Must Atheists Have Deductive Proofs for God’s Nonexistence to Justify Atheism?

Must Atheists Have Deductive Proofs for God’s Nonexistence to Justify Atheism? March 27, 2014

Yet another objection to the possibility of a sound argument for the nonexistence of a god can be found in the writings of Bertrand Russell. In order to understand the basis for Russell’s objection, we must first understand how Russell defined the terms ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’:

An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism.[20]

On Russell’s view, while the agnostic is a person who holds that the existence of a god “is so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice” is “not far removed” from the atheist who holds that we can know that god does not exist, apparently they are removed far enough for Russell to insist upon the distinction. Yet what is the distinction in question here? If the agnostic who holds that the existence of a god “is so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice” is not an atheist, then, on Russell’s view, the atheist who holds that that same god does not exist must have a deductive proof for the nonexistence of that god.

To read more, see my essay, “Is a Sound Argument for the Nonexistence of a God Even Possible?


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