Assumption of Atheism Fallacy - How To Asses Evidence Objectively and Without Bias
By Atheist Answers (Facebook Page)
I will start this article by defining the content of the labels I will be using. A label is not important, what is important is the content of that label, but if the content of the labels are not defined then arguments and issues of semantics sometimes arise (due to some one holding a different content for that label).
So I am going to define the content of these labels in line with the classical philosophical usage (which I believe has the most rational etymology in defining these labels)...
The labels are as follows:
Theism: The position God exists or is more likely to exist than not.
Agnosticism: The position in which the existence of God is unknown (so the claim of God's existence VS the claim of God's non-existence is held at a 50/50 likelihood).
Atheism: The position God does not exist or is less likely to exist than to exist.
So from now on when I use those labels above, that will be the content of what that label means.
Now I will define what I mean by the label "God", I often find this is an area of confusion as well.
When I use the label "God\Theism", content wise what I mean is that the metaphysics of reality (they are the fundamental forces and processes of reality) are Personal rather than being Impersonal.
Based on the logical law of excluded middle there are only two options as to what the metaphysics of reality could be; that being either Personal or Impersonal....
So the two options in more detail are:
(1) Reality in it's metaphysics (fundamental forces and processes) is Impersonal: that is to say it is intentionless, purposeless, meaningless, unguided, unaware and lacks teleology.
(2) Reality in its metaphysics (fundamental forces and processes) is Personal: that is to say it is intentional, purposeful, meaningful, guided, aware and has teleology.
Now position (2) would normally be classed under Theism and thus atheism being the absence of Theism (that is what the "A" means in Atheism, just like Asymmetrical means the absence of symmetry on a specific aspect of reality) would fall under position (1).
Now if a person says either position is more likely than the other to be true, they have a burden of proof.
However I seem to find a lot of people just assume (1) is more likely true than (2) with no reason or evidence, and that is the 'assumption of atheism fallacy' I want to address.
If you just assume a position over its opposite claim with out reason or evidence then all you have is an unverified, invalidated and blind assumption (that is not an argument from rationally warranted and justified true belief. Also it is a fallacy called begging the question if you assume a claim over its opposite with out showing a rational conclusion of why one claim is more likely than its opposite and competing claim).
With two opposite and competing claims a person should just be agnostic (holding both on a 50/50, this is the neutral position) until they have a valid reason for one claim being more likely true than the opposite claim based on something they know about reality.
To state one position as more likely true than it's opposite is a positive knowledge claim and requires a burden of proof; you are saying you know something about reality which makes a certain proposition more likely true than its opposite (and you must justify this, you can't just assume it).
Below I have a set of claims and their opposites (I will use logical symbols, we do this in logic to remove bias):
(X) The universe is asymmetrical.
(X) The stars are odd in number.
(X) The metaphysics of reality are Impersonal (atheism).
(X) The car on man (P)'s driveway has less than half a tank of fuel.
(X) There is no planet the size of Texas orbiting between the earth and the moon.
(X) There are not 200,056 stars in the universe.
(X) The right pocket of man (P) has no iPhone 5 in it.
(X) Santa Claus does not exist (the common conception of him).
(X) Matter and energy is not all that exists in reality.
(X) Philosophical Property Dualism is not true.
(X) The universe is finite in nature (had a beginning).
(~X) The universe is symmetrical.
(~X) The stars are even in number.
(~X) The metaphysics of reality are Personal (Theism).
(~X) The car on man (P)'s driveway has more than half a tank of fuel.
(~X) There is a planet the size of Texas orbiting between the earth and the moon.
(~X) There are 200,056 stars in the universe.
(~X) The right pocket of man (P) has a iPhone 5 in it.
(~X) Santa Claus does exist (the common conception of him).
(~X) Matter and energy is all that exists in reality (i.e. Philosophical Materialism).
(~X) Philosophical Property Dualism is true.
(~X) The universe is infinite in nature (had no beginning).
For a person to just assume (X) is true is totally unjustified rationally (you are just assuming what is true with unverified, invalidated and blind assumptions. That is not an argument from rationally warranted and justified true belief).
