Is Atheism Merely Non-Belief, or Does Atheism Make a Truth Claim?

Often we hear statements from atheists that sound something like this:  ‘Atheism is not stating any belief. On the contrary, atheism is a-theism, or a lack of belief. So atheism makes no claim to belief, just a lack of belief.’ It would appear that the atheist is not taking a position, but merely expressing a lack of belief.

In response, I ask “Does atheism make a truth claim?” To this, the there is only two alternatives: yes, or no. Either the atheist is making a truth claim or they are not. There is no middle ground, and ‘yes or no’ exhausts the possibilities.

If the answer is no, they are not making a truth claim, then they have made no statement that can be proven, defended, or refuted. If they make no truth claim, then there is nothing about which we can talk, for they have said nothing. Two people cannot agree or disagree when nothing is said.

If the answer is yes, then they have indeed made a truth claim. In this case, the Christian can respond, and there is ground for conversation.

So is the atheist making a truth claim, or not making a truth claim? They cannot be logical and say ‘we are not making any statement about belief ‘ then proceed to make statements about how belief in God is unwarranted. In reality, the familiar claim by many atheists that ‘we are only expressing non-belief, nothing more’ is bogus and untrue. This appears to be an attempt to shift the burden of proof (or disproof) away from themselves and onto the theist. In reality, atheists make truth claims all the time, telling us what they think about the viability of God.

So if the statement ‘atheism is merely non-belief, nothing more’ were true, the atheist would then stop talking and say nothing about theism. But they always seem to go on and make claims to what they believe is true. This is not logically consistent.

Fortunately for theism, there is good reason to believe in the God of the Bible. Start here.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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17 Responses to Is Atheism Merely Non-Belief, or Does Atheism Make a Truth Claim?

  1. “If the answer is no, they are not making a truth claim, then they have made no statement that can be proven, defended, or refuted. If they make no truth claim, then there is nothing about which we can talk, for they have said nothing. Two people cannot agree or disagree when nothing is said.”

    There is still something to talk about. The truth claim that you are making, which is where we started in the first place. I suppose you would old say this because you are uncomfortable with defending your faith and, instead, try to shift the onus of proof on to the atheist?

    “They cannot be logical and say ‘we are not making any statement about belief ‘ then proceed to make statements about how belief in God is unwarranted.”

    Unfortunately, you give me the distinct impression that you have not had any conversations with intelligent atheists due to the rather ridiculous statements. If you have, then you are simply employing ‘selective reading’, which is shameful. While I cannot speak for every atheist, I am confident that many would agree with what I am about to say. Atheists do not argue about belief because there is no reason why we should. While we may think that it is a silly concept, belief is not our problem. Our problem is merely the promulgation of religion within our society. Of course, people are free to believe whatever they wish, but keep it to yourself. However, since it seems futile to reason with Christians, one is then forced to make the Christian assess his beliefs in the hope that they will understand that his belief is ridiculous.

    “This appears to be an attempt to shift the burden of proof (or disproof) away from themselves and onto the theist.”

    Are you seriously suggesting that it should be the atheist to prove his world view and not the theist? Well, I congratulate you on surprising me with a claim that I have, truly, never heard before.

  2. My apologies, in my first paragraph, third sentence, it should read, “I suppose you would only…”

  3. secudad says:

    To add a little different angle than Some Musician did, there are also “strong” and “weak” atheists. Perhaps you haven’t heard of these. The majority (so it seems) of atheists are “weak” atheists, which means that they will make NO claim to have the truth. They will never say “there is no God.” The “strong” atheists are those who are more militant about it.

    You must understand that we atheists really don’t care very much about whether there is a god or not. It’s not an issue. Not because I don’t “believe,” but because so far there is absolutely no reason that I should believe. However, atheists are also assumed to be immoral heathens with no sense of right and wrong. We also have religion pushed down our throats through politics. Seemingly, the majority of the right wing’s arguments have to do with morality based upon their religious views. Marriage between a man and a woman arguments primarily come from religious beliefs. Therefore it is okay to limit the rights of other Americans because they don’t agree with your views.

