of those few.

    Reply
    • Gil Gatch says:

      Stephen. In your explanation above, you have defined the category “atheist” by saying that an atheist is one who is not a Theist. That’s incorrect. Animists are not theists. Buddhists are not theists. Even my German Shepard is not a theist. By your definition, all of these are atheists. Of course that’s ridiculous. Animists, Buddhists, Scientologists, etc. are so because the positively affirm a belief. Atheists are also positively affirming a belief–that is that the universe is one without the presence of a God or gods.

      Reply
      • Stephen B says:

        “That’s incorrect.”

        I don’t believe it is.

        “Buddhists are not theists”
        It’s too simplistic to make a universal description of Buddhism as essentially non-theistic.

        “Even my German Shepard is not a theist”
        That animals do not have theistic beliefs is assumed; we don’t describe them as ‘atheist’ as to do so would suggest they have a choice about rejecting theistic claims. Equally one wouldn’t describe your dog as ‘not a Democrat’, though that would almost certainly be a technically correct description.

        Reply
  6. Robert says:

    Stephen,
    Great dismantling of that silly argument Gil made. Are we getting smarter or are apologetic claims and arguments just getting sillier? Sure I will claim there is no God and as you can see I have backed it up. But should I even have to? Do I have to prove that werewolves and leprechauns don’t exist if I insist they do not? In a court of law the burden of proof still resides with the person who is making the most claims and that is always the theist or the believer in magic and or fairies. The theists demand we prove there is no God because they think we won’t even try to. They have no sane, rational response to someone who gives what they ask for. If you don’t believe me all you have to do is read Gil’s response – if he even has the nerve to respond at all.

    Reply
    • Gil Gatch says:

      I’ll post another article today to respond at length… but it’s disturbing to see you not understudying the basic rules of categorical logic.

      Look at the rules for obverting (A) & (E) propositions. “Atheism is true” is the same as “Theism is untrue.”

      If you reject Theism as true, it is logically equivalent that you accept that “Theism is untrue.” The obversion is equivalent, “Atheism is true.” This is a statement that demands reasons for believing. Seriously check out some categorical logic texts. Its a big part of the error in the reasoning here.

      Reply
      • Stephen B says:

        “Look at the rules for obverting (A) & (E) propositions. “Atheism is true” is the same as “Theism is untrue.””

        The sentence ‘atheism is true’ doesn’t make sense. Atheism is a descriptive term for a belief position. It is neither ‘true’ or ‘false’. I don’t claim ‘atheism is true’, I say that atheist describes my belief position on the existence of God. Note that it’s a belief position and not a knowledge claim.

        However, it is correct that theist and atheist are mutually exclusive universal positions. If one isn’t a theist then by definition one is an atheist.

        Reply
        • Terry L. says:

          If your atheism is simply a belief without knowledge, then would you say that it is a preference, and unsupported by any knowledge you have?

          Or would you say that your belief is based on evidence that you’ve examined and found pointing towards atheism as the best explanation for that evidence?

          Reply
  7. moose says:

    shifting the burden of proof sounds like just desperation on the part of religion. i can say i flapped my arms and flew to the moon yesterday–and hey–if you don’t believe me then it is up to you to prove that i didn’t. like stephen said–there may or may not be a god–i don’t have that answer, and neither does anyone else.

    if god is real, then mr gatch (or any christian apologist) does have the burden of proof for the claims of their religion–and they can’t provide any real proof. all they can do is resort to their holy book, and use emotion and philosophy. the christian god (if he is real) is unworthy of any attention. if 3/4 christian youths are walking away from christianity–it should come as no surprise, they are learning to think for themselves and ditch the amazing stories that they were brainwashed into believing when they were growing up

    Reply
  8. TCooper says:

    Is burden of proof really necessary? I mean if I knew something to be true and didn’t share it would it make that claim any less true? It seems as if the “burden of proof” is really just good etiquette like the rules of war. If I were giving reasons for my belief in God to an atheist and they chose to dismiss my reasoning and didn’t offer any rebuttal I certainly wouldn’t feel cheated. Why? because I’m not trying to win an argument. That’s not to say i disagree with Gil. I think rejecting a truth claim is automatically affirming it’s opposite–at least in this case. I think the natural theology arguments are pretty solid. Does the christian apologist have every lacuna filled? obviously not! and that stinks but if God wants love and adoration from humanity He already has it. That’s what makes the gift of salvation so appealing. Although God clearly doesn’t require mankind’s love to exist or function He still desires it and that’s a pretty loving God in my opinion. No disrespect to my atheist brothers and if i’m offtrack in my thinking i’m certainly open to entertain criticism.

    Reply
    • Stephen B says:

      ” I think rejecting a truth claim is automatically affirming it’s opposite”

      Why? One can simply hold that a case for one side has not been put. If a coin is flipped and neither of us have seen it, but you claim it’s heads, I can reject your claim as being supported by evidence without myself claiming it must be tails.

      Reply
      • Terry L. says:

        Your resorting to a simplistic example again that doesn’t match the real-world conditions. You’re leaving out ALL evidence on both sides, and evidence radically changes the equation.

        From the way you’re presenting your case, Stephen, it sounds like you’re ignoring the evidence both for and against God’s existence, hoping that your “ignorance” will be sufficient reason for God to overlook your unbelief. If you’re not willing to examine and judge the evidence, then why are you an atheist and not an agnostic?

        Reply
  9. Robert says:

    “An atheist doesn’t have to be someone who thinks he has proof that there can’t be a God. He only has to be someone who believes that the evidence on the God question is at a similar level to the evidence on the werewolf question;” John McCarthy, American computer scientist.”

