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Atheism and the Burden of Proof

Matt Fradd

I was recently asked to name the most common argument made by atheists today. I have to say, the atheists I’m in dialog with tend not to make arguments for atheism. Rather, they appear preoccupied with redefining their terms, maintaining that atheism is not a claim to knowledge but merely a suspension of belief. 

This is incorrect. The way the term atheist is normally used, it refers to a person who rejects the existence of God. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy states: “According to the most usual definition, an atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God.”

We already have a perfectly good word in the English language for a person who withholds belief in God: agnostic (from the Greek roots a– [not] plus gnostos [known]). If your position is that you do not or cannot know if God exists, then you should call yourself an agnostic.

Trying to redefine atheism to mean something less resolute is a move some atheists make because they don’t think they can make a compelling argument against the existence of God.

Furthermore, there seems to be an implicit admission here: that the traditional arguments against the existence of Godsuch as the argument from evil, or the inconsistency of the nature of Godfail. If they worked, or were at least compelling, the atheist would use them.

Ultimately, anyone who is trying to convince another person of his position must shoulder the burden of proof. If someone who believes in God wants to convince someone who doesn’t, then he must offer evidence for his case. If a person who does not believe in God wishes to convince a believer, then the burden of proof is on him.

Therefore, if you are an atheist, you do indeed have to shoulder the burden of proof if you want to convince others of the claim “There is no God.” That is as much a claim to knowledge as “There is a God.”

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