By Michael Riggs
Christian theists make the claim that they have the particular knowledge that there is a God.
Atheists (at least of the weak variety, as I myself am) make no claim concerning such a God, neither his existence or nonexistence. Atheism is the state of being without a (positive belief in) God.
Ordinary claims require special evidence for disbelief in them to be justified. No special evidence is required for belief to be justified.
And what do we mean by extraordinary? That which violates our lifelong empirical observation of how the world works. Such sensory evidence is ultimately the only source of information that we have. And before my Christian friends inform me that they do not share that ‘presupposition’, read Romans 1.20, which plainly states that sensory observation of the world is on what God will hold the heathen accountable, and that knowledge of God is discernible through such sensory observation.
If I were to inform you that I went to the store and purchased a gallon of milk, the sheer ordinariness of that claim renders you unable to justifiably disbelieve me (without some extenuating evidence). Such claims as these barely even merit investigation because they already fit our justified models of how the world works. You already know that people go to the store and purchase gallons of milk all the time, and even really raising doubt here would probably be absurd.
But if I told you that I hunted unicorns last week and then purchased Russia at the local convenience store, the total extraordinariness of the claim renders you unjustified in believing me without some (very radical and well documented) evidence, as it violates so many of our proven models about the world on so many levels!
Consider if I told you that I telepathically communicate with a man who is really three men, and that he arranged for his own death so that he could bring himself to forgive us for something that our very distant ancestors did? This man also happens to know everything and has the ability to perform any task that is logically possible!
‘But wait!’, the Christian protests, ‘This is a carefully worded caricature of my position!’
Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t, yet my point was to highlight the extraordinariness of the claims made by it, as the Bible itself does:
-Acts 2.22 NIV
The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance.
-2 Corinthians 12.12 NIV
And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
-Mark 16.17-18 NIV
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
-James 5.14-16 NIV
Belief in the truth of the Bible entails belief in the existence of such miracles, and the very concept of a miracle, sign, or wonder includes the idea of extraordinariness. Even the very idea of the supernatural denotes ‘beyond’ – ‘the ordinary’. These are things that do not occur naturally, and by their very nature would cause us to question our beliefs about reality and what is both possible and impossible. This, indeed, is the very point of the miraculous:
-1 Cor 14.22 NIV
He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.
-John 3.2 NIV
Do not believe me [Jesus] unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.
-John 10.37-38 NIV
The Bible attempts to offer such evidence. It puts forward miracles, signs, and wonders as evidence for it’s veracity. It accepts the burden of proof, which I, likewise, recognize to be upon it (so of course, I find the Christian cessationist position is as unbiblical as it is disingenuous).
Naturalism by its very nature is the belief in the ordinary. Everything invariably works according to rules, and even what we see as extraordinary is really ordinary when we understand the unfailing mechanisms behind it.
It is insufficient for the theist to provide a model of the world in which God, his attributes, miracles, and such are possible. Since the Bible itself claims extraordinariness, special evidence must be rendered to justify belief. Of course, if Christianity is an accurate model of the world, then this should not be a problem according to those last few passages I cited.
Therefore I posit:
Atheistic naturalism is an ordinary claim and (by default) does not require special evidence for belief to be justified.
Theism readily accepts and embraces it’s extraordinary nature and even claims the ultimately extraordinary as it’s proof and therefore requires special evidence for belief to be justified.
The burden of proof is upon the Christian theist to prove his position, not upon the atheistic naturalist who is justified by default.