Series: The Argument from Nonbelief

8 July 2006

The Argument from Nonbelief, which takes several forms, is becoming increasingly popular as an argument against the existence of God. In my article Here I attempt to undercut two common versions of the argument. This series will consist of supplementary material which will support my main article.

Main Responses

1. Horia Plugaru’s article “A New Argument against the ‘Feigned-Allegiance Reply’”, available on the Secular Web, is addressed Here.

2. Douglas Krueger in What is Atheism? Here. This article also contains a response to the Incoherency Argument and the Problem of Evil.

See Also: Forum Discussions

The Argument from Nonbelief (Hosted at Theology Web)

See Also: Debates

Debate with Brian Holtz


  1. You wrote: You seem to imply that my response to premise 4 is unsatisfactory. However, I merely pointed out that it is epistemically impossible for me to know if someone’s nonbelief is reasonable.

    If so, then it is also epistemically impossible for you to know that someone’s nonbelief is unreasonable as well. Yet you do this very thing on the basis of little more than your own personal experience.

    You wrote: I do think that this is an appropriate response. Consider this- many Christians claim that they have had a personal experience of God, which makes their belief rational. However, I hardly think that you would be willing to accept the existence of the Christian God on the basis of such a personal testimony. You would rightly ask, “How do I know that your experience was genuine? It is impossible for me to know whether your experience was veridical or hallucinatory. So I will not accept that evidence.”

    It’s odd that you find rational discourse to be on a lesser or the same plane as “personal experience,” particularly when knowledge of space aliens, a living Elvis, Allah, etc., is based on the very same thing. Are the believers in such beings rational as well?

    Actually, I don’t deny your personal experience. But you’re right, I don’t accept it as evidence of your Christian God, no more than you accept it as evidence of pink unicorns or the Mormon golden plates. This is why reason and evidence govern our lives in almost every thing. The same process by which some become atheist, is the same process by which diseases are cured, our knowledge is advanced, and bad theories like a flat earth, are rejected. Going back to my previous post, I stated that based on the evidence, we have sufficient reason to conclude that nonbelief in God is rational. You’ve given nothing to show that it’s not, other than conjecture and “personal experience.”

    You seek to give personal experience and rational thought equal weight in determining the existence or non-existence of a thing. I think it’s very obvious that the latter is a far superior method than the former.

    You wrote: Next, you critique several of my offered explanations. It is clear from the article that these are merely offered as a few potential factors. That is why I do not go to great lengths trying to defend them. However, they do all seem reasonable, your critique notwithstanding.

    I attempted to show that your explanations were not very reasonable at all, and based on a tendentious view of human motivations. They show that your case for the impossibility of a rational non-belief in God is very, very weak.

    You wrote: BIAS: Your response to the charge of bias is that, well, it’s actually me who’s biased. Notice, however, that I never claimed that theists (including myself) aren’t influenced by these factors. Pointing the finger back at me does nothing to discount the possibility that these factors cause nonbelief either in you or in other atheists who claim that they are reasonable. Additionally, I deny the claim that bias is the only factor which causes me (or other Christian theists) to believe in the God of Christianity instead of Zeus or Allah- the belief in the Christian God is based on evidence.

    Actually, my point was that, while everyone has bias, it is your bias that is stronger, since you can provide no more proof that the god you worship exists, than can the Muslim or Mormon. Yes, atheists have a bias, but it is a bias based on reason and Occam’s Razor, not on wishful thinking.

    By the way, what are your top three evidences for the Christian God?

    You wrote: PRIDE: Not sure what you are talking about here, but it is clearly false that “god-belief” is needed to be prideful in the manner I describe.

    It is impossible for a nonbeliever to have the pride you speak of when they lack a god-belief in the first place. In other words, in order for a nonbeliever to be prideful in the manner you describe, they’d first have to believe in God. Is your rejection of the deity of Zeus a result of not liking to be under his higher power? I didn’t think so.

    You wrote: ANGER: I think that you are misusing Mark 11:24, but set that aside. The reason atheists might be “angry” is that they don’t like the way the world is. True, they may not believe in God, but their anger at the way the world works might prevent them from accepting His existence.

    This is a bit different from what you originally stated, and it’s even less convincing. The atheist simply accepts the world “as is” because he doesn’t view any single entity as responsible for the state of affairs; they have nothing and no one to blame.

    On the other hand, the theist could and should be very angry at the state of affairs. If you saw a child about to be hit by a car, and their parent standing there with both the ability and motivation to save the child, but they didn’t, you’d be very angry at that person for not acting. And why shouldn’t you? Anyone would. Yet, that aloof, negligent person perfectly describes God, with whom you’re not angry with, but love. That’s bizarre to me.

