Reading Time: 4 minutes

Who has a monopoly on reason? Tom Gilson of The Stream recently wrote an article challenging the idea that it’s the atheists who are the reasonable ones. He asks, “Why Do Atheists Think They’re the Party of Reason When They Reason So Poorly?”

He first pecked away at the idea that science has the answers (part 1). Now it’s how science handles mistakes and atheists’ aversion to the burden of proof.

2. Atheists hate being wrong

Gilson tells us,

It’s as if there’s some moral duty never to draw a false conclusion: Better not to decide at all than to decide wrongly…. They build a fence to keep out all wrong answers.

And this is bad? I’ve never heard of caution as a problem. Eventually, he arrives at his point.

This is why they insist that atheism isn’t a belief, it’s a “lack of belief” in God or gods. Every atheist I’ve met has believed the universe is made of matter and energy and physical law and absolutely nothing else, but not many will own up to it. They’re not about to get trapped in admitting they believe anything.

Wrong. Some atheists prefer “I have no god belief” over “I believe there are no gods” because it makes clear who bears the burden of proof—it’s the Christian. There is no Christian equivalent of the cautious “I have no god belief.” Christians must shoulder the burden of proof when stating their worldview, while atheists don’t.

That the universe is the way it is for natural reasons alone is the default hypothesis. Science has given us countless natural explanations for how disease works, where lightning comes from, and so on. Gilson’s hypothesis is that a god spoke the universe into existence—a god who looks like all the other Bronze Age gods popular in the Ancient Middle East 3000 years ago. Yahweh is about the most unbelievable hypothesis possible, and those advancing it have the burden of proof.

This Christian ploy shows no confidence in their argument and is, frankly, cowardly. When you make the extraordinary claim, you have the burden of proof. And why the reluctance to give the argument? Why hide behind the burden of proof? Aren’t you eager to share the Good News?

Science’s limitations

Next, we get a little trash talk, that science only focuses on solvable, testable problems. Science is perpetually optimistic—if it’s stumped today, maybe it’ll figure things out later. And science can’t help us determine right from wrong.

Remember that this is the Christian talking, someone whose discipline has taught us nothing about the real world. The internet, GPS, computers, medicine, improved crop yields—none of the science or technology that improves society came from the Bible or divine revelation.

While science won’t tell us right from wrong, it can provide the data to help make moral decisions. For example, science can help understand how limited tax revenue can be best spent to help disadvantaged communities or how to diversify energy consumption to reduce climate change.

See also: Christianity’s Bogus Claims to Answer Life’s Big Questions

Gilson tells us that Science can only assist with ethics, not be the final arbiter. And then Religion blunders in like a drunk uncle and insists it has all the answers to moral questions, supporting those answers with no evidence. And the answers in one church differ from those in the next church down the street. Pick a moral issue—same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia—and you’ll find devout Christians taking every position in every moral argument.

The parishioner seeking a church doesn’t use some objective standard to find the most accurate version of Christianity but instead finds the best personal fit—how far away the church is, if they have daycare, how they answer the moral issues you’re most annoyed about, how energetic the sermon is, if they’re friendly, and so on. When the truth of a congregation’s message is tested against the parishioner rather than some perfect standard, let’s not overestimate how accurately a denomination has divined God’s will.

It’s hard to figure out Gilson’s motive here. He tosses out attempted insults with no self-awareness, as if Christians criticize from a position of strength because their worldview has the answers.

Bug or feature?

He complains that science refuses to answer any question that’s outside its domain. But since science is the domain that answers all the questions, maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. If science says we don’t have enough information, the correct response is to admit this and not force a poorly evidenced conclusion. Religion by contrast stumbles ahead based on no evidence: “What came before the Big Bang? That’s easy—God creating the Big Bang!” Or “Where did life come from? I know—God did it!”

Why hide behind the burden of proof? Aren’t you eager to share the Good News?

Religion is eager to settle a moral problem within society, but note the differences with Science. Biblical morality is contradictory, and you can dig up a verse that will support just about any position you want. It’s static and doesn’t evolve. It’s dictates from God, not conclusions built on evidence. And there is no consensus within religion worldwide besides that the supernatural exists—not even how many gods exist or their names.

To illustrate how unreasonable atheists are, Gilson says,

I’ll ask them to suppose, just for example, that there’s a God who wants to reveal Himself through history, sacred writings, and nature.

And I’ll ask them to suppose that rocks are sentient, and they want us to worship them. Who’s with me?! Or are we allowed to insist on good evidence for remarkable claims?

[Scientific reasoning] says, “Nope, I’m not gonna fall for it.” But that’s as good as saying, “I know for a fact there’s no God who wants to reveal Himself.”

I know for a fact that no omnipotent god has made any reasonable effort to make his presence known to everyone. Am I entitled to conclude that?

Concluded next time, with a look at “honest” atheists.

“Creation science” bears the same resemblance to “science”
that “Biblical archeology” does to “archeology”,
“religious truth” does to “truth”,
“homeopathic medicine” bears to “medicine”,
“alternative facts” do to “facts”,
or “Fox News” does to “news”.
— commenter RichardSRussell

Avatar photo

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...