A popular argument among philosophers and pseudo-philosophers is the existence or nonexistence of God. Even though many philosophers have long pointed out the futility of having the debate, in certain circles it rages on. A circle is the proper analogy for that debate, because it has neither beginning nor end and never gets beyond itself.
Standing outside that circle, I offer the following observations:
1. The theist arrogantly claims to know about the existence of God.
2. The atheist arrogantly claims to know about the nonexistence of God.
I’d say they are pretty equal on the arrogance part. Seriously, how can anyone be so bold as to claim knowledge of the absolute—whatever is the ground of all reality? Kant showed us that any rational argument for or against the existence of god is impossible. By definition, the question of the Absolute is beyond our sensory experience and thus, as Wittgenstein pointed out, what we can say, and of what we cannot say, we should remain silent.
Am I suggesting that no one has a right to his or her beliefs, positive or negative, about God? No, far from it; in fact, the opposite. Belief is a personal and subjective position. I side with William James that we should not pass judgment on people’s beliefs where evidence is not definitive.
There is a difference between subjective belief and objective judgments based on those beliefs. Here we see more of the arrogance on both sides when they use their subjective beliefs about God to make judgments about other people. These judgments are too often deeply condescending. I doubt I need to say much about how religious theists, in the name of ideological purity, make condescending judgments against those who disagree with their particular brand of theism. Despite their denials, atheists make comparable judgments equally condescending. To say that another is wrong, bad, or stupid on an issue of belief where the evidence is not definitive is an arrogant position.
The atheist often replies that “a theist makes his claim despite having no evidence, and atheists make that claim because there is no evidence.” To the atheist I say that such a response commits a logical fallacy. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and to claim that something does not exist because you personally have no evidence of it is irrational, unscientific, and, well, arrogant.
Also, the claim that the theist has no evidence is based on a subjective opinion that the theist has no evidence. Theists do believe they have evidence–that’s why they believe. The atheist makes the choice to not accept the evidence that theists do accept. That is their right but the claim on the atheist’s part is that the atheist holds knowledge, intelligence, or ability about the theists’ beliefs that is superior to that of the theist, which is also, well, let’s not sugarcoat it, very arrogant.
In essence, the substance of the atheist argument can be summed up as follows:
“I, an atheist, do not believe the evidence provided by theists is convincing; therefore, I do not believe in the god(s) accepted by the theists.” The atheist is on solid ground to make that claim. If, however, the atheist wants to make the further claim that no one else is allowed to form any conclusion to the contrary on the evidence provided by theists, then the atheist is no longer on solid ground and is making an unscientific and irrational leap that I would characterize as arrogant.
Furthermore, the atheist cannot escape the requirement to establish positive evidence for his or her assertion. By definition, atheism is negation of theism (“not-theism&rdquo
, and to hold to a negation requires one to hold that negation as true in a positive way (“not-theism is true&rdquo
. Atheism is, thus, a truth claim that there is in fact no god of any kind, and one truth claim is subject to the same rules of evidence and reason as any other truth claim. The atheist objection that it is simply non-belief is an absurd self-contradiction. If I do not believe in unicorns I am saying “I do not believe unicorns exist” which is a truth claim for the hypothesis “not-unicorns is true.” Semantic tricks will not allow the atheist to escape its logical responsibilities that are equal to the theist’s logical responsibilities.
This is why atheism and theism can and should be held to the same standard. It is childish for the atheist to demand that the theist provide proof, while the atheist supplies none. Attacking the weaknesses of the other side does not provide evidence for your position. That is a logical fallacy. The claims of atheism are just as untestable as the claims of theism are. That is an unassailable fact. One should not have a double standard, yet atheists try to claim a double standard for themselves.
If we hold atheists to the same standard that we hold theists to, we see that the examples and claims are fundamentally the same on both sides. Neither side has proven that its position is correct; it is most likely impossible that either ever can. This ultimate lack of proof means that the only tenable position for either side is a humble statement of subjective belief free of any attempt to coerce or condemn different beliefs.