Atheism and the "Burden of Proof"
One of the things I've encountered when talking with people who reject God is the question of whether they need to give reasons for what they believe. In any logical argument, when someone makes a truth claim they are responsible for providing reasons for why they believe what they do. If, for example, someone says "there are no blue rocks with white spots", we can respond by asking if they've checked every rock in the entire universe to know that their statement is true. If they haven't, then they can't legitimately make the statement that "there are no blue rocks with white spots".
This responsibility to provide evidence for our beliefs is called "burden of proof" and we encounter it in our lives every day. Just think of the times people ask you to give the reasons for the things you believe. In courtrooms, classrooms, in conversations with friends, etc. we are constantly being asked to give a reason for our beliefs. In each of these situations, we have a "burden of proof" to offer evidence for why we believe the things we do.
The traditional definition of atheism is someone who makes the statement "there is no God". This statement carries with it a burden of proof. Namely, what evidence does the atheist have to support his claim that "there is no God"?
Recently, the atheists I speak with have been trying to change this definition from "there is no God" to "I lack a belief in God" in order to escape the burden of proof. While the first statement is one that requires them to support their belief with evidence, the second statement is one that seeks to avoid the burden of proof for their belief. It is, ultimately, a tactic that requires Christians to provide evidence (for the belief "God exists") while all they're required to do is shrug their shoulders. This re-definition is intellectually dishonest, and can be very frustrating when we're engaging in conversation with someone who holds this view.
In response to this trend, Greg Koukl has offered a concise analysis to deal with people who make this claim. It's only about 5 minutes long, so I hope you'll take a look. Then, when someone says to you "I lack a belief in God", you'll have a better understanding of how to respond to them.
Posted on Tue, March 9, 2010