The following is modified from a letter originally published in the Tribune on November 19, and as yet not archived on line.
A few weeks back, as Tribune syndicated religion columnist David Yount wrote carefully erected a straw man out of atheism before predictably and delightedly bashing it to bits, he ventured, “It is no more credible that there is no God than that God indeed exists.”
I submit that this statement is at best an example of logical sleight of hand, and at worst, downright nonsensical.
If I were to write, “It is no more credible that there is no Blue Speckled Hungadunga than that a Blue Speckled Hungadunga indeed exists,” it is quite likely that any rational person would demand an immediate definition of a Blue Speckled Hungadunga in order to proceed with the discussion.
Moreover, lacking persuasive proof for the existence of the Blue Speckled Hungadunga, there would be no need for further debate, and subsequently no need for a syndicated religion columnist to utter a statement that is at base invalid, for it assumes the existence of a conjectured entity, then uses this assumed (and as yet unproven) existence to impugn the allegedly faulty perception of those who insist in pointing to the obvious nature of the theist’s logical fallacy.
In fact, atheists don’t “believe” there is no God; rather, they are absent such a belief. As with the Blue Speckled Hungadunga, the responsibility for proving the existence of God lies with the one advancing a positive belief in the conjectured deity, not with the one who has no belief.
Atheists offer no positive claims with respect to knowledge presumed to derive from outside the realm of human experience and perception. As Yount correctly notes, some atheists go a step further and proselytize in the manner of the religionist, but it’s a very safe bet that during the past two thousand years far more people have been asked to convert to religion at the point of a bayonet, and died as a result of their refusal, than have been forcibly converted to atheism.
After all, if religious belief really remains a matter of heart and soul, isn’t it impossible to “convert” anyone to atheism? Outward symbols and pageantry are superfluous with regard to inner feeling, aren’t they?
In my experience, atheists generally just want to be left alone, and prefer that religious belief remain a matter of private conscience and not a public policy stick. We respect a separation of church and state and take such a division at face value precisely because we’ve studied history, and we know against whom that public policy stick inevitably is wielded – against us, to be sure, but far more often against other religionists who believe in their variant of the supernatural entity just as much as the ones shooting at them from a nearby trench.
The result is a sad continuation of the war, violence and strife that has accompanied religion throughout human history.
To summarize, atheism is a negation in the absence of verifiable evidence, and it is the theist who is obliged to prove that God exists – not the other way around.
With apologies to the Tribune’s youthful, periodically published “natural law” guest writer: “It is no more credible that there is a necessary higher power than such a necessary higher power does not exist.”