Evidence for Atheism

Where is the evidence for atheism?

By Robin Schumacher

Evidence for Atheism: The Series

Where is the evidence for atheism?
Where is the empirical evidence for atheism?
Where is the historical evidence for atheism?

Christians hear it all the time in one form or another from atheists and skeptics. It's heard on Internet forums, at the recent Reason Rally held in D.C., and in personal one-on-one debates that center on the existence of God.

"Show me the evidence!" says the atheist to the Christian.

The atheist, believing they have triumphed, usually concludes their demand with a folding of the arms, as if no good evidence for the Christian worldview has ever been put forward. This, of course, is a position that is either unknowingly or willingly ignorant of the weighty philosophical, empirical, and historical evidence that has been provided from the first century all the way up to the present by Christian apologists in defense of the faith.

Such demands by atheists are naturally designed to put the Christian on the defensive, but let me ask: Do atheists not bear any burden for the exact same type of proof they demand from Christians for their own worldview and faith? Indeed they do.

The implied idea that just because a person holds a worldview that is devoid of God means that no evidence needs to be brought forth in defense of that held belief is absurd. The atheists have much to prove, and the fact is, when their own set of criteria they apply to Christianity is aimed back at their own belief system, it is shown to be in need of immediate CPR.

Let's look at three particular areas where the atheist needs proof to back up their claims.

Where is the philosophical evidence for atheism?

Some atheists scoff at the idea that philosophical evidence is needed to justify atheism. For example, Stephen Hawking has said that "philosophy is dead." [1] One can only roll one's eyes at such a statement, especially since Hawking goes on to philosophically argue much in his book to support his anti-supernatural position.

From the start, the atheist puts him/herself in a difficult philosophical position because they make a negatively existential proposition (i.e. "no god"); a type of proposition that can never be proven. Intellectually honest skeptics will admit this and retreat to an agnostic position instead, which is more defensible.

It's important to note that with its primary assertion (no god), atheism has much prove and explain. First, it must answer the primary philosophical question put forward by Leibniz, Heidegger, and others: Why do we have something rather than nothing at all? Recent attempts by atheists have failed miserably at providing proof for an answer to this query. For example, Dr. Lawrence Krauss' latest book embarrassingly shows how far some committed atheists will go. Krauss is only able to give an answer by redefining "nothing" to be the quantum vacuum or empty space, neither of which are "nothing."

Unless they believe in an infinite regress of causes, the atheist must philosophically defend his or her concept of the existence of an eternal/self-existent being that caused everything else. To date, no hard proof has been offered for the atheist's eternal first cause.

No matter how you section reality, the fact is, you will always end up with something that owes its existence to something other than itself. In other words, everything that is known is a contingent being in one form or another. This being true, the atheist must produce sound proofs for what necessary being exists that provides existence to everything else.

Further, this necessary being must match the effects we observe all around us. The atheist has to explain how an impersonal, amoral, meaningless, purposeless universe accidentally created personal, moral beings who are obsessed with meaning and purpose. As a cause cannot produce an effect that possesses something it doesn't (i.e. you can't give what you don't have), the atheist struggles greatly for a satisfying philosophical solution to their dilemma.

This issue is multiplied greatly when the question of unity and diversity is added to the mix. Unity and diversity in effect necessitates unity and diversity in the first cause, and while the biblical concept of the Trinity comes to the aid of the Christian, the atheist has no such answer to fall back upon.

The atheist must also explain the notion of absolute moral values and how the concepts of good and evil are defined and managed. Some atheists such as Sam Harris have attempted to explain these things in recent works through pure natural means, but have been soundly refuted by both religious and non-religious ethicists.

The logic the atheist must deal with where morality is concerned is the following: If there's such a thing as evil, you must assume there's such a thing as good. If you assume there's such a thing as good, you assume there's such a thing as an absolute and unchanging moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. If you assume there's such a thing as an absolute moral law, you must posit an absolute moral lawgiver, but that would be God — the one whom the atheist is trying to disprove. So now rewind: if there's not a moral lawgiver, there's no moral law. If there's no moral law, there's no good. If there's no good, there's no evil. Some atheists, such as Richard Dawkins admit there really is no good or evil, but most atheists aren't willing to make such a confession.

Again, some atheists will try and dismiss these and other similar philosophical issues that confront their worldview and will attempt to assert that the only evidence worthy enough to be considered is that which is scientific/empirical in nature. However, this presents them with another philosophical problem.

When the atheist says, "We should only believe that which can be scientifically proven," they aren't aware that the truth claim that has just left their lips is one that cannot be scientifically proven (it is a philosophical proposition). This means their position is a non-starter right out of the blocks.

For atheists that either already understand this fact or are forced to awaken to this truth, they then are brought to a couple of other unpleasant realities. If science cannot be the end all/be all where truth claims are concerned, then why demand that evidence for God must be found only in the empirical-only dimension? If questions of morality (e.g.: "Were the Nazi's evil?") and concepts like justice cannot be empirically tested and validated, perhaps neither can God.

Further, the legal/historical method of ascertaining truth is widely accepted and can also be used to investigate things that cannot be handled by pure, repeatable empirical methods. If the atheist denies this, then they must explain how courtrooms worldwide arrive at their findings.

In the end, the atheist cannot escape the need to provide philosophical evidence for their position that God does not exist. Their attempt to rely only on empirical methods to support the atheistic worldview cannot be maintained, and, as we'll now see, science isn't much help to their cause either.

1. Stephen Hawking; The Grand Design; pg. 5.

Image Credit: Peas; "11-16-10 Evidence"; Creative Commons

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Published 5-1-12