a Guest Post by Steve Hays
The debate between atheism and Christian theism has such a stereotypical form that it's easy to overlook the radical disparity: when you think about it, there is no positive evidence for atheism. The case for atheism boils down to an argument from silence.
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with an argument from silence, but that's a very vulnerable argument. Atheists don't really present any positive evidence for atheism; rather, they argue against theism.
The case for atheism boils down to the alleged lack of evidence for an interventionist God. Claiming that we can explain the origin of the universe naturalistically. We can explain the origin of life naturalistically. We can explain every illness and recovery naturalistically.
Or take the claim that answers to prayer are random. Likewise, the argument from evil is an appeal to randomness. The distribution of weal and woe seems to be random. By the same token, mass extinction seems to be random. What species survive or perish seems to be random.
Some atheists allege that biological organisms exhibit design flaws. Suboptimal adaptations. That allegation is refutable on different grounds, but in any event, it's not a positive argument for atheism.
A few atheists say God-talk is meaningless. That poses a bit of a dilemma inasmuch as it is no longer clear what the atheist is denying. In any event, that's not a positive argument for atheism.
Some ambitious atheists say the existence of God is not merely improbable but impossible: the very idea of God is incoherent (e.g. "paradoxes of omnipotence"). That generally depends on arbitrary, stimulative definitions of the divine attributes, or dubious postulates about a best possible world. And in any event, that's not a positive argument for atheism.
Many atheists find the Bible is morally repugnant. Of course, many atheists reject moral realism. In any event, that's not a positive argument for atheism.
If you go down the list, atheists don't offer any evidence for atheism except in the roundabout sense that if there's no evidence for God, then atheism wins by default.
In some respects, the argument for atheism is decidedly odd. Once again, take the argument from evil. How does evil undercut Christian theism? After all, Christian theism is predicated on the existence of evil, so how can evil be inconsistent with Christian theism? It's not the presence of evil, but the absence of evil, that would falsify Christian theism. At best, the argument from evil might undercut "mere theism" or philosophical theism.
By the same token, how can the argument from evil disprove or even undercut biblical theism when biblical theism grants the existence of evil? It's not as if the Bible depicts a utopian world. The Bible is a chronicle of evil.
So there really is no direct evidence for atheism. By contrast, Christian scholars and philosophers marshall reams of evidence for Christianity. And it's important to keep our eye on the burden of proof. If the case for atheism is an argument from silence, then it takes next to nothing to overthrow it. Suppose 99% of the ostensible evidence for an interventionist God is naturally explicable. If just 1% (indeed, even less than 1%) gets through, then atheism is false. Atheism can't permit a single counterexample to slip through its sieve.