Do you also happen to lack the belief that God does not exist?
I want to consider another response to the we only lack the belief in God’s existence strategy of many atheists. Last week we considered the atheist’s allegation that they are merely lacking a belief in God’s existence, rather than believing God does not exist. We responded by saying that they are not actually answering the question of whether God exists or not – they are merely telling us about a psychological condition they possess. This time I want to ask the atheist a question.
The atheist asserts that he is merely lacking the belief that God exists and therefore has no burden of proof. I want to ask him the following question: Do you also happen to lack the belief that God does not exist?
If his answer is “Yes,” then it means that he both lacks the belief that God does exist and lacks the belief that God does not exist. But this is equivalent to having no opinion whatsoever on the subject of God’s existence! Clearly this is not what atheists think!
If his answer is “No,” then it means that he lacks the belief that God exists and does not lack the belief that God does not exist. But the latter is equivalent to holding the belief that God does not exist!! There is no middle ground between lacking and holding a belief. Therefore, the atheist is making the claim that God does not exist and consequently needs to provide reasons or proof for that claim.
So either the atheist lacks the belief that God does not exist or he does not lack the belief that God does not exist. If it is the former, his position amounts to agnosticism not atheism. If it is the latter, his position amounts to a strong positive atheist claim that God does not exist, and he must shoulder a burden of proof for that claim.
Moreover, atheism and agnosticism are not identical positions. Clearly, to lack only the belief that there is a God is not equivalent to lacking both the belief that there is a God and the belief that there is no God. The former is what the atheist says his position is and often calls it weak atheism or agnosticism. But agnosticism is obviously the latter option, that is, the lacking of both the beliefs that God does and does not exist, or in other words, withholding judgment altogether on the question of God’s existence. Therefore, to lack only the belief that there is a God is not agnosticism or weak atheism. It is strong atheism because it means one does not lack the belief there is no God, which means they do hold the belief that there is no God, and again, must shoulder a burden of proof for that positive claim.
There is no doubt that this entire way of thinking and communicating in terms of lack of belief is convoluted! I have spent much time trying to sort out this issue. But remember it is the atheist who introduced this convoluted way of thinking into the discussion and insisted that atheism only meant the lack of the belief in God’s existence.
People do not normally talk this way and if they do say things like I do not believe there is an X, they normally don’t mean they merely lack a belief there is an X, they mean they believe there is no X. That is, when someone says I do not believe that there is a God, they normally mean I believe there is no God, not merely that they lack the belief there is a God.
I call again for atheists to Man Up and accept their share of the burden of proof on this issue of God’s existence. Calling atheism merely the lack of belief only confuses the issue. It is not helpful for people who are genuinely trying to sort out the truth of this important question.
As always I would like to hear what you think.If you think I am missing something in this analysis, help me out and let me know your thoughts.
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