Friday, March 20, 2015

Top Ten Misconceptions about Atheists - Part Two

Misconception Number Two -- Atheists Have the Burden of Proof to Show that God Doesn’t Exist

It used to be that theists would claim that science and religion operated in completely different realms.  Science deals with “how” things work and religion deals with “why” the universe is the way it is.  Science deals with things that can be proven via evidence, whereas religion is all about faith in things that neither can be, nor need to be, proven and for which no evidence is required.  And certainly there are still plenty of theists who feel this way today.

There has been a shift in recent years, however, as science has made more and more inroads into solving many of the “deep” questions that were once thought to be solely the domain of religion.  Where did we come from?  Why are we here?  What happens to us after we die?  In addition, people have started to realize that many religious claims, such as miracles, the historical accuracy of scriptures, etc., should be verifiable with evidence.  As a result, people are much less willing to accept religious teachings based solely on faith and are expecting theists to shoulder the burden of proof that science requires whenever anybody makes a positive claim.

Some theists do attempt to provide “evidence” to support their beliefs, but many try to avoid the issue by claiming that atheists can’t prove their assertion either that there is no God.  It’s not enough, these theists claim, for atheists to simply claim not to believe in God – they somehow have to prove God doesn’t exist, or admit that he does.

Sadly, that’s simply not the way science or the burden of proof works.  Yes, we ask theists to provide justification for their belief in God since they are making affirmative statements that contradict observable reality.  That’s how science works – you make a claim, you provide evidence as to why your claim is true.

Atheists, however, are not necessarily claiming that God doesn’t exist.  All we are claiming is that theists haven’t given us any good reasons to believe that he exists.  We don’t need to prove a negative.

Having said that, though, I will say that with regard to specific descriptions of god contained in various religious texts and worshiped by specific religions, it is rather easy to “disprove” those gods in the same way you could easily disprove the existence of an adult African elephant living under my desk as I type his.  All you have to do is consider what evidence would have to be there in order for the claim to be true, and if the evidence is missing than the claim is disproved.  So, while no atheist can possibly disprove the existence of an immaterial being who exists outside of space and time and whose existence, by definition, cannot even be proved in the first place, it is actually pretty easy to disprove the existence of a being who is described as having specific attributes, interacting with humanity in specific ways, making specific promises, etc.  When presented with this fact, however, the theists who require atheists to "prove that God doesn't exist" always seem to fall back on the other type of "god" (i.e., the god that bears no relationship to the one they claim to actually worship) and then say, "HA!  You can't prove that no concept of God could possibly exist, therefore I win!"


Bait and switch.  It's like saying that, just because I can't prove that there is no intelligent life elsewhere in the universe (which I can't, of  course, since the universe is such a vast place), I therefore can't prove that a particular grainy photo doesn't actually depict an alien spacecraft, despite the fact that it bears a striking resemblance to an aluminum pie tin, the string holding it up is visible and the person who took the photo has admitted in the past to creating hoax UFO pictures. 

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