I Don’t Not Believe It!

In the war against Atheism’s true and traditional usage, Atheists have devised a rhetorical device in an effort to remove the burden of proof which would require them to offer a defense of their belief God does not exist.  The have employed the phrase “I lack belief” in a god or gods, or, “I don’t have a belief” in a god or gods.  But, is it possible to not believe something?

People hold beliefs.  They don’t not hold beliefs, or hold non-beliefs.  I am not even sure it is possible to not believe something in the sense the Atheist advances the idea.  For every proposition, people believe it to be true or believe it to be not true.  P or, ¬P.  It is not: I believe P or, I do not believe P.  When my future teenage daughter is late for curfew and blames her tardiness on car troubles. I either believe she had car troubles, or I believe she did not have car troubles.  In either case, I don’t not believe the reason she offers for her tardiness.

I think the only condition where someone lacks a belief, or doesn’t believe something, is when they have not been introduced to the proposition.  In the above example, before my daughter broke curfew, I lacked belief in a reason for her future tardiness.  It could be said that before she offered a reason for her tardiness, I lacked belief in whether car troubles are responsible.  However, once she introduces “car troubles”, I begin to form beliefs.  It can not be said that I begin to form non-beliefs.

So how does this apply to the theological debate involving the Theist and Atheist?  The Atheists are attempting to deflect responsibility for defending their beliefs.  They argue that because they don’t hold a belief (in a god) they have nothing to defend.  They believe it serves to take the pressure off them in the discussion.  To witness just how evasive the Atheists are willing to be, just ask the yes or no question: Does God exist?  The Atheists who prefer to use the “non-belief” rhetoric, will not answer with a yes or no.  The will answer be highly deflective, resembling something like: I lack belief in any god.  Or, I hold no belief in the existence of any god.

It will prove difficult if not impossible to persuade the Atheist to tell you what they do believe about God.  The Atheist does hold a belief.  The belief is: God does not exist.


  1. I have come to realize that no argument is made from or based on nothing. But as the modern day ilk of atheist has begun a campaign of lunging attack after attack on Christianity from a nothing and nowhere position, when I encounter them the first question that comes to my mind is, on what, beyond your opinion, do you base your claims?

    Very well put. I did a very similar post a while back, if you’re interested.

  2. Nice post, Dan.

    I liken this rhetorical maneuver to religious cult structure. DISCLAIMER: I am not saying Atheism is a religion! What I am saying is, like in the religious cults, the followers don’t know they are being deceived into dishonest understandings of religious literature (Watchtower, I’m looking in your direction), but the leaders do.

    Likewise, the Atheist population doesn’t realize the reasoning is faulty using this argument, or that it is only a device designed to evade having to defend a position and is dishonest manifestation of the atheist position.

    But the Atheist philosopher who thought it up knows how dishonest it is, it was designed that way.

  3. “It will prove difficult if not impossible to persuade the Atheist to tell you what they do believe about God. The Atheist does hold a belief. The belief is: God does not exist. ”

    This atheist (note the lowercase) believes that there is no good evidence supporting the existence of any gods or the supernatural. And he also believes that it’s quite unlikely that there ever will be good evidence, though it’s a remote possibility.

    There it is. Two beliefs. Just for you.

  4. NAS, that’s fine. I have no problem with that. Given those 2 beliefs you conclude God does not exist, or God is not likely to exist.

    But the Atheists (note the uppercase) who offer the non-belief defense are doing so dishonestly. It is an attempt to remove the responsibility of defending their beliefs.

    Dan’s article that he linked to is worth the read.

  5. Howdy John.

    You should know, I no longer believe in Santa. I guess you’d call that a belief… but I’m not really sure why the burden of proof is upon me to defend his non-existance.

    Like UFOs, Bigfoot and Russell’s teapot, people make up LOTS of crazy stories. Should the burden of proof be on everyone else to prove them all wrong?

    As athiest Ricky Gervais said:
    It annoys me that the burden of proof is on us… I could tell you I’ve got superpowers. But I can’t go up to people saying “Prove I can’t fly.” They’d go: “What do you mean ‘Prove you can’t fly’? Prove you can!’

    I think I speak for most “a-Santa-ists” when I say that the probability of Santa’s existance is relatively low. I’m not mad at Santa, I’m not anti-Santa, I just think his existance goes against what we now know about our world. But I’m certainly willing to change my mind if more evidence is forthcoming.

    Have a nice day!

