I too have indulged in this numerous times, and have employed various arguments, including the strong vs. weak atheism. I have also argued against the other pablum "atheism is a belief," and "atheism requires faith too," or the more outrageous "atheism requires more faith than theism"
This post endeavors to state my position, and will be continually refined as warranted. So, without further ado, some definitions:
Atheism. I can refer to several dictionaries, and relying upon dictionary.com, and Websters online I find these to encompass the ones relevant for such discussions.
- the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
- disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
- disbelief in the existence of deity
- the doctrine that there is no deity
To be sure, there are certain variants of the above, and other archaic ones that atheism to be synonymous with wickedness or ungodliness. The latter two are arcane, even the most fervent godmongers do not bother with them. 2. and 3. are somewhat ambiguous in that they could interpret disbelieve to either mean do not believe or believe that there is not and are the common source of weak atheism and strong atheism, respectively.
So for the purpose of a discussion here, I'll stipulate that atheism is either the belief that there are no deities, or the lack of belief that there are deities.
Agnosticism. Again, from the same sources, we have an agnostic (or agnosticism, the position held by an agnostic) defined as
- a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.
- a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not
- a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
- an intellectual doctrine or attitude affirming the uncertainty of all claims to ultimate knowledge.
- a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something.
The last two are not relevant to this discussion, the first two are. While the first definition is technically more accurate, the second is the one in use more often.
Thus, I'll stipulate that agnosticism is the position that it is unknown if deities exist.
The definitions of god, gods, Gods, Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu etc. are restricted to the terms as they are used in the Bible, Qur'an, and other religious texts. They do not refer to "uncaused causes" or the god of deism, or any deity that is not worshiped in a house of worship like a temple, mosque or a church.
Lastly, one who is not a theist is a non-theist. An atheist is a non-theist, as is an agnostic.
If you disagree with these definitions, please exit to your right. You cannot contribute or learn from this discussion.
Now, consider the question: "Do you believe in a god/gods/God?" I contend that if you answer "yes," you are a theist. Otherwise you are an atheist. In the context of this question, atheists and agnostics are the same. Why? Atheists either do not believe there is a deity, or they believe that there is no deity.
Agnostics cannot believe in something they do not even acknowledge knowing. Agnostics believing in a deity while simultaneously claiming that it is unknown if one exists is basically incoherent, for what does it mean to profess belief in something false, or known to be not justifiable?
Consider a second question: "Do you think that a god/gods/God exists?" This is a different question. But again, if you answer "yes," you are a theist. But if you do not answer "yes," then we cannot decide whether you are an atheist or an agnostic, since it'd depend on your answer. "No" would mean that you are an atheist, "I do not know" would mean that you are an agnostic.
Consider a third question: "Does a god/gods/God exist?" This is a still different question. Again, answers or "yes" and "no" confirm you to be a theist or an atheist respectively. "I do not think so" would still make you an atheist, "I do not know" confirms you are an agnostic, "I cannot say that God does not exist, but I do not believe that he does" still leaves one to be an atheist.
I present these because the context is important. In all cases though, an affirmative response places you as a theist.
So, who has the burden of proof when it comes to demonstrating that a deity exists? Suppose we are discussing whether Jesus exists, and the theist in question is a Christian. Obviously, the claim "Jesus is alive" did not arise from the non-theist. So the burden is on the Christian, because without that claim, there is no claim that says "Jesus is not alive." The position of the non-theist with respect to Jesus is no different than the position of, say, Aristotle. Did Aristotle have the burden of proof to show that Jesus does not exist? Surely he could not have believed in someone who was not even born in his time.
This can be further understood with another trivial example. Suppose that a person today makes the claim "I saw Elvis, he is alive," with respect to the musical legend Elvis Presley. If I disbelieve that claim and state "No, Elvis is not alive," do I have the burden of proof? Is that burden of proof equal in respect to that of the claimant of "Elvis is alive"?
Consider the claim "There is no God." Does it have a burden of proof given what God is understood to be as above (as described in a religious text)? I have had weak atheists who concede this saying something to the effect of "You cannot prove a negative," or "it is illogical because there is a small probability that a god could exist."
Clearly that is wrong on many levels. Gödel's incompleteness theorem basically rules out proof of existence just as much as it rules out proof of non-existence or a disproof of existence. Besides, if I said, "You owe me a million dollars," would you pay up, simply deny it by saying "I do not owe you a million dollars," or would you be consistent and say "I do not believe I owe you a million dollars because there is a small probability that I might"?
Why the hedging of bets when it comes to deities?
This is why the "small probability" response is a non-starter. Without providing evidence of likelihood, "small probability that God exists" is just as much of a claim as "(100 percent probable that) God exists" or simply "God exists." You are asserting that there is a non-zero probability without showing the existence of this number.
So, "God does not exist" has no burden of proof as long as "God exists" has not been proven. Now if you are scientifically inclined, you already know this. Science does not prove a proposition. It simply proposes a theory that gains strength to different levels of acceptance, or is rejected. The key point being, science is provisional, and is evidence-based. Proof is elusive, and relevant only in mathematical or logical propositions.
Yet we routinely make claims of negatives: "The dog is not here," "The car is not in the garage," "There is no ten foot tall giant standing in my living room," "You do not have seventeen heads," "A unicorn does not exist in my attic," "Dracula is a mythical creature" etc.
In the matter of theism, "God exists" is a premise.There is no valid proof being offered for it. I'd settle for evidence though, since that is all I need for accepting other propositions in my life, and the burden of providing such is the theist's if it important to him or her that I should accept that premise. So when I say that a theist has the burden of proof, I do mean that the theist has the burden of providing the evidence that supports his premise.
My position: "God does not exist. Of course, it is possible that I am wrong, but all available evidence so far is not sufficient in the least to establish so." This is not much different than what a Christian would say with respect to the deity known as Allah: the allegedly one and only true god who has no offspring. Clearly, he is not Yahweh, the god of the Christians, since Yahweh allegedly has a son: Jesus.
Prove yourself right, if you are a theist. You have the burden of proof. By that I mean provide the compelling evidence that this god of yours, exists.