Do atheists have a burden of proof?
This debate is a follow-up to a conversation I had with a fellow debater (http://www.debate.org...).
In this debate, I will argue that atheism (and, by extension, the rejection of any claim) does not have a burden of proof. This means that one's atheism can be rationally justified without adding evidence that "atheism is true" (whatever that means).
Indeed, the rejection of a claim (i.e. There is a God) is simply the state of not being convinced that the claim true; it is not the state of being convinced that the claim is false (i.e. There is no God), which would require more justification.
In a syllogism (for clarity):
P1: Any position that simply rejects a claim does not have a BoP
P2: Atheism is the rejection of the claim that there is a God
C: Atheism does not have a BoP.
I would like to know something: what is my opponent's position on the existence of fairies? In other words, does my opponent believe the claim "Fairies do exist"?
I will leave it at that for now. The rest of my arguments will depend on my opponent's exact position and how he answers the question above.
I accept this debate, and hope that we can come to a mutual understanding.
Firstly, some definitions are needed. According to Merriam-Webster
Atheism: a disbelief in the existence of deity, or the doctrine that there is no deity .
Agnosticism: a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not .
Theism: the belief that God exists or that many gods exist .
These represent the three possible answers to the question "Is there a deity?" No is Atheism. Yes is Theism, and Maybe is Agnosticism.
Firstly, I will address my opponents' claims. According to my opponent "Any position that simply rejects a claim does not have a BoP". What if I reject the idea that Mars is red? Is it up to me to prove my position or up to my opponent to prove me wrong? The answer here is simple, anyone making a truth claim such as, Mars isn't red, or God doesn't exist requires evidence/proof. Further, my opponent's syllogism can be turned around like
P1: Any position that simply rejects a claim does not have a BoP
P2: Theism is the rejection of the claim that there is no God
C: Theism does not have a BoP.
Obviously, this is absurd. However, if my opponent's syllogism is valid, there is no reason why this one isn't valid.
Dealing with fairies. I must say I am a fairy agnostic because I have not been involved with the question if they do exist or not which means I do not have a definite belief about whether fairies exists or not. Similar to being a Global Warming agnostic since I have not involved myself in that topic much either.
Now I will present my arguments for my position
1. Atheism is a belief.
The existence of God cannot be proved/disproved scientifically. This is because of the limitations of science. Science studies the natural world like cats, planets, humans, etc. However, any god would exist outside of nature, and therefore, could not be studied like we could study Mars. That is the job of Theology. Concluding, this is inherently a theological debate based on beliefs. To refute this point my opponent must show that there is a way to know for certain about things outside of nature.
2. Atheism is not the default position.
Atheism would not have a burden of proof if it was the default position to the question "Is there a deity?". However, the true default position here is actually agnosticism. This is because agnosticism is making no claims about God. "Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial. " Since people are not born with beliefs, and since they do not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not they must be persuaded to atheism. This builds upon my previous point which shown that atheism is a belief.
I will sum it up in a syllogism.
P1: Atheism is a belief, that is not the default belief.
P2: Any non-default beliefs must be justified by reasons (has a burden of proof).
C: Atheism has a burden of proof.
It would seem that this debate is going to be much shorter than I thought, since my opponent's arguments are based on a misunderstanding of what atheism (and agnosticism) actually is.
The definition of atheism that is held by the vast majority of atheists AND by the vast majority of dictionaries (see below) INCLUDING the one that my opponent has presented can be summarized as follow:
Atheism is the rejection of the claim that there is a God (or Gods).
My opponent also makes a common mistake; he assumes that atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusive, when in fact they are not. While atheism addresses a question of belief, agnosticism addresses a question of knowledge. I, for example, am an agnostic atheist which means that I do not KNOW whether or not God exists, but I do not BELIEVE that he does. Most people tend to mix 'I do not believe XYZ' with 'I believe XYZ is false'; while the latter would require proof and evidence to be rational, the former doesn't since it is not a claim, it is the rejection of a claim.
My opponent asks 'Is there a deity?' and proceeds to give the answer that each view would give, two of which are incorrect. Here are the correct answers:
Atheism: I do not believe so
Agnosticism: I do not know
Now, my opponent rejects the idea that someone who simply rejects a claim does not have a BoP and gives the following example:
'What if I reject the idea that Mars is red?' Well, rejecting that claim does not give you the BoP. The BoP is on the person that claims that Mars is red, which can be supported by numerous photographs.
