Watermelon on the Brain (or why Atheism is NOT a lack of belief in God)

*This is a cross-post with Truth seekers, where I am also known to post from time to time*

So. Someone tells me they are an atheist, and I say they need to back up the positive claim that God does not exist, and then they tell me “oh, I’m a weak atheist, I just lack the belief in God… I haven’t seen enough reason to say that God exists.”

Poppycock.

The above statement assumes that the epistemic default is disbelief in God, when in fact the default is a lack of knowledge. We have a name for that, but it isn’t atheism (weak or otherwise); it’s agnosticism.

Allow me an example. If I say that my head is a watermelon, you can do one of three things with that information. i) You can believe me, ii) you can disbelieve me, or iii) you can suspend judgement. This is true whether the assertion I make is a believable one or a largely dubious  one (like say, my head is a watermelon). Once the statement is made, there are only 3 possible responses to the truth of that statement.

If you choose to believe me, because I’m a nice guy and the picture on this blog is of a guy with a watermelon for a head, then you are assenting. We can call you a “watermelonist”. You need to get out more.

If you choose to suspend judgement, believing that you do not have the information to make a decision, then you are agnostic (you literally don’t know). You also may need to spend some time away from your computer.

You can also believe that since people do not usually have watermelons for heads, and I have provided scant evidence that I am the exception to that rule, my head is not in fact a watermelon. You are an “awatermelonist”. You think that it is

more rational to believe that my head is NOT in fact, a watermelon. While most of your support for that belief doesn’t need to be enunciated (few will challenge you on the truth claim you’re making), there does need to be support.

“your head is not a watermelon” is a positive statement. You are saying that I am incorrect, you are not saying that my belief in the watermelony goodness of my cerebellum is “unfounded” or “lacks evidence” alone (that is agnosticism). You are saying that because my claim is unfounded and lacks evidence, it is only reasonable to believe that it is false. This may

be a well founded belief (that my claim of having a watermelon for a head is false), but it is a positive one (statement X, where X is “Steve’s head is a watermelon”, is not true, because I have no reason to believe it is and many reasons to believe it is not), and as such, needs every bit as much support as the claim that I have watermelon rind for brains. That support

may be easier to find, but it is still necessary.

The same is true of “weak” atheism. It is a statement that the claims of theists lack support, and that as a result the assumption of atheism is more rational. This is NOT an absence of belief in God, but a statement of the disbelief in God. It is a positive statement, and like all statements, must be supported if challenged.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.