June 11, 2012 by mattfradd
How should one respond to the claim that atheism is not a positive proposition, and that it therefore does not have to be proven. Is the burden of proof solely on the theis?
Here’s how I’d respond:
Theism, which is derived from the Greek word for God theos, is the view that God exists. Atheism, in contrast, is the opposite view that God does not exist. Atheism is a claim to knowledge and is not merely a suspension of belief. As the term is normally used, “atheist” refers to a person who rejects the existence of God.
As the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, “Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.” We already have a perfectly good word in the English language for a person who withholds belief in God: agnostic.
This eagerness to redefine atheism on the part of many contemporary atheists is telling. It all but admits that all of the traditional arguments against the existence of God, such as the problem of evil, or the incoherency of the concept of God, fail. For if the atheist thought these arguments were compelling, then he would spend his energy, not on redefining words, but on offering arguments.
Ultimately, anyone who is trying to convince another person of his position must shoulder the burden of proof. If I want to convince to abandon the belief that there is no good evidence for God and come to believe that theism is true, then I have a burden of proof to shoulder. But this burden applies to atheists as well. If they want to convince me to abandon my belief that there is good evidence for God and come to believe that atheism is true, then they have a burden of proof to shoulder.
The rejection of God is as much a claim to knowledge as belief in God.