WHO CARRIES THE BURDEN OF PROOF?
If you watch debates between Christians and Atheists, they’ll usually come to one point in the debate that focuses on the definition of Atheism. An impasse is always reached and it goes like this: The Christian says that atheism is the positive belief that no God or gods exist. The Atheist says that atheism is simply a personal statement of belief, “I just happen to have no belief in God.” It’s an autobiographical claim, rather than a universal one.
If you examine the impasse you realize why neither side wants to budge. The Christian is called upon to carry the burden of proof for the positive claim that God exists, and they would insist that any other worldview that makes counterclaims about the universe ought to carry the same burden of proof. The Atheist, believing they are making no positive claims about the universe, would love to nestle into a little worldview bubble where no such burden of proof applies to them. “I also lack belief in purple unicorns on Jupiter,” they say, “do I need to provide proof for every one of my near infinite areas where I don’t believe in something?”
The problem for the atheist using a more subjective definition is that while it exempts him from needing to justify a universal negative (which is a very difficult task) it also reduces atheism down to an opinion. And so if atheism simply means that I have an opinion that God doesn’t exists, who cares? If the atheist isn’t trying to make a claim that they believe is valid universally, if they aren’t trying to tell us how they think the universe actually is, they’ve fatally undermined their own position, or at least its relevance. They make themselves ignorable.
But what about those purple unicorns on Jupiter? Well, if there were wide swaths of people who believed in them, it would behoove the a-purple-unicornist to justify why they felt such belief is unwarranted. There are wide swaths of people who have God-belief. Human history was driven by this belief. And to this day the vast majority of humans are still infected by this “intellectual virus”. So, I say, the burden of proof still falls on the Atheist to explain why this view of the world is less likely to be true than atheism.
THE UNEXAMINED WORLDVIEW
What this underlines is that both atheists and theists can suffer from an unexamined worldview. Clearly many Theists fit the stereotype the atheist has in mind, that of a God believer whose entire belief system is built on emotionalism or escapism or ignoring all counter-evidence, or who behaves in ways that are completely contrary to God belief. One might rightly ask, are such people really even Theists?
But the opposite shoe also fits. Clearly many Atheists do not have a robustly self-examined view of the world. Why not? Perhaps because there are so many more theists by population, there are so many more examples of the uncritical, know-nothing God-believer. And seeing this unwashed throng, the Atheist rests assured that any worldview opposite this intellectual vacuum must be correct. Perhaps, lacking any inspiring examples of intellectual or moral consistency in the Christian ranks, the Atheist feels no need to think much deeper about her beliefs than simply to point and say, “I guess you can call me the opposite of that…” Or perhaps the atheist suffers under real ignorance of the evidence well-instructed Christians have had for their beliefs from reason, history, philosophy and science. (To even put it that way will fall weirdly on some atheist ears, since in their circles they’ve assumed reason/ science/ evidence and faith are contradictions in terms.) Nevertheless, for all these reasons, it seems what many atheists have is a reaction to someone else’s worldview, rather than their own fully developed, coherent worldview.
So the Atheist is in the same boat as Theists of needing to justify their worldview, and yet they are also in the same boat of being tempted toward holding their worldview uncritically. Meaning, not ever asking what their reasons might be, ignoring counter-evidence, and believing and behaving in ways that are completely contrary to a lack of God belief.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF UNBELIEF
The very legitimate question for people in this camp is simple: Are you sure you’re an atheist? Are you really making the case that no God exists, and moreover, are you prepared to live in a universe consistent with that belief?
To help clarify the question, one can begin by considering the logical implications of atheism. Granted, many forms of atheism exist, but basically all atheistic schools boil down to the following suite of rejections: no gods, no spirits, no souls, no free will, no inherent purpose or meaning to human existence, no non-physical phenomena, no design in nature, no miracles, no objective foundation for ethics, no life after death.
Now, walk and talk and observe actual atheists, and you will find a terrible inconsistency between these implications and real life. Take just one of these, “no non-physical phenomena”. What atheist lives as if this is really true? Oh, the language of pure physicalism abounds, but the contradictions, the importations of the nonphysical, often in the same breath, abound all the more.
