Do Atheists "Lack a Belief" in God?
A common argument against theism (the belief in one God) is that atheists do not claim there is no God, but merely “lack a belief” in God. But, is this a fair point to make?
The argument is often used by atheists as a response to the Christian’s claim that God exists, in order to avoid making the positive claim that God does not exist. However, there are three main problems with this position.
1. Suggesting that one merely “lacks a belief” in God does not make a positive claim.
The only thing being explained in the aforementioned statement is a state of mind. In other words, no truth claim has been made, so no argument is being established either. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for this particular position; the atheist may state that he merely “lacks a belief” in order to evade the burden of proof for his position.
In fact, if it is the case that atheism is simply a lack of a belief, then anything can be an atheist, even non-human objects! A cat is therefore an atheist, as is a fish, a door, a pillow, or a cloud. After all, based on the criteria of a lack of belief, atheism is just a state of mind, not a belief at all.
2. Lacking a belief is not a sufficient worldview
Suggesting that one merely “lacks a belief” does not do an adequate job of explaining the world around us. Every worldview must answer the questions of who we are, where we come from, why we are here, where we are going when we die, and what defines right and wrong. If atheism is merely “lacking a belief in God,” this does nothing to answer any of the questions a worldview ought to answer. Thus, atheism is not a sufficient worldview.
For one to claim to lack a belief, he still must provide a coherent argument as to the reason for why life exists. That is, using the lack of belief position as an argument does not do a good job at all of defending the atheist’s case. As apologist and homicide detective J. Warner Wallace points out, imagine two people were investigating a crime scene, and one person says “I believe suspect A is the culprit here.” The other person says “No, I lack a belief that suspect A is the culprit.” The first person would rightly ask the other person “well, who do you think the culprit is, then?” If the person who merely lacks a belief simply said “I don’t know, I just lack a belief in your position,” this would be a terribly insufficient way of approaching a crime scene! Both people in the illustration, if they disagree, must have a truth claim and sufficient evidence to support their position. In summation, if atheism is simply lacking a belief in God, the atheist still must provide evidence for his position, which this statement does not do.
3. Atheism is not merely lacking a belief in God
Lastly, and most importantly, the claim that the atheist merely “lacks a belief” in God is simply incorrect. This is not the definition of atheism. Atheism is the belief that there is no God. Literally, the atheist believes God does not exist. This is a positive claim.
In fact, the original Greek word, broken down, translates this way. The a in atheist is known as an alpha privative, which, when placed on the beginning of a word, creates a negation in the word. Similar to the Latin word anti, it means “without, or in opposition to.” Theos means “God.” So, the word translated correctly means “no God.”
After all, what is the atheist denying? They are denying the very existence of the being known as God.
If one wished to claim to merely lack a belief in God, then that is fine; however, he is not an atheist. He, if anything, is an agnostic (one who is more so undecided about the existence of God). If there is no God, how then should we explain the world around us? How do we explain morality? How do we explain reason? How do we explain the carefully “designed” universe in which we live? Why is there something, rather than nothing?
Christianity does the best job of answering the questions every worldview should answer. The most logical conclusion to the question of life itself is simply this: there is a God, and we are not Him.