I can’t see anything!?!

Posted: January 17, 2007 in Theo/Philo


Information arrives exclusively via our senses. That makes sense!This understanding of things depends on a chain of logical ideas, inferences, which move from expectation confirmed by experience to a clearer understanding of events, where one event causes the next.We make sense of what is and what isn’t, from a combination of information coming to our senses plus the inferences we make.When thinking about those pesky big questions of life, inferences and logic can be used to ‘see’ that which cannot be sensed any other way –for instance the atom (see how the language of our senses are used to describe understanding).

I have been thinking about the idea of atheism and the burden of proof. This idea was postulated by Anthony Flew (ex-atheist-new deist) in his essay ‘The presumption of Atheism’ can be seen from this quote of Antony Flews: My presumption of atheism is closely analogous to the presumption of innocence in the English law…the onus of proof…is up to the theist: first, to introduce and defend his proposed concept of God; and, second, to provide sufficient reason for believing that this concept of his does in fact have an application.’The presumption is that an atheist does not need to prove his/her position with any proof of any kind; it is for the theist to do the leg work and show God.I m having a difficulty with this position, currently I disagree with it.Here’s why:

  1. Atheism is distinctive from the agnostic in that the atheist claims a position of knowledge-knowledge that says there is no God. Whereas the agnostic is still scratching his head over that question.
  2. It is impossible to prove the negative assertion ‘There is no God’; the only exception to this rule is if the person hoping to prove this negative assertion possesses all knowledge through all time and is present throughout all space.
  3. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence  William Lane  Craig says:

Now clearly there are cases in which the absence of evidence does constitute evidence of absence.  If some one were to assert that there is an elephant on the quad, then the failure to observe an elephant there would be good reason to think that there is no elephant there.  But if someone were to assert that there is a flea on the quad, then one’s failure to observe it there would not constitute good evidence that there is no flea on the quad.  The salient difference between these two cases is that in the one, but not the other, we should expect to see some evidence of the entity if in fact it exists.Thus, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence only in cases in which, were the postulated entity to exist, we should expect to have some evidence of its existence.  Moreover, the justification conferred in such cases will be proportional to the ratio between the amount of evidence that we do have and the amount of evidence that we should expect to have if the entity existed.  If the ratio is small, then little justification is conferred on the belief that the entity does not exist.’

Atheists claim there position is the default one, because deities are bolted on only after the initial assumption has been shown to be faulty. This assumption along with the presumption of burden of proof resting with the theists is groundless. To say “I don’t see something” is as much a statement of knowledge as the statement “I do see something”.If no burden of proof rests with the atheist then a baby as a default person, is technically an atheist. This reduction in the meaning of the word atheist is the price to be paid when no substantiating claims are needed. 


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