'The answer here is simple, anyone making a truth claim such as, Mars isn't red, or God doesn't exist requires evidence/proof' I agree with that statement 100%. The problem is that my opponent is again confusing two statements:
- 'I reject the idea that Mars is red' The person saying this does NOT have a BoP
- 'Mars isn't red' The person saying this DOES have a BoP, since they are claiming that Mars is IN FACT not red, which is a truth claim.
My opponent then makes a syllogism that is logically valid, but unsound since the second premise is false according to his own definitions.
On the question of fairies, my opponent claims that he does not 'have a definite belief about whether fairies exists or not'. The problem is, there is no middle ground between 'I believe XYZ' and 'I do not believe XYZ'. My opponent is again confusing 'not believing' with 'believing it's false'. Unless my opponent actually believes that fairies do exist, he is an 'afairyist'. As a general rule: unless you actively believe that XYZ is true, you are an 'aXYZist'.
'The existence of God cannot be proved/disproved scientifically' I agree, and that is one of the reasons why I am an atheist; because God (or at least some versions of it) is an unfalsifiable hypothesis.
'However, the true default position here is actually agnosticism.' Correction: the true default position is agnostic atheism; not knowing AND not believing.
'This builds upon my previous point which shown that atheism is a belief' Atheism is not a belief, it is the rejection of a belief.
My opponent makes another syllogism that is logically valid, but unsound since the first premise is erroneous for reasons I have mentioned earlier (i.e. atheism is not a belief).
In short, my opponent is erroneously describing atheism as a 'belief' in order to say that atheists have a burden of proof. My position is that since atheism is NOT a belief, atheists do NOT have a burden of proof.
Definition of atheism:
While I agree that some websites offer two definitions (the second being 'the belief that there is no God'), I believe I made it perfectly clear in the first round that I was referring to the definition most commonly used, which is that atheists 'lack a belief' in God, meaning that they do not believe he exists.
Plus, the etymology of 'atheism' also supports my definition: http://www.defineatheism.com...
I await my opponent's response.
I thank my opponent for their responses.
1. Rejection vs. Claim.
"I reject the idea that Mars is red"
"Mars isn't red'"
These phrases are saying the exact same thing with different words, but however my opponent think only the second one has a burden of proof.
In that case I could say my position is not "atheist have a burden of proof" but "the rejection of the claim that atheist don't have a burden of proof".
Rejecting a claim is the same a claiming it is false. You reject a claim because you believe it is false, you would not reject a true claim. If you didn't reject it because you believe it is false then why was it rejected? Further, What if I were to say Theism is not the assertion that 'There is a God', it is rather the rejection of the claim 'There is no God'?
2. Definition of Atheism
Atheism is a positive denial , meaning it makes a claim that there is no God; therefore, there is some burden of proof on the atheist. Consider this, if someone ask you why are you an atheist unless you say "because no one has proved me wrong" then you must believe there is some proof behind your claim.
For the question "Is there a deity?" my opponent falsly claims two are wrong.
We agree on theism
Agnotism: My opponent need to understand the definion of maybe. Maybe: "something that is not known for certain ." Esentially we gave the same answer.
Atheist: If I asked the question "Did you close the door" you might respond "I beleive I shut the door." or "I don't believe I left the door open." saying either of these communicates the exact same idea. Also does "I believe there is no god" or "I do not believe god exist" Just by switching a few words doesn't change the idea behind what is being said. Atheist say "no" to the question if god exist.
Agnosticism and Athiesm are mutually exclusive. With the term agnostic atheist is using a different definition of agnosticism that was not defined anywhere. My opponent is using agnosticism as possibly which is not what agnostisism was defined as earlier. Also, as stated earlier there is no way to know for certain if God exist or not which would make every a "agnostic" Theist/Atheist. Also, as mentioned earliar anything you can not know is a belief. My oppoenet said "I do not KNOW whether or not God exists", so there is some belief if he rejects gods existence. To all questions that can not/ have not been proven with certainty the defualt answer is Maybe/I don't know which is agnosticism.
My opponent claims there is no middle ground on the question "Do faires exist?". This is wrong. There are always mutiplute degrees of certainty like possibly, probably, maybe(agnostisism). These are valid answers to a question like this.
I also thank my opponent for their responses. I will keep on using the same separations for clarity.
1. Rejection vs. Claim.
My opponent claims that rejecting the truth of a statement is identical ("exact same thing") to claiming that the statement is in fact false. In order to make a truth claim, the speaker must at the very least BELIEVE what he is saying, otherwise that person has no reason to make this claim (let's leave "lying" out of this debate).
What does it mean to "believe"? Well, belief is the result of being convinced; we start believing something when adequate evidence has been presented to support the truth of the claim. Up until the point where such evidence is presented, belief is NOT given to the claim.
