The Reconquista Initiative
The Positive Burden-Bearing Beliefs of Lack-of-Belief Atheists
Over the past few essays devoted to the topic of negative lack-of-belief atheism being bullshit—in the philosophical sense—a number of arguments were presented in order to show that it is reasonable to believe that lack-of-belief atheism is indeed a shell-game meant to rhetorically shield atheists from bearing their share of the burden of proof for their unbelief. Yet even with those previous arguments already articulated, the truth is that this whole matter gets even worse for the lack-of-belief atheist given the fact that when pressed, most atheists, even while claiming to merely lack a belief concerning the existence of God or gods (hereafter just God), will simultaneously admit that they hold a number of other positive beliefs about the God-question which, whether they realize it or not, actually undermine their own self-proclaimed negative-atheism. In fact, in many cases, these other positive beliefs tangentially demonstrate that the unbeliever’s atheism is much more than a mere lack of belief. And to understand how this is the case, let us examine some of these other beliefs.
First, in terms of the positive beliefs that many modern atheists would endorse, we can reasonably claim—based both on personal experience interacting with atheists and from the testimony of atheists themselves—that many modern atheists would hold the affirmative belief that it is more probable than not, even if only slightly more probable than not, that no God exists. For example, arch-unbeliever Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, in the section titled “The Poverty of Agnosticism”—page 51 of the 2006 hard-copy edition—admit that he is almost certain that no God exists; so Dawkins himself holds to the positive belief that it is much more probable than not that no God exists. But, as stated, note that this is a positive claim that needs defending rather than being a mere lack of belief about the existence of God; indeed, such an atheist as Dawkins does not believe that God’s existence is essentially unknowable or that it is as likely as not, nor does such an atheist literally lack a belief about the God-question, but rather, such an atheist is making the positive claim that God’s existence is less likely than not, and as such, such an atheist owes us some reasons for why he makes this positive claim. After all, if I said that I believed that the theory of evolution, for example, was more likely false than true, every proponent of evolution would demand that I substantiate that claim with arguments and reasons for it, and they would no doubt insist that that was a positive claim which bore a burden of proof; they would not let me get away with just saying that I ‘lacked a belief’ in the theory of evolution, but rather they would rightly demand justification for my claim that evolution is more likely false than factual. But the same holds true for the claim that God’s non-existence is more probable than not, and so such a claim needs to be positively justified. Therefore, if the atheist holds to such a claim, then he is indeed an atheist who is making a positive claim and he thus has a burden of proof that he must meet. And yet note that if the atheist does not hold such a belief, and if he thus claims no positive belief concerning the probability of God’s existence or non-existence, or if he claims to believe that God’s existence and non-existence are roughly of equal probability, then such an atheist is much more of an agnostic than an outright atheist, and so he should stop calling himself an atheist to begin with.
Now, in addition to believing that God’s non-existence is more probable than not, in my experience, many modern atheists also hold other positive beliefs that are unavoidably linked to the God-question, and yet these are the very beliefs which also undermine the atheist’s claim to hold to a mere lack-of-belief style of atheism. For instance, the often repeated atheist mantra that ‘there are no good arguments for God’s existence’, or that ‘there is no evidence for God’s existence’, are cases in point of this phenomenon. Why? Because the positive claim that there is no evidence for God is directly contrary to, for example, the Christian idea that God did provide universally-visible evidence of His existence to all men and that the entire creation is itself universally manifest evidence for the existence of a Creator deity (and please see Romans 1:19-21 and Points 27 to 38 of the newest Catechism of the Catholic Church for detailed articulation of this claim). So the point to understand is that in positively asserting that there is no evidence for God’s existence, the atheist is taking a de facto positive position against certain theistic worldviews, such as certain forms of Christian theism. And this, in turn, means that the atheist, at least in some cases, does not merely lack a belief about the truth of theism, but he implicitly holds the positive belief that certain forms of theism are false.