    • Let me see if I can help you here. If you believe God does not exist, then fine. If you claim nothing, you have no burden. But if you enter the discussion and offer a position, i.e. you say “You know what? God doesn’t exist” you shoulder a burden to defend your position. If you don’t want to defend your position, be it bigfoot, UFOs, or Russell’s tea pot, then remain silent.

      Where Gervais has it wrong is he is introducing the idea that he can or can’t fly. You can’t just walk up to someone and make then defend a claim they didn’t make. We may very well believe Gervais cannot fly, but unless we make the claim, we have nothing to defend. Now, he’d have a point if the other guy walked up to him and said “Gervais, you cannot fly”. Now that person carries the burden to prove their claim.

  6. John,
    We revisit this subject over and over and over again. I understand what you don’t like about the position, but that doesn’t make it disingenuous. How it is used can be disingenuous, but the position is not by it’s nature dishonest.

    People must be able to take a position of neutrality to certain questions. We cannot be forced to have an ill-informed opinion on every possible proposition that is introduced to us.
    For example, you back up your claim by asking atheists to answer a simple Yes or No question: “Does God exist?”
    First of all, this is not as simple as you imply. If I answer “Yes”, then I am at very least expressing a faith position that I do not hold. If I answer “No.”, then I am expressing a knowledge position that I do not hold.
    This is why it is so important to be able to affirm atheism without being gnostic. A theist can be agnostic (think Pascal’s wager here) or gnostic. So why MUST an atheist only be an atheist from a position of gnosticism?

    I’m a pretty honest atheist, I hope you agree. I’ll gladly give you my reasons why I think it is highly unlikely that there is a God. I’ll happily give you reasons why a Biblically consistent God almost certainly doesn’t exist. I won’t say “There is no God”, to do so would be foolish. (yes, that was a semi-ironic bible reference)

    My blogging, in some respects, is a faith journey for me. I was a professing Christian. I read the Bible, went to Church, lived my life for Jesus, was a “youth minister” at my Church, almost attended a seminary school, and then…..
    I enjoy listening to these discussions. I enjoy provoking the kinds of questions that led me down the path to where I am on my journey. I want to hear the answers. I trust my intuition, but I’m seeking the evidence.

    Whether I answer “yes” or “no” to your pointed question, I cannot be honest with myself. You call that agnostic, but I don’t think that term describes my position. Agnosticism, in the way that you seem to use the term, is the cop out. It is saying my intuition is entirely unimportant. I wouldn’t do that to a theist, but you seem to insist on doing it to an atheist.

    I don’t mind if you refer to me as a soft atheist, or an agnostic atheist, but I am an atheist.
    Your question is not equivalent to “did you eat a sandwich at lunch today?”
    it is equivalent to asking
    “Does Anthropogenic Global Warming exist?”. There are those who have strong opinions one way or another, and those people both cannot be right. I have my own opinions, but I am no climatologist. Why must every person have a Yes or No answer to questions like that?

    • George, know that I understand you are not of the category of Atheists I describe in my posts when discussing atheism (generally speaking). You and Oscar both are the most intellectually honest Atheists I have encountered on the internet. Obviously we disagree, but there is discourse, no hand-waiving, etc. So for the love of Pete, don’t take so much offense when I write these. You have to know by now I recognize you are not the typical internet Atheist.

      With that said, there is a neutral position people can hold which requires no defense, it is “I don’t know”. I would happily accept “I don’t know” or “I am unsure” to the yes or no question. The problem arises when someone moves from “I don’t know” to, “you silly Christian, God does not exist” when the Theist offers reasons for God. Don’t tell me you don’t know in one breath, and in the next tell me I’m wrong. Remember the Atheists I am talking about hold the position of true atheism: I believe no gods exist. But retreat to ‘lacking belief’ in order to avoid their burden. I see you recognize this. There is no need for you to belabor this with me.

      The point of this particular commentary is some Atheists attempt to hide behind this notion that they don’t hold a belief, or that they have some non-belief. This I believe is impossible. People form and hold beliefs, they do not form and hold non-beliefs. The thing is, Atheists would recognize this as nonsense if a Theist ever tried to weasel out of defending their view by saying “I don’t have to prove God exists, I merely lack belief in the non-existence of God, I’m not making a claim to knowledge, I just have a non-belief in His non-existence”. You would rightly laugh at the linguistic gymnastics of the Theist, I am simply reserving my right to call it out on the disingenuous Atheists playing the game.

  7. Keep thinkin’ John, you’ll make a fine atheist one day. ;-)

    Okay, so let’s assume I’ve made the claim: “I DON’T believe Santa exists”.

