Friday, May 26, 2017

A Simple Test for Atheists

I was thinking this morning about a single question for people who announce they are atheists with four possible responses. This is not a trap question, but it could be an interesting and non-threatening way to start a dialogue. The question would go something like this:

On a scale of 1-4, how confident are you that there is no God?

By “God,” we mean the God of perfect being theology.[1] The responses would look something like this:

1.     Not confident, but there is enough evidence against God to justify my unbelief.
2.     Somewhat confident; there is enough evidence to justify my unbelief and to make theists seriously consider giving up belief in God, too.
3.     Very confident; there is enough evidence such that everyone lacks justification for belief in God.
4.     Extremely confident; near certainty; there is enough evidence such that it is irrational to hold belief in God.

Assuming the atheist answers honestly, you now have a starting point to question them. Too often, the theist (and Christian) is instantly put on the defensive. Instead of that, this helps atheists to see they are making some kind of claim, and a burden of proof rests upon them to show why others should agree with them. There is also an interesting psychology that can go along with this. For example, while (4) has the biggest payoff (you get to say all believers are irrational!), it also has the largest burden (just consider: (4) as a position is invalidated just in case there is not enough evidence such that every last theist in the entire world is irrational for being a theist!). On the other end of the scale, while (1) has the smallest payoff (you can’t even guarantee that any theists are even so much as slightly unjustified in being so), it also shoulders a relatively small burden of proof—and even places one on the theist who insists that the atheist is not justified.

(2) is also a fairly moderate claim. It doesn’t even claim that theists are unjustified; simply that the evidence for atheism is strong enough to warrant a serious look, and of course that it warrants the justification of belief in atheism by the unbeliever. (3) is interesting, for it is a strong claim without being the kind of claim that (4) is. Well, it actually depends: some people tend not to make any kind of distinction between justification and rationality; if there is no such distinction, then (3) collapses into (4). What do you guys think?

[1] While I am a Christian, and this is the most important thing about me, I’m interested in discovering if the atheist has ruled out the type of being we would call God, full stop, or if hers is mainly a complaint about Christianity or other major world religions.

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