When it comes to disagreements about the existence of God people usually want to proceed without ever setting down a clear set of rules by which to make a case. We often assume that we are all thinking along the same lines as to what the rules are when it comes to discussions about God and truth and knowledge and other such subjects. This assumption is unfortunate because Christians and non-Christians “play” by a different set of rules. The amount of literature written about the subject of the existence of God could fill libraries, yet if we searched through all of the volumes of what has been written on this topic we would likely find very little mention about the rules we should follow when addressing the topic of the existence of God. Let us now take a closer look at some unargued assumptions about the rules of debate between a Christian and an atheist.
Typically when a Christian and an atheist come together to debate the topic of the existence of God the Christian provides a host of proofs to try and show the atheist that God does in fact exist. The object is usually to persuade the atheist from the raw facts of experience and reason that God exists. Meanwhile the atheist is in the more comfortable position of knocking these proofs down and showing that the arguments being offered by the Christian do not bring one from atheism to belief in God. Sometimes an argument for the nonexistence of God is provided by the atheist, but usually only to further discourage the plausibility of the proofs offered by the Christian. Now we already mentioned the subject of rules, but before we enter back into that discussion we need to ask first if there is a “level playing field“. Though most people never notice, the atheist has an advantage over the Christian in the scenario just described. The atheist has set the rules and the Christian has made the giant mistake of playing by them without question.
The atheist in the account given starts from the position that God does not exist. The Christian does as well. The atheist has assumed his position from the very beginning of the debate and does not need to do anything to protect it apart from critiquing the arguments for the existence of God. In other words, atheism is accepted as the default position. What is troubling is that the Christian typically goes right along with the default position of atheism and proceeds to offer proofs for the existence of God to try and get out of atheism. The Christian and the atheist both assume that atheism is correct and that anything that needs to be proven is up to the Christian, not the atheist. This hardly seems fair. We will turn the scenario around to emphasize this point.
Many people would consider it unfair for the Christian to just assume that God exists when engaging in a debate on the existence of God. There appears to be no purpose to a debate where the correctness of one position is assumed before the debate even begins. We might be quick to scoff at a Christian who would take the position that God exists from the beginning of a debate without offering a logical proof for the existence of God, but why when the atheist is doing the exact same thing with his own position? A neutral position from which to debate the existence of God is never taken by either side but rather the position of atheism is usually taken for granted by both sides. Often this defaulting of atheism is attributed to where the “burden of proof” should be assigned.
To have the “burden of proof” is to be obligated to present some type of evidence or reasons for one’s position. It is often asserted, incorrectly, that the “burden of proof” lies with the individual who is attempting to prove the existence of God. Without going into this in too great of detail, such a notion is incorrect. Both the Christian and the atheist make claims when entering into debate against one another, and both parties must therefore offer supporting arguments. The burden of proof lies with a person making a claim. Starting a debate from the position that there is no God is just assuming without argument that God does not exist. Why should the atheist be allowed to just assume the very same position he needs to prove when the Christian is expected to do so much more? The debate is unfairly thrown in favor of the atheist from its inception when this traditional approach to such a classic debate topic is adhered to.
It may still strike you as odd that the question of which side we start with has been raised for consideration. Something just does not seem right about the Christian assuming from the outset of the debate that God exists. However, the alternative to assuming from the outset that God exists is assuming from the outset that God does not exist, which is essentially the position of the atheist. Why should the atheist be given the benefit of the doubt from the outset of the debate instead of the Christian? Not only is it unfair for the Christian to have to start from the position of atheism in order to make his case, but it is also hypocritical, for the Christian does believe that God exists and is trying to bring the atheist to that position as well. It is dishonest to act as though God may not exist and then argue that He does. This is where the discussion of rules from earlier comes into focus but first we will spell out in a more formal way the ramifications of what we have discussed so far.
Traditionally when people want to prove the existence of God they begin with the idea that God does not exist and try to work their way to establishing that God does exist. The traditional method looks something like this:
Arguments -> God
To clarify, the person who uses this method comes alongside the atheist as if there is no God. An argument for the existence of God is then introduced in order to try and prove that God exists. Such arguments usually consist of questions about how the world began, the recognition of design in the universe, historical evidence and other philosophical proofs concerning morality, beauty, and the nature of God.
An example of one such proof for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument:
1. Everything which begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.
Additional steps may be added to the proof to show that the cause of the universe is God. For now, just understand that the traditional method introduces an argument with God at the end of the argument.
This site takes somewhat of an opposite approach to the question of the existence of God. We will begin with the existence of God and then make our arguments from there. The method explained on this site looks something like this:
God -> Arguments
To clarify, the person who uses this method does not come alongside the atheist as if there is no God. The existence and nature of God are introduced and then an argument is made to prove that it is impossible for God to not exist. Make sure you are clear about this; we do not just assume that God exists without warrant for doing so, but instead offer a very powerful argument to show that it is impossible that God does not exist. The main difference in the traditional method and the method presented on this site is what was just mentioned; the traditional method has God at the end of arguments, the method this site teaches has arguments at the end of God.