Atheism, Agnosticism, and Theism - The Burden of Proof

What is an atheist, an agnostic, or a theist? More importantly, who has the burden of proof? Most people assume that they can claim to be an agnostic or an atheist and that should be the end of discussion. The assumption is that the theist has something to prove, that atheism or agnosticism is the “default” and protected position. This is not the case. If someone claims to be an atheist or an agnostic they too, just as the theist, should be able to explain why they believe as they do.

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Makarios said…
Well, atheists won't man up with evidence because they can't. All they've got is, "There's no evidence for God!"
robert said…
I was raised Lutheran, baptized, church, Sunday School, Bible Camp, confirmation, and communion. But I am an atheist. My personal definition for atheism is the disbelief of any belief system that one knows exists. I cannot disbelieve any system that I do not know, nor can I disbelieve the existence of any god, I just do not believe in any god or believe system I have heard about.
My road to atheism is long, and the best way to describe this is chronological. While a child, I never experienced god, either at church or in daily life. I questioned early the existence of multiple churches, either one has the truth, which one, or none has the truth. This was before I was aware of other religions outside of Christianity.
For most people the acknowledgment of a real Egypt and Israel would bolster their faith, when I learned about Egypt I questioned the Bible. How could a country exist in the Bible and in real life? This was before I know about world history and modern Egypt is not the same as the Biblical Egypt.
I was fascinated with mythologies, mostly Greek and Norse. One day I came to the realization that most mythologies have an after-life. My mind clicked at that point that if the after-life of mythology was not real, than the after-life of Christianity was not real.
robert said…
I still claimed to be a Christian as I did not know any better. Talking with friends on faith, I learned of the term agnostic. I latched onto this term, as this described my view on religion. I could neither prove nor disprove god, but I could claim that I have no personal knowledge of god. Later, I expanded this to mean that god is as much above us as we are of bacteria, and could have no knowledge of god.
Around the same time frame I came to the realization that Jesus was no more divine than any living or dead person. So we are all divine or none of us are divine.
I started looking at the history of the Bible, as Jesus is as much about his teachings as the history that led to his teachings. From the time of Abraham onward, the bible is a history book. The time before Abraham seems to be influenced heavily by the non-Israelites. I learned that Egypt for a short time was ruled by a Pharaoh that believed in one god, Atenism. Was this the same god, was it influenced by the Israelites, or were the Israelites influenced by Atenism?
robert said…
Why would god only focus his attention on one location in the world? If he is the jealous god that is betrayed in the Old Testament that he would be found all over the world. Why would he need to be a jealous god, if there is only one god?
I looked briefly at Islam, and found it to be more lacking that Christianity. I looked at the Eastern religions and found nothing compelling.
I looked back at Jesus. I found that without the crucifixion there would be no Christianity. So the often vilified Judas is actually a knowing compatriot of Jesus. Jesus' own doubts in the Garden of Gethsemane, shows weakness of not knowing the outcome.
robert said…
I discovered the gospels were written after the destruction of the Temple Mount, 30 years after the death of Jesus. That without Paul, the Christian Church of today would not exist.
Early Christian’s beliefs varied, from the divine to the Gnostic. It was not until 325 C.E., when Constantine wanted to nationalize Christianity, that the divinity of Jesus was agreed upon, and this was a simple majority vote.
Looking at the history of the world, if god created man with sin and the world is 6,000 years old, than god is only trying every 2,000 years to eradicate sin, the Flood, Crucifixion, and as some predict any year now, the second coming.
Again, looking at history of the world, if the world is 14 billion years old, than why did god wait 14 billion years to create his favorite creation.
There are a multitude of things science does not know, the three biggest are how life started?, how the big bang happened?, and what started what was before the big bang?
I challenge my beliefs constantly. I do not want to impose my beliefs on others, as these are my conclusions. Conversely, I do not want any belief imposed on others, whether it is atheistic (Communism), Sharia (Islamic Law), or Christianity.
America is a nation of Christians, under a secular government, founded by Christians, after religious persecution in Europe.
Brian Branam said…
Robert, thank you for taking time to share your journey with me; it is very interesting. I hope you will listen to the audio I post. I do not think it will answer all of your questions, but I do think it will help. At this point I would only challenge you to do a couple of things. It seems you are well read; however it seems, from your comments, your choice of reading is from sources that share a common skepticism over the history of Christianity and the communication of the Biblical cannon. Is my assumption true? I have found there is a common tone in all of this sort of writing; namely that you cannot trust the Christian faith or its founders – they all had some “other” sort of agenda. I would encourage you to read some reputable scholars who hold a high view of Scripture as well as Biblical history. Just because someone holds a high view of the Biblical Scriptures does not make them a poor scholar.

