This thread is generating lots of comments, mostly in the form of an amusing ongoing exchange with our old pal Rhology, who’s going all postmodern and solipsistic on us in a frankly bizarre bid to deny that requiring evidence for claims is rational. But this comment from a reader named Jay contains a very basic mistake that Christians make when trying to argue with atheists, and so I thought I’d top-post it as a kind of counter-apologetics primer. My response in full follows. Jay declares:
Ok Martin,evoultion does not require you know how the universe was created, but atheism does… Unless you can prove how the universe was created and in doing so also disprove there is a God, then atheism is not rational.
Yes, I know, we all thought arguments that silly had gone the way of Pascal’s Wager and Ray Comfort’s banana. Alas, we find people who are new to this whole debating thing who still think they’re brilliant stumpers they can whip out like an “Instant” card in Magic The Gathering, to counter your atheist mojo. Sorry, not so fast.
Atheism is simply a statement of disbelief concerning the existence of gods. It does not require knowledge of how the universe was created any more than disbelief in leprechauns requires you to know why rainbows exist.
(In the case of rainbows, of course, we do know why those occur, but a person would not have to know this in order to disbelieve in leprechauns.)
Jay’s second sentence is the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof. The statement assumes the truth of its conclusion, to wit, that God exists because atheists cannot prove God does not exist. The flaw in this argument is glaringly obvious simply by a slight edit to what Jay wrote.
Unless you can prove how the universe was created and in doing so also disprove there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster, then a-spaghetti-monsterism is not rational.
Literally any mythical being can be substituted for “God” in Jay’s statement. So it’s a fallacious argument rooted in a false premise.
The burden of proof for a claim always rests upon the person claiming the existence of the thing in question. There is no such burden upon those who take the skeptical view. If someone wishes to tell me that fairies live in his backyard, it is not my obligation to prove to him that they don’t, it is his to prove to me that they do. If he fails, I will not believe in his fairies. Similarly, not knowing precisely how the universe was created does not preclude someone saying, “I don’t believe the cause was the Biblical God or any other god, including Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because I don’t think there is adequate evidence for it.”
When it comes to questions with as-yet-unknown answers, such as exactly how the universe originated, we admit the limitations of our knowledge and look at the whole mystery as a compelling subject for ongoing study. We’re not inclined simply to place our ignorance on an altar and call it “God.”