The Non-Position

One of the most frequently held positions by theists when talking to atheists is the assumption that not having a stance is, in and of itself, a position. Not only is this notion patently absurd, it’s illogical and nonsensical. Only when it comes to religion do human beings identify people for what they don’t believe in, and even then only in relation to their own personal theological belief system.

The most adequate way of explaining how a non-position isn’t a position is by using a version of the Bertrand Russell tea-pot hypothesis. Instead of an interstellar maverick piece of china, my example revolves around the existence of a beloved mythological figure: the unicorn.

If someone asserted to me that unicorns were real, and I asked them to demonstrate their position with testable, observable evidence, I’m not taking a position. I’m giving the person making the claim and opportunity to prove to me he is correct and a methodology with which to do so. While I may not happen to think that unicorns exist, based on personal experience, an understanding of science, and a complete lack of any evidence (testable or otherwise) – I’m not trying to falsify their claim. In order for me to be intellectually capable of such a feat, they would have to provide some kind of proof that can be measured and studied.

There are a multitude of different positions that one can take on any given issue, but theists seem to come to this illogical conclusion that not having a position is the same as having one. We cannot disprove God’s existence any more than we can disprove that unicorns exist. We can, however, prove that some claims in the Bible are in direct contradiction to scientific, consensus reality. This in itself does not completely refute the idea of a god, multiple gods, a creator creator, or malevolent/beneficent force of some sort. We could potentially draw the conclusion that it does refute the idea of the Hebrew tribal God, but in order for skeptics to measure evidence we first have to be provided with some.

The stance of an atheist is one that lacks a claim in response to an assertion. In the unicorns example, I’m not taking a position on whether or not I think that unicorns are or aren’t real, much like I do with respect to my lack of religious beliefs. I’m not taking a stance that a creator of some sort is or isn’t real. My stipulation is predicated on the notion that evidence is required to verify a claim, because sans a method of fact checking, testing, and falsifying, how does one even begin to demonstrate the things they think are real, true, or factual?

In a conversation with an old theist friend of mine, he suggested that even though he had no verifiable evidence to back up his supposition that God was real, I was equally stupid because I couldn’t disprove his claim. I explained to him that his lack of proof for something he is truly convinced is real isn’t an intellectually honest position to maintain, and that a stance which essentially says, ‘provide me with evidence’ is the best possible way human beings have for demonstrating the accuracy of claims.

Faith-based positions are held irrespective of evidence because the emotional connection to the particular belief system in question is validation enough. Yet, there were two questions that I had for my theist friend with regard to his acceptance that he took his entire theological system on blind faith alone, and that he had absolutely no testable or observable evidence to prove he was telling the truth.

What justification do you have for thinking your claims are real, and how do you know the other people who make the same claims with regard to their own deities, that are just as convicted, aren’t telling the truth?

Without a measurable way of discerning fact from fiction, how do we draw accurate conclusions? The only mildly relevant part in his argument with regard to evidence seemed to be that I didn’t provide any proof which contradicts his assertion, so I proceeded to ask him if he could disprove the existence of Zeus, Thor, Lord Krishna, Xenu, or any other deity. His answer was no. I pointed out to him that based on his own argument, that means he should accept those as being true as well.

Though he entirely missed why his argument was illogical, he did point out to me that I was attacking his belief system, and by doing so I was actually taking a position by trying to contradict his assertion that faith is a pathway to truth. I didn’t attack his claim, I simply questioned how he went about demonstrating something was true without evidence to support his position, and how, without evidence, did he know his answer was the right one?

My argument is an inference with regard to the methodology by how theists go about demonstrating truth, and is irrespective of their specific claim. The default position is one of neutrality, where we neither confirm nor deny the existence or accuracy of something until adequate evidence is provided. If the proof part of the methodology isn’t adhered to, then the claim itself could never be demonstrated to the satisfaction of a rationalist.

That, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t a position against the specific religious or supernatural claim, that’s an understanding of reality, science, and critical thought.


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Jared Smith

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04 2012