The Reconquista Initiative
Lack-of-Belief Atheism Has the First Burden of Proof
Calling oneself a lack-of-belief atheist is just a bullshit maneuver meant to either avoid the burden of proof for the positive position of atheistic-naturalism or to avoid being called an agnostic coward. This has been a main contention so far in this essay series. And because lack-of-belief atheism, for many unbelievers, is indeed little more than a shell-game used for ulterior motives, the fact is that such unbelievers, for the sake of intellectual honesty, should cease their use of this label. And yet there is little doubt that they will not do so; indeed, it is almost certain that whatever pleas are made here will not convince many unbelievers to stop using the idea of lack-of-belief atheism. So instead of pleading with unbelievers in this respect, this essay will show unbelievers that two can play at the ‘lack-of-belief’ game, for if unbelievers want to employ the ‘lack of belief’ concept in their favor, then so too can theists. After all, as the saying goes, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; and so, the theist can use the lack-of-belief shtick too, and he can do so in a way that is much more detrimental to unbelievers than those unbelievers might realize.
So how can God-believers use the idea of a lack-of-belief to their advantage? Namely, by lacking a belief in the existence of lack-of-belief atheists!
Now, at first glance, this idea might sound ridiculous, but it is not. In essence, how this concept arises is that after reading the beginning of the first chapter of Romans, a very plausible interpretation of that section of scripture is that all people actually believe in the existence of God, but that they suppress this belief due to immortality and unrighteousness. As such, on this view, there would be no such thing as a self-aware and self-described lack-of-belief atheist, for any self-aware properly-functioning person sufficiently old enough to describe themselves with a specific label would be old enough to know God; consequently, they would either overtly believe in God’s existence or they would be suppressing that belief, but they would all still believe in God. Thus, on this view, every cognitively-sound person of reasoning age, deep-down, believes that God exists. This does not, of course, mean that there will not be people who verbally claim not to believe in God, but rather that no one actually fails to have a belief in God in their heart. In some ways, on this view, the atheist is like the parent of an evil adult child who nevertheless overtly claims that their child is innocent of the horrible wrong-doings that the child has been accused of committing, and yet the parent knows deep-down that their son or daughter is indeed wicked, and the parent’s behavior testifies to this suppressed knowledge; it’s like the mother who categorically denies that her son is a thief even as she hides all her valuables before the son comes to visit.
So, the view is that there is no such thing as an actual self-aware and properly-functioning lack-of-belief atheist given that all people believe in God, even though some people suppress that belief and overtly deny it while others do not. Now, it is not being said that this view is true, but just that it is possible, and even plausible given humanity’s ability to deceive and delude itself (a point which the unbeliever cannot disagree with given that he thinks the vast majority of humanity is deluded by religion). In fact, there are a number of pieces of evidence which support the claim that it is plausible to hold that atheists actually do believe in God but are simply suppressing the truth, and those pieces of evidence can be found at the end of this essay.
Now, since the aforementioned view is plausible—and even if it was not, this argument could still go forward—this means that the believer can adopt a lack-of-belief position about the actual existence of lack-of-belief atheists. This does not mean that the believer outright denies the existence of lack-of-belief atheists, nor that he believes the aforementioned Biblical claim to be true, but rather that he simply neither affirms nor denies the genuine existence of lack-of-belief atheists. And so here is the first atheist irony: because lack-of-belief atheists have routinely told believers that whoever makes the positive claim has the burden of proof, then, in this case, the lack-of-belief atheist, by the very fact that he claims to be a genuine lack-of-belief atheist, has the burden of proof for his claim. Indeed, it is the lack-of-belief atheist who is positively claiming to be a genuine lack-of-belief atheist by the very fact that he is saying that he is one, and so the burden of proof falls on him to prove his claim. And note immediately that the lack-of-belief atheist’s personal incredulity at being asked to prove the genuineness of his position does nothing to remove his burden of proof; after all, a God-believer might be personally incredulous that someone might doubt the existence of God, but the atheist would not allow that fact to thereby remove the burden of proof from the God-believer to show that God exists. So the lack-of-belief atheist cannot employ a double-standard or engage in special pleading just because the burden of proof is suddenly on him when it comes to this particular topic; therefore, the lack-of-belief atheist does indeed have the burden of proof for showing that he genuinely lacks a belief in God.
