The primary argument of the atheist is

A1: a belief without evidence is irrational

from which it is deduced that religious beliefs are irrational. However, it is well-known that many atheists ("strong" atheists) also believe that deities do not exist, which is of course in and of itself a belief. In order to justify this position and remain consistent, the atheist needs the following two arguments

A2: a belief with ample evidence is rational


A3: lack of evidence is evidence

Let us grant them these premises. By combining them, the atheist concludes that since there is a complete lack of evidence for the existence of god, this is ample evidence that god does not exist, hence the corresponding belief is rational.

But the problem I would like to ask about is ... couldn't the very step just undertaken be replicated for infinitely many other things?

Specifically, take any object which is currently outside the boundaries of the imagination of the atheist. Such an object, by its very design, has no known evidence. That should be obvious. After all, if such evidence were known to exist to the atheist, it would require that they were aware of what the object was to begin with, in order for them to be able to link the evidence to the object. But they cannot even imagine this object, hence it is an impossibility to link any evidence to it, hence no known evidence exists.

Hence, there is a complete lack of evidence (from the perspective of the atheist, at least) for any object outside the realm of the atheist's imagination. By replicating the step from above by applying A3 and then A2, it would seem that the atheist is forced to believe that anything outside of their imagination cannot possibly exist. That is, the atheist considers themselves to have 'omnipotent' imagination, in the sense that anything the atheist fails to imagine, cannot possibly exist at all.

Is there a flaw in my reasoning? If so, please point it out. If not, what are the implications of this for the rationality of the strong-atheist position (to me it seems very irrational to believe that the universe succumbs itself to our imagination).

  • 2
    This question doesn't ask anything other than "am I right?", which is explicitly off topic, and it's very clearly biased. None of what you've presented is anything other than your own argument and a large amount of it is just vague conjecture ("In order to justify this position and remain consistent, the atheist needs the following two arguments" why? says who? what does the "ample" in "ample evidence" mean? "Ample" according to what? Where did you get this argument from?) Saying that atheists need to believe that lack of evidence is evidence is absolutely a strawman you made up.
    – Not_Here
    Oct 8 '17 at 6:51
  • 4
    Your premise that atheists believe that God cannot possibly exist is false. Most believe that 'This god' does not exist. It is an inductive argument and you try to apply the principles of deduction to it, which obviously doesn't make sense...
    – JeffUK
    Oct 8 '17 at 8:12
  • 3
    In fact the person stating "I imagine a god, it exists unless you can disprove it" is the one assuming their imagination is omnipotent.
    – JeffUK
    Oct 8 '17 at 8:58
  • As a note, I believe your question and one of the answers confuses Atheism (the belief there is no God) with Agnosticism (the belief we are unable to determine whether God exists).
    – user935
    Oct 8 '17 at 13:39
  • First off, nice name. Second off, I think you're on to something but I'm not sure you hit the nail squarely on the head. The argument that you give representing the 'strong atheist' does indeed stink. But not many atheists will admit to believing that argument in the first place. What your argument is on to however is that atheists not believing in God based on 'no evidence' require, in truth, a more robust sense of 'evidence'. To say that God doesn't exist because we don't find him in a test tube is not to actually disprove God since God isn't the sort of thing to be found in a test tube.
    – user28843
    Oct 8 '17 at 20:57

You're confusing terms here, and your premises are false.

Strong atheism says "I have evidence to believe that there is no god, therefore there is no god"

Weak atheism says "There is no evidence that god exists, therefore I will behave as if there is no god"

The first is a deductive argument, the second is an inductive argument, you take the premise from an inductive argument, mash it up with the conclusion from a deductive argument, and of course you are able to rip it to shreds (Because inductive arguments cannot make statements of certainty in the way that deductive arguments can.) This is a classic case of the straw-man fallacy.

But, lets go with it.

Strong atheists actually use the following argument, note that in combination, A1 and A2 equate to 'evidence.'

A1: A thorough examination of the universe would show evidence of existence of God.

A2: We have examined the universe thoroughly enough that if it existed, that evidence would have been found.

A3: We have not found that evidence

Conclusion: There is no god.

You're welcome to challenge the premises, but the argument is perfectly valid.

I have examined my arm, I would expect to have seen evidence of a watch if there was one there; I did not. Therefore I believe there is no watch on my arm.

I have examined the universe, I would expect to have seen evidence of a god if there was one there; I did not. Therefore I believe there is no god in the universe.

With respect to the lack of evidence, 'Weak atheism' makes only the following argument from deduction.

A1: A thorough examination of the universe would show evidence of existence of God.

A2: We have not found that evidence

Conclusion: Either, there is no god or we haven't looked hard enough.

The inductive argument is that we have been looking for ages; and would expect to have seen some evidence of god by now, so there is probably no god.

