Atheism is the default position. Isn't the burden of proof on the Christian to assert that God exists?

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The title is a bit tongue in cheek, but according to Christianity, is it necessarily right to have to make arguments starting from atheism? It seems obvious to me that God exists. However, in both causal arguments, or public policy, this seems the default position ingrained in our culture and to make an argument otherwise is ridiculed.

Is this a legitimate premise (that atheism is the default position) to reason from? I think not, but what are the arguments against it? With what methods of reasoning does Christianity approach this issue?

aceinthehole

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 6 301

Question was closed 2014-11-26T17:17:52.033

7I'm surprised no one's mentioned Occam's Razor, so I will. – barrycarter – 2011-10-10T05:31:00.233

14Maybe because its not Christians who need convincing that God does exist but rather Atheists? So when talking to an Atheist one would start at their position? – James Khoury – 2011-08-31T03:54:21.533

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I addressed this in a different question and answer. http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/12354/what-is-apologetics-exactly-and-how-is-it-used-to-defend-the-christian-faith You are quite right that atheism is the default position (basic rules of "burden of proof") IF the Christian faith had to be proved. But there is an element of faith inherent in Christianity, and the real question is "is the faith reasonable?

– David Stratton – 2012-12-28T03:55:15.933

Question doesn't really match the title. – T.E.D. – 2011-09-02T01:37:11.290

1@barrycarter many believe that Occam's Razor cuts in favor of God, not atheism. – Alypius – 2013-03-05T17:25:02.610

@barrycarter also, Occam was actually a theologian – aceinthehole – 2013-03-05T19:01:21.750

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I would like to add that this position is called the presumption of atheism. Further if you learn about philosophy in any western university they will eventually teach you to the fallacy called a appeal to ignorance. From Wikipedia -- Appeal to ignorance: > Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or "appeal to ignorance", is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not been proven false (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third opt

– Neil Meyer – 2011-09-08T09:47:09.680

1I think the best answer to the question in the header was given by E. P. Sanders in his Jesus and Judaism. He deals with a similar quandary, about which position is the default position, and concludes: "...the burden of proof should always be on the one making an argument." – Kyralessa – 2011-09-09T04:22:53.810

@aceinthehole I think this question could use some editing love in order to not constantly attract answers from non-Christian perspectives. A little bit of careful wording in the question would make it a lot easier to enforce our policy about answers having to match the question. If you'd like I'd be to take a stab at this edit, or you can give it a shot. Does that make any sense? – Caleb – 2011-10-08T09:28:33.083

Answers

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Christian apologetics often employ a form of presuppositional logic. In fact, the wikipedia page for Presupposition (philosophy) specifically addresses this issue:

A variety of Christian apologetics, called presuppositional apologetics, argues that the existence or non-existence of God is the basic presupposition of all human thought, and that all men arrive at a worldview which is ultimately determined by the theology they presuppose. Evidence and arguments are only marshalled after the fact in an attempt to justify the theological assumptions already made.

It is difficult or impossible to coherently reason with someone who makes different presuppositions than you, and sometimes the best course is to first lay out your presuppositions. After you have a place to stand on, you can look back and defend those views.

The Biblical witness on this point is fairly straightforward. God exists. In addition to this testimony it claims that there is no possible excuse for men not knowing at least some basic facts about his identity.

Romans 1:20-21 (ESV)
20  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

After asserting in verse 20 that there is clear evidence in the world pointing to some attributes of God, verse 21 goes on to state that all men knew God and that it is through willfully not honoring him As God that they become unable to reason properly. Without a worldview informed by the presupposition that God exists, as well as certain attributes about him, men are unable to see clear reason.

The writer C.S. Lewis applies this idea to practical belief and frames it in layman's terms rather graphically when he wrote:

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

To Christian reason, no further proof of God's existence is required but that, knowing he does exist, we can finally make sense out of the world around us.

Caleb

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 30 301

12oh, I believe in Christianity - I can see Christians; I can see churches. No problem there. It is only in the beliefs of (insert any religion) that I have a problem... The comparison of a deity to the observation of the sun is using two different meanings of "belief" - it is not, IMO, a valid comparison. I believe my car is parked outside, in that I have genuine reasons to assert such. It may not be there - theft or handbrake failure may make it absent. But that is a different type of belief to "I have no evidence/reason, but I believe this anyway". – Marc Gravell – 2011-08-31T07:28:53.163

11That is perhaps the crux of the atheist "default position"; i.e. "why should I presuppose that?" – Marc Gravell – 2011-08-31T07:30:16.717

5@MarcGravell: Aaa but that is exactly what I was trying to say. Faith != blind faith. The kind of "belief" you ascribe to Christianity isn't at all the kind of "belief" I refer to. I used that quote about the sun because it points out what kind of belief I am referring to: one that both concretely observes the thing itself and uses that thing as a reference point. – Caleb – 2011-08-31T07:43:54.757

9If there is evidence for the existence of god what role does faith play? – hippietrail – 2011-08-31T20:59:19.370

5Your Faith is sadly not different to blind faith. If you had any evidence, you wouldn't need any faith. – Sven – 2011-08-31T21:54:21.793

7@Sven: Faith is trust. You can choose to trust something you have evidence for, or not. I can say I have "faith in this rope" to mean that "trust that this rope will hold me" because I know it's load weighting, how the knot is tied and who set the anchor. Our faith is not blind or faith because it doesn't have supporting evidence. – Caleb – 2011-09-01T13:44:51.693

