Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Theism's burden of proof?...

In The Harbinger of “Neism”?: Anthony Flew and the Flight From Atheism, Joe Carter describes how philosopher Anthony Flew may be having doubts about his atheism. Joe states,
So why does it matter that a retired philosopher is abandoning atheism for a Spinozian deism? The main reason is that few philosophers have thought longer or harder about atheism than Flew. When someone of his stature gives up the “faith” then it appears that we truly have entered what Alister McGrath refers to as “the twilight of atheism.”
Although an interesting post in its own right, my interest was piqued by the comments that followed. Within the comments section, Joe asked the question, Where are all these philosophical defenses of atheism?. One response given was,
The burden of proof is on the theist. Atheists don't make extraordinary claims. Nonetheless, there are innumerable defenses of atheism on the web. Do your homework; don't shift your burden to others.
This is a common mistake that is made by the purveyors of atheistic naturalism - that of their point of view somehow being the benchmark by which all other views must measure against. Ron Nash tells the story of how Alvin Plantinga once debated an atheist who commenced the debate, along the same lines as our friend above, by claiming that Plantinga bore the burden of proof of theism. Plantinga simply responded with, "No I don't." The atheist responded, "Yes you do," to which Plantinga again responded, "No I don't." After a while it became apparent that Plantinga's point was that atheism has no way of justifying its claim that theism bear the burden of proof - at least, it has no way of justifying it while staying within its philosophical framework. That an atheist considers the claims of a theist to be extraordinary is irrelevant. They are assuming a benchmark which they have no way of proving as valid. Another way of illustrating this is to ask the atheist to please provide the empirical evidence that proves the proposition that our senses give us an accurate description of the physical world. If we can only judge the empirical evidence by using our senses, then our only course of action is to proceed, with the assumption, that our senses do indeed give us an accurate description of the physical world. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that you bear the burden of proof in making a case for God.

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