Other Worldviews

Do Atheists Lack Belief in God?

Author Greg Koukl Published on 08/21/2013

Some atheists think they escape the burden of proof by claiming they lack belief rather than have a belief there is no God. Yes, there is a difference between non-belief and unbelief, but there is no refuge here for the atheist.

Atheists no longer believe there is no God, apparently. Instead, they merely lack belief in the divine. They are not un-believers. They are simply non-believers. And non-belief is not a claim, so it requires no defense.

This, atheists think, makes their job easier by relieving them of any responsibility to provide evidence for their view, er...their non-view. After all, no one is obliged to give evidence for the non-existence of fairies. Thus, atheism secures the inside lane as the default view for reasonable people. Or so atheists claim.

If I were an atheist, I would never take this route. I’d fear people would think I was cheating with words, betraying weakness, not strength. This, as it turns out, is exactly what’s happening. Yes, there is a difference between non-belief and unbelief, but there is no refuge here for the atheist.

For example, if you asked me which rugby team was the best in England, I wouldn’t know where to start. Since I have no interest in the question and no information on the issue, I cannot form a belief one way or another. Because I have no beliefs about the quality of rugby competition in the U.K., I am truly a non-believer regarding the question. I am neutral.

This is not the case with atheists. It’s true, atheists have no belief in God, but they are not neutral on this question. If they were, they wouldn’t be writing books or accepting invitations for debates. No one debates about non-beliefs. There would be nothing to talk about.

For an atheist to enter a debate, he has to take a position. If he takes a position, he asserts a belief. And when he asserts a belief, he makes a claim. When he advances an argument, presumably he believes the conclusion that flows from his own reasoning. Theists say there is a God, and atheists argue they are wrong. This is not neutrality.

To say you do not believe in God is very different from saying you lack belief about God. Anyone who has a point of view has a belief. And atheists have a point of view. This makes them believers of a very particular stripe: They believe God does not exist.

There’s another problem, though, that apparently has escaped the notice of those atheists who claim the high road of reason as their own. Given any point of view (e.g., “God exists”), there are only three possible responses to it. You can affirm it (“God does exist”), you can deny it (“God does not exist”), or you can withhold judgment (“I don’t know”), either for lack of information or lack of interest.

In the God debate, the first is called a theist (of some sort), the second an atheist, and the third an agnostic. The alleged non-believers in question here are neither theistic nor agnostic. Only one logical option remains: They deny God exists, which is why they are called atheists. An atheist (a = not, theist = regarding God) is a person who holds there is not a God. That is an active claim, not a passive non-belief.

The only way out of this logical trilemma is to simply stand on the sidelines and not participate, either for lack of interest or for lack of information. However, neither apathy nor uncertainty seem to characterize those who say they “lack a belief in God.”

Now, whether or not atheists are obliged to offer evidence for their denial is a different question. This brings us back to fairies. Atheists are not neutral on the question of fairies, either. They deny their existence, as do I. In my view, though, neither of us is obliged to give evidence against fairies because no plausible evidence of any kind has ever been advanced for them, as far as I know.

That is not the case with God, however. Since 99% of the people in the world believe in God, then rejection of that which seems self-evident to virtually everyone on the planet requires some rationale, especially in light of the cogent arguments in favor of God’s existence.

The atheist’s unwillingness to step up to the plate on this smacks of intellectual dishonesty. Since they claim to be champions of reason (the “brights,” to use Daniel Dennett’s euphemism for his kind), then they ought to live according to its rules, it seems to me.