Now the unbeliever might laugh at this situation and simply retort that he is indeed a genuine lack-of-belief atheist and that his word is sufficient evidence for this claim. But here is the second atheist irony: atheists routinely tell believers that testimony, even testimony of internal states, is not sufficient to establish a specific claim, and that hard, objective, scientific evidence is required before believing an assertion. Can the believer thus be faulted for employing the atheist’s own standard against him? Thus, the believer can argue that the unbeliever’s personal assurances of his genuine lack-of-belief are insufficient to establish this claim and that more scientific evidence is needed. Yet the atheist might scoff at this request and claim that such scientific evidence is not obtainable. But here, the atheist is mistaken. After all, lie detector tests, interviews with psychologists, and psychological examinations are all different types of tests which could provide more objective evidence of the atheist’s genuine unbelief. Furthermore, research into the unbeliever’s past could be conducted to ensure that there are no underlying events which might, for example, have caused the unbeliever to overtly deny God’s existence but secretly just be mad at Him. Even hypnosis could potentially be used to investigate the unbeliever’s true state of mind. In essence, there exist a number of ways in which objective testing could be done in this matter. Now the unbeliever might complain that such testing is prohibitively expensive or hard to get, but that is not the believer’s problem. After all, he who makes the claim has the job of backing it up, or so the atheist routinely says when the claim is in his favor. And so, until and unless the atheist provides the believer with hard, objective, scientific evidence of his genuine unbelief, the believer is rational to hold a lack-of-belief concerning the actual existence of genuine lack-of-belief atheists.
And yet, an even further problem arises, and that is the problem that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Indeed, in the third great atheist irony, the fact is that the believer could claim that the existence of genuine lack-of-belief atheists is, to him, an extraordinary claim. After all, what counts as an extraordinary claim is largely subjective, and so the believer could assert that the claim that genuine lack-of-belief atheists exist is extraordinary to him, and so demand extraordinary evidence for that claim. This means that the believer could not only demand some of the aforementioned “hard” evidence before believing the atheist’s claim about being a genuine unbeliever, but actually demand all of that evidence before believing the atheist’s claim.
Note as well that this whole line of reasoning also applies to those unbelievers who actually do call themselves agnostics and atheistic-naturalists (philosophical-naturalists). Indeed, since the whole spectrum of unbelievers—atheistic-naturalists, lack-of-belief atheists, and agnostics—claim to not have a belief that God exists, and since this is the very issue under dispute, then this particular burden of proof claim applies to all these unbelievers.
Finally, note what this whole argument means for the order of the burden of proof. Because people do not debate something upon which they agree, then, if all people actually do believe in God, then there is no debate to be had about whether or not God exists. And so, what this means is that the debate over the actual existence of people who lack a belief in God needs to take place before any debate over God’s existence. Indeed, until and unless it is shown that there actually are such things as genuine lack-of-belief atheists, then there is no debate to be had over whether or not God exists, for we do not even know if anyone disagrees with that claim. And so, in the fourth great atheist irony, it is actually unbelievers of all stripes, not believers, who have the first burden of proof when it comes to the debate over God and His existence.
And so, the long and short of it is this: unbelievers might scoff at the claim that they have a burden of proof to show the genuineness of their unbelief, but their scorn is immaterial to the fact that the above argument concerning the unbeliever’s burden of proof is not only correct, but it uses the very same principles and ideas that unbelievers do when arguing against theists. As such, unbelievers cannot escape the logic of the argument presented above without engaging in an egregious double-standard. They thus have the first burden of proof in the debate over God. And so, if unbelievers want to play the lack-of-belief game, then they should watch out, for the theist can play that game as well, and the results for the unbeliever will be much more rhetorically damaging than they ever thought they could be.
Additional Note: Evidence Supporting the Claim that it is Plausible to Contend that Atheists Might Actually Believe in God and yet Suppress that Belief.
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Anno Domini 2017 01 31
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam