Atheism can be dismissed without evidence

I’ve often heard from atheists that “claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”. And while it’s become an annoying refrain in the religious/secular conversation, there is a certain logic to it.

But here’s the thing: atheism, by definition, cannot have evidence. Atheism is a positive claim about the non-existence of God (or gods). And there cannot be positive evidence that proves the non-existence of a spiritual being.

Now, I can’t speak with great authority on all religions, but I’m pretty familiar with Christianity, so I’ll limit my comments to that. Christianity is based on evidence: this includes miracles that were performed and prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus. In particular, the key evidence that the Christian faith hinges on is the resurrection of Jesus after his death by crucifixion. Indeed, the holy scriptures of Christianity claim that if this historic event did not occur, then the Christian faith is futile and meaningless. Of course, this event took place only once, at a single point in history, nearly 2000 years ago. So we can’t use personal observation of it as our own evidence: instead, we look at the eyewitness testimonies of the people who were there and recorded what they saw.

There is other evidence for Christianity, because Jesus also taught that we would be able to interact with God in the Holy Spirit. This interaction is a personal spiritual experience, and as such it’s not going to convince a third party of anything. But it is strong evidence for the individual who experiences it.

Now, you may not find this evidence convincing. Particularly when it is stacked against an extraordinary claim, that Jesus was and is God, the one who created the universe, you may find that the evidence is insufficient for you to believe that claim.

That’s your call. But the logical conclusion to that process must be: “I am unconvinced by the evidence for the existence of God”. That is a position called agnosticism. It’s an honest and intellectually defensible response to a lack of convincing evidence. But it’s not atheism.

Atheism is a position of completely blind faith. It is a belief, not just in the absence of evidence, but without even the possibility of evidence. It is a completely irrational faith.

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11 thoughts on “Atheism can be dismissed without evidence

  1. Atheism is a positive claim about the non-existence of God (or gods)

    Wrong.

    The clue is in the prefix: a-. This is a negation. The following word is theist, so by attaching the ‘a’ we recognize (for those who are literate in the English language) the negation of ‘theist’. Thus, we have a negative claim.

    Now, how about you approach atheism – meaning non belief in gods or a god – honestly and consider whether or not it is reasonable to not believe in these kinds of claims. You can make a good start by considering your non belief in the many gods you do not believe in and consider whether or not you are being reasonable in this rejection. If not, then you’d best become a deist. If so, then you must come up with enough evidence to satisfy yourself to make the exception for any god or gods you choose to believe in. Either way, it has nothing to do with me and the state of my belief. Your decision to empower your belief in this exception is your affair but it is not a question of any equivalent “irrational” faith-based claim on mine. You do honesty and intellectual integrity a disservice by pretending it two sides of the same coin and your argument possesses no currency.

    • Etymology is fun, but the origin of a word in English is not always (or often) an adequate way of discerning its meaning. Other references are helpful in this regard.

      Merriam-Webster Dictionary: atheist (noun): a person who believes that God does not exist.

      Macmillan Dictionary: atheism (noun): the belief or theory that God does not exist

      Encyclopaedia Britannica (2010): “Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God.”

      MacMillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2005): “On our definition, an ‘atheist’ is a person who rejects belief in God.”

      Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “As commonly understood, atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God.”

      A simple “lack of belief” in God is agnosticism. A simple “lack of belief” in God also implies that the individual acknowledges that God may well exist.

      I am unconvinced about the existence of extraterrestrial life. I would not make a positive claim that it does not exist, but I am unconvinced by the arguments for its existence. This is an agnostic stance.

      • It’s always nice when an example presents itself in a timely manner. 😉

      • Sentinel, other references are simply wrong when it comes to those who use the label as an identifier: atheism as it is actually used by atheists identifies someone who does not believe in gods or a god. The term is used by atheists to accurately describe their lack of belief. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.
        You mistakenly present a state of knowledge – gnosticism – as if this were the baseline upon which a state of belief in gods or a god must rest. This is absurd and I think you know it. You make it sound as if one cannot use both identifiers at the same time. Yet with a simple search or even the simple asking of atheists, you will – almost to a person, I suspect – find someone who does not believe but does not claim to know with certainty. That’s why most atheists identify as agnostic atheists. Even Richard Dawkins, for crying out loud, identifies as such (he places himself at a six on a knowledge scale from one to seven, one being certain there is a god to seven being certain there is not. Yes, even Richard Dawkins is an agnostic regarding the positive claim there are gods or a god but perhaps you haven’t heard that he also identifies as an atheist.
        Imagine that. I guess he didn’t realize how irrational he was being not checking in with you first for your philosophical references before assuming this highly common identity.
        Now here you come rolling out the old chestnut that the very definition of atheism means a certainty there is no god. This is neither accurate nor true. It is demonstrably false and easily so. Nevertheless, tyou pull out the chestnut knowing it is an intentional misrepresentation of atheists and does not to reflect what’s true (I keep telling you and yet you keep looking in philosophy references as misguided as yourself as if that’s where the actual can be found – in spite of the etymology of the words people admittedly use to describe their state of belief and state of knowledge).
        Why do this?
        Well, I suspect you do this in order to support your presumptions about the supposed ‘irrationality’ of non belief towards the god you do believe in. Never mind, I guess, that this is the identical ‘irrationality’ you use to justify your non belief towards other gods. In your world ‘irrationality’ has a special place reserved for specific people using ‘a lack of compelling reasons’ aka ‘irrationality’) in reference only to a belief in a deity you hold. Yet you turn right around and use exactly the same reasons atheists do (that you claim is ‘irrational’) to not believe in all kinds of positive claims – you don’t have compelling enough reasons to suspend your non belief in unbelievable claims. I suspect your lack of compelling reasons to believe in Santa Claus as an actual interactive supernatural causal agency who travels about the globe with the aid of flying reindeer in this reality at regular time intervals really isn’t as ‘irrational’ as you want to apply to others in regards to your own similarly unbelievable claims nor do I think you’ll go running off to check philosophical references to see if your non belief in these positive claims means something else entirely. You don’t believe that Santa Claus is real because – surprise, surprise – you don’t have compelling reasons to believe otherwise… yet no one is posting altered definitions to smear you as an irrational person for using the same standard as they do. Why might that be?
        Atheism means non belief in gods or gods and this is the sense it is used as a consistent identity that you find so ‘irrational’… where it is in fact you who are making the special exemption in your god for reasons I and many other atheists find not just less than compelling but unbelievable. Against those of us daring to exercise this consistency in our standards between fiction and non fiction for justifying our willingness to suspend our disbelief in the unbelievable (which we do every time we watch movies and read fictional narratives), you wish to misrepresent this standard to be something else – an ‘irrationality’ you can condemn us for as if the lack of compelling reasons in your own god-soaked beliefs have nothing whatsoever to do with those who do not share your willingness to believe in the unbelievable.

      • Golly, that’s a long essay for someone who apparently has no convictions about the subject.

        I kind of feel that if it was a purely passive lack of belief, you would just say, “Hey, looks like this guy is using a different definition from me, but whatever, I don’t have any beliefs on that topic anyway, so who cares?” I don’t believe in Santa, but I don’t care either. I don’t go out of my way to argue with people that they are wrong about their beliefs on the subject. And I certainly don’t describe myself as an a-Santa-ist.

        What I’m talking about in the post is an intellectual position that rejects the existence of God. You’re welcome to call it what you like. For clarification, that’s what I’m referring to when I use the word “atheism”.

        That being clarified, I actually believe Dawkins when he says he is not entirely atheist. Because that passion and anger has to come from somewhere, and it certainly doesn’t come from a passive lack of commitment. Personally, I believe that he’s angry with God, and therefore obstinately ignoring him (in the way a child might ignore their parents if they were having a tantrum).

  2. Indeed. In fact I would go so far as to say that the degree to which an atheist confuses agnosticism and atheism is generally proportional to his degree of condescension, and that is not a co-incidence. 🙂

  3. Well said.

    It’s reasonable enough to believe and do anything but its not reasonable to keep your head buried in the sand by ignoring evidence lying outside of your experiential bubble through the simple action or inaction of not being willing to step out of your bubble. A theist can move out of their experiential bubble and “no longer find God (or some such creature)” just as an atheist can move outside of their experiential bubble and “find God (or some such creature).”

    On one hand, if you (as an atheist) ignore and exclude evidentiary experiences of tons of people who do experience Jesus as God, or jump through enough hoops to ignore or explain them away, then you can maintain a comfortable atheism. On the other hand, if you genuinely explore contemporary spiritual experiences that begins to open conversations and questions.

  4. other references are simply wrong when it comes to those who use the label as an identifier: atheism as it is actually used by atheists identifies someone who does not believe in gods or a god

    You can make up and use your own special word to describe yourself. For whatever reason, atheists seem to feel the need to do this for a lot of the labels they use. But when you talk with others, you have to use the words others use. Other references aren’t “wrong”; you are.

    Hey Sentinel, where’s the Santa apologetics web site? I feel the need for an essay coming on…. 🙂

    • My essay was to explain how you are mistaken and how you misrepresent others. You keep doing it so I keep explaining in different ways why you shouldn’t.
      I care about being grossly misrepresented by you when I have the means to respond. You may have influence on others and this needs to be challenged when you present a gross distortion of what’s true that just so happens to malign my character. Being called ‘irrational’ for not believing in any gods or god – based on exactly the same standard you use to justify your non belief in all the gods save one – demonstrates the extent of your hypocrisy and reveals the unwarranted but special status you impose on non believers in your god.
      I don;t care about your god. I think your belief is based on unjustified assumptions and is used by many to justify acts that cause real harm to real people in real life. I think responding to such attacks like the kind you make is a necessary burden I am willing and able to take on. Stop attacking others, stop harming others, stop urging others to impose their beliefs on others, and I will gladly disappear. But until you’re able to demonstrate some self control, you’re stuck with me holding you to account in a reasonable and polite fashion.

      • According to your own comments, I’m not misrepresenting you.

        I’m talking about a worldview that claims God does not exist. You say this is is not an accurate description of your beliefs.

        That’s great! In that case, I’m not talking about you.

  5. me holding you to account in a reasonable and polite fashion

    The truly amazing thing is the blissful lack of self-awareness with which this is claimed. Made my day! 😀

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