In part 1, we looked at a couple of arguments from popular Christian apologists with a deceptive view of the burden of proof.
Who knew atheists had that much to defend??
Here’s another trick Christian apologists like to play with the burden of proof. This is from Alan Shlemon:
While it’s true that atheists don’t have to prove the absence of God, they’re hardly off the hook when it comes to making sense of their position. If they don’t believe in God, their view entails at least three incredible assertions that require a lot of explaining.
Huh? You’d think that a Christian apologist would understand the definition of “atheist.” But let’s play along. Shlemon says that atheists must explain (1) how the universe came into existence by itself and how it came from nothing, (2) how free will can exist, and (3) where morals come from.
Wow, how many ways is this wrong? First, atheists don’t claim these things. Ignoring the inept wording, if you’re saying that these are things for which modern society is trying to explain, sure. By why is this any particular burden on the person who has no god belief? Sigh . . . the old kindergarten try.
Second, I’m sure that Shlemon is bursting to share with us Christianity’s explanations for these topics. I agree that Christianity could have answers, but then so could Hinduism, Buddhism, and a thousand other mystical worldviews. Show me that Christianity is any more plausible than the others (which aren’t at all plausible), and you have an argument. Until then, you only make yourself look clueless.
Third, Science has no obligation to provide answers, and “We don’t know” is a perfectly reasonable answer. Science has nothing to be ashamed of and an immense body of work to be proud of. “Science has unanswered questions; therefore, God” is no argument. Christians may have answers, but their answers are based on nothing.
Fourth, Christianity needs to stop worrying about the speck in the eye of Science and focus instead on the beam in its own eye. There are a pile of silver-bullet arguments against Christianity that it needs to resolve, each of which are arguably enough to sink it.
And finally, I can’t let these challenges go without brief responses.
- What does “the universe came into existence by itself” mean? If you’re saying that things don’t come into existence without a cause, that’s probably not true. And show me that the consensus of cosmologists is that it came from nothing. (I respond to William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument here.) If you think that the universe couldn’t have come from nothing, justify Christianity’s claim that God did it.
- The only opinion I have about the free will argument is that it’s a big topic about which I’ve read very little. “God created free will!” might be a tempting response for the Christian, but it’s groundless.
- Morals come from evolution. (As an evolution denier, Shlemon is gleefully on the wrong side of the scientific consensus.) He is doubtless demanding to know where objective morality came from, to which I respond: first show us that objective morality exists. I see no reason to imagine that it does (more here, here, here, here).
As with the claim for unicorns, the skeptic has no burden of proof. That these puzzles have a natural explanation, like the countless things science has shown in the past, is the default. Religion has no track record for explaining reality.
Christian strategy exposed
Apologists admit quite a bit when they reveal this strategy. They want to attack because they can’t defend!
We see the same strategy with Creationism/ID. The Creationism argument is just a pile on of questions, challenges, and demands. Creationists don’t want to stand and defend their position because it’s not particularly defensible; they’d rather attack by mocking evolution and demanding answers to questions that have been answered a hundred times. The public often doesn’t know that, so this approach can be effective in a public debate, but it isn’t science. How do we know? Because if there were science behind it, Creationists would publish in scientific journals!
What does it say about their position that they must resort to rhetorical tricks? It’s like pleading the Fifth Amendment (that is, asserting your right to not incriminate yourself)—you’re admitting that your position is weak or embarrassing. If they had compelling evidence, they’d give it.
And when in this process do they plan on sharing the Good News? Koukl’s stratagem seems to be designed to remove the Christian from the opportunity (predicament?) of evangelizing. The burden of proof is (incredibly) a burden.
If your argument is weak, dancing around to avoid engaging head-on might be a good option, but a better one might be to admit that you’ve lost the argument. That might be the first step to putting together a worldview that is defensible.
Concluded with some final observations in part 4.
must be a product of a brain unsatisfied with doubt;
as nature abhors a vacuum,
so, too, does the brain abhor no explanation.
It therefore fills in one, no matter how unlikely.
— Michael Shermer
Image from Lance Goyke, CC license