To understand this idea more deeply, consider this analogy. Imagine, for a moment, two Detectives at the scene of a fatality. The first Detective, examining the scene, expresses his positive endorsement of the hypothesis that the fatality is a murder committed by a notorious serial killer who always and purposefully leaves ample evidence at the scene of the crime to clearly show that he was the culprit. However, upon hearing this hypothesis, the second Detective explicitly asserts that there is absolutely no evidence to show that the fatality was even a homicide. Now, in making this claim, the second Detective is not directly contradicting the first Detective’s hypothesis that the murderer is the notorious serial killer. Nevertheless, the second Detective is indirectly denying that hypothesis through his assertion that the scene shows no evidence of a homicide at all, for since such evidence would have to be there if the murderer was the notorious serial killer in question, then, by claiming that there is no such evidence, the second Detective is necessarily implying that he positively believes that the fatality was not caused by that specific serial killer. At the same time, in making his “no evidence of a homicide” claim, the second Detective is leaving open the possibility that someone else may have killed the deceased person and left no evidence of the act, but he is positively denying, through the unavoidable implication of his claim, that the evidence-leaving serial killer that the first Detective has posited as the culprit is definitely not the murderer. So while the second Detective may lack a belief about other possible murderers, he does not merely lack a belief about whether or not that specific serial killer is the murderer; rather, by saying that there is no evidence of a homicide having been committed, the second Detective is positively implying that no evidence-leaving serial killer could be responsible for the fatality under investigation. And in the same way, the atheist who positively believes that “there is no evidence for God” is simultaneously implying, whether consciously or not, that he also holds the positive belief that no evidence-providing God exists either. And so when it comes to certain deities, such as the God posited by Christian theism, the unbeliever’s other God-related beliefs, such as the belief that there is no evidence for God, unavoidably imply that his atheism is much more than just a lack-of-belief.
And for another example of the aforementioned phenomenon, consider that if an atheist was asked “Who created or caused the universe—meaning all of physical reality—to exist?” and “Who sustains the universe in existence?”, then, most often, the atheist’s answer will be that “No one created or caused the universe to exist, and no one sustains it in existence”; but such an answer is a positive claim which directly contradicts many theistic worldviews, such as Christianity. This is seen in the fact that the atheist is directly asserting that it is false that there is a being who created and sustains the universe, which is something which Christians claim their God has most definitely done and is doing right now. And so this means that if the atheist is explicitly stating that this is not the case, then the atheist is positively implying that orthodox Christian theism is false.
Thus, as such cases demonstrate, the atheist’s subtle but de facto positive rejection of the existence of certain types of gods, as implied by the unavoidable consequences of his other positive statements, appears to strongly undermine his claim to merely lack a belief about the existence of gods in general; indeed, in answering certain God-related questions in a way that unavoidably implies that specific types of theism are false, and thus that the deities posited by those types of theism do not exist, the atheist is tacitly admitting that his atheism, in such cases, is actually a type of positive atheism which thus has a burden of proof that it must bear.
Yet even more so than just the above examples, most atheists also hold to some or all of the following positive beliefs as well: that matter exists, that the universe was not designed, that life ultimately came naturally from non-life without guidance, that the evolutionary process was wholly random and without interference from divine beings, that consciousness ultimately arose from non-consciousness naturalistically, that a soul does not exist, that God-given moral commands and duties do not exist, and so on. But again, all of these are not only positive anti-theistic beliefs which require defending, but they are also beliefs which tacitly imply that certain types of theism are false. Indeed, for consider, as a final example, the issue of evolution. Most atheists would assert that evolution is a genuinely random and undirected process. However, note that since classical theism holds that there are no truly random or undirected processes in the universe, nor could there ever be such processes given God’s providential control and constant sustainment of everything that exists, then if the atheist positively claims that the evolutionary process is genuinely random and not under the control of any being in any way, then the atheist is positively implying that classical theism is false. So the atheist might lack a belief about the existence of some other deity, but his stance on evolution is positively implying that the God of classical theism does not exist. And so, once again, the fact that the atheist, in practice, holds such beliefs as the ones mentioned above implies that the atheist does not merely lack a belief about the truth or falsity of various specific theistic positions, but that he positively, albeit implicitly, holds various types of theism to be false. And thus the atheist who holds these aforementioned positions—as, in my experience, many of them admit to doing when pressed—thereby shows himself to be more of an atheistic-naturalist / philosophical naturalist than a mere lack-of-belief atheist, and yet atheistic-naturalism is a position that most definitely bears a burden of proof.
And note that you do not need to take my word for the fact that for many atheists, atheism is much more than a mere lack of belief. Indeed, to see the difference between the type of atheism used in theistic debates and the atheism that is actually believed by many atheists in their daily lives, consider this letter about atheism, which was written by an atheist to other atheists who he thought were being disingenuous and inconsistent in their unbelief. The letter was provided to a Christian apologist named J. Warner Wallace, who podcasted about the letter and published it at his website ‘coldcasechrisitanity.com’ in a January 14, 2014 article titled “The Inevitable Consequence of an Atheistic Worldview”, which was accessed on the 15th of August 2016. The letter is long, but informative, and so it is well-worth the read. It begins as follows:
[QUOTE] [To] all my Atheist friends.
Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.
We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.
We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife.
I know it’s not PC [politically correct] to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.” [UNQUOTE, http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/the-inevitable-consequence-of-an-atheistic-worldview/%5D
So here we can see that an atheist quite readily admits that in terms of how he views the world, morality, meaning, and so on, his atheism is much more than a mere lack of belief. Instead, it is a vast mix of positive beliefs, all of which require defending and which need substantiation before being accepted. Therefore, in terms of how atheism makes many unbelievers perceive reality, atheism thus appears to be, for all practical purposes, much more like a comprehensive worldview than just an absence of belief.
And to support the above atheist’s claim that atheists sometimes conceal the true extent and implications of their unbelief from theists, remember as well what atheist Luke Muehlhauser said in his 23rd of February 2009 article “Atheism and the Burden of Proof”, which was accessed on the 8th of August 2016 on his website ‘commonsenseatheism.com’; namely, Muehlhauser states the following:
[QUOTE] But most intellectually-inclined atheists I know do not merely “lack” a belief in God – as, say, my dog lacks a belief in God. Atheists like to avoid the burden of proof during debates, so they say they merely “lack” a belief in God. But this is not what their writings usually suggest. No, most intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist. In fact, most of them will say – at least to other atheists – that it’s “obvious” there is no God, or that they “know” – as well as we can “know” anything – that God does not exist. Thus, if the atheist wants to defend what he really believes, then he, too, has a burden of proof. He should give reasons for why he thinks that God almost certainly doesn’t exist. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=597%5D
So here even Muehlhauser admits that certain atheists that he knows will admit to other atheists that it is obvious that there is no God, but such atheists will nevertheless use lack-of-belief atheism as a means to avoid the burden of proof during debates on atheism.
Additionally, note that even in the political arena there is a connection between atheism and certain positive points-of-view. For example, as was reported in Point 3 of the Pew Research Center’s June 1st, 2016 web-article “10 Facts About Atheists”, which was accessed on the 1st of August 2016, only one-in-ten of self-identified US atheists count themselves as conservative while about two-thirds of atheists identify as Democrats or lean in that direction; and a majority of atheists, at 56%, call themselves political liberals (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/01/10-facts-about-atheists/). And even atheists themselves, such as Austin Cline in his ‘atheism.about.com’ article “Atheists & Agnostics in America Tend to be Politically Liberal”, accessed on the 1st of August 2016, admit that there is good statistical evidence that atheists and agnostics have strong liberal tendencies (http://atheism.about.com/od/Atheist-Agnostic-Belief-Survey/a/Atheists-Agnostics-America-Politically-Liberal.htm). So even in politics and culture there seems to be a solid correlation between atheism and certain positive beliefs which are generally opposed to traditional orthodox religious morality. And such a finding again suggests that, in practice, the atheism of many atheists is more than a mere lack of belief about the truth or falsity of theism but rather that such an atheism is indeed the positive view that certain types of theism—such as any theism which claims that modern progressive ethics are incorrect—are false (or, possibly, that they are true but need to be opposed regardless of their truth).
Finally, in light of all this, also note the interesting point that since many common and daily interactions between atheists and theists involve theists who are religious followers who usually believe in the types of deities that many atheists implicitly reject through their affirmation of such positive beliefs as those noted above, then it does seem rather disingenuous for the atheist to assert that his atheism is a mere lack of belief concerning such deities; rather, in such cases, the atheist should admit that he has a positive burden-bearing view that the specific deity of the particular religious believer does not exist. And yet, since such cases form a sizable portion of the interactions that atheists deal with, then the non-believer’s atheism should very often be presented as the positive view that it is, not as a mere lack of belief.
And so, the long and short of it is this: although atheists like to hide behind so-called lack-of-belief atheism, more often than not, when you scratch an atheist, what you get is not someone who lacks a belief in God in a literal or straightforward sense, but rather you get an individual with all sorts of positive and burden-bearing beliefs concerning God that he should be defending. In fact, what you most often get is someone who is essentially an atheistic-naturalist of some type or other, but who nevertheless wishes to avoid justifying his atheistic-naturalism, thereby leading him to invoke the ‘lack a belief atheism’ move. But such a move is, in the end, just plain bullshit, and it needs to be called out as such.
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Anno Domini 2017 01 18
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam