Shifting the Burden: The Simple Challenge

Apr 4, 2013

Guest wrote:

“I am truly enjoying this game you started so let’s play some more. You state that you are an atheist, and I will take your words at face value since, as I am certain you know, there is a difference between atheist and agnostic. You posed a challenge to Christians regarding their religion or faith, so let me pose one to you regarding your faith. Since at the end of the day an atheistic system requires faith. My challenge is simple but if you cannot complete it I will assume you are willing to become a Christian–I hope you recognize my restructuring of ur words with that last phrase.
Prove to me that no type of deity or god exists. A simple task; I look forward to your response.

With all due respect, you are mistaken.  Although there is a difference between ATHEISM and AGNOSTICISM the two are not mutually exclusive, they refer two different questions.

Atheism / Theism pertain to belief; do you believe or not.
Agnosticism / Gnosticism pertain to knowledge; do you know or not.

So whereas you would likely be a Gnostic Theist, meaning that in addition to believing in a deity you also claim to know the deity exists.  I would be an Agnostic Atheist, meaning that I do not believe in the existence of deities nor do I claim to know for certain that deities are nonexistent.

In your post you pose a question regarding our so-called faith and assert that an atheistic system requires faith.  This is nonsensical since atheism is not a positive assertion itself but rather the rejection of the theist assertion; atheism would be unneeded in the absence of theistic claims.  Rejecting theistic claims does not require faith because there is no burden of proof which requires evidence in lieu of faith.

Your challenge is not simple it is fallacious.  To begin with, you are shifting the burden of proof and pretending that if someone cannot disprove the existence of a deity then your position that deities exist is therefore valid.  Your "simple" challenge is also dishonest in that your deities, as best anyone can tell, are un-falsifiable.  Deities are said to exist outside the bounds of our observable universe.  So in addition to your challenge being logically fallacious it is effectively beyond the capabilities of anyone to meet.  Your "simple task" remark is a lie.

The following will show the absurdity of your challenge using your own phrasing with a different subject.

My challenge is simple but if you cannot complete it I will assume you are willing believe in Leprechauns.  Prove to me that no type of Leprechaun exists.  A simple task; I look forward to your response.

My challenge is simple but if you cannot complete it I will assume you are willing believe in Unicorns.  Prove to me that no type of Unicorn exists.  A simple task; I look forward to your response.

My challenge is simple but if you cannot complete it I will assume you are willing believe in the pantheon of Mount Olympus.  Prove to me that none of the Greek gods exist.  A simple task; I look forward to your response.

A 5th grader could see that what you propose and the conclusion you draw is patently absurd and I would bet money that you would just believe in any of those things simply because you could not disprove them.

Atheist do not simply assume belief in things because they cannot be dis-proven.  That is not rational and would require a belief in every magical thing ever claimed to exist.  Rather we examine claims on the merits of what objective evidence leads to the conclusion that the claim is true.  It is only in the absence of this objective evidence that faith has arise as an excuse to just believe the claim regardless.  Atheism is nothing but a conclusion concerning the claim that gods exist, a conclusion based on nothing more than the lack of objective evidence supporting the claim and an unwillingness to lie to ourselves and assume the claim is true because it might make us feel better.

Guest wrote:
Thank you for agreeing with me. I only have a few moments to write, but I am glad you have stated your views. You inferred that I said atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusively, but that was not my intent. I made the parenthetical statement simply to give Auntie Theist an opportunity to clarify his/her own opinion in case I had mis-understood it.

Regarding your agreement with me. You state that atheism is about belief; so do I. Although I am a little confused because later in your post you say that it is nonsensical to state that atheism requires faith. Please explain to me the definitions you are using for the words believe/belief and faith because I do not see the distinction in the terms. Auntie Theist stated that he/she has no faith therefore denying that atheism is a belief system. All of my question directed to Auntie Theist have been with the specific purpose of illustrating that atheists have faith, or they believe something to be true, just like people who have religion have faith, or believe something to be true. If one claims that he/she does not have faith but rather has knowledge–like Auntie Theist claims, then I am simply asking the person to prove his or her knowledge. Is that unreasonable?

Regarding the reasonableness of the Christian faith and the veracity of Christian tradition I suggest you read some of Michael Grant’s works, perhaps you already have, I certainly don’t want to assume. If you are not familiar with Dr. Grant, he was a leading ancient historian until the time of his death, and he wrote extensively on the historical reliability of the gospels as compared to other historical documents of the same time period.

The definitions I am using for the words believe/belief and faith are as follows.

BELIEF – to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that a given claim is true.

FAITH -(as used in religion) is the excuse to believe an infallible truth, engrained by divine guidance on a first impression, which is asserted as fact in the absence of evidence and defended against all evidence to the contrary.

The distinction is that BELIEF/NON-BELIEF is the conclusion and that FAITH/EVIDENCE are reasons given for reaching the conclusion.

Your questions directed to Auntie Theist may have been intended to illustrate that atheists have faith but believing something to be true does necessitate an appeal to faith. Where there is evidence faith is unnecessary. People who have religion require faith to believe their claims are true because there is a complete absence of evidence.

If someone claims to have knowledge then asking for evidence is not unreasonable. However atheism is not a positive claim, it is the rejection of a claim, otherwise known as a the null hypothesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Null_hypothesis ) which by definition can never be proven.

As far as the the reliability of the gospels, I hate to break it to you but no amount of witness testimony can substantiate a miracle. I could cite Professor Bart D. Ehrman and Dr. Richard Carrier to refute Dr. Grant but name dropping gets us nowhere. The question must asked, assuming that an eccentric Rabbi did wander the Israel for three years claiming to be the savior of mankind and a handful of people managed to write down what they saw and heard. This does not prove, it doesn’t even suggest, that his mother was a virgin, or his father was god, or he changed water into wine, or he raised the dead, or he walked on water, or that he himself rose from the dead after being executing. None of those things are remotely provable. The gospels, even if you ignore their disagreements, amount to hearsay.

You must be careful not to commit what might be called the Spider-Man fallacy. Suppose that a few thousand years from now, an archeologist discovers a cache of Spider-Man comic books. Judging by the backgrounds, the stories are clearly set in New York. New York is a real place, as confirmed by archeology. However, this does not mean that Spider-Man existed.

Imagine you were to one day witness a man be executed and the next day you saw the same man walking down the street. Which is more likely, that the man came back from the dead or that you are under a grave misapprehension?

Imagine you are told that pregnant 14 year has conceived a child having never had sex with a man. Which is more likely, that the laws of nature were suspended, or that the girl told a lie?

The level of conviction claimed by an author or has no bearing on the veracity of his writings. This is a common argument among all religions yet I would bet that you would reject Dr. Grant’s claims if the subject were the historical reliability of the Koran.

by | Categories: John Tremblay, Musing |

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