One Hasty Path to Atheism

Very many people claim that they possess no reason to believe that God exists, that they see no evidence for the existence of God. Some of these claimants make a further claim: that this lack of reasons or evidence is responsible for their being atheists, or for their believing that, almost definitely, there exists no God.

I briefly want to look at the most common line of reasoning that leads people from:

(1) There is no reason (or I have no reason) to believe that God exists,

To:

(2) Thus, the proper attitude to take towards the claim that God exists is one of disbelief, doubt, skepticism — one should find the existence of God (highly) improbable.

Obviously, (2) does not follow from (1) simply by the laws of logic. Those who have taken (2) to follow from (1) have taken it to do so on the basis of some principal or analogy — something that would play the role of a “hidden premise” in the above argument. So it is worth asking: What hidden principle might get us from (1) to (2)?

The most obvious – and tempting! – candidate is this: If there is no reason to believe some claim, then the proper attitude to take towards that claim is one of disbelief, doubt, skepticism — one should find the existence of God (highly) improbable. A simple filler if there ever was one! (The easiest way to get from ‘p’ to ‘q’ is to throw in an ‘if p, then q’). Unfortunately, the filler is quite clearly false. Lacking evidence from some claim does not constitute, unto itself, any reason to disbelieve that claim. Here’s an easy counterexample: I have no evidence that this quarter beside me will land heads the next time I flip it — no evidence whatsoever —, but that hardly means that I should find it (highly) improbable that it will land heads. The proper attitude for me to take towards the idea of this quarter landing heads is not disbelief; it is merely a suspension of judgment, a withholding of belief.

So enough with that silly filler. Where else might one turn? Well plenty have taken a backroad from (1) to (2). The entirety of that backroad looks something like this:

(1) There is no reason (or I have no reason) to believe that God exists.

       (A) But if God exists, then he almost certainly would have given us reason to believe he exists.

       (B) Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

(2) Thus, the proper attitude to take towards the claim that God exists is one of disbelief, doubt, skepticism — one should find the existence of God (highly) improbable.

So (A) and (B) are the new fillers in this often-argued argument. It’s commonly referred to as the Argument from Silence or the Argument from Nonbelief or the Argument from Hiddenness. I won’t deal with (A) and (B) today. For those interested, I refer you back to my previous series of posts, “The Problem of the Problem of Silence”, where I take up this argument in more detail. For our purposes today, I will simply leave the matter hanging and say that I find (A) and (B) to be an unsatisfying filler for anyone looking to justify a move from (1) to (2). So where else to turn?

A different filler has been suggested in a number of “analogical arguments” — that is, arguments which make their case through the form of analogy. The gist of these analogical arguments is this. They present a scenario in which the characters in the scenario have no reason to believe something or other (say, all that business about the Tooth Fairy), and in which it seems clear that the proper attitude towards this something or other is one of disbelief; furthermore – these arguments go – this scenario is sufficiently similar to the scenario of our lacking reasons to believe in God. Thus, the proper attitude towards the existence of God also must be disbelief. Since A leads to B, and C is just like A, then C too must lead to B. That’s the gist. The most common of their contemporary variants have involved Santa Claus, a Giant Pumpkin, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster. To these we turn next. But this post is long enough; I’ll finish out tomorrow night.

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