3@Caleb: faith is trust beyond proof (or despite proof). This is what Christians say all the time ("God does not show Himself because it would take away free choice"). So saying you have faith in a rope which is guaranteed not to break is incorrect. – Sklivvz – 2011-09-02T07:03:57.057

12@Sklivvz: Then what you hear Christians say all the time is a bunch of baloney! The only reason he would not show himself it's that it would utterly destroy us to behold him. And yet even with that seemingly insurmountable limitation he found a way to show himself. Christ is the image of the invisible God and we beheld him! (Colossians 1 & John 1) Don't ever believe someone who says God is hiding himself, that is not the Christian Gospel! – Caleb – 2011-09-02T07:43:40.580

3@Caleb, I'd consider also including Romans 1:21. "For although they knew God" is one of the clearest descriptions of the default position that I know of in Scripture. – David Morton – 2013-03-05T16:05:15.110

@DavidMorton: A fine suggestion, thank you. And done. – Caleb – 2013-03-07T08:01:20.717

4I've found it best to further this thought that without presupposing God, we can't reasonably assert logic, morality, or uniformity in nature. What would one use to defend that these are valid? The only way to be assured of such things is to either know absolutely all things (and thus that you do in fact know all things), or to be told by someone that does know all things and by such power that you could not possibly be mistaken about it. Because all people use logic and morality inescapably, it is evident that all people presuppose God, though we suppress that truth in unrighteousness. – m59 – 2014-09-28T16:17:39.977

1@Caleb While informative, I can't help but think this answer is still a bit circular. If you presuppose that God exists, then there is no burden of proof, but you openly admit blind faith (because the existence of God is merely axiomatic and not proven). This does not address the point by the OP. Is assuming God exists by default a requirement for Christians? If not, then there's something not working here. If yes, then you should say it clearly. – Sklivvz – 2011-10-09T09:47:26.853

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Over the ages, many things have been written, and many things have been believed. I appreciate that the Bible has many believers, but that by itself is evidence of only one thing: that the Bible has many believers. As noted in a previous answer - if we are not required to reason a view, we can state anything as fact. Thus there is a burden of proof on both sides. Atheism is approaching this burden of proof through scientific method, and it is astonishing the new insights it provides - I don't just mean re-interpreting words that have been written both others : I mean original research and ideas, researched, some found to be useful and iterated, some found to be incorrect and dismissed.

What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.

The default position with any fact based assessment is to look at a combination of factors, including:

  • observation
  • reason
  • historical evidence in context (which I'll come back to)

(and many other points)

Observation

There is nothing verfiable about religious claims. No reliable, repeatable test can be made. We should here limit outselves to things that directly provide evidence for some kind of deity, not simply the "beauty of creation", etc, since that is not causal. The argument "we exist and things are ok, thus God" makes a huge presumption.

Reason

It is not reasonable to assume a God. By which, I mean in exactly the same way that if I said "when I drop my pen, invisible pixies push it towards the ground; these magic pixies cannot be detected by any means" - the above would fit with the observation (the pen falling), but:

  • there is no requirement for the pixies in the theory
  • given the definition (cannot be detected by any means), there is no test that could disprove the theory (this is actually very important in the scientific method)
  • the existence or non-existence of the pixies tells us nothing about the universe

Many attempts have been made (over the ages) to prove the existence of a deity through logic; they are all easy to dismiss as abuses of "logic".

Historical Evidence

This might offend: the Bible is not evidence; the sources are limited and biased, many accounts do not tally with other known records (or even similar accounts in the Bible); it has been extensively edited and re-edited; most of it was written centuries after the supposed accounts; it repeatedly shows even from God, a perspective limited to the knowledge available at the time. All we can prove from the Bible is that: these things have been said and believed.

The modern age

The common interpretation is that the Bible, along with much religion and philosophy, is the approach that relatively primitive cultures have used to explain the awesome fact that we exist. That we exist is amazing, and no attempt is made to devalue that - however, today we have more powerful tools to bring to this. Modern physics, biology, geology, astronomy, etc provide much better explanations for everything in the Bible, that do not require a "leap of faith", but instead have sound reason. Each scientific development erodes our human ignorance, leaving any deity fewer and smaller holes to hide in.

As Carl Sagan wrote:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

A claim along religious lines is an extraordinary claim; no religious group has ever produced any compelling evidence for such. So yes: atheism is the reasonable "default position", in the same way that our default position for things falling should not be "pixies".

Marc Gravell

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 5 932

2@Sklivvz As RCIX said, science only deals with that which is material. God is not material, so there's a dead end from start. It is true that for science, God does not exist in our material universe. In spite of that, I believe that God has created our material universe (among other things) and that he is able to and is interfering with our material universe. – Shathur – 2012-01-11T09:12:03.643

2Also, science is only dealing with what is regular and recurring, therefore science can neither disprove nor prove miracles, since they are miracles and therefore not regular. That's why every attempt to scientifically disprove or prove miracles is just plain stupid. Furthermore, the atheist might say: "God does not exist in our material universe, thus there is no God". To say such a thing, one must assert that our material universe is the only there is. Such an assertion cannot be made, thus that claim is invalid. – Shathur – 2012-01-11T09:16:51.267

5@Shathur and yet, how is your assertion that there is something that is completely unobserved and untestable any more valid? and even then, how do you move from "there might be something" to "it is the Christian God"? That is just claiming the untestable as God, which frankly is weak. – Marc Gravell – 2012-01-11T09:31:35.747