And this is what I meant when I said that there is "no middle ground between 'I believe XYZ' and 'I do not believe XYZ'"; one either believes a claim, or he does not. Not knowing whether fairies exists is included within the rejection of the claim that they DO exist.
Consider the following: Someone asks "Do fairies exist?". In this case, for most people, the honest answer is "I do not know". Why? Because "Do fairies exist?" is NOT a claim, it is a question. In reality (and regardless of people's beliefs), there are only two possibilities:
1) Fairies do exist
2) Fairies do not exist
Asserting any of these two possibilities comes with a burden of proof. Now, my opponent is making the following mistake: he assumes that afairyism is 2 and that fairyism is 1 (effectively splitting the burden of proof), but that is not case. Afairyism and fairyism BOTH address 1; while the latter is asserting it, the former is simply unconvinced of the truth of it.
Let's translate this into the topic of this debate:
Question: Does God exist?
1) God does exist
2) God does not exist
Asserting any of these two possibilities comes with a burden of proof. Now, my opponent is making the following mistake: he assumes that atheism is 2 and that theism is 1 (effectively splitting the burden of proof), but that is not case. Atheism and theism BOTH address 1; while the latter is asserting it, the former is simply unconvinced of the truth of it.
2. Definition of atheism.
"Atheism is a positive denial" A positive denial has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with atheism (or with the concept of burden of proof), and my guess is that my opponent did not bother look up the definition of "positive denial". A positive denial is "Giving yourself permission to temporarily disregard situations which need not be addressed at the moment" (http://www.winona.edu...). In other words, it is basically procrastination. How is that related to the topic? I do not know.
"If I asked the question "Did you close the door" you might respond "I beleive (sic) I shut the door." or "I don't believe I left the door open." saying either of these communicates the exact same idea." I disagree; just put this example in the above model (question and two possibilities) and it becomes clear that they do NOT communicate the EXACT same idea. As I said, there is a difference between a question and a claim; saying "I beleive (sic) I shut the door." is addressing the CLAIM "You shut the door", while saying "I don't believe I left the door open" is addressing the CLAIM "You left the door open". Moreover, this analogy is weak because the scope is too small: people would tend to believe that these two statements mean the same thing because they are both based on the evidence that the person probably remembers actually closing the door.
"Also does "I believe there is no god" or "I do not believe god exist"(sic)" Simply put: no.
"Just by switching a few words doesn't change the idea behind what is being said." This fails both as a general rule ("I like brown potatoes" vs. "I do not like brown potatoes") and as a specific rule in this context. The change of phrasing is EXTREMELY important in this context.
"Atheist say "no" to the question if god exist. (sic)" Well, apparently my opponent knows me better than I know myself.
"Agnosticism and Athiesm (sic) are mutually exclusive." No they are not. As I have said earlier, atheism addresses a question of BELIEF and agnosticism addresses a question of KNOWLEDGE. So not only are they NOT mutually exclusive, but atheism almost necessarily leads to agnosticism (since you can not really know something you do not believe). According to some philosophers, knowledge is simply an extreme form of belief.
"Also, as stated earlier there is no way to know for certain if God exist or not which would make every (sic) a (sic) "agnostic" Theist/Atheist" I agree with that statement. Depending on my opponent's definition of "knowledge", agnosticism may be a completely useless term.
"Also, as mentioned earliar (sic) anything you can not know is a belief." No, it isn't, not by a longshot. It is actually a LACK of belief.
"My oppoenet (sic) said "I do not KNOW whether or not God exists", so there is some belief if he rejects gods (sic) existence." For the umpteenth time, rejecting the truth of a claim is NOT the same thing as claiming that the claim is false.
"To all questions that can not/ have not been proven with certainty the defualt (sic) answer is Maybe/I don't know which is agnosticism." Not knowing whether or not something exists almost NECESSARILY leads to a lack of (rational) belief in the existence of that thing.
I have already addressed the question of fairies in this round.
In conclusion, my opponent's arguments have failed since they are based on erroneous assumptions and misunderstandings of definitions. I believe I have given sufficient reasons why atheists do NOT have a burden of proof and I would therefore encourage the audience to vote CON.
I thank my opponent for his insightful response, although there are some problems.
|Agreed with before the debate:||-||-||0 points|
|Agreed with after the debate:||-||-||0 points|
|Who had better conduct:||-||-||1 point|
|Had better spelling and grammar:||-||-||1 point|
|Made more convincing arguments:||-||-||3 points|
|Used the most reliable sources:||-||-||2 points|
|Total points awarded:||5||0|