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Does Atheism Carry a Burden of Proof? Examining the Arguments4 min read

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Atheists often argue that they have no logical need to support their claims that God does not exist because “you can’t prove a negative.” They argue that theists proposing the existence of God are making a positive assertion, and so they ONLY have the burden of proof. However, there are good arguments that those making the claim that God does not exist have some burden of proof, i.e. a responsibility to do more than just claim an objective truth, but provided evidence and arguments to that end. Here are some reasons that atheism has a burden of proof.

1. Ontological Claim Argument

Some philosophers argue that atheism is not merely a lack of belief in gods, but an ontological claim about the fundamental nature of reality – that supernatural deities do not exist. This positions atheism as making a positive assertion about the metaphysical make-up of the universe. As such, the argument states that those rejecting theism bear a burden of justifying and grounding their perspective on the origins and constitution of reality, rather than it being a default assumption.

2. Radical Departure Argument

Given the central importance of religious belief systems across most cultures throughout human history, atheism represents a radical departure from traditional worldviews. The argument posits that claims breaking so fundamentally from the prevailing norm now take on an evidentiary burden to overturn long-held beliefs. Atheists are making a controversial philosophical claim that cannot be accepted at face value without justification.

3. Widespread Belief Argument

Similar to the last argument, this claim is not only that atheism is a radical departure from the centrality of faith across cultures, but that theism is the majority position among humans. While this does not prove theism, it demands reasonable explanation beyond appealing to lack of education or scientific knowledge. In fact, the majority of the founders of modern science were men of deep Christian faith, or deists, so lack of education, though a decent argument, may be insufficient. Arguments may need to be made from human development, against the appearance of design in nature, and other intuitive reasons for belief.

The widespread, cross-cultural persistence of religious belief throughout human history is evidence that atheism must deny and explain, bearing the burden of proof against this common human experience and cognitive tendency. The near universality of theological traditions is itself reason to question the assumptions of atheism.

4. Mere Lack of Proof Insufficient

Critics argue that merely poking holes in theistic arguments from a perceived lack of proof for God’s existence is ultimately an insufficient basis for the affirmative atheist position. The reasoning is that disproving or creating doubt around theism does not automatically prove the atheist stance – positive arguments and evidence may be required to meet their burden rather than relying on God arguments being unconvincing. Debunking theism does not make atheism true.

5. Universal Negation of All Deities

To substantiate atheism, the argument states atheists must bear the heavy burden of accounting for and negating every conceivable conception of deities or higher powers from all religions, philosophies and belief systems across cultures and history. Ruling out all such proposed deities absolutely is seen as an immense universal claim requiring proportional justification.


While the primary burden rests with those making affirmative supernatural claims, these are some of the key arguments for why rejecting such claims absolutely may also require meeting an evidentiary burden for atheism’s implicit or explicit assertions.