A belief that atheism is true because of insufficient evidence for belief in God is feeble and unwarranted. Kai Nielsen, an atheist philosopher, correctly explained that “[t]o show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false”(Nielsen 1971: 143-4).
Even if an atheist succeed in showing that the theist’s case for existence of God is a failure, this by itself does not confirm the truthfulness of atheism. “All the proofs of God’s existence may fail,” explained Nielsen, “but it still may be the case that God exists”(ibid)
If all proofs of God’s existence fail, and there are no evidence for the belief in God, then agnosticism, not atheism, is a warranted position unless a successive case is give against the existence of God.
The sum total of the probability that God does exist, P(T) with that of God does not exist, P(not-T) must equal 1. An agnostic gives both P(T) and P(not-T) the values .5. When theist C offer evidences for the existence of God, C increases the value of P(T) thus, decreasing P(not-T). So if say, the probability that God exists given background information viz., cosmological, teleological, ontological, moral and resurrection of Jesus argument is .7, (thus P(not-T) = .3), and an atheist A succeed in showing that all C arguments for P(T) fails, then A reduced P(T) back to .5. A needs to offer a case against the existence of God to increase P(not-T), which will decrease P(T), to be justified in believing that God does not exist.
Redefining atheism as “lack of belief in God” fails, I believe, because “lack of belief in God”, by itself, only shows a psychological state of a subject and not the reality of outside world. It does not show whether God exist or not. This redefinition fails because it shifts the discussion’s focus away from ontology of an object (i.e. God) to epistemology of a subject.(i.e an atheist). Example: John Doe may have a lack of belief that Jane Doe is having an affair, but that does not show if Jane Doe is having an affair or not. She may be having an affair even though John Does lacks a belief that she is having an affair.
Question: When is absence of evidence evidence of absence?
Nielsen Kai (1971) Reason and Practice. New York: Harper & Row
Cover photo-credit: Andrew David