  • Aren't those arguments overlooking an obvious response that would render them completely inept? How about the fact that God doesn't want to be found by scientific means? God has made it clear that he will be known by means of repentance and faith, not by staring through telescopes. Aren't there any atheist that can think of a more intelligent argument than those? (For the record, someone staring through a microscope might recognize the divine nature of God's creation. I don't mean to exclude any evidence in that sense.)
    – user3017
    Oct 8 '17 at 22:13
  • 1
    @PédeLeão - that's a good argument, but it can easily lead to the idea that only atheists will go to heavens... Oct 8 '17 at 23:15
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    @PédeLeão do you have any evidence for that position, belief without evidence is irrational, remember. Besides, that argument allows for the assertion of the existence of anything, not least the existence of an infinite number of gods.
    – JeffUK
    Oct 8 '17 at 23:43
  • 4
    @PédeLeão - if God intended to keep his existence a secret, those who spill the beans might not get a rewarding afterlife... Oct 9 '17 at 1:13
  • 1
    @PédeLeão - Well, that is what you believe, but since that belief requires faith, which is something I haven't, arguing will be useless. Oct 9 '17 at 1:22

You commit one of the most common fallacies I've come across in such questions here. But first, let's establish the actual meaning belonging to the term "atheist". An atheist is not one who has an active belief that there is no god, but rather one who does not believe in a god. The difference is subtle, but significant. It is not an actively held belief requiring evidence to say that you do not believe in a god. Not doing something is most assuredly not the same as doing something in a way which is contradictory to the typical way in which the action is performed.

That being said, your argument quickly places the burden of proof on the atheist, who does not believe there is a god. In doing so, you are essentially saying that an atheist should be able to prove that a god does not exist. This, however, is impossible and not the responsibility of the atheist. You are making the assertion that something does exist, and thus it is your job to prove that that thing exists. Placing the burden of proof on the atheist to conclusively prove that something doesn't exist simply doesn't make sense; it is instead your responsibility to prove that your god does exist.

Let's now move on to your argument, as it is one of the most interesting I've seen. You make the argument that lack of proof in something is not proof, which is very much true. However, the argument that lack of proof is proof is the exact one that you rely on. By forcing the atheist to prove that there is no god and keeping your assertion that there is one when the atheist cannot provide evidence that there is no god, you are saying that a lack of evidence constitutes evidence for your position.

  • 1
    "Atheism" is ambiguous but is commonly used in the stronger OP sense. One who does not believe in a god need not believe in no god either, and would be agnostic rather than atheist in such usage. The burden of proof is on those making the claims, whether they be positive or negative (the distinction is a matter of phrasing). Of course, "proof" is not meant in some "impossible" absolute sense. But if one holds a definitive rational belief, as opposed to agnostic non-belief, plausible justification of it is rightly expected.
    – Conifold
    Nov 26 '17 at 23:47
  • @Conifold I would completely disagree with your idea of how the term "atheism" tends to be used, as the majority of atheists classify themselves as such for no purpose beyond being recognizable and unified though most of them are agnostic. True that the burden of proof lies on the one making the claim, but in the vast majority of cases, atheists are not making any claim. They are rejecting the claim that a god exists due to lack of evidence. We can both agree that one holding a definitive belief that there is no god should be able to defend that position, though. Nov 27 '17 at 0:39

That A1 is the primary argument of the atheist is highly questionable. And A2 is just pulled out of thin air. You have presented a strawman argument, claimed that it is somehow logically impossible for a strong atheist to not believe, and then declared victory. When someone claims "All atheists must believe X", it is almost always the case that atheists do not, in fact, have to believe it.

Absence of evidence for a proposition is evidence for the proposition being false to the extent that the proposition can be expected to provide evidence. If someone claims that there's a dragon in their garage, and you look in their garage and don't see a dragon, then you have observed the absence of something that should exist if the dragon were there, and it is therefore reasonable to conclude that the dragon is not in fact there. If someone claims that there is a teapot in orbit around the sun several billion miles away, and you look up in the sky and don't see a teapot, you have observed exactly what you should expect regardless of whether the teapot is there, and therefore the evidence for or against the proposition has not changed.

It's really difficult to believe that you have made a sustained, concerted, good faith effort to understand atheism without encountering Bayes' Theorem.

It's also not clear what it means for something to be beyond imagination, let alone for someone to disbelieve in something beyond their imagination. If they are not aware of a proposition, how can they possibly have an opinion as to whether it's true?


God, From, Essence, is a metaphysical construct, 'meta' = 'beyond' physics, beyond evidence.

Believing that there is an underlying and guiding Essentialist metaphysics to conditioned experience (physics) is to believe in something for which there is no evidence. There is no thing 'Green', we can examine and experience to understand the 'greenness' of the apple.. at the end of our Hubble Volume, the green apple appears red, infrared and beyond due to Doppler shift, so there is no concrete colour of the apple that is agreed upon from all frames of reference.

