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The fundamental theorem of atheism

I think many times, with all the discussion of religion, science, atheism, etc, it can be easy to lose sight of the real purpose of what one is trying to accomplish.  Of course, this can happen in any discussion.  But, one of those ever-famous text-images found on Facebook caught my attention today.  (I do think it's funny, but from what I have seen a basic fact about human psychology, that people are more likely to read text when it is in an image--even if the image is purely text--than when it is just simply written text.  I wonder if they've done any studies on that.)

So, to bring my own focus back to where it should be, here is what I will call the "fundamental theorem of atheism".  Yes, that's a very mathematical title--every branch (and sub-branch) of mathematics has a "fundamental theorem".  So, here it is for atheism.  The burden of proof lies on those who claim that there is a god to produce evidence of its existence.  So, here's the image that reminded me of this focus.
If you claim that you have a way to perform cold fusion, you need to produce results indicating that you have done it.  You need to be able to instruct another person on how to repeat the process.  If you claim that you have an ice cream that won't melt in the sun, then you had better be able to produce such ice cream for people to observe.  Similarly, if you claim that there is a god who does this, that, and the other, you had better be able to produce either your god or evidence of it to substantiate the claim that it does in fact exist.  This is the reason I am an atheist.  It is the only reason I call myself an atheist.  Just as the text in the image suggests, there may be other reasons that people might believe I have for being an atheist, but they are at best auxiliary. My skepticism lies in the simple fact that that which cannot be proven one way or the other must not be accepted as true.

Now, I believe I should take just a moment to address the other issues at hand.  I do believe that religious extremism is one reason to support the claim that religion is bad and to be an anti-theist.  And I believe that evil existing in the world at the level of abundance in which it does exist is evidence against a god who is purported to be all-loving and who watches over each of us, cares for us individually, and wants what is best for us.  It may be evidence to support an indifferent god, a vindictive or sadistic god, or perhaps an impotent god.  But, at any rate, the existence of evil is clearly insufficient to conclude definitively that there is no supernatural being.

This, I believe, is a very good point to make.  I have seen circulating around Facebook during the last few days a story about a professor who tries to convince his student that there is no god by arguing that he cannot sense god and because there's evil in the world.  Then the student replies that evil is merely the absence of god, just as cold is the absence of heat.  I believe I even saw a video that someone had put together where this scenario was played out.  And it is claimed that this student was in fact Albert Einstein.  Snopes.com has denounced this claim.  Now, it should be noted only that this line of reasoning proves that the original logic (evil exists, therefore god does not) is invalid.  And it is invalid.  It's quite conceivable that there is a god which exists but does not rid the world of evil merely by its existence.

However, it should be noted that what this argument does not prove is god's existence.  It is fallacious to say "Since your argument was wrong, my assertion that you were trying to disprove must be right."  For example, I could be arguing that I am a toad and you could be arguing that I am a lamp.  I prove to you that your reasoning is false because I do not have any properties that a lamp would have.  That doesn't mean that I am right and that I am a toad (in fact, I am not a toad).  All it means is that you were wrong and I'm therefore not a lamp.  If you were to disprove the statement "there is no god", then the logical conclusion would be that there is a god.  However, the statement being disproved is "there is no god because there is evil in the world", whose negation is only "the existence of evil in the world does not necessitate the non-existence of a god".

The important thing to note is that god is, by definition, supernatural.  That is, it exists beyond the detection and comprehension we naturally have.  Therefore, to prove its existence via natural means is impossible.  If you want to claim that your god is in fact natural--that it adheres to all of the laws of nature, then it must be possible for you to produce evidence of it.  However, if it is a natural being, subject to the laws of nature, and found in nature, then I would say that it does not deserve the title "god".

Anyway, the point is that while I see that there is value in all of the auxiliary discussion--about how religion poisons everything and all of the contradictions and impossibilities that religion presents--and I will continue to make or mirror such arguments, the important thing to remember is that the only position that atheists hold is that if you want me to believe in something, then you need to prove it to me.  Prove me wrong.  Show me evidence to support your claim.  Reason logically with me why it is that I am wrong, and then I will believe you.  Until you can do that, I will maintain that it is dishonest for you to assert the existence of a being when you cannot prove it.  On just about everything else, atheists will disagree.  But, on this one point, we all agree: the burden of proof is on you.  If you want to believe, that's fine.  But, if you want me to believe, then you have to give me a reason to believe.

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