The following is an excerpt from Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense, by C. Stephen Evans.
It is clear that most atheists think that the burden of proof in relation to God lies with the religious believer. This assumption was articulated and defended by Antony Flew in his well-known essay “The Presumption of Atheism,” in which he argued that atheism is the default position intellectually and that one should not be a theist without strong evidence. Belief in God is intellectually risky, while naturalism is safe ground.
This assumption seems right to many atheists because they think of God as “one more thing” in the universe. Theists and naturalists agree that the universe contains dogs and cats, lions and tigers, trees and rocks. If they are scientifically sophisticated, perhaps they also agree about electrons, quarks, and black holes. However, the naturalist thinks that the traditional theist goes beyond this safe common ground and believes in one additional, strange entity, namely, God.
Believing in God is like believing in the Loch Ness monster or the Yeti. Surely, one might think the person who believes in the Loch Ness monster bears a burden of proof that the skeptic about such things does not shoulder. If God is, like the Loch Ness monster, simply one more entity in the universe, then the religious believer bears a similar burden of proof.
However, this way of thinking about the issue is completely wrongheaded. On the traditional theistic conception of God, God is not simply another entity within the natural order, on a par with other entities. To believe in God is to believe the universe has a certain character; to disbelieve in God is to believe the universe lacks that character and has a very different character.
The person who believes in God holds that each and every thing that exists, other than God, exists because of God and God’s creative activity. The universe that God has made was created for a purpose, and part of that purpose is a contest between good and evil, a contest in which the character of the universe gives assurance that the good will ultimately win.
The naturalist, in sharp contrast, believes that each and every thing that exists as part of the natural order lacks this characteristic of existing because of God’s creative activity. Instead, all these things exist “on their own,” so to speak. One might say that for the naturalist, the universe is a brute fact. There is no reason or purpose behind the existence of the universe as a whole or the individual entities that compose it. Furthermore, we have no reason at all to think that good will win over evil or even that the contest between good and evil is a significant one.
The theist and the naturalist do not just disagree about God; they disagree about the character of everything that exists. Each is committed to a worldview that includes a perspective on what is ultimately real.
It is, I think, appropriate for the believer in God to consider what reasons the believer has for holding that the universe has the character that it does. But it is equally reasonable for the naturalist to reflect on the evidence for the truth of the naturalistic worldview. Moreover, it is by no means clear that the naturalistic worldview is somehow safer or less risky than a theistic worldview. No special burden of proof lies on the theist.
©2015 by C. Stephen Evans. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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