ATHEISM AND BIOLOGY
When discussing evolution, for example, it is critical that we understand it moves forward purely physically, without a plan or purpose, having no design but only the laws of physics acting brutishly on matter. Survival, we are told, is the non-magical magic of this process. What survives drives innovation, creates so called “designs” and ingenuity in nature.
But pure physicalism is utterly devastating to evolution.
Evolution requires as first principle, the drive to survive. Intentionality. Will. As Richard Dawkins has aptly noted, nature has a lot more configurations that are not alive, than are alive. He grossly understates. Chemicals don’t want to be arranged in living states. If they did, we’d surely have succeeded in coaxing them into such states after almost a century of the smartest minds working on the problem. It is no exaggeration to say that nature is hostile to living states. We are forced to believe on the millionth, millionth chance that something did come alive on our planet once long ago, it is nevertheless held as scientific orthodoxy that this era of “Life” is a mere speck compared to the long ages before this era began and after this era will end, eons containing nothing but darkness, coldness, brute matter in motion or nothing at all. So atheists regularly import intentionality, which is immaterial, into their favored story of the nature of all life, while maintaining that no such thing exists.
ATHEISM AND HUMANITY
When discussing humanity, it is shocking how many atheists believe in some kind of ghost in the machine, and often rely on this belief to make their most persuasive social and scientific arguments.
For example, when can a fetus lawfully be extracted from the womb? This is a question of the right to life, and so it becomes a question of when does a human become a human? Atheists have maintained that the fetus may be human in some technical, physical sense, but it is not a “person”. Thus abortion is not killing.
The reliance on Christian dualism to make this human/person distinction is stunning, but the modern non-believer doesn’t even seem to realize it. What, after all, is a person? Atheists are untroubled by abortion because they believe at some point, some immaterial quality, mysteriously bequeaths to living organisms a kind of sacred status, personhood. Before this event, whenever it occurs, the human fetus has no more legal standing than an appendix.
So the atheist believes in some version of substance dualism, there’s you and then there’s your body. Our body shows up first, you come around later sometime. Yet atheism maintains you ARE your body! What other way would there be to identify someone as a member of Homo sapiens scientifically except as a separate individual involved in the normal processes our species goes through from inception to natural death? And yet, in complete contradiction to their worldview, the atheist maintains something like a soul (they would never call it that) is what makes you truly a person, not your physical status as a member of the human species.
Some, more consistent atheists will realize the absurdity of smuggling in Christian dualism to create space in the early parts of pregnancy to end human life legally, and they will instead tie the right to life with a suite of mental abilities. The cost of this more consistent position, is a chilling acceptance of every principle denounced in the eugenics movement. If you meet criteria X, Y or Z, you are human, if not, you are less than human. Seems a more reasonable place for the atheist to land, until you realize consistency demands these subjective and arbitrary criteria be applied to individuals inside OR outside the womb. Like I said, chilling.
ATHEISM AND SEXUALITY
Another example, today’s sexual norms were formed by materialists, who believed that sexuality is a random result of a material process that did not have us in mind. Camille Paglia, a lesbian and atheist thinker and author summarized the consistent atheist position on sex thusly:
“Fate, not God, has given us this flesh. We have absolute claim to our bodies and may do with them as we see fit.”
If the sexual revolution had stayed in this sort of post-60’s free for all, it would probably comport with the implications of atheism: no foundation for ethics, no design, no purpose to human existence or sexuality. But no one really can live in such a free for all, it seems, so as the sexual revolution marched on, materialists kept on smuggling in the immaterial – even something as arcane as gender archetypes. How so?
As the sexual revolution is now into its 3rd wave with Transgenderism, once again the atheist is in a strange position of arguing for substance dualism. And of a very strange sort. The 2nd wave homosexual revolution relied on Paglia’s argument, that same sex attraction was innate and biologically grounded and therefore ought to be normalized. But 3rd wave transgenderism wildly reversed the innateness and biological grounding of gender altogether. Rather, the argument now being made by the physicalists is that one chooses their gender by fiat, regardless of their biological sex. In fact, their sex is said to merely be “assigned” – not determined at birth. A woman can be a man if they identify as a man – here’s the key idea – inside.
