The Presumption of Atheism – A Response

The Saints and Sceptics blog has in progress a short series addressing what it calls popular atheist arguments.

The first post is on The Presumption of Atheism (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/three-popular-atheist-arguments-part-1/)

The essay that’s being critiqued appears to be this one: http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Flew-The-Presumption-of-Atheism.pdf. A short and informative read that I highly recommend.

In an effort to be dispel ubiquity, the essay includes this sentence near the start.

In this interpretation an atheist becomes: not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God; but someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels ‘positive atheist’ for the former and ‘negative atheist’ for the latter.

Flew, then continues to explain agnostic as;

In the meantime it should be sufficient to point out that, following the present degenerate usage, an agnostic is one who, having entertained the proposition that God exists, now claims not to know either that it is or that it is not true.

I will state at this point that these are definitions that I agree with and they are what I tend to mean when I use the words atheist and agnostic. As such I would accept that I am both; I hold no belief in any god and I do not know if any described god exists.

Reading the essay by Flew, it is clear that he is saying that the atheism he is arguing for the presumption of is atheism which says ‘I hold no theist belief’. The case for theism and the case for the atheism which says ‘there is no god’ both require supporting proofs.

Unsurprisingly, I agree with Flew’s argument.

How does Saints and Sceptics address the argument? Like this;

His comment here suggests that perhaps it should really be a presumption of agnosticism, but what exactly is the difference between atheism and agnosticism? The obvious answer is that an atheist believes that there is no God, while an agnostic is undecided

and like this;

Another way to put this is to say that according to the presumption of atheism, there is a greater burden of proof on the theist to make a case for God than for the atheist to make a case against God. By contrast, the presumption of agnosticism would place an equal burden on both the theist and the atheist

The author has redefined the words so that they do not mean what Flew described in his document and then flat out lies about Flew’s intent.

Put in these terms, it is clear that Flew did indeed have the presumption of atheism in mind, and this is the view that atheists often appeal to.

No, no, and NO! Read Flew’s essay again, he went to great pains to specifically not assume the atheism that Saints and Sceptics means in that quote.

Flew actually agrees with the point made, in fact he implies it at a couple of points. Like this one;

To this the objection is almost equally obvious. Given just a very little verbal ingenuity, the content of any motion can be rendered alternatively in either a negative or a positive form: either, “That this house denies the existence of God”; or, “That this house takes its stand for positive atheism”. So interpreted, therefore, our axiom provides no determinate guidance.[3] Suppose, however, that we take the hint already offered in the previous paragraph. A less literal but more sympathetic translation would be: “The onus of proof lies on the proposition, not on the opposition.”

Saints and Sceptics continues…

In the case of God, the atheist may well believe that there is evidence against God’s existence, but that needs to be argued for rather than smuggled into the presumption of atheism.

I agree. I also agree that the argument for the existence for any god needs evidence.

In the rush to bash atheist arguments, Saints and Sceptics has misrepresented Flew’s argument and then made the very point that Flew was making in the first place. Presumably wishing to take the credit for being so insightful too.

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3 thoughts on “The Presumption of Atheism – A Response

  1. Pingback: Not Enough Evidence – A Response – Confessions Of A YEC

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