Many Internet atheists will automatically default to the Oxford definition of atheism to avoid any burden of proof. The Oxford dictionary defines atheism as the “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” Meanwhile, the Cambridge dictionary, providing a more accurate and intellectually honest definition, defines atheism as, “the belief that God does not exist”. One of these is a negative claim while the other is a positive claim. The Oxford dictionary is nothing more than a cop-out definition for an atheist to avoid any of the burden of proof they have. It is as silly as claiming that I have a lack of belief in liberty because I am alibertarian. Of course, that is a ridiculous attempt to split hairs and dance through intellectual hoops to avoid taking an affirmative stance and defend my opinion. Definitions are important and we should be clear about our terms and what they mean. Sly plays on words should not be substitutes for a sound definition based in reality. Even if you want to argue that the theoretical perfect atheist would not profess a belief that a deity does not exist rather he would simply lack the beliefs that are one thing but that does not overrule the reality of the situation. Just as we should not let feminists pretend they are the ideal feminist when they are not, we should not let atheist do the same. A look around any atheist page or reading or atheist arguments makes clear that they are processing a claim. The oxford definition is simply a backhanded way to change the nature of the debate.

On the other hand, the Cambridge definition acknowledges. In 1972 atheist philosopher, and soon to be deist, Antony Flew argued that, although not using the terms, that the Oxford definition should be chosen over the Cambridge definition because at the time the Cambridge definition was the accepted definition.

But do atheist really share or have the burden of proof? Yes but only to an extent. To quote one writer, “…they do have a responsibility in attempting to demonstrate the implausibility of God’s existence, a contradiction in the attributes of God, flaws in the theist’s arguments, or other violations of the laws of logic within the theistic worldview. So understood, this may be called the weak burden of proof, whereby the atheist must, at the very least, demonstrate rational and/or evidential implausibility of their opponent’s position.” Of course, this should not be taken to mean that theists lack the burden of proof because we do. You can not prove a negative but we can and have to prove a positive.

Lastly, I would also like to touch on the logical sustainability of atheism. Af explained above, atheism is the assertion that a deity or deities do not exist. This is both a positive and absolute assertion. For anyone to know with certainty that would require omnipotent knowledge but having omnipotent knowledge would make you that deity you claim does not exist hence atheism is not logically sustainable. Of course one could claim that you can never know a negative for certain but that is the point. Atheism, unlike agnosticism and (both weak and strong) theism, is not a tenable position. Both agnosticism (weak atheism) and weak theism can be argued for with logical arguments which make their conclusion more or less probable. Strong theism is only logical because it is possible that a deity exists, hence we hare having this debate. If a deity does exist then it is possible for divine revelation and only in that instance would strong theism be a logical position. No argument, like with strong atheism, can prove or disprove a deity.

Updated on 2/14/2017

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Posted by Roman Bilan

4 Comments

  1. “Lastly, I would also like to touch on the logical sustainability of atheism. Af explained above, atheism is the assertion that a deity or deities do not exist. This is both a positive and absolute assertion ”

    If you look at your definitions above – no such assertion is being made. There is no “I know” only “I believe” or “lack belief”. While “I believe” is positive, it doesn’t follow that it’s absolute.

    I do agree that atheism is not logically sustainable, but you knowingly or not did a sleight of hand here with the definition…

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  2. The logic you use to force a burden of proof doesn’t hold. If we suppose that there’s a telechentic teapot floating through space then that teapot would also presumably be capable of proving itself through telechentic revelation. However, if someone approached me on the street and told me about the teapot there would be no burden of proof on me to explain why I don’t believe in it. I am not required to disprove everything that could possibly exist. You’ve attempted to establish in your argument that to claim the nonexistence of this teapot, unicorns, dragons, or any list of fanciful things is an untenable position because to definitively prove their non existence would require omnipotence. I understand that my argument regarding the teapot is a tired refutation by old hat atheists, but your own defense is so exhausted that I was surprised to see to attempt to retread it.

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    1. You’re attacking a strawman. You have to refute evidence put forth. That’s the argument.

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  3. As an atheist it does annoy me when atheists imply that the burden of proof 100% relies on theists. If you are trying to disprove a theist you must find a reason as to why they were wrong other than “well you have no evidence”. But in the end its just faith vs evidence and many people are happy to take faith and you cannot prove them wrong because any arguments ends with “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” and there’s nothing anyone can say to that.

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