    You wrote: RIDICULOUS EXPECTATIONS: The reason it is ridiculous to expect God to come and have a chat with you is that there is no reason to presume that you are that important. Consider, God only appeared to a very select few individuals and performed miracles in front of a (relatively) small number of people, according to the Bible. Why do you think that you are so important that you justify a personal visit? Are you as important as Moses or Paul or Abraham? You are not nearly as important as they were for enacting the history leading up to salvation.

    Well, theists constantly state that I’m a child of God. I’m also told that God wants me to live with him for eternity in heaven. In fact, he is purported to want it so badly, he sent Jesus to die for me. I’m also told, anything I pray for, will be granted. It would seem that I’m very important in Christian theology. It thus seems rather small of God to withhold the same evidence he provided to others, particularly to those whose role in salvation was minimal at best.

    You wrote: It is also a ridiculous expectation because it is more than is needed. You should believe in God if it is more likely than not that He exists. We can know this without receiving a personal visit. The atheist needs to examine the evidence for the existence of God on a fair playing ground, not expect an unreasonably high level of confirmation.

    Clearly something’s going wrong, then. As knowledge has expanded, fewer believe in God. Are people thus becoming more and more irrational? You would seem to believe this, yet it directly contradicts the evidence. Compare historical trends in god-belief among scientists, for example.

    Finally, you didn’t provide any standard for determining what’s a fair vs. unfair expectation.

    You wrote: WISH TO DISREGARD THEISTIC MORALITY: Your claim that Biblical morality (primarily as found in the Old Testament) is supposedly immoral has little to do with the claim, which is that people want to disregard moral commands like abstinence before marriage. However, your critique of Biblical morality is simplistic- for example, you claim that the Bible condones slavery, but a fair analysis of the text and the culture show that this was actually a form of indentured servitude, usually entered willingly, and for the mutual benefit of the owner and the ‘slave.’

    If people find Biblical morality in fact immoral, then that’s the reason not to follow it. Seems fairly clear to me.

    So you don’t deny that the Bible condoned slavery? Your position is that it wasn’t that bad. Besides showing that Christians don’t have much basis to condemn this morally abhorrent practice, it also reveals a shocking lack of knowledge of how slavery was employed throughout history. Fortunately, erudite men like former slave Frederick Douglas can offer some insight:

    “He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass.”

    [Source: “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas” by Frederick Douglas.]

    Oh well. Guess slaves were not “that important” to God.

    You wrote: INSUFFICIENT EFFORT: I don’t know how I made a Freudian slip, I admit that theists usually don’t give the issue of belief in God enough attention. Many theists are theists because of the way that they were raised. I think that this fact is unfortunate, but it does not affect my article. I will also admit that, unfortunately, atheists are often more knowledgeable about the evidence for and against God’s existence. However, insufficient effort surely applies to at least some atheists.

    My rejoinder was that atheists are more knowledgeable with regards to the evidence for and against God than theists—a point you concede. Nonetheless, you still maintain that their nonbelief in God is not rational at all, which appears to contradict the point you just conceded.

    You wrote: You conclude by questioning my use of these factors to explain nonbelief, even though I claim earlier in the article that I cannot know what someone actually believes. This is ironic- you object to my denial of the ARNB for epistemic reasons, and then you object to my use of explanations to explain away nonbelief. Heads you win, tails I lose. Nevertheless, it is clear from the article that I only offer these factors for the sake of “completeness”, so that the ARNB is doubly-refuted.

    Earlier you wrote: “[Y]ou critique several of my offered explanations. It is clear from the article that these are merely offered as a few potential factors.”

    Then, here, you say these factors complete another refutation of the ARNB. Those are some mighty few indeed.

    My earlier point was that, while you say you can’t possibly know if someone’s nonbelief is rational (you in fact say that it cannot be), you then claim a host of factors that would explain it. How can you possibly know if these factors are actually in play when you readily admit an inability to evaluate the veracity of someone’s beliefs? What if an atheist admitted anger as a reason for nonbelief? You would have to admit back to him that you cannot possibly know if that’s true or not. This is the conundrum you’ve created for yourself in rejecting an atheist’s claim that their nonbelief is rational.
    Robert    Dec 12, 07:49 AM    #
  2. Oh fudge. I put this reply in the wrong place. Sorry!

    Robert    Dec 12, 07:50 AM    #
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