Why should a person not just assume (~X) is true given such logic?
The rational and neutral position is to be agnostic, holding (X) and (~X) on a 50/50 until reasons are given for either one being more likely true than the other.
So lets now look at some examples from the list above and evaluate the claim and its opposite and see how this all works out...
So let us examine first between these two claims:
(A) The car on man (P)'s driveway has less than half a tank of fuel.
(~A) The car on man (P)'s driveway has more than half a tank of fuel.
So to make an argument for either claim being more likely true than its oppoiste claim you would have the burden of proof (as you are saying you know something about reality which makes one claim more likely true than the other opposite claim), but until then you should just be agnostic (holding each at a 50/50) between the two claims.
So maybe an example argument for (A) could be something like; "Out of a survey done involving 10,000 people in 2003 it was shown more than 80% of people in the survey tended to run their car on less than half a tank of fuel.
So based on this probability, claim (A) is more likely true than (~A)."
And then an example argument for (~A) could be; "Well I have met a personal friend of man (P) and he has told me that man (P) has a phobia of running out of fuel and always fills his car up with fuel before it gets to less than half a tank."
So lets now examine between these two claims:
(B) There is no planet the size of Texas orbiting between the earth and the moon.
(~B) There is a planet the size of Texas orbiting between the earth and the moon.
Here we would should at what we would expect to find true of reality if (B) or (~B) were true.
So for example if (~B) were true we may expect a set circumstances (P) to be true; circumstances like gravitational effects on the ocean, earth and moon, also for people to see the planet and report it etc.. etc..
If set of circumstances (P) is not true then that would be added evidence for (B) being more likely true than (~B).
You could do the same in reverse fashion and ask what set of circumstances (R) should be true if (B) is true, then look to see if it meets the criteria (if not then that is evidence for (~B) if so then that is evidence for (B) ).
So lets now examine between these two claims:
(C) There are not 200,056 stars in the universe.
(~C) There are 200,056 stars in the universe.
Now I once had a person getting confused and saying a claim and its opposite (before evidence and argument is given) should not be assumed as 50/50, and he used the two claims above ( (C) VS (~C) ) to makes his point.
What he was doing was getting confused between an argument for why one should allow unjustified assumptions mixed up with an argument for why (C) is more likely true than (~C) based on a belief about the nature of the universe; he was making the later argument but thinking it was an argument for the former.
It is the case that living in a universe (such as ours) which has the contingent possibility of a vast variety of a certain number of stars that it would make it more probable (C) is more likely true than (~C), but this is an argument for (C) VS (~C) based on the nature of the universe we live in (this is an argument from evidence); it is not an argument for why a person can have unverified and invalidated assumptions when judging the likelihood between a claim and it's opposite.
For example it could logically be the case that there is a universe in which maybe either there are 200,056 stars or the gravitational expansion rate of the universe would reverse and the universe would implode, and if this scenario is given as evidence (say we lived in that universe) then now based on what we know about the universe (C) is far more likely over (~C).
Thus you should never just use your assumptions\beliefs about the nature of the universe as rational warrant for unjustified assumptions being evidence for the likelihood of a claim, rather that assumption\belief about the universe should be brought out and tested to see if it is valid evidence for supporting a certain claim as more likely over it's opposite.
So lets now examine between these two claims:
(D) Santa Claus does not exist (the common conception of him).
(~D) Santa Claus does exist (the common conception of him).
Now a claim is not more likely true because it's opposite claim lacks evidence, a claim can only be more likely true because the claim it's self has evidence (not because it's opposite claim lacks evidence).
You will find most people intuitively believe (D) is true over (~D), but they do this because (D) has evidence (or at least perceived evidence - things they consider true evidence) and (~D) does not.
