Atheism and Evidence: Self-Defense Against Belief?

by Tom Gilson

I’m in a Facebook dialogue today (visible to friends) with an atheist, Spencer Hawkins, who says,

The methods of science and history are not able to verify supernatural causation…. It is possible that these historical claims are all true, yet some other God exists, leaving the metaphysical claims of Christianity false…. the central problem that I have is an epistemological one: there is no reliable procedure to either confirm or disconfirm claims of supernatural causation.

Demanding Incontrovertible Evidence

Here’s what I think I see going on there. My discussion with Spencer is still underway, and I don’t know if my conclusions here will have anything to do with him, even though he’s the one who got me thinking along these lines. I’m pretty sure I see it in other atheists, at any rate. It looks like this:

  1. “There is no reliable procedure to confirm or disconfirm,” therefore Spencer chooses not to believe.
  2. Again, “It is possible” that some other cause could explain miracles, even if they happened, according to Spencer.
  3. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Peter Boghossian have said they would not consider it conclusive evidence for God if the stars all realigned themselves to say in everyone’s own language, “I am God, believe in me.” Boghossian says, “It could be a delusion.”
  4. Dawkins and Boghossian have also said the same thing about the return of Christ, if it happened: not enough evidence.
  5. The common watchword among atheists is skepticism, an attitude of withholding belief where there is any possibility of other explanations.
  6. Finally and perhaps most significantly, atheism is “not a belief,” according to many atheists. It’s a lack of belief in God or gods.

Atheism, then, is (often) an intentional withholding of belief because of a perceived insufficiency of evidence. It’s a version  of W. K. Clifford’s dictum: “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”*

My question is whether this is a form of self-defense against belief in God. I’ll get to that question presently; first I have to put some more pieces in place.

Not Caring Much At All About Incontrovertible Evidence

Clifford’s claim is hard to take seriously, and as it turns out, atheists apply it very selectively. Consider these other claims, none of which has sufficient evidence to prove it true:

  1. A pre-born human is not a person, at least not to the degree that killing it amounts to a moral fault.
  2. Gay marriage is right and good for all.
  3. The children of same-sex couples experience lifelong life outcomes that are as socially and emotionally healthy as children of man-woman marriages.
  4. Governmental policies are an effective vehicle for expressing compassion.

It’s possible that arguments for God are wrong, so atheists typically say they don’t believe in God. It’s possible that arguments for abortion are wrong, and atheists commonly support abortion. How does this make sense? So what’s going on with this selective insistence on sufficient evidence?


Atheism and Evidence: Self-Defense Against Belief? – Thinking Christian