But inside what? Inside their mind? Inside their soul? On atheism these things don’t exist. And even if they did, how exactly can a woman be a man in their immaterial insides? On atheism, are souls gendered? The ghost in the machine can just “know” what “manness” is, what is inherently masculine in some ethereal way? Gender is a social construct, yet the soul knows what the feminine and masculine archetypes are, and knows to which of these it spiritually belongs to?
All this is madness on atheism, yet atheists are the strongest and loudest supporters of the 3rd wave. The ideology betrays atheism in at least 4 ways.
One, it assumes a dichotomy between body and mind when atheism allows for no such split. Only atoms in motion exist. Your body is your mind and your mind is your body. They cannot be split without importing some form of substance dualism, which is Christianity, not Atheism.
Two, it assumes gender archetypes are real, when atheism allows only for biology, not biologically transcendent stereotypes. To think a masculine soul trapped in a female biology is even a possibility, assumes the reality of a kind of Platonic masculine “Nature” that stands apart from nature, to which a mind might freely choose to conform or identify with. But atheism is deterministic and whatever one is biologically is exactly the same as what they are “inside” because there is nothing “inside”.
Three, it assumes that biology is not determinative, and that free will exists. If the mind can choose its sexual identity (never mind that this totally contradicts the 2nd Wave which said sexuality is entirely innate and immutable!), the mind is free from biological compulsion in some way. Yet on atheism this cannot be! Free will is an illusion. Mental states (including gender identity) are not chosen, they are the end result of biological and chemical necessity driven by natural laws which nature (the only thing that exists!) cannot break.
Four, it assumes moral imperatives have objective weight. 3rd Wave Sexuality believes it is right to choose your sexual identity and it is wrong to censure or in any way interfere with those choosing an identity at odds with their sex assigned at birth. But of course this is the greatest betrayal of atheism, since right and wrong smuggles value into the picture. The atheistic universe is closed. It cannot be right or wrong to treat transsexuals (or women or homosexuals or minorities) this way or that. One can say it is not expedient, not practical, not in keeping with evolution, not beneficial, all day long and still be a faithful atheist, but the instant one says it is “not right” one has made a sheer leap to invoke something utterly at odds with atheism. That thing is a universally binding moral absolute. There is probably no more consistent rejection of atheism by atheists than their flagrant, repeated, incessant appeal to “human rights”. And yet on atheism human rights are not rights but mere opinions.
ATHEISM AND MORALITY
The contradiction between atheism and morality reaches a zenith point of absurdity in the thinking of Richard Dawkins. In his book, “The Selfish Gene” he states:
“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”
This is the same Richard Dawkins who said, “as a materialist I believe all things are determined by antecedent events, which commits me to the view that when I think I have free will I’m deluding myself.” And the same Richard Dawkins who said
“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
So the force of his atheism amounts to this self refuting exercise in nonsense: we should act generously because that is right, even though there is no right, no good, no evil, no moral design at all. And we should act altruistically even though we cannot actually choose to act differently than how nature has determined for us to act, which is selfishly. All clear then?
SMUGGLING IN CHRISTIANITY
The great irony of course, is that Christians are celebrated as villains of the sexual revolution story (all the waves!) and yet if one were to make reasoned arguments for the sexual revolution, one could most easily make it as a Christian, not as an atheist. Why? It’s the Christian who could justify the existence of an immaterial soul. It is the Christian who could justify the existence of immaterial gender archetypes lodged in the nature of God, manifested in our sexual duality. It is the Christian who can believe in human free will that transcends biological necessity and it is the Christian who believes in objective moral imperatives that trump opinion. This is not to say that Christians should believe in the principles of the sexual revolution. At a fundamental level the desire over design principle is incompatible with Christian Theism which puts design over desire. What we are saying is that the atheism aback the sexual revolution relies heavily on Theistic principles to sustain itself.