3@MarcGravell As you say, what I just said does not prove the existence of any God and certainly not that it is the god of the Bible. But that was not my intention either. What I wanted to say is that scientific attempts to either disprove or prove the existence of God is futile. My assertion, however, is that the theist claim makes most sense. My second assertion is that the biblical claim makes most sense (In (very) short: Our world is broken and man is sinful. God loves us and has created for the purpose of a relation with him and if we accept Christ's sacrificial death, that is possible). – Shathur – 2012-01-11T10:08:21.453

4@Shathur in all seriousness, I put to you: mainstream science honestly doesn't give a rat's behind about such, and does not give much thought or effort to trying to prove/disprove a God, since it is not a scientific theory. Most "scientific" work in this area is sponsored from religious groups. I do not accept that "man is sinful" (if we leave to one side definitions of sin, and focus on the key aspects such as unethical or harmful) leads to any conclusion about God. – Marc Gravell – 2012-01-11T10:23:35.390

2@MarcGravell I haven't said that either. I agree with you on that, but many atheists uses this as an argument against God's existence. They say: "We can never verify God's existence, thus he does not exist", dismissing the concept of God based on his scientific unverifiability. It's very tragic to see people fool themselves like this. Also, it is hypocrisy (to believe one unverifiable thing and dismissing another on the same ground). – Shathur – 2012-01-11T10:32:42.193

1@Shathur it is dismissed from science due to not being presented as a valid logical construct, sure. That is what science is; to admit something as science the proposal must be scientific in nature. If someone can pose God as a genuine scientific proposal, then great! Until then, it is meaningless to intermingle the two. As such, science merely reserves comment until such time as a valid scientific argument is presented. The answer is not "God does not exist"; but rather "for a science answer, first define this God as a valid scientific argument, such that we may make a qualified reply" – Marc Gravell – 2012-01-11T10:39:39.523

2@MarcGravell Science is not logic (logic is not science), it is logical. Science is the verification of facts (in a physical context). God's existence cannot not be proved by scientific arguments (afaik) but with logical arguments. I think we can agree on this. The main point I want to put forward is that the problem with atheism, or more accurately naturalism, is that it only recognizes the strictly verifiable knowledge and that it only recognizes what we can see and touch, an assertion that (in my opinion, of course) is invalid. I think you could agree on this. – Shathur – 2012-01-11T10:54:37.587

4@Shathur I don't agree that God can be proved with logical arguments, since by definition something that admits neither proof nor disproof, yet defies observational evidence is not a logical construct (I mean that in the technical sense). Also consider: there are lots of "knowledges" out there; which of those should the multi-cultural, multi-denominational society in which we live use to set policy and education etc? I propose: the ones that are common to us all, by virtue of being based on demonstrable fact (i.e. science), rather than any particular groups's "my God says this" ethos. – Marc Gravell – 2012-01-11T11:01:52.027

2@MarcGravell I guess we disagree, then. Furthermore, I agree with you that society should not base it's instituted morals on something other than that which the majority of the people agrees with. I believe, however, that the laws of life (cause and effect in our lives) follow specific rules that our society has understood, in part. These rules are written in the Bible (by the creator and institutor of these very rules). – Shathur – 2012-01-11T11:19:50.667

4@serathur the existence of G cannot be discussed without a definition of G and a coherent choice of what you mean by existence. Science defines as necessary for existence to have some measurable quality, such as the ability to influence the physical world. So any statement like G performs miracles, answers prayers or a soul makes us alive makes G addressable by science. – Sklivvz – 2012-01-12T08:58:39.900

5In fact, those qualities have been addressed by science, strongly disproved repeatedly, and it is only by shifting the definition of G that religion can rationalise this. Ultimately, it is this ever moving target ("G of the gaps") that makes the topic intractable. – Sklivvz – 2012-01-12T09:05:42.107

4'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence', yet unfortunately any such evidence will almost certainly not be revealed, because to do so inhibits freewill. – Ian – 2011-09-01T12:07:06.283

3@Ian that is a circular argument; if religion cannot approach science on a sound logical basis, it should stay far away from science. I could argue that unfortunately, any such evidence of my invisible pixies will almost certainly not be revealed" – Marc Gravell – 2011-09-01T12:12:07.717

3Indeed you're right, it is, and that is why it is very difficult to convince someone of God's existence via science. It's more through the personal experiences where God really works, which is quite a long way from science. – Ian – 2011-09-01T12:35:02.930

9@Ian indeed, but "personal experiences" should also be subject to scrutiny before being used as a basis; for example, plenty of people claim to have been abducted by aliens, or encountered ghosts, and many sailors of old would have claimed to have witnessed mermaids or kraken. Indeed, many people do have personal experience with "psychics", astrologers, shamen, etc - that doesn't mean by itself that the experience actually was quite what the observer thought it was. If objective, constructive evidence of such was presented it would be a starting point. As-is? not very compelling. – Marc Gravell – 2011-09-01T12:48:15.423

1@Sklivvz I don't know about that. One of science's most valuable tools is the ability to alter definitions in response to newly submitted observations. It only makes sense that if someone were to attempt to define God, and then find evidence that conflicts with that definition, that the definition must be re-examined. It only takes one scientifically verified piece of evidence to shoot down a theory. (I hesitate to use the word theory, as it has become a target of great contention and misunderstanding in Christian literature...) – corsiKa – 2012-12-12T20:07:13.340

@corsiKa Either one knows what God is, or they don't. Science is very precise, and wishy-washy definitions are clearly not addressable. This includes unclear personal opinions. On the other hand every single time religious people made a verifiable assertion (let me emphasise: every single time), they have been proven wrong (http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD000368/intercessory-prayer-for-the-alleviation-of-ill-health). This is a fact - if you disagree, give an example of an experiment has proven the God hypothesis, I'll be happy to learn something new :-)

