The Presumptuousness of Atheism


by Paul Copan

Atheist Antony Flew has said that the “onus of proof must lie upon the theist.” Unless compelling reasons for God’s existence can be given, there is the “presumption of atheism.” Another atheist, Michael Scriven, considers the lack of evidence for God’s existence and the lack of evidence for Santa Claus on the same level. However, the presumption of atheism actually turns out to be presumptuousness. The Christian must remember that the atheist also shares the burden of proof, which I will attempt to demonstrate below.

First, even if the theist could not muster good arguments for God’s existence, atheism still would not be shown to be true. The outspoken atheist Kai Nielsen recognizes this: “To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false…. All the proofs of God’s existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists.”

Second, the “presumption of atheism” demonstrates a rigging of the rules of philosophical debate in order to play into the hands of the atheist, who himself makes a truth claim. Alvin Plantinga correctly argues that the atheist does not treat the statements “God exists” and “God does not exist” in the same manner. The atheist assumes that if one has no evidence for God’s existence, then one is obligated to believe that God does not exist — whether or not one has evidence against God’s existence. What the atheist fails to see is that atheism is just as much a claim to know something (“God does not exist”) as theism (“God exists”). Therefore, the atheist’s denial of God’s existence needs just as much substantiation as does the theist’s claim; the atheist must give plausible reasons for rejecting God’s existence…


          The Presumptuousness of Atheism