    As I predicted Gil would have no response to my post, which by the way destroys all of his religious superstitions. This guy says we don;t play fair? I gave this Bible believer exactly what he asked for, proof God does not exist. What does he do? Ignores it, pretends it isn’t there, that no one accepted his challenge. Well bad debating ethics reflect bad personal ethics. This is the kind of warped morality we get from people who have no basis for morality or ethics which would be all the Bible believers. Moralizers with no sense of morality.

    Come on Gil, step up to the plate and tell us all why I have not proved your God is nothing more than an absurd superstition. What’s the matter, can’t handle the truth?

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Have you ever considered that he has other obligations? I’ve read through this entire blog, and you make some interesting statements, but nothing earth shattering by any means.

      Reply
  10. Robert says:

    See, that’s how you do it. You don;t just challenge them, you tweek their last nerve, make them angry – or angrier than they already were anyway.

    Reply
  11. Robert says:

    I am not unhappy at all. I’m a very forceful writer and this style gets the results the other atheists just cannot get. I know from all the ex-Christians who I have helped de-convert that this is what does the trick. It’s called tough love and many have thanked me for showing them some.

    Reply
  12. Robert says:

    Of course if atheists were not winning every public debate, were not knocking over stupid theistic arguments on blogs and in private conversations, we would not hear and see Christians complaining that atheists are not playing fair. The Bible believer’s arguments are all based upon logical fallacies. As every atheist knows Christians are people who can be defined as those who cannot recognize even the most obvious logical fallacies. When a person learns identify logical fallacies the first thing that happens is they reject their religion.

    Reply
    • Terry L says:

      >>It’s called tough love…

      It’s called being obnoxious! If you think you can win the argument on “style points” than substance, you’re on the wrong site.

      Case in point: numerous times, I have responded to your “arguments” with questions. Not once have you responded to the actual point. The one time I remember when you did respond, you apparently didn’t even read my post, because you addressed a point other than the one I made.

      Then you come out with gems like this:

      >>As I predicted Gil would have no response to my post,

      Pot, meet kettle!

      >>which by the way destroys all of his religious superstitions

      If this were true, you’d be making a fortune on the talk show and lecture circuit. Yet you throw it out there, hoping that if you repeat it enough, everyone will overlook the vacuity of your “arguments” and start to believe it. Heck, you might even start to believe it yourself!

      I really don’t mean to be rude; but I’ve offered to discuss these issues with you. Unfortunately for us all, you apparently have no interest in actual discussion; you just want to drive-by post and never actually engage with anyone on the site.

      If you so convinced that your arguments are that good, what are you afraid of?

      >>The Bible believer’s arguments are all based upon logical fallacies. As every atheist knows Christians are people who can be defined as those who cannot recognize even the most obvious logical fallacies.

      Really? In this one statement you have:

      Hasty Generalization.
      Non Sequitor
      Fallacy of Division

      and perhaps…
      Biased Sample

      Reply
  13. L1ttleT3d says:

    So in an attempt to shirk or flip your burden of proof (a logical fallacy) you are attempting to use a false dichotomy (another logical fallacy) and then have the gall to erroneously call the atheist’s position fallacious thereby committing the argumentum abusi fallacia fallacy.
    Way to make your position look even worse than any atheist could have. Congratulations.

    Reply
  14. Desert Dave says:

    Excellent strawman argument: set up a false position, then tear it apart. The atheist position is not that God does not exist. The atheist position is “You’ve made a claim (that a particular God exists, and I don’t see any evidence to support it. Until you show me evidence, I will not accept your claim. ” same as if your said the Easter Bunny exists.

    Reply
  15. Robert Klaers says:

    //Until recently, no one ever questioned that atheists were affirming a position–that is “no god(s) exist.” Now, there is a “new atheism” that says atheists merely disbelieve or reject evidence of God.//

    I’m sure we can both agree that if someone believes in UFO’s.. it’s up to them to defend their belief.. Just as it’s up to a believer in Big Foot, Nessie or el chupacabra to provide evidence for their beliefs.. And you might say,”But none of those exist..” I would ask you this How would you defend that lack of belief in the existence of those things I mentioned?

    //TRY TACTIC 1:

    If atheism is merely rejecting that a certain proposition is true, “God exists,” then if that proposition is false, we know that it must be true that “God does not exist.” These are called logically equivalent claims. Seems elementary doesn’t it?//

    This fails because atheism isn’t just about the Christian god, but all gods. Atheist do not see that there is evidence for the existence of any gods.. Not just the special one you happen to believe in.

    Now, let me ask you something else… Does it or does it not say in 1 PETER 3:15 “…and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” ..?

    Sounds to me that even the Bible says it’s up to the believer….

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Are Atheists Playing Fair? – As a Christian, you may have had this happen to you: An atheist challenges your beliefs. You give an explanation and share evidence that points to why you believe in a Creator. They find nothing you are saying convincing. You fire back and challenge the atheist on their beliefs. After all, they have been arguing that we live in a universe that came into existence without an intelligent cause. Let’s see what they got. […]

  2. […] Are Atheists Playing Fair? – As a Christian, you may have had this happen to you: An atheist challenges your beliefs. You give an explanation and share evidence that points to why you believe in a Creator. They find nothing you are saying convincing. You fire back and challenge the atheist on their beliefs. After all, they have been arguing that we live in a universe that came into existence without an intelligent cause. Let’s see what they got. […]

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