Also, I find in your comments another tone common to atheism. It is interesting to me that most atheists have found their faith in reference to Christianity or at least theism. If atheism is so well founded, why not just leave theism and Christianity alone and establish your belief system without the “negatives.” I believe this is the downfall of atheism; it is constantly having to prove the “un”, the “non”, and the “not”, if you will. This is basically impossible to do in a logical manner. Why not, as an atheist, try to prove what “is” rather than what is “not.” In the series of teachings I am offering on atheism, theism, and agnosticism I will be showing more reasons why Christianity “is” reasonable to believe. For instance, if you read men who have taken the journey from atheism to theism, such as C.S. Lewis or Anthony Flew, they can certainly offer reasons why atheism is “not” thus and so, but even more so, they are able to offer reasons why theism “is” thus and so. They did not have to borrow capital from atheism in order to become theists. But it seems that atheists are forced to borrow capital from theism in order to even exist. In a simple way, I would say that if there is no god, why do atheists spend so much energy trying to prove their position? If there is no god, leave it all alone, the whole idea of god will just evolve away. If there is no god, why worry about it or even think about it? In time, even without atheists, if there is no god, the whole idea of god will eventually go the way of Richard Dawkin’s spaghetti monster. I spend zero energy in my life contemplating the reasons why the spaghetti monster doesn’t exist. Furthermore, my faith is not a-islam, a-buddhism, a-mormonism, a-mythology, or even a-atheism. I believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world because of what I find true of Him. Although faith in Christ is necessarily a rejection of other faiths, this element of “a” or rejection is not the primary basis of my faith.

I would also add one note about science. Atheists seem to hang their hat on science and I think this is partially Christianity’s fault. Christians have given atheists the false hope that if evolution is proven true, then truly there is no god. I think this has forced Christians to retreat into dark corners in the scientific community. However, anyone who does some serious investigation into science will find that science is unable to answer transcendent questions. Science is able to tell us that grass is green, but it is unable to provide us with “the meaning of grass.” I think atheists have taken too much liberty with science and have turned it into their own cannon of anti-holy scripture. Atheists are forcing science to say things that science is simply unable to say.

Thank you for your comments Robert and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
robert said…
First, I want to say that I cannot talk about any other person’s beliefs.
Second, there is no doubt that in a large percentage of countries, historic or modern, I would be imprisoned, “reconditioned”, or put to death, for my lack of belief. For that I am grateful to live in the United States, I paid a portion of the cost for our freedom with 10 years in the Air Force.
Third, I could use a different term like freethinker, but 90% of Americans would not understand the term. As previously stated I used agnostic, for ten years, due to the connotations I understood at the time, of atheism, no matter my beliefs I cannot denounce another’s beliefs. But, agnostic does not fully explain my views. I cannot identify as a humanist, while I do agree with a portion of their manifesto, humanists seem too liberal, even leaning close to socials.
Several months ago, I listened to an atheist in a podcast; I do not remember the name of the individual, who went over the topic of what to call those of us without belief. The dialog came full circle, that atheism is the best term. My understanding the original definition of atheism is “without belief”, just as agnostic is “without knowledge”. The preceding “a” is not “anti-“ or against, rather negative or without. The only place I hear the “anti-“ meaning is in sermons. This may go back to Psalms 14:1 or Romans 1:20, where the greatness of a god is self evident, and those who do not see are deluded, influenced by demons, or simply mad. As I do not see any need for a god in our universe, I do not believe I fall in any of the aforementioned afflictions.
Back to labeling non-believers, you are not the first place I heard that atheism seems to be anti-Christian. I would agree that in America, an atheist would appear to fit that mold. In a Muslim country the atheist, if one could live openly, would appear anti-Islam, and so forth for every religion around the world. Again, I cannot talk about other non-believers, my goal in communicating with Christians is not to bash their faith, I respect their personal choice. No institution, government, or person can force a belief on someone, it is personal. My goal is to let Christians know there are neutral non-believers. Even though, I understand this is not valid in the Christian worldview, you are either for or against, Revelations 3:16 mentions anyone who is lukewarm, neutral, is spat out.
robert said…
You ask why the term has to be based on theism; my response is it needs to be, as the question is “what do you believe?” The answer for any believer is always in the positive, regardless of belief system. For non-believers the only commonality is disbelief. I have heard that atheism is equal to communism, but I self identify as a republican, with libertarian leanings. (Not to bring politics in, but to show labels we choose for ourselves.)
I try to get my information from several sources religious, freethinker, and scientific. I do look at the information from all sides before I come to a personal conclusion. On the faith side, I do limit my information gathering on reasons to believe. Not to bash the reasons, but to try to absorb and self-actualize the information. I do realize that the Christian doctrine is more than faith, but without faith I would be a practical atheist, and I would rather be a full on atheist, then falsely profess my faith.
On a side note: I listened to a news clip on an atheist sign in Alabama. One of the persons interviewed said of “we are a bunch of Christians, if you do not like the neighborhood move out”, another said “it is not something I want my kid around.” You mention that atheism seems to be anti-religion, but I see Christians voicing anti-choice. This seems to go against the parable of the Good Samaritan, of loving your neighbors as yourself. Also, I do not know any verse in the New Testament that belief, outside of the Old Covenant in ancient Israel and Judea (it was a stoning offense), is mandatory, free choice seems to be the rule. You can lead a person to the Bible but you cannot make them believe.
I do not confess to being a biblical scholar, I only try to absorb the verses I have heard and try to put them in context to both the sermon and to my life.

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