But sometimes people will claim the reason they do not believe in (~D) and believe in (D) is because claim (~D) lacks evidence, but that is not what they are doing in their reasoning and if it were then they would have major epistemic problems; for example we lack any evidence the stars are more likely even than odd in number, so if they did think the way they claimed then they would have to think therefore it is more likely the stars are odd in number, but they don't think that so that is not how they reason. If it was the way people truly reasoned they would have a major arbitrary problem because it would all depend which claim you heard first as to then which claim is considered true (so if you heard the claim the stars were odd in number first and because that claim lacks evidence you would then have to believe the stars are even in number. But if you heard the claim first that the stars were even in number and then because that claim lacks evidence you would have to believe the stars are odd in number, this is irrational).
Most peoples reasoning for holding (D) as true is based on their belief about the nature of reality and it's outworking, and the incompatibility of that nature with claim (~D). So they have evidence for (D) based on the ontology of nature but they do not have evidence for (D) because (~D) lacks evidence.
So deductively it would look like this:
(argument against Santa Claus)
P1: If reality is a certain way (P) (Philosophical Materialism for example) then Santa can not exist or is far less likely to exist.
P2: Reality model (P) is the way reality really is.
Conclusion: Therefore Santa does not exist or is far less likely to exist.
Now the only way a person could disagree with the conclusion of the argument which supports claim (D), is if they contest either one of the premises of the deductive argument as less likely true than true. If they do that and they themselves also have a belief about the nature and outworking of reality which supports (D~) as more likely; then that is where he heart of the contention is and where the dispute and argument lies for supporting (~D) over (D) (in the nature and outworking of reality).
You could use other more specific evidences for or against Santa. For example given Santa Clauses ontological criteria and what would be expected to exist in reality if he existed, we find the opposite (thus evidence against his existence).
For example Santa Claus is a physical Being, yet we do not find him at the north pole, we know it would mathematically be impossible for a physical Being to travel the world in the time given and deliver all the presents, and we know it is the parents who actually put the presents under the tree (no reports of shocked parents finding presents they did not place there have been presented) etc.. etc...
So lets now examine between these two claims:
(E) Matter and energy is not all that exists in reality.
(~E) Matter and energy is all that exists in reality (i.e. Philosophical Materialism).
Now some people usually get a debate like this confused and argue that there is loads of evidence for (~E) over (E), but they are confused because when you get down to it they arguing as if what is being said is actually:
*(E) Matter and energy does not exist in reality.
*(~E) Matter and energy exists in reality (i.e. Philosophical Materialism).
Now if that was the argument of course *(~E) has lots more evidence for it than *(E), but (~E) is not *(~E).
Everyone (I think) agrees matter and energy exist in reality based on the evidence, the claim which seems to lack any evidence and which is disputed is the additional claim that "matter and energy IS ALL THAT EXISTS IN REALITY."
So we have two claims "Matter and energy IS ALL THAT EXISTS IN REALITY", and "matter and energy IS NOT ALL THAT EXISTS IN REALITY"; this is not a debate on whether matter and energy exist.
Now for either claim to be rationally considered more likely true than its equal and opposite claim requires reasoning based on what we know about reality. Let me give a similar scenario to demonstrate this:
(E) There are not more than 230,000 species of fish in the sea (230,000 is the most recent estimate to date I believe for the amount of differing fish species we have found).
(~E) There are more than 230,000 species of fish in the sea.
Now if some one wants to rationally say one claim is more likely true than the its opposite, it has to be based on reasoned argument from what we know.
For example somebody could make an argument for (~E) like; "Well, there is so much more ocean to discover which we have not been able to access so far, and based on what we know of life, if it can exist anywhere it will exist; therefore it is more likely there are more types of fish species in the sea yet to discover."
An example argument for (E) could be something like: "Well all the sea left to discover which we have not accessed yet is under too much pressure for a fish to survive based on what we know of fish biology, therefore it is less likely there are any more types of fish in the sea."
The bottom line is this, if you think a claim is more likely true than it's opposite you need a reasoned argument for that based on factors from what we know from reality, otherwise you should rationally be agnostic and hold each claim as a 50/50.
Dr. John Shook did not seem to get this in a debate he had with Dr William Craig (the debate was on naturalism VS supernaturalism):
& here is Dr Craig's closing statement at the debate:
So lets now examine between these two claims:
(F) The metaphysics of reality are Impersonal (i.e. atheism).