– Sklivvz – 2012-12-12T21:46:53.443

1@Sklivvz I think you misunderstand what I'm saying. If someone defines God through whatever means, and you find evidence that is contrary to that, shouldn't they change their definition of God to meet that? (Assuming they trust your evidence.) – corsiKa – 2012-12-12T21:59:59.617

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@corsiKa There is no dragon in Carl Sagan's garage :-)

– Sklivvz – 2012-12-12T22:13:35.563

1I think your "the Bible is not evidence" section would make more sense if you said that the Bible is not scientific evidence. The Bible is indeed historical evidence; if we excluded it as historical evidence on the basis you give, we'd have to exclude pretty much every extant ancient writing. But I think it's legitimate to say that the Bible does not constitute scientific evidence, any more than the writings of Plato or Homer or Augustine. Only observation and experimentation can constitute scientific evidence. – Kyralessa – 2013-01-31T22:54:28.930

@Kyralessa that was perhaps what I had in mind. But then, perhaps the real difference there is that nobody insists that the contents of Plato or Homer are immune from criticism; the contents are allowed to be wrong in places, even fundamental ones. – Marc Gravell – 2013-01-31T23:08:08.073

6The Bible not withstanding: the universe exists. Why does the universe exists when there could have been nothing? That seems like evidence to me that something exists outside of the universe or the laws of physics as we know them. It doesnt seem unreasonable to assume that thing exists, not withstanding debate on the nature of that thing which we could argue all day, and is not what I am asking. – aceinthehole – 2011-09-02T01:27:10.810

9Quite simply and ultimately, science does not and cannot provide evidence that there is a creator, nor can it rule out existence of one. No matter what theory you can come up with or provide evidence for, I guarantee you there will be a way to ask "well what created THAT?". Further, Science explicitly deals with this universe and was never designed to be applied to metaphysics or theological topics. – RCIX – 2011-09-02T02:56:12.983

2@RCIX: Not exactly: science defines "knowing", "existence", "fact" to that that can be (at least in principle) tested experimentally, and "true" to that that has been tested or implied by repeated tests. So for science God does not exist in Nature or our Universe. Now you can accept the scientific method to give exhaustive answers, or you can accept that other tools like Faith also give answers. This is what leads to two different conclusions. – Sklivvz – 2011-09-02T07:10:35.360

2@MarcGravell, the notions of causality and evidence presented in your answer and your comments in the thread seem to me to be circumscribed by certain unstated but very definite assumptions that ought to be examined as rigorously as anything else. Are you familiar at all with the classical/fourfold concept of causality and the basis for half of this concept being rejected by modern science-reliant skepticism? – Ben Dunlap – 2013-04-12T04:34:30.130

@Ben actually, no - but I've looked it up, and I'd certainly expect the notion of "final cause" to be the first of those to be rejected. I am unclear exactly which aspect of causality/evidence you are referring to regards me, but I am referring mainly to the modern application of logic theory. – Marc Gravell – 2013-04-12T06:20:36.933

2@MarcGravell that's right, Francis Bacon rejected final cause (and also formal cause) in his New Organon, which is one of the foundational philosophical texts of modern experimental science. What's not clear is whether the causes he accepted -- efficient or agent and also material, the ones that I think modern science takes for granted -- are coherent without the two he rejected. I think it's a pretty important question. – Ben Dunlap – 2013-04-12T13:25:57.027

3@aceinthehole Yes, something exists outside our knowledge, but since it is outside our knowledge we should not conclude with confidence what it is. – CiscoIPPhone – 2011-09-08T21:18:51.077

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The obvious rebuttal is that atheism can hardly be considered "the default position" when the very concept was almost completely unheard of throughout world history, in any culture, up until just a few centuries ago. Humans have an intuitive understanding of cause and effect, and the default position is to take this to its logical conclusion and believe in a First Cause.

Mason Wheeler

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 29 010

5Thinking humans have always tried to understand. Where there is no observable proof, we make theories and test those theories using scientific method. In ancient history, we didn't have the means to test our theories, so they remained theories. Unfortunately they remained so long that fewer and fewer of us questioned what we were told by our forefathers. Only relatively recently in the development of humankind we have been able to test those old theories (e.g. The sun is a god) and prove them false. Therefore the questioning nature of Atheism is the default position. – None – 2011-08-31T13:33:25.930

2@Neil: You say that as if no one has ever found a way to test the existence of God. There are tens if not hundreds of millions out there who will tell you otherwise. The difference is that the evidence given is personal, not scientific; it can't be reproduced on demand in a laboratory experiment. That doesn't make it any less real, though. – Mason Wheeler – 2011-08-31T13:51:10.547

2Mason: I do see your point, and I totally understand that to the individual involved it must seem totally real and irrefutable. However I'm not sure that someone telling me they have heard the voice of God in their head is enough "evidence" to be considered proof of his existence. – None – 2011-08-31T14:29:59.107

1@Neil: And yet someone telling you that they have measured the speed of light, found it to be the utterly arbitrary value of 186,000 miles per second, and declaring that nothing can move faster than that, is evidence enough for you? You have no way to test that for yourself; you accept it completely on faith. The difference is that evidence of God is personal. As you said, someone else telling you isn't good enough; it's something that everyone must (and can!) acquire for themselves, by themselves. My faith cannot save you, only yours can. – Mason Wheeler – 2011-08-31T14:46:02.547

1Even if we conclude a first cause exists, that doesn't imply a god does so I don't think that strengthens your answer in any way. – CiscoIPPhone – 2011-08-31T14:49:28.227

