Not At All Lacking

Lately I have spent a bit of time in discussion with some atheists.  When discussing the topic of atheism and its claim, I find some atheists to be disingenuous in their belief, well disingenuous in their discussing it.  Some atheists have fallen back on a rhetorical easy chair by maneuvering their claim from “I believe there is no God” to, “I merely lack belief in a God”, thus alleviating them from having to defend a position, that since they make no claim, they have no burden of proof nor a position to defend.  But is it true that this kind of atheist has no position to defend?  Are they really making no claims?

One must credit the atheist for cleverly attempting to alleviate themselves from defending a negative position.  It is nearly, if not actually impossible to prove a negative.  Making a claim which requires the proof of a negative puts their assertion in the unique position of being impossible to defend given the nature of the definition of God.  Namely attempting to prove an immaterial, supernatural being whose existence is not measurable with the tools of empirical science does not exist, by using the very tools incapable of producing an accurate result.  The atheist now punts to what he claims is some form of neutrality.

People who lack belief in subjects have no opinion either way.  For example, if I do not know which English soccer team is the best, It can be said I lack belief, I have no information on the leagues, teams, or players.  The atheists are not in this position.  They think theists-usually Christians-are wrong, that is a position, it is a claim.  Claims require defense.

The atheist, once in the discussion has no refuge in his claim of non-belief.  Since every claim has only three possibilities with respect to how people can acknowledge it.  So for example, “God Exists” you can either affirm the truth of the claim-“God does exist”, you can deny the truth of the claim- “God does not exist”, or you neither affirm or deny the claim- “I don’t know”.  The atheist certainly does not affirm the claim, and he does not claim to not know, that’s agnosticism.  The only option remaining is denial of the truth of the claim, and now they have taken a position.

Do not be taken in by this rhetoric.  By making this ‘lack’ claim, the atheist believes it allows him to sit back and do all the hurling of questions, comments, and challenges at the theist’s claims, and they will for as long as you indulge it. If they wish to maintain their ‘lack’ position however, they must remain silent.  Entering the discussion or debate with an opinion opens them to investigation into their conclusions, they must now answer questions, comments, and challenges to their opinions.  They know this to be true, which is why they shifted their actual claim, to the seeming non-claim.


  1. In logic (and mathematics) there are only two possibilities when presented with a claim A. Either A or not A is true. “Not A” encompasses a lot of different things, specifically everything that is not A. That is the only present duality in a proposed claim. When a theist says that a God exists (specifically defining a position, which we’ll call A), the only possible positions that one can take in response to this are A (Agreement) or not A (Something besides agreement). Atheism is the entirety of the “not A” part of the dichotomy. The word “atheism” is derived from the Greek prefix A- (Meaning “not,” or “without”) and theos (Meaning godbelief), so it’s a pretty appropriate term for this particular position. Atheism is not a positive claim. It is the absence of a positive claim.

    Now, there may be specific atheists that do make the claim “God does not exist.” This is not a component of atheism – if one were to be technically correct, it would be classified as antitheism. Antitheism posits a positive claim, and is therefore suspect to the same inspection and burden of proof that the positive claim “God does exist” presents.

    The trichotomy of “Yes, no, maybe” you present is also erroneously appended – maybe is not a position, it’s a commentary on sureness. Agnosticism or gnosticism exists in conjunction with atheism and theism. One may be an agnostic theist, an agnostic atheist, or what have you, but agnosticism itself is not a position. Therefore, one must either take a position A or not A. Once again, however, not A is not the same thing as -A (or the opposite of A).


    P.S. I’m not interested in talking about this here. If you want to discuss this at all, you’ll do so at CARM if you want a response from me.

    • I have to disagree that affirming not-A is not a positive claim. In fact it is as much a claim to knowledge as affirming A. It makes a claim that describes a state of affairs, namely, “it is true that not-A“. As an atheist you (the generic you) are asserting not-A and not simply witholding an affirmation. If you are simply abstaining from making the claim A, that describes a soft agnosticism (i.e., I don’t know).

      I also must disagree that witholding judgement is not a position. Though under the broadest of definitions I see why you would want to classify it in the not-A camp. The agnosticism I describe is not “maybe”, but rather a position of ignorance, “I don’t know” which is different from maybe.

      I believe your analysis of theos is not accurate, that rather than meaning “godbelieving” it means “god”, rendering the term, a-(not, no, without) theos-(god)

  2. John, I’m sure you are familiar by now with the concept of the teapot agnostic. If you scratch the surface of most reasonable atheists, you will find a teapot agnostic, a term invented by Bertrand Russell who said: “I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.”
    This pretty much sums it up for me. Christians offer no compelling proof that God exists. No atheist cam offer a compelling proof that God doesn’t exist. But really, what seems more likely to me?
    To live my life “as if” the Christian God exists, and accept that all those who don’t believe this will be damned in eternal fire for being so foolish, just seems worse than unlikely. It also makes God seem to be a very needy megalomaniac and unbelievably evil. It seems arrogant, elitist, egocentric, ethnocentric, and most of all foolish. Yes, I know. Who am I to judge God? But I’m not judging God, I’m judging a belief system, a belief system that seems amazingly contradictory in that it posits a loving God who will punish me forever just for being human.
    I’m sure your religious beliefs give you all kinds of emotional, and possibly practical, support. Fine by me. But to assert that they are true, and that the rest of humanity, the unbelieving part of humanity, plus the part of humanity that believes in other mythological beings, are all wrong and bound for Hell – such an assertion separates you from reasonable people by some distance. Or are you now going to tell me that non-believers do not go to Hell? That God is not that nasty and vindictive? That God really loves me, but if I don’t worship him and revere him I will go to Hell? Forever? No chance to recognize the truth after I’m dead and find out for sure? No chance at redemption if I don’t do it while I’m still alive?
    I’m sure you have thought about these things, John. As a Christian I’m sure you love your God. I only hope you can see why He is a hard sell for the rest of us. You offer no proof that He exists, and buying into your belief that He does exists means accepting that he is nasty beyond human understanding.
    Have you ever heard the story of the eskimo and the missionary? The eskimo asked the missionary if people who have never heard the word of God would, for that reason, be condemned to Hell. The missionary told him no, that they wouldn’t go to Hell. “Then why did you tell me?” asked the eskimo. Interesting question.
    Some kind of loving God you have there.

    • Other than the teapot reference, this is pretty off topic for this particular post. They are emotional and volitional rejections to God’s existence.

      But as far as the teapot goes, it’s not that we need to be agnostic about it at all. And it is certainly not a “lack of belief”. Teapots are human inventions (no, not like God), by that I mean it is a tool crafted by people, like hammers, tables, etc. They are not produced by random and natural means. Which means they won’t just be in outerspace the way an asteroid or meteor would just be in space. A person would have to bring one up to space in a shuttle or whatnot and release it into orbit. We have records of every shuttle mission the US has conducted, and what they did. So does Russia.

      This is the flaw in Russell’s teapot. There is actually evidence that would point to there being no teapot in orbit, seen or unseen. That evidence is the records of space missions and their activities. All the astronauts, or nearly all are still alive. We can ask them if they ever placed a teapot in orbit.

      God is different. it’s not that there is no evidence for Him in the same way there is no evidence for a teapot. There is evidence. The situation is Atheists dismiss the evidence as uncompelling. There is also an equivocation, as I describe in the posts Not A Shred Of Evidence and also Prove It and Never Quite Enough

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