Surely this should seem to be a rather simple matter regarding the fundamentals of argument. Consider the following dialogue:
Person A: Are you suggesting that God does exist?
Person B: Yes I am. God contains explanatory power that best fits not only why humans, morality, beauty and consciousness exists, to name a few examples, but why anything exists at all. I would say that it is reasonable to believe that God exists.
A: Perhaps you could clarify, but it seems as if you are begging the question here. If God contains explanatory power, then what criterion of explanation are you applying to justify your claim? Surely we could not apply an arbitrary principle of explanation that only applies to God and nothing else within our experience.
B: I suppose that I don’t know how He does. I believe that He interacts with creation and have only gone from there.
A: May I thence suppose that your lack of support for your position shows that my position is tenable? Given that we are unsure how God contains explanatory power, might we suppose that my position is now able to be supported within our own natural experience?
In regards to our mock dialogue above, we appear to have two opponents debating on the issue about the existence of God with respect to Person B‘s (theist) argument. Person A (atheist) with his position of disbelief in the existence of God, remains unconvinced by the theist’s argument. He therefore at the end of their exchange declares that the theist’s failure to support his position allows him to resurrect confidence in his disbelief – in other words, perhaps even support it. In this post, I hope to deal with the mistake of the atheist’s position.
In respect to warrant’s for claims, I wish to distinguish rather briefly the difference between “knowing” and “believing”. Surely, in regards to the former, when discussing some mathematical proof about two plus two equaling four, or all right triangles having a 90 degree angle, especially some empirical proof, it is often appropriate to say that “I know” in contrast to “I believe” two plus two equals four. The distinction between the two is in regards to the epistemic levels of certainty in light of the provided and consistent evidence of some mathematical or empirical proposition – which is more so in the case of “knowing”. Whereas believing might be a display of someone’s psychological subjectivity on some issue, or trusting that your teacher or text book’s authority is trust worthy on the information you are gathering.
However, and interestingly, some might be surprised to acknowledge that most of the knowledge that they do have or gain is from instances of authority. We trust our teachers, some book by an intelligent professor, our school textbooks, the testimony of others, and so on. For instance, though I have never been to Wyoming, and probably never plan to travel there in the future, I am confident that it is a place that exists in light of the consistent testimony and evidence available to me.
Some have asked as to whether or not we can “know” (in a certain sense) as to whether or not God exists – what has been called apodictic certainty (like Descartes’ certainty in the fact of his own existence) – or if we merely have “belief” (some preference or subjectivity on a given issue) in the existence of God. Though that matter is surely interesting and relevant to consider for a theist or Christian, in this post, I will not be dealing with them here, but rather have a focus on the discussion at hand regarding the atheist position and its warrant for holding the position that it does.
A Failure to Support a Position Provides Support for Another Position
To start, it is clear to say that a failure to provide arguments for theism does not constitute a support for atheism. In fact, in failing to affirm God’s existence, that failure does not show
- (a) that God’s existence is disproved,
- (b) God’s existence cannot be proved,
- (c) that it is incorrect to think that God exists, and lastly
- (d) that it is erroneous to believe that God exists.
As philosopher Mortimer J. Adler (himself an unbeliever) recognizes, “Failure to prove God’s existence concerns only the reasonableness of belief in God. Belief in God may be unreasonable without thereby being false” . In other words, even if all the arguments for God’s existence fail, it still does not thereby follow that God does not exist. All that it shows is that in light of the inability to show arguments for the case of theism, we are not reasonable in holding our belief in God, though he may still exist.
In the same way against the atheist position. In order to hold a reasonable position in respect to the nonexistence of God, one must offer reasons in order to hold such a view. If a failure to do so is present, then the atheist position shows itself to be unreasonable and untenable of displaying reasons for considering it to be true.
This is why in regards to holding epistemic positions on some given proposition – especially when pertaining to the existence of God – one must offer reasons for holding it to be true. This is something some atheists tend to miss rather frequently .
-  Mortimer J. Adler, How To Think About God (United States: 1980) p. 14
-  see George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (Promotheus Books: 1979) for more on this subject. This is a contention in his book.