1@Mason Oh - about the light speed. I accept that the light speed is true, even though I haven't verified it personally. But if it changed my entire world view and influenced how I acted in a major way, I'd definitely want more evidence than someone telling me. In short, the bigger the claim and the more impact the claim has on my life the more evidence I would need to make me confident in my beliefs. – CiscoIPPhone – 2011-08-31T14:54:34.503

6@Mason the main difference for me is that the speed of light experiment is a repeatable one with the same results every time. The experiment has actually been done, by different people, at different points in history using different apparatus and they all came back with the same answer. It being an arbitrary value has no bearing on the debate. As for "personal evidence" - it's no evidence at all for anyone other than that person. That person can tell me there is a God, but they can't prove it. – None – 2011-08-31T15:10:39.213

2@Neil I was going to ask "Why is there a difference in the reliability between many people saying they have experienced god, and many people saying they have performed experiments? Why is one reliable and not the other?"...I think your last sentence addresses it but there's some wiggle room there...someone who believes in god might say, "I can prove it - you just have to open your heart". – CiscoIPPhone – 2011-08-31T15:49:21.967

7@Neil: Someone told you that, and it's written down in a record somewhere, but how do you know it's true if you haven't observed it for yourself? Each step you can cite is simply a link in a chain of trust. Follow it back far enough, and you will eventually reach a point where the only answer is faith: "X said so and I believe X to be a reliable source, even though I can't prove it." So the question is, why is your standard of proof so different for some topics than for others? – Mason Wheeler – 2011-08-31T17:25:14.417

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@CiscoIPPhone: We and everyone else could to the same experiment for ourselfs. The results are empirical,measurable and repeatable. That is the reason those theories are widley accepted and why science works and is superior to faith. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

– Sven – 2011-08-31T22:01:26.417

7"when the very concept was almost completely unheard of throughout world history" - this argument is frankly naive; firstly, there is lots of documentary evidence of atheism through all ages, going long BC (ancient Greece, etc). It is also the case that for most of this time people posing such positions have been doing so at risk; much of that evidence is from their trial/punishment records. It is also clearly stated where religions have suppressed and destroyed (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) their creations (literature etc). It is not a sound historical argument. – Marc Gravell – 2011-09-01T12:10:41.477

1There's even evidence in the Bible that there were atheists. Psalm 14 says "The fool says in his heart 'there is no God'". – corsiKa – 2012-12-12T20:56:32.390

7This answer makes no sense since for most of mankind's existence there has been no Christianity... and science has also been known in some form for way longer... – Sklivvz – 2011-09-02T07:12:52.393

3@Sklivvz: You cannot use a deduction of your world view as a premise for arguing against another. Christianity has been around for the entirely of man's existence (since Adam) and in a sense could be claimed to pre-date science. Your statement does not invalidate the argument in this answer. – Caleb – 2011-09-05T14:26:54.667

2@Caleb: Christianity cannot be older than Christ... you are mixing Christianity with Judaism -- whereas science has been around at least since the Greeks. Religion, on the other hand is probably older than Science (but one could argue there was not much distinction initially between the two). – Sklivvz – 2011-09-05T15:51:45.073

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The reason why the non-existence of something should be the default position, is that the opposite (being able to assume that something exists just because nobody has been able to disprove it) allows one to prove that anything exists.

hammar

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 813

5Absolutely. Add to this that proof of non-existance of something is epistemologically hard to impossible - to proove "White ravens do not exist." you must proove "No raven is white." or "No white thing is a raven.", both would need a search of the whole universe, whereas when somebody thinks there is a white raven, he could just point to it or at least give hints of how and where to find it. – Ingo – 2011-09-09T10:32:00.470

12

My thinking on this starts with Paul:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.—1st Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)

To me, that means that I must do my best to put myself in the shoes of an atheist in order to hope to influence their thinking. When I answer questions on Philosophy, I must think like a philosopher. On Skeptics, I must be skeptical. (I'm 1 for 2 there, by the way.) When I talk to friends and co-workers who have left the church, I must be sympathetic to their complaints. In my mind, it's impossible to communicate when neither corespondent is willing to "get inside" the head of the other. Even in contexts outside of philosophy and religion, that's just good policy.

Do I have to believe the atheist default is correct? Not necessarily. I agree with Plantinga that the theist assumption is warranted. Given the chance to argue against the atheistic assumption, I will. Ultimately, I believe what I believe because I've seen the power of God in my life—not because I've constructed an argument from the ground up to prove His existence.

And I'm also convinced that very few people arrive at the atheist position because of carefully constructed arguments. (You, my dear reader, are probably one of the exceptions.) Most people come to believe by the most convoluted paths. I believe that the desert is beautiful, but it would take all afternoon for me to explain how I came to that conclusion. Most people (perhaps not you), if they really examined their assumptions, are atheists (or theists) because of seminal events in their lives over which they had no control. I can't will myself to like the taste of tomatoes and I can't will myself to believe God does not exist.

In the end, we must go back to Paul:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,  
         and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”   

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.—1st Corinthians 1:17-25 (ESV)

Jon Ericson

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 8 173

That's a great christian response! Especially about uncontrolled events in a man's life. To my mind there's no atheism at all. That's a big fake and everybody knows about that. At least people do believe in theirselves (their ways of doing things, eating, having sex, beign righteous). So often when man says that there's no God it defends its behaviors/idols regarding that quite few didn't know the contents of His commandments. It's an act of (stubborn, violent, irrational!) defence. – lexeme – 2012-04-03T06:35:25.267

@helicera: Welcome to Christianity.SE! After you've poked around a bit, I encourage you to ask or answer a few questions. It sounds like you have something to contribute! I tend to agree that atheism tends to be more of an intellectual puzzle rather than anything real, but don't discount people's drive and ability to believe in something. Even, as you say, in themselves. – Jon Ericson – 2012-04-03T16:09:48.963

thanks for correction. Yes you are right people are free to believe in whatever they want to. – lexeme – 2012-04-04T06:03:31.447

9

Clearly Faith cannot be the default position if you ask whether God exists, because if your question is not rhetorical, but strives to be balanced, then you cannot start by assuming that God exists.

