Today, I came across this Twitter profile. So of course, I had to reply:
“‘Non-believers CANNOT justify their godless beliefs, making theism the JUSTIFIED POSITION. Prove me wrong.’ I should try reasoning like ‘Artie’ more often. It makes things so easy!”
This prompted a reply from “Jeffrey” followed by my rejoinders:
Jeffrey: “How is this different from someone asserting that fairies live in elm trees and another person lacking that belief? Does non-belief have to be justified? Is fairies existing the default position or self-evident?”
Randal: You’re right. I think atheism is as silly as the belief that fairies live in elm trees. So get to work and give me an *argument*.
Jeffrey: Those weren’t rhetorical questions. They were genuine questions.
Randal: And I gave you a very serious answer. When you identify what is wrong with my response you will know what is wrong with your original comment/question.
Folks like Jeffrey make at least two mistakes. First, they assume that their personal plausibility structure provides a privileged epistemic position for their beliefs as if others are automatically placed on the defensive if Jeffrey happens to find their beliefs implausible. But of course, life don’t work like that. Jeffrey’s plausibility structure doesn’t enjoy a privileged position. Or to put it another way, two can play at that game.
Second, folks like Jeffrey seem to assume that “positive existential claims” are particularly in need of justification (especially if those claims involve existential claims outside of Jeffrey’s plausibility framework). But again, that’s false. For example, the existence of the external world or other minds is the positive existential claim, but if there is a claim in need of justification in that sense, it is the denial, not the affirmation.
If anything, the Christian would say it is the same when it comes to denying God’s existence, and consequently, when somebody like Jeffrey compares belief in God to belief in some arbitrary fairy, he merely shows his provincial ignorance for the very different plausibility frameworks of other people. In this regard, his position is comparable to the benighted North American who, never having traveled overseas, has no conception that a person could use anything other than a knife and fork to eat their meals: anybody who uses “chopsticks” to eat their meals must first defend their rejection of the knife and fork!