In our debate, at a recent atheist convention (May 18, 2012), my colleague Paul Chamberlain and I squared off against Christopher DiCarlo and Matt Dillahunty in front of an audience of 300 people comprised of mostly atheists along with a few Christians.
One of the themes of the debate, as it turned out, was the atheists’ emphasis that they had nothing to prove and that the entire burden of proof was on us. Now this is nothing new. I would estimate that 95% of the atheists whom I have debated over the last 26 years have done the same thing, except now this well-used defense strategy has almost become an “art form.”
In our division of labor for the debate, Paul handled this issue of the burden of proof (I hope to get him to write a guest blog on it very soon). But I want to paint a picture of how our opponents attempted to frame the debate in such a way that they had nothing to prove and we had everything to prove and had to do it with certainty.
As I mentioned in the last blog post, our opponents also declared that we had to prove every attribute of the Christian God, including his omnipotence and omniscience, as well as, how Jesus Christ was God, and to do it “absolutely without doubt.” At the same time the atheist debaters did everything possible to avoid having to present any arguments for atheism at all.
They claimed that they merely “did not believe that there was a God”, not that “they believed there was no God”; and therefore they only needed to show that our arguments for God failed. And again, take note what they claimed as the standard for our success: to be demonstrated “absolutely without doubt.” So they had nothing to prove and we had everything to prove and with a high level of certainty!
Now, there are many good arguments against their position on the burden of proof issue, many of which Paul presented during the debate and even more we did not have time to cover. We hope to present them in upcoming posts, but I want to point out how this strategy attempts to frame the debate.
The atheists were trying to frame the debate in such a way that any attempt to present a case for the existence of God was like having to exceed the world’s high jump record of 2.45 meters (just over 8 feet). Yet someone presenting a case for the atheist position, they liken to simply requiring a small step over a piece of string.
To me, there just seems to be something disingenuous about calling yourself an atheist, representing atheists at an atheists’ convention and then pretending that atheism only means the absence of belief that God exists, not the presence of the belief that God does not exist. Everyone knows that atheists do, in fact, hold the statement “God does not exist” to be true and “God does exist” to be false. Just read their stuff! Only in debates do they pull out this deceptive move of declaring they really don’t think God does not exist!
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a standard reference work, affirms the definition of an atheist as a person who maintains that there is no God, not merely lacks a belief in God. It states that “according to the most usual definition, an atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God, that is, the sentence ‘God Exists’ expresses a false proposition.”
Just telling everyone that atheism is nothing more than the view that you do not believe there is a God, or that you merely lack a belief in God, is not even an answer to the question of the debate, Does God Exist? It is only a description about one’s mental state, but the debate is not about one’s mental state. It is about the truth or falsity of propositions like “God exists” or “God does not exist.” If you are not answering the question with Yes, No or Maybe, you are not answering the question of the debate.
I know many atheists sincerely believe they are right about this burden of proof issue, but I would ask them to think it through again with an open mind. And for those who are going to engage in public debates, isn’t it time to just ‘Man Up”, accept your share of the burden of proof on this issue of God’s existence, and stop playing these disingenuous games?
What do you think about this? I’d like to hear your thoughts on the topic.
For some additional careful reasoning on this issue of the burden of proof with respect to the question of God’s existence, see the following articles from Dr. W.L. Craig’s website Reasonable Faith:
1) The Definition of Atheism
2) Must the Atheist Be Omniscient?
3) Must the Atheist Be Omniscient? Re-visited
4) Is God Imaginary? Santa Claus, Tooth Fairies & God
3 Responses to “Man Up!”
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Interesting idea Richard. I think though, the burden of proof issue is different from the moral relativist issue. In the burden of proof discussion the atheist is claiming merely to be lacking a belief in God’s existence and therefore is not obligated to prove his position.
In the relativist’s case he is equivocating on the word true. Normally we take “true” to mean corresponds with reality, but when the relativist says “true for you, but not true for me” I think they are really saying “meaningful for you, but not meaningful for me.” Very few people really mean true in the normal sense when they say this. No one says 2 + 2 = 4 is true for you and not true for me in the normal sense of the word true.
Your suggestion that the theist should be able to just assert that theism is simply the “presence of belief” in God and thus not need to prove it, since that is parallel to the atheist’s move of lack of belief and no need to prove it, won’t work since the atheist is claiming that it is precisely the presence of a belief that obligates one to prove the belief, and this is not the case when there is no “presence of belief.”
Of course I don’t think that the claim that atheism is just the lack of belief in the existence of God and nothing more is an accurate description of what the atheist truly believes. Paul and I will be saying more about this burden of proof issue in subsequent blog posts.
Thanks for your interesting suggestion though Richard.
Thanks Michael. Is there an implied assumption being made here (ie. God does not exist) that is used to support the idea a burden of proof isn’t required? If athiesm is simply the “absense of belief” in God, then should it not be logical fairplay to ‘assert’ theism is simply the “presence of belief” in God? It sounds a lot like the moral relativist who escapes obligation with “well, that may be true for you, but it’s not for me.” … wondering if I’m interpreting this correctly?
please be careful what you say when debating about “God”. The word “God” originated from pegan “Gods”.There are a lot of peganism that have crept into Christianity beliefs.So, much that even the learned or scholarly Christian may be decieved. Just saying