    The problem, as Bertrand Russel saw it, is that it’s impossible to ever disprove a scientifically unfalsifiable claim. But let’s try anyway.

    Let’s say I travel to the North Pole and say, “See, no Santa!” The believers will retort “But wait! Santa is elsewhere! Have you searched everywhere?” After I do, they will say “Santa must be underground! Did you search underground?” And after I dig up the entire North Pole they will say “But Santa knew what you were doing, and he moved his entire operation!”

    “Ugggghhh… fine then,” I say, “What if I set up a video camera in a good child’s home and point it at the fireplace.” Again, believers will say “But Wait! Santa won’t visit the home because he knows there’s a camera!” And on it goes. Just like God, Santa never wants to be found out.

    So ultimately, there’s no disproving an unfalsifiable claim. But this works well for the believer, who can then cheer “BELIEVE!!! Because people have tried to disprove Santa and have failed!”


  8. Where are these people who understand the full background of Santa and still advocate for his contemporary existence? Let’s use a more true analogy. And again, you believe Santa does not exist; not you don’t believe. People don’t not believe things.

    God is not of the same kind as Santa. God has revealed himself to people, perhaps not you. But that’s not a liability on His part.

  9. Just havin’ some fun with it. Main point: Trying to disprove an scientifically unfalsifiable claim
    is always a fools errand.

    Thanks John, take care! :-)

    P.S. Have you ever seen those atheist bus ads? Even they don’t say there is no God.


  10. rautakyy says:

    I am an atheist in that I do not believe in any particular god. I am an atheist in that I do not think any god is plausible. I hold no faith that there is no god, because I can not know for sure. But as I have said before, you may call me a pagan if that pleases you more. Is this position dishonest?

    If you ask do you believe in god? You, will have to define which god is it that I am supposed to either believe or not. So, it is not a yes or no question. I can not believe just simply a god. If I do, what is it that I believe then? Gods suggested by humanity are very specific fabrications. If you ask if I believe in any particular god, I will answer that no plausible god has yet crossed my path. If you ask if I believe wether or not there could be a god I might one day believe, what is the point of the question? Of course I could say no or I could say yes, but my position is still that I am an atheist.

    I think you are being a little bit dishonest to yourself John Barron Jr, since this play whith words goes nowhere to move the burden of proof to the atheist. For between an atheist and a theist, it still is the theist who has made the fancifull claim. But it is interresting to find out you see yourself as in a war for a true usage of a word. Did you not know the meaning of words is in constant change. Not just a particular word but all of them. It is for what the words are commonly used that defines their meaning not the otherway around. It is called cultural evolution. We evolve John…

    What difference does it make how many people, or if any, advocate Santa to exist? And as you know there are millions. The backround of Santa is as valid proof of his existance than any presented for the christian god. Santa has revealed himself to generations of people, maybe not you, but it is not a liability on his part. If Santa exists he does so regardless, if anyone believes he does, or if any human life exists. He is supernatural, right? A god that has condemned us to eternal pain in Hell on grounds of what we do in our everyday normal lives, is liable to present himself to all of us, if to believe in his existance is the only way to salvation from this predestined fate. It was that god who could have stopped this kind of atrocity to take place, by his allmighty power. That is, if the said god holds any morals.

    Where are these people who understand the full backround of a christian god and still advocate his contemporary existence?

    By the way, you can not find Santa from North Pole, because he resides at Korvatunturi in Finland.

  11. Wonderful post. Thank you so much for your insight.

  12. elbruces says:

    Do you believe in leprechauns? I suppose you must, since you believe that it’s not possible to lack belief in things. In fact, you must believe in an infinite number of imaginary things, many of which are mutually contradictory.

    • Elbruces

      You must have a reading comprehension problem. I believe leprechauns do not exist. I believe many things do not exist. Perhaps you could have a grown-up read the post for you and explain it.

  13. It will prove difficult if not impossible to persuade the Atheist to tell you what they do believe about God. The Atheist does hold a belief. The belief is: God does not exist.

    Truly, this blog is a gem.
    I am loving these posts.
    Although I must admit I feel guilty for reading them and enjoying them so much especially as you have confessed you have kids, whom I do feel sorry for.
    How did they allow you in the gene pool? Even to paddle in the shallow end is quite something.

    By the way, just out of interest’ sake, which god are you referring to please?


  1. […] where reason ends and faith begins. Unfortunately, from time to time you run across a believer who tries to shift the entire discussion about what I believe or don’t believe. Instead of actually trying to defend what they believe, […]

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