Why I Can’t Be An Atheist Part 3: Expedient Definitions and Bogus Illustrations
By: Robert E. Meyer
Defining atheism is a daunting undertaking. It can be an elusive moving target, with constantly varying definitions and ramifications. The dictionary of philosophy defines atheism as: “Belief that god does not exist. Unlike the agnostic, who merely criticizes traditional arguments for the existence of a deity, the atheist must offer evidence that there is no god or propose a strong principle for denying what is not known to be true.”
Yet when this definition is applied, the atheist objects profusely. The atheist wants to instead define his position as merely lacking belief in a God, not one that positively asserts there is no God. The atheist will sometimes say that the proofs given for the existence of God are insufficient–they are unproven not disproved. The atheist clings to this standard because he realizes the utter difficulty, if not, virtual impossibility of proving a universal negative. In a sense, he has pulled the rug out from under himself by taking this minimalist approach. One must rightfully ask how atheists who define themselves this way constructively differ from agnostics, and we ought to chide him for his own insufficiencyâ€”satisfaction with a willingness to prove less than he ought to prove.
First of all, he has reduced the question of God’s existence from an objective to a subjective standard. By calling the proofs offered for God’s existence, which are to him ”insufficient,” he actually makes no claim that can be universally acknowledged. What one person calls insufficient evidence, another will find to be quite sufficient. That leaves us in a position where we are almost forced to conclude that any such claim of insufficiency is necessarily arbitrary.
Also, by taking this subjective posture, he assumes the default position, which declares that the existence of God must be assumed false in the absence of positive evidence which he will find persuasive. No such evidence of an evidential nature will likely suffice, since the atheist often begins with the biased presupposition that God doesnâ€™t exist. Any evidence presented will be impermeable to his reality filter, because it violates his foundational assumptions. All evidence is reinterpreted to fit his dogmatic perspective. This is practically a tautology. Atheists demand proof that God exists, yet when it is presented, they casually disregard it as proof they can accept. What justifies this default position on burden of proof in the first place, other than that in the structure of formal debate, the theist will generally occupy the affirmative position? Such is an academic stricture telling us nothing about ultimate truth.
Often atheists contend that the “God idea,” is not significantly different from a belief in The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or Gebo the omniscient flying wombat. But how many websites or organizations do you see dedicated to the disproof or ridicule of those who believe in these listed symbolic figures? If they were all equivalent, there should be a more even distribution of critiques proclaiming the fictitious nature of these various cultural icons. There should also be a faithful contingent of superstitious disciples in similar proportion defending the existence of the same. But do you see any notable examples of that phenomenon? We canâ€™t neglect observing that it is most frequently the Judeo-Christian conception of God which is attacked with a heaping surplus of vitriol and sarcasm. Comparing belief in God to belief in Zeus might be comic relief for the converted choir, but it is sermonized ignorance to an astute congregation. Atheists donâ€™t have the same intensity of distain for the small minority of folks who actually are devote followers of obscure deities. That should tell you something significant about the implied similarities or the true objectivity for critics of the supernatural. The atheist/theist dialogue suffers unnecessarily, for the gratuitous use of this â€œBelieving in God is like believing in Santa Clausâ€ comparison. It is difficult to take seriously anyone who insists on using it.
I remember how I came to disbelieve in the Easter Bunny as a child. First, I began to question his existence. Then one year my father went out the side door. A moment passed and the doorbell rang. On the front porch were Easter baskets from the Easter Bunny with a note in my father’s handwriting. I then put two and two together.
It would be foolish to believe in the Tooth Fairy once I had determined how money got under my pillow, or how the baby tooth I placed under it also disappeared. But you can’t replace something with nothing. We shouldn’t readily accept an answer that refutes a current belief, only to be displaced by a myth of greater foolishness. Is the Tooth Fairy any more mythological unreasonable than a belief that the tooth merely dematerialized and the coins under the pillow suddenly materialized out of nothing? When the atheist claims that he does not need to offer a cogent explanation for the origin of matter, he is displacing the “myth” he despises with his own tale of greater credulity. Even given the existence of matter, he must explain how it acted upon itself to produce morality and intelligence. If his metaphysical legend is truly the historical case, I am going to check my pockets more often for the sudden appearance of gold bullion coins.
An atheist once told me that he didn’t know for sure how the universe came to be, but knew for certain it wasn’t the way that I believed it had happened. Can that sort of logic span the narrowest philosophical crevasse?
I think not.