    So yes, atheists have a lot to be angry about. We are happy to discuss beliefs, even though we really don’t have any. But we are not the ones making a positive claim that need to defend our world view.

  4. humblesmith says:

    The main thrust of this post is reinforced by some of your statements. Many atheists (but not all) make statements similar to ones above, namely “We are happy to discuss beliefs, even though we really don’t have any” and the majority of atheists “…will make NO claim to have the truth.” I was trying to restrict the post to one specific area, namely that atheists tend to try to shift the burden of proof to the theist, while not realizing that they have an equal burden of proof as the theist, because atheists have an equal thought process. The atheist is, in reality, 1) weighing the evidence, 2) making a conclusion, and 3) making statements about their conclusions, statements that they hold to be true. Both theists and atheists follow these same three steps. One could fill a decent sized library with books by atheists who follow these same three steps, making statements that sound very much like truth claims based on conclusions they have made by looking at the evidence, all the while saying that they do not have beliefs and make no claim to the truth. Surely you believe that your position is correct, or else you would not be making any statements whatsoever, or at most would be expressing doubt. If, in reality, the atheist position is to”make NO claim to have the truth” then I can understand nothing you say as being true. Yet in the end you do hold the statements you make as true, and the opposite of your position as false. Ultimately, saying “I make no claim to have the truth” is self-refuting.

    So in this light, I am indeed suggesting that the atheist has an equal burden of proof as the theist. The atheist must defend their reasoning of the three steps I mention above.

    As for the morality question, I have written about it previously in this blog. One of the posts is here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/atheists-morality-again/

    Most of the rest of the comments in the replies are either very obvious (after all, this blog is mostly support and defense of my beliefs) or ad hominem.

    • Metasepia says:

      Atheists weigh the evidence and use it to draw conclusions. The problem is that I haven’t seen any evidence to support the existence of a god, making it impossible for me to reject the null hypothesis. I don’t have to make any claims to fail to accept yours. Fundamentally, your position requires evidence. If there is none, people cannot accept it.
      I cannot accept your claim that atheism makes a claim. Please provide valid evidence.

      • humblesmith says:

        Your first sentence says you weigh evidence and draw conclusions, then you later say you reject the idea that you are claiming anything. This is self-refuting. If you make no truth claim, you have said nothing, just like the post says.

        Atheist websites are full of this stuff, if you want more look there. Here I was just pointing out the logical problems.

        • Metasepia says:

          If there’s not enough evidence to make a claim, that’s a conclusion. Again, read about statistics if you want this explained in more detail. Failure to accept your claim does not entail making any claims. I can certainly speak without making a truth claim, which any person with a basic understanding of reason can tell you. For example, I would not need to make truth claims if I were to argue against those that believe in the Loch Ness Monster, or Leprechauns, Bigfoot, etc. I do not need to provide evidence that they do not exist, because I do not bear the burden of proof. You claim that something is true. I do not. I don’t have to believe that it’s false in order to fail to accept it as true.

          Let me ask you this: what claim do atheists make? You’ve come to the conclusion that atheism involves a claim of truth, but I’m not aware of any such claims. What truth claim do you think atheism requires?

          • humblesmith says:

            The claim of insufficient evidence is a truth claim, for the say its true there is insufficient evidence. They then repeatedly build a logical case that there is insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion. They also make the truth claim that materialism is the most reasonable position. They also make the truth claim that it is impossible to prove a negative. They also make the truth claim that atheism is more reasonable than theism. The atheist writings are full of truth claims, then they turn right around, as you have, and claim they claim nothing as true.

            In the end it is a poorly constructed logical dodge, one that men like Mackey and Russell would not make.

            But of course you seem to be claiming that nothing you say is true, so we can stop here.

  5. Yes, in a very simplified manner, atheists, as well as theists, use those three steps you provided when examining claims. In this case, the claim is: There is a God. When one sees that the evidence does not support this claim, one is left with: There is no evidence that supports the existence of a God. Why should an atheist have to prove the statement we just made when we were already proving a statement? If this were the case, the result would be an infinite regress in which the atheist could never win and that’s just not playing fair, is it?