(~F) The metaphysics of reality are Personal (i.e. Theism).
What a person would have to show is what set of circumstance (P) would we expect to be true of reality given (F) or (~F) being true, and then what do we find concerning circumstances (P).
Also I will add that showing certain models for (~F) as less likely true is not necessarily evidence for (F), and the reverse is true.
So for example some one might have good evidence that a certain model of God (R) existing is less likely true than true, but that is not necessarily evidence that it is less likely God (a Personal metaphysics) exists than exists (and in fact the people who hold to a different model of God (T) than (R) would also use the same arguments against the model (R) though they themselves believe in God).
The reverse is also true for an Impersonal metaphysical model (atheistic models).
So for example if I showed Materialistic atheism to be less likely true than true that is not necessarily evidence atheism its self is less likely true than Theism (as maybe Dualistic atheism is quite probable and in fact the Dualist atheists might use the exact same arguments against the materialist atheists that the Theists use).
What the Theist would have to show is that if atheism is true then it is more likely it would have to be Materialistic atheism and because Materialistic atheism is less likely true than true therefore atheism is less likely true than true; or the Theist would just have to give positive arguments directly for a Personal Metaphysics over an Impersonal metaphysics.
So equally this is true for the atheist, showing a certain type of God model (R) as less likely true than true is only evidence against the existence of God if you can show that if Theism was true then it would be more likely that model (R) is what would be the case and because (R) is less likely true than true therefore Theism is less likely true than true; or the atheist would just have to give direct evidence for an impersonal metaphysics as more likely than a Personal metaphysics.
All this would work the same with any claim, for example if we made the claims:
(F) The universe is finite in nature (had a beginning - like the big bang model).
(~F) The universe is infinite in nature (had no beginning - like the steady state model).
Everything I said above would be true what ever claim and it's opposite replace (E) and (~E); in fact in every example everything I said is true regardless of which claim and it's opposite you fit in the lettered symbols (that is the point of using logical symbolism).
My assement on Theism VS Atheism
In regards to rational justification for holding Theism as more likely true than atheism, if you are a fellow Theist then I am happy to tell you that we have many powerful deductive arguments for Theism (where as atheism has only a hand full of arguments and all of them weak) which makes Theism rationally far more likely true than atheism.
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has defended over twenty arguments for Theism.
Here is a quote from philosopher Alvin Plantinga:
Also if you are a Christian who has the Holy Spirit you are not just only rationally justified to believe Theism is more likely true than atheism based on the inferential arguments and evidence, but you are rationally justified to be completely sure of the existence of God based on your personal existential knowledge of Him.
Here is a quick article I wrote on the subject:https://www.facebook.com/1400753406812671/photos/pb.1400753406812671.-2207520000.1437039760./1634886343399375/?type=3&theater
For an interesting video highlighting the anti-theist Christopher Hitchens dodging his burden of proof in his debate with Dr William Craig, then please click on the link below (in this debate to shift the burden of proof Hitchens tried to make the claim "the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence"; this has three problems. Firstly if that is the case he would have to conclude absurd things, like because there is no evidence for gold anywhere else in the universe therefore there is no gold anywhere else in the universe; or that because there is no evidence the stars are odd in number therefore they are even in number. Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence for some entity (X) if you would expect to find evidence for (X) if (X) was true and which we do not find. Secondly there was absence of evidence for the position of the metaphysics of reality being impersonal, so his own position falls under the same problem. Thirdly he was given plenty of evidence in the debate in the form of deductive arguments which he could not refute, all he did in the debate instead was make rhetorical jabs about religion, which does nothing to show God is less likely to exist, which was the position he was meant to be taking):
I also believe the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit will make it known to people at least once (by certain means) at some point that Christianity is true (mainly when the Gospel is being preached - or the Holy Spirit will make the knowledge of God's existence known through General Revelation).
So if my interpretation of the Bible is correct and Bible is true in its proposition then people will be left with no rational excuse before God as to why they claimed they did not know of His existence (if that is what they claim, however it is actually only a small minority of people that are actually professing atheists).