As Christians, we are instructed to always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you to give an account for why you believe, and we’re to do it with gentleness and reverence.
So how should you respond when an atheist suggests they are absolved from having any burden of proof?
Dr. William Lane Craig posted a video recently showing an interaction he had with a college student who brought up this very subject, and the exchange is worth taking a look at (write up is below the video).
If you can't prove God does not exist, then you shouldn't be a naturalist. #Apologetics
Posted by Reasonable Faith on Friday, March 1, 2019
“You cannot prove the non-existence of a thing and Naturalists accept this,” the student begins. “But the problem is when you invoke a god for an explanation for that (creation), what you’re doing is invoking something that is inherently inexplicable. Thereby, you’re not solving the problem, you’re not explaining anything, you’re confounding the problem, you have more to explain,” he said.
The student then insinuated that claiming God created the universe, therefore, doesn’t advance human knowledge.
“Do you think invoking God as a hypothesis about natural things, or the origin of life, or the origin of the universe — do you think that’s an advancement to knowledge?”
Dr. Craig first responded to the questioner by first taking issue with the claim that it’s impossible to prove the non-existence of something.
“That’s silly. Of course you can prove something doesn’t exist,” Dr. Craig explained. “We can prove there are no living Tyrannosaurus Rex on the face of the earth. You can show that something is self-contradictory — there are no married bachelors. This is an atheist line that you hear on a popular level all the time but sophisticated atheists don’t take,” Dr. Craig said.
“If it is the case, that you can’t prove that God does not exist, then you shouldn’t be a naturalist,” he said. “You should be some sort of agnostic or something. But you shouldn’t go around saying things like ‘nature is all there is, there is nothing beyond matter and energy, there is no supernatural reality’ because those claims exceed what you yourself say you can prove. So you need to make more modest claims about your position that are more simply agnostic and find a new name rather than naturalism because that isn’t something you can sustain the burden of proof for.”
This is an issue Pastor Doug Wilson explained expanded on in a post responding to a Richard Dawkins video about the burden of proof (emphasis mine):
First, Dawkins announced that the burden of proof is not on the atheist, but rather on the theist. Actually, the burden of demonstration lies with whoever makes a dogmatic claim — and this is not really dependent upon whether the claim is positive or negative. If I state dogmatically that there is gold in Alaska, I may, without being insulted, be asked for my reasons. If a man does in the other direction, and insists that there is no gold in Alaska, the same thing is going to happen to him. There will be a Q & A.
And in such a time, an interlocutor might go so far as to mention to our no-gold-in-Alaska dogmatist that proofs of universal negative claims are a bit harder to come by. A positive claim might be vindicated by the first venture of panning in the first brook you came to. But to vindicate a negative claim, one would have to dig up all of Alaska, all the way down.
This is why shrewd nonbelievers, among whom we do not count Richard Dawkins, usually retreat to a form of agnosticism. They seem to thereby avoid the burden of a universal negative claim, and don’t come off nearly so bombastic. But there is usually some dogmatic theology hidden in there somewhere.
Wilson explained further what that agnosticism looks like, and it’s a great breakdown to check out when you have time.
The main takeaway for this post, however, is to encourage people to be mindful before jumping to a defensive response about the existence of God and first take a look at what the implications are of the things the atheist is relaying to you. Tackle those assumptions and those discrepancies before you rush to the defensive.