Below is a concise clarification of the argument offered in the video titled, The Definition of Atheism… Again.
Traditionally, the statements “I do not believe God exists” and “I believe God does NOT exist” have been treated as equivalent. The new, social media definition of “Atheism” does NOT treat these as equivalent (or at least not necessarily).
Thus, where as the traditional definition of atheist has been one who says “God does not exist” the new social media definition says an atheist is merely one who lacks a belief in God. Or, as above, the self professing atheist is merely saying “I do not believe God exists” and is not necessarily saying “I do believe God does not exist.”
Burden of Proof
Naturally, this definition removes from the Atheist a burden of proof, because the statement “I do not believe God exists” is merely stating a fact about the atheist- noting an absence of a particular belief in his worldview. In their view, asking them to defend their lack of belief is like finding out that someone DOESN’T have a five dollar bill and asking “Where did you get that?” The question is nonsensical, because there is no origin for something which isn’t, and the lack of it is its own explanation.
This differs from “I believe God does not exist” because this statement immediately raises the question “WHY do you believe God does not exist?” The person saying that something IS (in this case, is absent) shoulders a burden of proof, meaning, for their position to be logical and rational, it must be based on an intellectual foundation. Both the person saying “God exists” and the person saying “God does not exist” have this same weighted burden of proof, for there must either be reasons for their position, or their position must be irrational.
Thus, the new definition allows the Atheist to declare himself an atheist without shouldering a burden of proof. Or it would, if the conversation ended there. But it does not.
Insisting that the conversation ends at the declaration that one lacks belief in God’s existence is intellectually dishonest. It is dishonest to the persons with whom they converse, and it is dishonest to themselves if they never continue the conversation with themselves to discover their own underlying intellectual foundation.
While the statement “I do not believe God exists” does not carry a burden of proof, because it is not asserting a statement about anything except the speaker, it does raise an immediate question: “Why?” And there are only two possible reasons why.
Reasons WHY one lacks belief in God
- They are confident in the absence of God
- They are NOT confident in the absence of God
It is worth noting that this is not referring to their emotional state, but to an intellectual confidence- meaning their position is built on a foundation of reason. How strongly they feel something is or is not, or how much they WANT it to be so does not matter in this discussion. Position #1 believes there is information which leads logically to the absence of God, where as position #2 does not have that information.
Because position #2 lacks the information to build a case against the existence of God, their position by default admits that God’s existence is a possibility. Clearly they do not have (or accept) the information to build a case FOR God’s existence as they have declared themselves to be an atheist, but neither do they have the information against God’s existence. On both grounds they are ignorant, and thus their position is Agnosticism. Again, it does not matter how they feel or what they want to be so. They are ignorant of the data it would take to build a intellectual foundation for the acceptance or rejection of God’s existence, and thus Agnosticism.
Just as above, as far as their intellectual position is concerned, it is merely, “I don’t know” which carries no burden of proof. The way many “atheists” of this kind adopt a burden of proof is by making claims based on their emotional or volitional positions instead of their intellectual position. If they say, “I don’t know” they have nothing to prove, because they have not made any assertions about the world, but only about their own ignorance. But many will make statements beyond this, such as “I don’t know, and neither do you,” or “No theist has ever proven the existence of God.” Once they start making statements like this, they have adopted a burden of proof because those statements are asserting a proposition.
For an atheist who believes they have a rational basis for asserting the absence of God, there can be any number of ideas they can point to for their own defense. However, the true burden of proof for the atheist is specific and significant. Because God’s existence is metaphysically necessary, the only way to argue against his existence is to prove that his existence is impossible.
While this is easy to state, the weight of this burden of proof is insurmountable. To be a rational atheist, one must literally prove that something which MUST exist CANNOT exist. This is akin to writing an essay to persuade the reader that words do not exist. Clearly no atheist has ever succeeded in this task, and very few have even claimed that it can be done. Because of the impossible nature of this task, no atheist has, and no atheist ever will make the argument for atheism and against the existence of God which is required to make a confidence in God’s absence intellectually justifiable.
Therefore, no one has earned the right to call themselves (on my definition) an atheist. Because they are unable to meet the intellectual foundation for a rejection of God’s existence, all must, by default, admit that His existence is possible, whatever they may feel about the matter. In summary, this means that all atheists (on either definition) are in fact Agnostics, and the use of the word atheist to describe any person is inaccurate and counterproductive.
The two points which are concluded in this argument are:
- Anyone using the word “Atheist” to describe themselves is in fact admitting to being an Agnostic
- Atheists do not exist