The same applies to Atheism.

So clearly the default position is agnosticism.

That said, a few points are also pretty obvious:

  • there is no factual evidence for the existence of God.
  • if you approach the question via Faith, the answer is fundamentally quite simple. If you have Faith, you are quite sure that God exists. If you don't, then you think otherwise (very unsure, sure of the opposite).
  • if you approach the question via science, then the default position is non-existence due to the null hypothesis (and the fact that the God hypothesis is not falsifiable and therefore invalid).

A bit more on the last point: the null hypothesis is the conviction that when someone makes a statement, it's up to them to prove it. It may sound harsh, but that's exactly how science (medicine, technology, etc.) works. It's exactly the kind of thinking that let's us assert the falsehood of astrology, tarots, magic and so on...

So, the burden of proof does rely on who makes the assessment according to scientific, rational principles. If you think scientific principle does not lead to the truth in all cases, you may disagree with the default position and use Faith.

All in all, it's a matter of Faith, which means belief in something without (or in spite of!) factual proof.

Sklivvz

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 909

8That you stated "there is no factual evidence for the existence of God" as "pretty obvious" is one good way to demonstrate that Atheism itself requires belief is certain presuppositions. Faith on the other hand does not mean belief without or in spite of factual proof ... in fact in the sense used by Christians it is quite the opposite. – Caleb – 2011-09-05T12:30:00.993

3

@Cal: The dictionary disagrees: Faith: 2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=define+faith&meta=

– Sklivvz – 2011-09-05T13:48:31.547

6The dictionary authors neither asked us for a Christian definition nor are they an authoritative reference on which believers shape their usage (much less beliefs). – Caleb – 2011-09-05T14:00:09.480

2@cal [citation-needed] I've been looking around at all major dictionaries, and various Christian sources and authorities and they all point out that faith does refer to the definition above (or equivalent). – Sklivvz – 2011-09-05T15:54:23.307

6@Sklivvz I just followed your link and the first definition provided has no reference to religion - Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.. I don't think selectively quoting sources helps your case. – Jeff – 2011-09-06T20:02:06.470

3@Jeff if a word has two meanings and one is religious, and I choose that one in a religious context, I am using English correctly. All major vocabularies agree on this definition. I am not going to waste any more time on this. – Sklivvz – 2011-09-06T20:19:33.957

7

I ask this a bit tongue in cheek. But why do Christians have to make arguments starting from atheism? It seems obvious to me that God exists. However,

The rationalists' view of argumentation is that one presents statements that logically cohere and are backed up by evidence that anyone can, in principle, confirm. That something "seems obvious" is not always sufficient for justified belief; after all, it might seem obvious that the Earth is not moving, when in fact it is rotating at 1,000 mph. I mention this point because it helps set up the answer to your question...

Those with a rationalist view (e.g. Bertrand Russell) would say that for any claim, the burden of proof of that claim is on the person who makes it. If I were to say there is a dragon living in my basement, if I wish to be believed, the burden would be on me to show evidence for that. But the same would be true if I claimed it were merely my Aunt Tilly living in my (furnished) basement. The only difference here is that in the second case, others would be much more willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.

So, a rationalist would say, it is sensible for the burden of proof to be on the claimant. Whether that claim is for the existence of a god, space aliens, magic, the virtues of whole life insurance, the health giving properties of vitamin D, or whatever.

In this sense, atheism is the default position. But keep in mind, "atheism" can mean, depending on who you ask, either:

  1. Absence of a belief in any god(s).
  2. Presence of a belief that there is no god(s)

Those two aren't the same. Russell and other rationalists would say that the only the first sort of atheists escape the burden of proof and thus the burden is on the Christian claimant to give them reason to have a belief in a god(s).

Chelonian

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 745

3+1. "for any claim, the burden of proof of that claim is on the person who makes it". – TRiG – 2011-10-08T20:47:12.920

4

The default position is neither; both Atheism and Theism are a mental construct. You must argue from experience, and it seems that some have not experienced God (or understood the experience of him in that way.) Whereas some have experienced God (or understood their experience in that way.)

Meister Eckhart had a controversial saying (which could be interpreted as Platonism) that addresses the problem of presuppositions. He said, 'In the beginning, before I was, I had no God and was just Myself.' Both Atheism and Theism are presuppositions about a world external from one's self, an experience that always arises in human beings from the infant experience of continuous and unbroken 'I'. It is implied in Eckhart's saying that the 'Myself' is God.

