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

From: Tom Pearson (
Date: Wed Jan 19 2000 - 22:29:37 EST

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    I have found this discussion, largely between Stephen E. Jones and Chris
    Cogan, to be interesting and helpful. I will say that Chris' arguments
    strike me as largely inspired by Aristotle, and while I am partial to
    Aristotle's methods and judgments, I don't find Chris' arguments against a
    certain version of theism convincing -- particularly his discussion of
    substance and contingency, which is confusing. (Chris' Aristotelianism may
    be a corollary to his Objectivism, although Ayn Rand's allegiance to
    Aristotle is highly selective and restrictive). But I do want to raise two
    concerns about comments made by Stephen, in part because they are simple
    philosophical mistakes, and in part becuase I run into them all the time.

    At 05:29 AM 01/19/2000 +0800, Stephen E. Jones wrote:

    >As Craig pointed out in his debate with Zindler, the "argument from evil"
    >presupposes that there is "evil". He pointed out that the existence of
    >evil in turn presupposed objective moral values, which Mackie, on of
    >the world's leading atheist philosophers admitted could not be admitted
    >to exist without providing a powerful Moral Argument for the existence
    >of God!

    Although Craig's position here is frequently put forward by theists, this
    is a circular argument. The reason that evil presupposes objective moral
    values in this argument is that the definition of "evil" has been reduced
    to "moral evil." "Natural evil" -- pain and suffering, and other signs of
    disorder -- do not presuppose any objective moral values. Calling these
    natural phenomena "evil" only requires that God be both a creative and a
    rational agent, which are normal features of theism. A creative and
    rational agent would not sanction a disorderly creation, but the existence
    of pain and suffering are evidence of disorder (and so this argument is
    sometimes called the "Evidential Argument from Evil" in the literature).
    This is supported in many ways, not least by the repeated connection
    between sin and death in the New Testament. The death of an organism is
    not normally considered a "moral evil," but as a natural event. However,
    death is portrayed as "the wages of sin," and is something to be lamented,
    a sign of disorder. "Evil" is thus related not only to moral dysfunction,
    but to natural dysfunction as well. But if the definition of "evil" is
    restricted to moral dysfunction, ignoring natural dysfunction, then of
    course it will have to presuppose objective moral values. But this moves
    simply re-defines "evil" in moral categories, and thus becomes a circular

    I hasten to add that I do not believe that the traditional problem of evil
    entails skepticism about the existence of God, although some certainly want
    to tug the argument in this direction. One does not need to deny the
    indelible reality of both moral and natural evil in order to affirm the
    reality of the God confessed by the Christian tradition.

    >Therefore, to argue that atheism is true, one would have to try to show the
    >non-"existence of deity", ie. "that there is no deity".

    >But as I said in my post, "Craig pointed out that it was not
    >good enough for Zindler to argue that there is not enough evidence to prove
    >that God *does* exist. If atheism is to be accepted as true, then atheists
    >must show that God *does not* exist".

    >Chris needs to disprove the existence of *God* (e.g. the *Christian* God),
    >not just play one defintion of God off against another.

    These comments are scattered through Stephen's post, but they all point to
    a logical fallacy: the requirement that it is necessary, in this case, to
    prove a negative. To "disprove the existence of God" is logically
    impossible, because of the purely deductive nature of "disproofs," while
    all arguments on this matter are carried out inductively. Thus, it is not
    at all clear why atheists should be held to this strategic requirement. Of
    course, Stephen presents this requirement over against those who might
    claim that atheism is "true." But most atheists I know aren't interested
    in "proving" atheism "true," if that means providing a deductively
    impeccable argument. They are interested in making an inference to the
    best explanation, which is an inductive procedure. So, after assembling a
    set of evidence derived from human experience, they conclude that the "best
    explanation" of the evidence is that God, or a certain description of God,
    cannot be justifiably said to exist. But this is much different from
    "proving" anything.

    Tom Pearson

    Thomas D. Pearson
    Department of History & Philosophy
    The University of Texas-Pan American
    Edinburg, Texas

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