Here we begin with my short series of essays reflecting on the arguments proposed by Kai Nielsen in <em>Atheism and Philosophy</em>. In this opening essay, I’m going to concentrate on two statements made by Mr Nielsen and examine them.
In his introduction, Mr Nielsen develops a picture of his argument and what he might be discussing. He defines atheism as a response which varies based on what “version” of God is being addressed (from pp 58-59):
- If an anthropomorphic God is proposed, the atheist rejects belief in Gd because it is false or probably false that there is such a God.
- If a non-anthropomorphic God (i.e., the God of Luther and Calvin, Aquinas, and Maimonides), he rejects belief in God because the concept of such a God is either meaningless, unintelligible, contradictory, incomprehensible, or incoherent;
- the atheist rejects belief in God (here we speak of the God portrayed by some modern or contemporary theologians or philosophers) because the concept of God in question is such that is merely masks an atheistic substance …
This statement (notably #2) is somewhat similar in content to some objections to the Christian belief based on a claim that a belief in God is logically inconsistent (akin to 2+2=5). This seems to rely on a syllogism that God must be rational and logical … because the universe is rational and logical. But, is this reasonable? Quantum mechanics gives to a contradictory and very unsatisfactory view of matter. The particle/wave duality has never been resolved and indeed Bell’s theorem shows that any mechanistic attempt to bypass the representation which sets aside any direct description of matter as anything but a complex amplitude of which the norm is a probability distribution. In the philosophy of science relating derived from a quantum view of nature there is no possible description of reality instead in its place merely a description of the outcome of experiment. That is, reality is incapable of being expressed in a logically consistent fashion and instead only much weaker statements can be made. The question then is, why if nature is not seen to be understood in a logically consistent fashion … must our understanding of God be constrained differently?
Just a bit earlier, Mr Nielsen cites an line of rhetoric I’ve seen elsewhere:
… [belief in God represents ] a reality that must be transcendent to the world, the burden of proof is not on the atheist to give grounds for believing that there is no reality of that order. Rather, the burden of proof is on the believer to give us evidence for God’s existence, i.e., something to show that there is such a reality.
However, I’m unclear on the necessity of this “burden of proof” rhetoric. From the Christian perspective, “burden of proof” very much beside the point. Belief (and Faith) in God is believed only to be mediated via the workings of God Himself (specifically in the trinitarian Christian belief via the Holy Spirit). Belief is not mediated via rhetoric, discourse, or logic but by God. It might seem that it may occasionally be sparked by such … but the confrontational point of view is, I think, one that does not stem from the Christian point of view. That is, from the Christian point of view there is no “burden of proof” to be shouldered. If the atheist has rejected faith it is either by his rejection of the Spirit (Arminian) or that he has not been “elected” (Reformed). God has gifted each of us with free-will and we are each free to believe what we wish.