Therefore you must argue from someone's presuppositions in all cases and cannot assume either is the the default position; the default position is not one any adult holds nor is one useful for making any arguments from, unless perhaps we get into forms of Eastern Mysticism (which by the way are still not identical to the default position.)

user304

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation:

Eckhart's saying is a variation on the notion of 'logoi' or ideas in God, one of which exists for each person that will ever come into being, and thus one could cleverly say 'before I was, I was God' in the sense that the germ of one's being, the idea of one's person, is eternal and in God before all things. – None – 2011-08-31T16:06:52.597

Secondly, (and this is the cleverness of his saying, I think) his delivery mirrors the infant experience of a human being, of uninterrupted self, as though one were God. So one could say the default position is actually 'I am God', which is neither Atheism or any kind of Theism proper, nor is it certain forms Eastern Mysticism which posit first the existence of others, and then claims that all existences are 'real' only as a 'veil' or 'maya' and thus ultimately you, I and all others 'are God'. – None – 2011-08-31T16:09:18.707

3

The American philosopher Alvin Plantinga has done much work towards defending the position that not only belief in God, but belief in the Christian God, is an intellectually justified "default" position. ("Default" in quotation marks because he uses more technical language to describe it but it amounts essentially to how the word "default" is being used in this thread.)

Calvin's concept of the "sensus divinitatis" -- the capacity to encounter/perceive/recognize God that God has built into man -- significantly factors in to his position. (I believe Calvin himself bases the concept of the sensus divinitatis on Romans 1:20, quoted above).

For basic information on Plantinga's position check out wiki: Reformed epistemology. Or if you are committed to a greater time investment, Plantinga's books "Reason and Belief in God", and "Warranted Christian Belief" are both highly recommended.

user175

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 155

Wow, super enlightening. Though I am still getting my head around it. Thanks! – aceinthehole – 2011-09-02T01:37:19.297

"sensus divintatis": http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/02/22/raft/ & http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/02/26/firm/.

– TRiG – 2011-09-15T11:49:09.860

2

Well, suppose that God exists. Will the world contain clear traces of God's existence? Suppose now that God does not exist. Will the world contain clear traces of God's nonexistence? Many atheists would argue that God's existence would leave clear traces of existence, but God's nonexistence would simply leave no traces at all. Therefore, they would say, the best strategy is to start by assuming God does not exist, and change your mind if you find traces of existence.

I believe that argument is... reasonable, in a sense, but I don't put much weight in it myself. Perhaps God's existence can be justified using pure reason, making traces unnecessary; or perhaps there are traces after all.

There's another argument, however. Before I start, I believe that the idea of an uncaused cause is unescapable. (If the "first cause" caused itself, what caused it to cause itself? If there is an infinite chain of causation, what caused there to be one?)

So, supposing that there is an uncaused cause, the question is simply, "what is it?" Either the uncaused cause is God, and God caused humans to exist; or the uncaused cause is something else, and humans came into existence anyway. Which of these things is more likely? Really, the "smash a watch, put it in a box, and shake it" argument can be used against both of these. The question is whether it's more implausible that God exists for no reason and He created man, or that the universe exists for no reason and man evolved from scratch.

Tanner Swett

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 342

4You may call this uncaused cause 'God', I may call it 'The Big Bang'. Still has nothing to do with christianity and/or the bible. – beetstra – 2011-08-31T11:26:06.360

1

Atheism is, at this point in history, becoming the default position, as you have pointed out. Again, as you have pointed out, it is not the natural position, since God indeed exists. Now, we Christians could regard our correctness as "robbery" (Phil. 2:6), as something to be used to our advantage against our atheist neighbors. But the way of love is to meet them where they are. "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Phil 2:3--4). The burden of proof is on the atheist, but we are called to bear one another's burdens.

Robert Haraway

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 1 976

3It is not very helpful to answer a question about the existence of God with the presupposition "since God indeed exists". I hope you'll see this. – vonjd – 2011-09-02T06:53:34.133

@vonjd Thank you for your explanation of your downvote! Good SE etiquette. – Robert Haraway – 2011-09-05T01:25:25.353

2@vonjd It is my impression of the text (as opposed to the tongue-in-cheek title) of the question that the OP wanted an explanation of why Christians are called to explain their positions, assuming that they are right. My answer is that they are called to meet people where they are, and become all things to all people that some might be saved. I certainly didn't think the question was about the existence of God, but instead about explaining the existence of God to others. – Robert Haraway – 2011-09-05T01:30:28.610

0

I think it depends on where you live and what you are taught.

If you were to look at an area such as Africa where not everyone is educated, and I imagine science isn't taught as strongly with textbooks etc then I believe you'll find there are many more who believe in God.

However in a western country we are brought up with a lot of science, not just teaching us the processes involved in scientific experiments, but often "facts" from other conducted experiments and we often accept these. A simple example is erosion, you're taught about in geography commonly from a textbook, how many times do pupils actually do an experiment to conclude that water erodes materials?

So for many, they are brought up with the big bang, evolution and the morals of their parents (who also have a significant effect on someone's default stance). Therefore someone is likely to come from an Atheist background to reach Christianity which contradicts some of the textbook teachings.

Ian

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 133

0

Though possibly not directly related, I think it is interesting to point out that science has opened the way for the "possible" existence of God in the arena of Quantum Physics. I'm currently reading a book called Quantum Glory by Phil Mason that compares what science is discovering in the area of quantum entanglement, quantum non-locality, quantum teleportation to what we see in the Bible and in the Christian view of God. It is quite fascinating. Simply point: The universe is made up of wave energy and only collapses into particles / matter as we know it when someone is watching it, and someone has to be watching the whole universe for it to be matter. Sounds like God to me :-)

Adam Greene

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 111

1

Sounds like the old argument from ignorance to me. "We don't understand everything about quantum mechanics yet, therefore God."

– hammar – 2012-02-22T16:17:31.070

-1

Atheism (the belief that God does not exist) is not the default position because, for many people, it is obvious that God exists.

If I were to say, "The sun does not exist," you would then have many more questions for me:

  • Where does the daylight come from?
  • What heats the earth during the day?
  • What is that big bright circle in the sky?

