RE: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?

From: John E. Rylander (
Date: Fri Jan 14 2000 - 10:30:09 EST

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    There is a long tradition in theology and philosophy of religion that sees
    belief in God as at least in part (or in whole, or as a tendency) a priori.

    Not all of our rational beliefs are wholly based on evidence, at least not
    in a non-circular sense. Maybe belief in God is, for some believers anyway,
    a basic or largely basic foundational belief. Maybe for many it's akin to
    belief in the physical world, other minds, the past, the laws of logic,
    trust in our own reason and memory, and so forth: a highly intuitive, even
    compelling belief, even despite a lack of non-circular evidence that
    persuades the skeptic.

    So be careful of tacitly accepting the evidentialist attitude that one
    should believe in something exactly in proportion to the evidence one has
    for it. At least on the standard notions of evidence (it need be objective
    and non-circular, e.g.), many of our epistemically foundational beliefs are
    clearly evidentially unsubstantiated (or at least grossly
    under-substantiated). Does that imply that they're irrational? Either
    that, or that there are serious problems with evidentialism as a universal
    epistemology. (Evidentialism is very appropriate, seems to me, for many,
    many areas of intellectual inquiry. That seems clear enough. But by no
    means all, unless general radical skepticism is the only rational position
    to take, which seems ironically inconsistent with believing evidentialism.)

    As a corollary, one should be very wary of the idea that one should always
    presumptively deny belief in some concrete object X unless one has evidence
    that X exists. This seems a good attitude to take toward speculatively
    implausible entities -- packs of dogs living in the core of the sun
    protected by advanced shielding, say -- but not toward just every entity,
    such as the material world, or other minds, or God. Ockham's razor seems a
    useful principle, but in its chainsaw variants, it's not plausible. (After
    all, he meant it to apply to speculative metaphysical entities, not common
    sense entities.) (Now an atheist will typically [by no means always] reject
    God as a common sense belief, but so what? [Many atheists will admit a
    strong common sense tendency to believe in God, but then argue that it must
    be rejected because of Ockham's razor, or the problem of evil, etc.
    Sometimes there are interesting arguments here, in which case Christians
    should pay attention, but often it's just a passionate and perhaps clever
    but uncompelling rant, boiling down to "from an ethistic perspective, it's
    clear there is no God", which is hardly either surprising or compelling.])

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From:
    > []On Behalf Of
    > Sent: Thursday, January 13, 2000 11:23 PM
    > To:
    > Subject: Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?
    > There is an interesting twist on this debate about atheism (and yes, I'll
    > try to bring it back to the topic of this listing). It is true
    > that atheists
    > such as Frank Zindler view atheism simply as a lack of belief in
    > God (although anyone familiar with Zindler knows his zealous and extremist
    > stands fall more in the category of anti-theism/anti-religion
    > than a simple
    > lack of belief in God).
    > But many of the same atheists who insist their atheism to be only
    > a lack of belief in God (as they try to establish atheism as some kind
    > of default stand) also will commonly maintain there is no evidence of
    > God's existence. But if you think it through, to claim there is
    > no evidence
    > of God's existence assumes you believe no God exists (and not simply
    > lack this God-belief).
    > Evidence is, after all, merely interpreted data. So how does the atheist
    > know data interpreted to indicate God's existence really doesn't truly
    > indicate God's existence? For to claim there *is* no evidence is to claim
    > all these data are falsely interpreted. Because only falsely
    > interpreted data
    > do indeed cease to be evidence. But how does the atheist know the data
    > are falsely interpreted if they don't also believe there is no God in the
    > first place?
    > In other words, an atheist who simply lacks a belief in God ought
    > to say: 'I am not convinced that the data theists cite as
    > evidence is indeed
    > evidence of God's existence." That would be more consistent with
    > the simple
    > lack of belief. Yet I suspect this is not aggressive enough for
    > many atheists
    > (especially those of Zindler's ilk).
    > On the other hand, an atheist who believes no God exists can say
    > of the theist
    > that they have no evidence for God's existence. But then we have a basis
    > for asking how the atheists knows there is no God.
    > The inconsistent mix is to claim only that you lack a belief in God (but
    > would not assert God does not exist) and then also add there is indeed
    > no evidence of God's existence.
    > To bring this closer to this topic of this list, it is often
    > claimed there is
    > no evidence of intelligent design. But this claim implies one knows there
    > is indeed no intelligent design, for only then can we be sure
    > that there is
    > no evidence of intelligent design (i.e., evidence of ID is all falsely
    > interpreted
    > data). But how did one ever get to the knowledge that there is
    > no intelligent
    > design?
    > Mike

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