If you’re an atheist, relying on Theism to argue against Theism being true, you have to wonder if you’re really an atheist. If all your best arguments import theistic concepts or force you to disavow some common sense implication of your view, either you’re holding a wildly inconsistent version of atheism, or you’re more likely not an atheist at all. What you actually are depends on a ruggedly honest analysis of the assumptions you have about the world, the givens you hold which bleed into your conversation and the way you live your life.
ATHEISM AND EVIL
Another example: If you find yourself railing against God because of all the evil in the world, you might assume that you must be falling into atheism. But are you? You may at that moment be closer to a profound embrace of the Christian God than you ever were before in your hazy days of rote religious training or emotional indifference. Your anger and your moral indignation is certainly not a default embrace of atheism. Once again, there’s something at root in a rant against God based in the evil in the world, which betrays the very atheism it claims to be flirting with.
It’s like that old trope about the boyfriend who is mad at his girlfriend but when he takes up with another girl, he can’t spend any time with her without constantly referring to the one he dumped, whom he claims to no longer love. Like Vader to Luke, I say to budding young atheists dumping God, “your thoughts betray you.”
CS Lewis found the evil in the universe to be a persuasive case against God until he examined how his argument relied on the very God he had rejected to sustain itself. He said:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
Lewis realized he had to import an objectively existing moral standard from outside the universe to make his case against a morally good Creator of the wicked universe he found himself inside of. He had to import God to reject God!
ATHEISM AND REASON & SCIENCE
A final example, reason and science. David Silverman the president of the American Atheists once said, “God is a myth and reason is inherently atheistic.” And yet reason’s principles and rules of logic are all immaterial. If we are simply “moist robots” then our brains do not reason, they have reactions. To love reason, one must love something that atheism cannot account for.
Richard Dawkins sits atop the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. So he clearly believes that reason is paramount. But what is reason? Reason is establishing truth claims through the application of strict principles of logic. But can you establish the rules of logic by logic? To do so is to argue in a circle. This also applies to Science. Can the claim, “you can only know what science establishes” be established by science? Both reason and science then rely on immaterial principle that cannot be justified in a closed universe yet they are appealed to by atheists as if they were the very embodiment of Atheism.
They are not. Why should a mindless universe give us minds that can know anything at all? Darwin himself struggled with this:
“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
An honest atheist has doubts and obviously Darwin had some about why reason is even a thing. He doesn’t say it, but he implies that to really trust Reason I have to impute its rules with immaterial validity. I have to assume an essential reliability to my faculties that atheism cannot sustain. Because if the thoughts in my mind are just the chemical reactions of atoms in my brain, a mechanism that has been derived by an accidental, mindless process, then why should I believe anything they tell me, including the idea that my mind is made of atoms!
Philosopher Alvin Platinga said:
“If Dawkins is right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce – including Dawkins’ own science and his atheism. His biology and his belief in naturalism would therefore appear to be at war with each other in a conflict that has nothing at all to do with God.”
The truly incomprehensible thing about the universe, as Einstein claimed, is its wonderful comprehensibility. Why would this understandability of nature be considered “incomprehensible”? He means, of course, incomprehensible on the standard operating naturalistic assumption of science. There is a way out, as Einstein himself found out. Reject naturalism and reason and science have a proper grounding. Maintain atheism and reason and science and morality and intentionality and rationality all dissolve.
Of course that’s untenable, so rather than give up atheism, many would chose to settle for a bad case of worldview smuggling. Claim the absurdity of God-belief while you smuggle in immaterial concepts that can only be grounded by God-belief.
If you find yourself reaching back to Theism to justify your atheism, maybe you’ve simply rejected some unsatisfactory version of Theism and not Theism itself. Maybe you’re rejection of Theism was something more like an embrace of things like reason, science, human rights, and free will. Maybe you never realized until this moment that embracing those things actually makes you a pretty bad atheist.
And if that’s true, then maybe you’re not an Atheist at all.