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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some comments on Brian Knapp's post

Unfortunately it has become somewhat common for atheists to deny that they have any burden of proof in religious debates. While this may sometimes be true in some limited sense, I find it problematic for at least three reasons: First, it seems quite evident that many of the atheists who employ this tactic are in fact positive atheists, which is to say that they take the assertive position that there is no God, rather than the weaker position of unbelief in the existence of God. Now, it may be more interesting to talk about the justification for theism rather than that for positive atheism, but nevertheless the position of the nonexistence of God does indeed require some justification, and so anyone defending that position certainly has a burden of proof in that regard. Second, even a negative atheist has basic obligations to facilitate communication. In any two-way conversation, each party shares some measure of responsibility not just for communicating clearly, but also for assisting the other in doing the same. So for example, if a Christian offers an argument for the existence of God to an atheist, then the atheist, to the extent that he is part of that discussion, has a duty to respond in some substantive way. Third, although a negative atheist may not have any actual tenets to justify, depending on the context he may well owe the theist another kind of explanation for his position.