I was sent a link to a blog post, an excerpt form an upcoming book by one Mr. Trent Horn, proud owner of a Master’s Degree in Theology. A Catholic who is an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers…
The post is here: http://www.catholic.com/blog/trent-horn/is-atheism-a-belief-or-a-lack-of-belief
I generally wouldn’t bother writing (or indeed reading for that matter) about a random Catholic’s opinion on atheism – it’s a pretty simple concept to grasp after all – but this piece is so bad, the quality of thinking so low that I feel compelled to write something. I know I probably shouldn’t judge all holders of “Master’s degrees in Theology” by the standard of a single blog post but it does a pretty depressing picture paint.
But the problem with defining atheism as simply “the lack of belief in God” is that there are already another group of people who fall under that definition: agnostics.
It seems like the man is insinuating that agnostics have a monopoly on “the lack of belief in God”? Strange. Let’s see what the Oxford English dictionary defines atheism as:
disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
Perhaps Mr. Horn feels he can redefine the meaning of the word?
An illustration might help explain the burden of proof both sides share. In a murder trial the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the murder. But if the prosecution isn’t able to make its case, then the defendant is found “not guilty.” Notice the defendant isn’t found “innocent.”
I think that perhaps Mr. Horn hasn’t heard of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presumption_of_innocence. Which would be strange, since its the basis of the secular legal system he operates under. It’s a pretty fundamental principle… “innocent until proven guilty”. Sort of says you don’t need to be found innocent since you are innocent until proven otherwise.
“Presumption of innocence” serves to emphasize that the prosecution has the obligation to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt (or some other level of proof depending on the criminal justice system) and that the accused bears no burden of proof.
He goes on:
Likewise, even if the theist isn’t able to make his case that God exists that doesn’t show God does not exist and therefore that atheism is true. As atheists Austin Dacey and Lewis Vaughn write, “What if these arguments purporting to establish that God exists are failures? That is, what if they offer no justification for theistic belief? Must we then conclude that God does not exist? No. Lack of supporting reasons or evidence for a proposition does not show that the proposition is false.”
You see, Mr. Horn completely and strangely misunderstands how reality works. If a theist isn’t able to make his case that his god exists then one is entirely justified in concluding that god doesn’t exist. If I claim that a pink invisible dragon lives in my garage but can’t prove it then clearly one is justified in concluding it doesn’t exist. Under Mr. Horn’s system of thinking, I can claim anything, literally anything without evidence and the only valid conclusion must be suspension of judgement and that is patently absurd.
If you claim something fundamentally ridiculous – fairies in the garden, leprechauns and gold at the end of the rainbow, talking donkeys, global floods, deities who care where about the location of your penis – without evidence, it can be dismissed, without evidence. And the more ridiculous your claim – Yahweh created a man-god out of himself to sacrifice to himself to change his own opinion, for example - the more evidence you’re going to need to prop up the proposition.
The primary mistake in Mr. Horn’s thinking is that he feels his claim that Yahweh and Jesus Christ exists is somehow different, more important or somehow more special than a claim that flying pigs exist, great big invisible farm llamas live behind Jupiter or that Krishna is real. It is not. Once Mr. Horn and the religious in general understand this fundamental point, their world view will change.
If he wants to demonstrate that atheism is true, an atheist would have to provide additional evidence that there is no God just as a defense attorney would have to provide further evidence to show his client is innocent as opposed to being just “not guilty.” He can’t simply say the arguments for the existence of God are failures and then rest his case.
I don’t need to demonstrate that atheism is true. See the Oxford English definition for the word. Atheism is the default position on god: there isn’t one since I have no reason to believe there is one and never have. Before the invention of Christianity, every living person was an atheist with regards to Jesus Christ since that’s the default position. Before the invention of religion, everybody was an atheist with respect to every god invented since. Why? Because atheism is the default position. Innocent until proven guilty. Reasonable.
The religious try to change the default position of non-belief with a claim and that claim either has evidence or it doesn’t. If it has convincing evidence, the position changes. The religious have yet to provide any evidence what so ever. For any of the thousands of deities invented by men in history.
Mr. Horn’s religion is one of many. It’s mutually exclusive to all other religions. His only evidence is a book, compiled by a committee of men with an agenda, written by anonymous authors with agendas, from second or third hand accounts, translated over and over by scribes with agendas who were prone to mistakes and no originals remain at all. As far as evidence goes, it’s more than little thin I would say.
I might give an illustration of my own to show what Mr. Horn thinks is a viable legal trial:
In a murder trial a man is accused of killing another man. There is no body, no murder weapon, no witnesses. There is no proof the murdered man even existed. In fact, the only evidence the prosecution brings is a hand written note. The note claims the accused murdered a man. Nobody knows who wrote the note, when it was written and to make matters worse, the note was originally written in a language nobody understands. The note presented to the court isn’t the original, it’s a copy of a copy of a translation. Nobody knows who did the translation or when the translation was done. There are also other notes – similarly translated from copies of copies – which contradict the note that the prosecution has chosen to make their case.
Tell me again, Mr. Horn, how we should suspend judgement on the veracity and truth of the claim instead of summarily dismissing it for the garbage that it is.