What is the argument from disbelief?
Question: "What is the argument from disbelief?"
Answer: The argument from disbelief is that the presence of sincere non-believers proves God cannot exist. It suggests there are many people willing to believe in God, if only they were given sufficient evidence. The fact that these people have not been given proper evidence is seen as proof that there is no loving God to provide such evidence or that such evidence is simply non-existent.
In short, the argument from disbelief claims that, if God is real, He would make Himself so clearly known that anyone who was sincerely willing would already believe.
There are two primary assumptions behind the argument from disbelief; both are patently false. First is that there is such a thing as an objective, sincere, and willing non-believer. The second is that God has failed to provide “enough” evidence to lead to the truth. There is also a third premise, somewhat hidden in the argument, related to whether or not God is obligated to meet some minimum standard for revelation. The logic behind this claim is extremely flimsy, such that the same basic idea is rarely, if ever, applied to any other topic.
The clearest explanation of why the argument from disbelief is false comes directly from Scripture itself. The book of Romans tackles this argument more or less head-on, debunking both faulty premises in no uncertain terms:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”
– Romans 1:18–25 (emphasis added)
Briefly stated, disbelief is not ultimately grounded in sincerity or even ignorance but in a fundamental refusal to follow the truth. In fact, the Bible indicates that what’s happening is the suppression of the truth. Those who do not believe in God may be “sincere” in the sense that they legitimately do not believe in God. But the evidence God has placed in human experience is more than enough for everyone to be following it to the same logical conclusion. Even the most sincere atheist, at some point, is insincerely and deliberately rejecting or ignoring some level of evidence for God. They are brushing aside or choosing not to pursue the things “clearly seen, being understood from what is made” (Romans 1:20).
Beyond that, Scripture indicates that God has put evidence of Himself in nature (Psalm 19:1) and will respond to anyone who actually seeks Him (Matthew 7:7–8). The Bible also explains how a person’s intent always overrides evidence: a person has to want to know the truth before evidence or logic makes any difference (John 7:17). No amount of evidence will ever convince a person who is resistant (Luke 16:19–31), and the more a person claims, “I just need more evidence,” the more he’s proving that no evidence will ever really be enough (Matthew 12:39).
Experience supports the Bible’s teaching on this issue. Logic and experience make it perfectly reasonable to say there is no such thing as a “non-resistant atheist.” A simple parallel to this is the modern-day cadre of flat-earthers.
Certain people in the modern world insist that the earth is flat. Despite myths to the contrary, humanity at large knew the earth was spherical long before Christopher Columbus. Natural evidence available even in the days of Old Testament writers and Greek philosophers was straightforward and was observed and interpreted. Those using the argument from disbelief against God would be hesitant to claim that modern flat-earthers are “open” to belief in a spherical planet. Or that they are likely to change their minds when presented with evidence. Both of those possibilities may be true in theory, but not in practice.
Despite personal claims to “sincerity,” experience shows that flat-earth belief requires some level of deliberate intent. Certain facts have to be purposefully ignored, brushed off, or turned upside down. In other words, the typical flat-earther who claims to be “open” to evidence simply is not. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence, archetypical flat-earthers excuse it, deny it, or ignore it.
Further, logic indicates that the existence of an open-but-uninformed flat-earther would not prove the earth is flat. This reveals the third false premise of the argument from non-belief: that God must provide a certain level of evidence, according to a certain timeline. This premise fails because it’s rooted in the same problem that leads to atheism in the first place: an assumption that God must do as the atheist would do. A person can be sincere, and sincerely wrong; God is not required to heed some arbitrary line humanity draws in the sand.
This is not to say that conversion—either for flat-earthers or atheists—is impossible. But, in almost every case, converted atheists admit that at least part of their problem was a deliberate unwillingness to believe. They recognize, after the fact, that they were allowing prejudice and preference to override evidence. Quotes from famous atheists are rife with emotion, angst, and outright admission that they do not want God to be real. This is why emotional arguments are by far the leading force in resisting belief in the existence of God.
Beyond that, we have extensive categories of evidence for the existence of God. These evidences, in and of themselves, help to disprove the argument from disbelief. After all, if God has not provided “enough” evidence for a sincere person, what are former atheists who claim that evidence led them to convert to Christianity responding to? The only possible defense for the argument from disbelief, at that point, is to argue in a circle, claiming that former atheists are being fooled, while staunch non-believers are simply not as gullible, ever-shifting the definitions for sincerity and evidence.
Even further, common sense says that some who presently claim to see insufficient evidence for the existence of God will convert at some point in the future. If the argument from non-belief has any meaning, such conversions would strongly imply that God does, in fact, exist. There, again, the non-believer will have to resort to some form of the “No True Scotsman” argument or other dodges to avoid the logic of his own position.
Scripture and simple observation show that both major premises of the argument from disbelief are false. People are not inclined to objective rationality, and the idea of God is not trivial. The question of God’s existence carries major personal implications, so there is no reason to believe anyone can ever view it in purely objective terms. It’s unreasonable to claim that the only possible reason a particular person has not been convinced of God’s existence is that God has not given him, personally, enough evidence. That’s not much different from flat-earthers who say the same thing.
Recommended Resource: I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek
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