Imagine if you will a world where a Christian apologist and an atheist are about to have a debate, much like our own. The two put forward their arguments. The Christian makes the usual points, the atheist tries to disprove them. At the end of the debate most in the audience agree that the Christian easily won since the atheist did not conclusively disprove the existence of God.
In this topsy turvy world Christian apologists have a very cushy job. The existence of God is the null position, assumed to be a fact by all until it can be disproven. Try as the atheist might they can never conjure up enough evidence to show conclusively that God doesn’t exist and so we must conclude that He does.
Unfortunately we live in this world, where the roles are reversed an even the most uninspired atheist polemicists have large followings. This is because they manage to cruise on this one perception that Christians have allowed to exist for far too long.
“The atheist has nothing to prove. The theist is making the claim, they must provide the evidence.”
In other words atheism is the null hypothesis. Unless we can conclusively show God exists according to the atheists standard of evidence then we must default to the position that no God exists. It certainly seems to make sense on its face, which is why it’s been so successful. The theist is indeed making a positive claim about the existence of God, it does seem to make sense that the burden of proof is on the theist.
However this is only true if you assume that God is a thing that needs to be shown to be true within the naturalist framework. In other words we’re stating from a position that naturalism is the correct worldview and that God is a thing that can either be shown to be true within that worldview or assumed to be false. But theism doesn’t conceive of God as a thing that simply exists within a naturalistic universe, theism is a competing worldview to naturalism and contradicts its assumptions about the nature of our reality. Naturalists think everything we see is the result of “natural laws” that exist as brute fact. Theists think those “natural laws” are in fact the result of God specifically willing things to act the way they do. Which is right? Certainly neither worldview has a monopoly on science since it works equally well for both of them, and is in fact indifferent to where these “natural laws” come from as long as it can detect, quantify and model them.
The game was rigged from the start. If the atheist is allowed to make the uncontested hidden assumption that their specific worldview that informs their atheism is the default position then you’re never going to win because naturalism is a worldview that specifically exclude theistic explanations of phenomena. Rather the debate should be on naturalism vs theism as two competing philosophical worldviews and their comparative merits. On this ground the theist stands much more firmly. First because there are many good reasons to dispute that naturalism should be accepted as a logically coherent worldview, the argument from reason being one of the prime examples. Naturalists love to find ways to cast doubt on our cognitive abilities, we’ve come a long way from Descartes assertion that the only thing we can be 100% sure exists is our own mind and that the outside physical world is always suspect to the idea that the outside physical world is all we can be sure of through scientific inquiry and that our minds are unreliable and probably illusory. The fact that atheists have largely eschewed philosophy makes them soft targets for this kind of debate since very few of them, even the popular polemicists who engage in debates, have actually bothered to actually think through what their own positions on the nature of reality actually entails. Force the atheist on even ground and make them explain why we should accept naturalism as the default worldview and they will fall apart, because there is no way to rationally support a worldview that suggests the very tool you use to inquire about the world and make sense of it, your mind, is unreliable and entirely subject to causal physical laws. It creates a loop that makes naturalism completely incoherent.
Without the safety of the assumption that the naturalistic worldview is the default position the atheist is on much shakier ground. Suddenly the issue isn’t about scientific inquiry at all since it’s entirely possible to investigate regularities in nature within both worldviews, the question is what underlies those regularities. In the naturalists view, nothing does, they’re fundamental. In the theists view, God does, and upholds them as a matter of will.
The questions we should be asking are these. Between naturalism and theism which is more logically consistent? Which of them explains the nature of our observed reality better? Which of them explains the human condition and experience better? These are all questions the theist should be easily able to provide better answers to because naturalism simply doesn’t have any beyond “It was random chance”.
It’s time to stop letting atheists cheat and make their specific worldview the one that all others need to be measured against. They must be forced to positively defend the underlying assumptions about our reality that inform their atheism. When Christians start refusing to play by the atheists rules (“Prove your worldview within the framework of my worldview”) and start asking for the two to be compared on their merits then we’ll see more progress. Atheists have gotten intellectually slack and flabby from years and years of coasting on getting to make their own position the implied default that we must revert to should there not be an adequate body of evidence to support theism. Only a tiny percentage of them actually have any idea that all their atheistic positions are predicated on a rather flimsy and self refuting metaphysics of naturalism. That’s where the fight is won, and where it must be taken.