Theism, Atheism, and Rationality: Some Reflections

by Paul Copan

Alvin Plantinga was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in the New York Times on the question, “Is Atheism Irrational?”[1] The following Tuesday, a National Public Radio station in Los Angeles asked me to participate in a program (the next day), in which I would engage with an atheist on this topic and then address any questions from callers. I agreed and prepared some material to make the point in defending the plausibility of belief in God.

As is turns out, the person who had invited me to speak on the program informed me that her supervisor had also booked another Christian philosopher, but who happened to be in the Los Angeles area and so could possibly come to the studio. As it turns out, that theist was a fellow Christian philosopher and frequent collaborator, William Lane Craig. So I knew that theism would be very well-represented—and indeed it was![2]

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Since I had typed out some notes, why not make use of them in some other way? So I thought I’d at least post some of my reflections on the topic of theism, atheism, and rationality.

1. Atheism makes a knowledge claim—“God does not exist”—and therefore stands in need of justification, as does as the theistic claim, “God exists.” The atheist is not off the hook. If the atheist claims that he simply does not believe in God, then he does not differ from an agnostic, who also doesn’t believe in God. The agnostic’s view is properly characterized as unbelief; the atheist’s is disbelief.

2. Lack of evidence for God is insufficient to justify atheism. For example, it’s possible that arguments for God’s existence are inadequate, but that God still exists.  The atheist has more work to do than debunking theistic claims. He has to show that God does not or cannot exist.

3. The best (or even only) argument atheists have is the argument from evil, which is itself a mixed bag. The argument from evil assumes that things ought to be a certain way rather than another, but does this not assume some kind of design plan? As C.S. Lewis said, we can’t understand “crooked” unless we understand what “straight” is. Or can we understand counterfeit money unless we understand what real currency is? But if nature is all there is, I see no reason to think things ought to be one way rather than another. Things just are what they are.

For all of his intellectual missteps and inconsistencies, Richard Dawkins is quite correct about the implications about the naturalistic worldview…

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