The burden of proof would not be on the "sun believers," it would be on me to explain myself. I might be able to come up with some sort of explanation that would answer these questions without the existence of the sun, but you would want some proof for my claims.

The world we are living in, animal and plant biology, the various ecosystems all appear to have design by an intelligent Creator. The more you learn about these systems, the more amazing they are.

The belief that all living things on earth descended from one common ancestor (evolution) has no real evidence to support it. The theory is useful for someone that is starting from a presupposition that God does not exist and needs an explanation for how the intricate systems necessary for life as we know it came to be, but evolution requires faith without evidence to believe that it is true.

For many people, it is easier to believe that life on our planet was intelligently designed than it is that life came to be by millions of random beneficial mutations.

Ben Miller

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 829

-4

I think from a theological perspective there can't be any doubt that Atheism is the default position. If belief and non-belief were on the same level that would degrade the incomprehensible wonder of Jesus' resurrection, that God let him die for us and that he came back and will come back!

Because there is no easy way out there is this old confession of faith:

Credo, quia absurdum est (I believe because it is absurd)

It is important to see that Jesus himself endorses a critical stance.

Thomas the Apostle speaks (John, 20, 25):

"I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.

Jesus endorses this attitude and bothers to get back to Thomas to give him proof (John, 20, 27):

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!

And finally (John, 20, 29):

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me.

So even the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus wants us to not just be gullible but to demand proof. Neither of the Apostles was prepared to believe without a proof and Jesus respected that and had this very story been incorporated into the Bible for us.

EDIT

But what about the phrase right after:

blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Isn't Christ himself saying to believe on faith?

You have to be very careful here: Jesus is saying this after he gave proof and he is saying this only unto him, i.e. Thomas, who believes already because he has the evidence right before his eyes; Jesus is not saying this unto us or to anybody else or in general!

So this part is one of the clearest and most unambiguous parts in the Bible. Christians have to take Jesus' word literally here and not try to interpret it as it seems convenient. I even think it is one of the most pivotal parts of the Bible!

vonjd

Posted 2011-08-25T01:57:19.523

Reputation: 641

3This is really bad logic - I don't see how "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." can possibly support your point. It doesn't matter that he isn't talking to other people, because he is talking about other people. – Eric – 2011-11-30T01:36:33.927

I upvoted your other version of this answer, because I think you clearly showed how Jesus is not only accepts but answers our doubts. However this position has nothing to do with Atheism. The doubts and belief you mention have nothing to do with default world views, they were specifically about the resurrection. I think they can be expanded on to include many kinds of doubt and questioning, but do not help define anything about what non-belief actually believes.

– Caleb – 2011-09-02T13:07:14.880

@Caleb: Thank you. I see your point. I just wanted to make clear that even Thomas, who knew Jesus in person, wasn't prepared to accept the central part of Christian belief, the resurrection, on anything but his seeing and touching Jesus' wounds. – vonjd – 2011-09-02T14:10:37.963

That point is well made, but the concluson about Atheism being a default theological position does not follow. Atheism and Theism are both based on presuppositions and require belief in those. Thomas wanting proof of the resurrection doesn't change that it takes a belief to sustain atheism (one that is in fact contrary to what Scripture says about the nature of ALL men and general revelation.) – Caleb – 2011-09-02T14:14:03.870

4Really? You cut John 20:29 in half and use only the first part to justify your assertion? This is absurd. – Shog9 – 2011-09-05T19:48:17.373

@Shog9: Please see the comments on the other version of this answer - I dealt with this there already but perhaps I should have an updated version because the other part poses no problem at all and still comes to the same conclusion: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1754/why-does-god-not-show-himself-beyond-reasonable-doubt/1761#1761

– vonjd – 2011-09-06T20:21:19.577

3@vonjd: if you can't write a clear answer, then writing two unclear answers doesn't solve anything. I strongly suggest you revise both of them if you feel you've clarified this in comments somewhere. Comments are intended for transient discussion, not clarifying all the points you made badly in the body text. – Shog9 – 2011-09-07T18:03:56.077

@Shog9: I will do that when I find the time. Regardless of that I ask you to tone down: "This is absurd" and "if you can't write a clear answer" are inappropriate for a moderator of any StackExchange site. Thank you. – vonjd – 2011-09-07T18:27:53.353

5

@vonjd: it is absurd. I've seen people take verses out of context to make a point before, but this approaches making a "source" the way you might make a cut and paste ransom letter. And doing this twice, with no explanation, after being called out on it the first time, strongly suggests either inability, or if I were to be less generous, an active attempt to provide misleading information. I won't sugar-coat the problem - if you have time to engage in lengthy comment discussion about it, you have time to simply correct it.

– Shog9 – 2011-09-07T18:33:32.473

@Shog9: I flagged your comment as offensive. Again: Tone down please. "cut and paste ransom letter", "suggests either [...] inability" and "active attempt to provide misleading information" is absolutely unacceptable, esp. for a moderator. – vonjd – 2011-09-07T19:19:59.773

I added the point - hope everything is fine now. – vonjd – 2011-09-07T19:26:09.873

3@vonjd: SE employee or not Shog9 is still a person, and I would argue (as a person myself) that the reasoning in your answer is absurd. You can't argue that a text is "unambiguously" saying what you think it is when multiple people have disputed it. As for the text, at face value Jesus is switching from talking ABOUT Thomas to a comment TO Thomas ABOUT us who have not seen Him in person and commending our faith and the faith of the disciples who believed before they saw him risen in person. At the very least you would need to backup your claim with some outside source. – Caleb – 2011-09-08T10:14:20.073