Believing that metaphysics to conditioned experience is concretely non-existent (not the empty middle of neither exists nor does not exist, but an actual negation of the existence of God, as strong Atheism tends to do), is to acknowledge the invalidity of Form, Essence. But the world runs regularly - red appears red, and the colour changes frame dependently, in a mathematically predictable way. There world is completely regular, in that none of its aspects is a-mathematical (it can always be described), with an Existence of God or a non-Existence of God, you are faced with an irregular existence - again, no evidence.

Change is not possible with the former because 'things' are permanently fixed. Change is not possible with the latter, because 'things' do not exist Essentially, therefore how can they exist (and change) relationally?

The Atheist cannot imagine God because the construct is not relational, not causal.

Would you, or would you not say, that absolute knowledge, if there is such a thing, must be a far more exact knowledge than our knowledge; and the same of beauty and of the rest?


And if there be such a thing as participation in absolute knowledge, no one is more likely than God to have this most exact knowledge?


But then, will God, having absolute knowledge, have a knowledge of human things?

Why not?

Because, Socrates, said Parmenides, we have admitted that the ideas are not valid in relation to human things; nor human things in relation to them; the relations of either are limited to their respective spheres.

Yes, that has been admitted.

And if God has this perfect authority, and perfect knowledge, his authority cannot rule us, nor his knowledge know us, or any human thing; just as our authority does not extend to the gods, nor our knowledge know anything which is divine, so by parity of reason they, being gods, are not our masters, neither do they know the things of men. Plato's Parmenides

The greatest difficulty (beyond accepting that Copernican, Galillean, special, general relativity and relational quantum mechanics slowly lead the way to the death of metaphysics and the anatta of Nagarjuna), is to acknowledge that the circle cannot be squared for validating any concept that is, from the get go, axiomatically declared to be independent of observation/measurement.

Any and all metaphysics by definition places itself beyond the root of the scientific method, that is observation/measurement. Any statement with regards to metaphysical speculation, other than that it is beyond observation and therefore beyond experiment, is a hypothesis without any suitable experiment. All one can say is that Metaphysics is empty of verifiable/falsifiable phenomena/things/concepts - empty of any 'thing', including Existence and non-Existence. Having no access to evidence and experiment, engaging in speculation one way or the other, is engaging in a-scientific speculation.


A1: a belief without evidence is irrational

A2: a belief with ample evidence is rational

I don't think that these arguments belong to the theist/atheist debate. An atheist can perfectly think that a belief without evidence is rational. And both atheists and theists can perfectly agree that a "rational belief" is not necessarily a "true" belief.

Before understanding nuclear reactions, people could well believe that the sun was a ball of fire. It would be a rational belief; the only thing humans knew, from experience, that could cause the kind and amount of heath the sun gives out was fire. We now know that this belief, never mind how rational it may have been, was false.

We may also believe that the Goldbach conjecture is true. This is a belief without evidence; it is also a perfectly rational belief.

So that is a different debate; one can believe in God knowing that there is no evidence for its existence, one can believe that there is evidence for the existence in God, one can believe that God does not exist out of other considerations than the "rationality" of arguments against its existence.

A3: lack of evidence is evidence

This is evidently false, even from an atheist point of view. Indeed, it is a well known fallacy, so any atheist with some knowledge of logic will reject this.

"Weak atheists", ie, agnostics, may think that the problem of God's existence is a problem of evidence or lack thereof. It is, in my opinion, a naive position, that would lead them to the most absurd consequences - orbital teapots included. But a "strong" atheist, ie, an atheist proper, will tell you that the concept of God is absurd, or self-contradictory, or morally destructive, and conclude for the inexistence of God regardless of any evidence, just as they will discard the idea of a four-angled pentagon, of someone being the father of his own father, or the idea that eating human flesh is a good one.

  • gnosticism and theism are different spectra, you cannot use the terms interchangeably, Atheism is about what one believes, gnosticism about what one knows. I do not know whether or not god exists, I believe he does not, are different positions.
    – JeffUK
    Oct 8 '17 at 23:41

Your entire premise is wrong

You say...

Are atheists forced to believe...

No, that is entirely wrong. Atheism is the rejection of religious faith and religiously inspired doctrine.

...and that is it, in its entirety.

Atheism is a statement of a fact — "I remain unconvinced" — not a position that needs arguing for. The burden of proof for a belief — and the onus on arguing for compliance with a doctrine — rests entirely with the one that presents the claim / the doctrine, which in this case is: the faithful.

The primary argument of the atheist is

One does not need to argue for the statement "I do not accept your religious claims, nor will I follow your religiously inspired doctrine".

the atheist concludes that since there is a complete lack of evidence for the existence of god, this is ample evidence that god does not exist,

Absolutely wrong. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Is there a flaw in my reasoning?

Yes, because your premises are wrong.

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