All too often, arguments between theists and atheists end up with theists demanding that atheists disprove God. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like too much to ask, since atheists constantly ask for theists to prove that there is a God. If atheists can’t prove that there isn’t a God, then how can they demand that theists prove there is? Aren’t atheists guilty of a double standard, holding the theistic position to a standard of evidence that they don’t require of themselves? The answer to these questions is no, because theistic confusion around this issue derives from a misunderstanding of the atheist position, as well as general ignorance regarding the relationship between claim-making and the burden of proof. Although this may seem a bit “101” to those in the atheist community, it is nevertheless a major point of confusion for many theists, and is therefore deserving of continued clarification.
To start off, it is crucially important to understand the difference between the following atheistic positions:
1. I do not believe in God(s).
2. I believe there is/are no God(s).
Prima facie, these positions seem equivalent. Indeed they are similar, insofar as they describe a person who has no active belief in God(s). However, they differ dramatically regarding whether or not they carry with them a burden of proof. Both are atheistic positions; however position #2 is not a requirement of being an atheist, while position #1 is. Position #2 necessarily implies one also holds position #1 (since #2 is a subset of #1), but position #1 does not imply one also holds position #2. A Venn diagram will help clarify this relationship.