    Now, the atheist does have the burden of proof when making a definitive statement such as, “There is no God.” In this case, the atheist is making a truth claim in which they do have the burden of proof. However, when one, such as myself, says, “There is no evidence for God.”, how do you propose we prove the lack of evidence? To use a belabored metaphor, how do you disprove the existence of unicorns or the The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

  6. humblesmith says:

    You are absolutely correct in that it is not possible to prove a negative. But the burden of proof that I spoke of was not asking this; rather, it was merely saying that the atheist has an equal burden of proof to support their claim.

    Think of it this way: two researchers are studying a problem, person X has a theory that he thinks is the solution to the problem, and person Y thinks the theory is insufficient. Both sides have to make some conclusions based on the evidence and methodology involved. Person Y cannot merely say “I am making no claim to truth, I don’t believe anything about this theory.” That is not sufficient. Person Y must justify his reasoning process, showing why the theory of person X is insufficient. In the end, both sides are taking a position; both sides making truth claims. This process happens in research constantly.

    No one is asking person Y to prove a negative. My post was, in effect, asking person Y to admit he has a belief about the theory, is making a truth claim, and has a burden of proof for his reasoning process.

  7. I’m afraid that your analogy is fairly inaccurate when comparing it to the situation at hand. In your analogy, it is given that there is a problem (P) and, by corollary, there is a theory (Q) that is able to explain P. Now, we are not debating whether or not Q is able to explain P. We are debating whether or not P exists. Now, the theist assumes a priori that P exists. All an atheist is saying that there is no evidence in support of P. Now, you may say that there is evidence and we are simply denying it or some other thing, but there has truthfully not been evidence that supports that P exists. An atheist says there should be evidence. That is all. If I may try to use an accurate, yet similar, analogy, it would be something like:

    Scientist X and Scientist Y are trying to determine whether or not P exists. Scientist X believes P does exist and Scientist Y believes P does not exist. Scientist X, then, gives evidence for the existence of P and Scientist Y points out why the evidence is either wrong or insufficient. It is then the task of Scientist X to provide evidence. Sure, I’ll give you we may take a stance, as everyone is required to, but our stance is one that a) does not make a truth claim and, therefore, b) does not require evidence.

  8. humblesmith says:

    I’m really having a hard time with the inconsistencies. The first paragraph of the last comment claims we assume a priori, then the second says we supply evidence. No argument can be both a priori and demonstrated, for these are opposites. Next, the last sentence says you take a stance without making a truth claim. I honestly do not know how it is possible to make a statement without saying it is true. I’m honestly not trying to be argumentative here…….I’m just not following what you’re saying when you say two different things.

    But in any case, the standard method for proving and disproving a truth claim is not in dispute. What I described is standard logical form (do a search for how to prove and disprove hypothetical syllogisms using modus tollens and modus ponens), and the standard way all research is proven and disproven. No one during a debate, or in an academic setting trying to disprove another’s theory is allowed to merely say “I’m not making any claims and don’t have to provide evidence.” Instead, the other person’s position has to be shown to be false.

    As for the claim that theists assume God a priori, this is definitely not correct. This blog has given many posts providing positive demonstrable arguments for the existence of God. Any a priori position would not provide arguments for the existence of God, for the definition of a priori would be that God’s existence is assumed. Arguments for God’s existence is the opposite of a priori. Whether or not the atheist thinks the argument is valid, the mere fact that the theist is building a proof for God shows it is not a priori. The original post in this thread has a link to one such argument, and this blog has many more entries of simlar sort. I’ve not counted, but most likely I’ve provided more than a dozen. Search the posts and you’ll find them. (BTW, the existence of God in a “If P, then Q” statement is the Q, not the P, with the P being something observable).

    I feel I am starting to repeat myself, and not sure we are on the same wavelength, therefore I am bowing out of this discussion.
    My blessings to you.

  9. I, too, feel as if this is getting to be tedious and repetitive. However, never one to be contradictory, I would like the chance to clear my good name.

    Most likely, I was not clear with what I was trying to say. I meant only that theists believe in God a priori and then try to find evidence that suits their beliefs, instead of having the evidence point them to what is true. I hope that clarifies.

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