Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.
I've talked about this before and I don't really want a rehash of the same thoughts. But, I want to revisit this idea to flesh-out how this really matters (or rather, how it doesn't). What are the supposed extraordinary claims that the theist is supposedly making? I can't speak for all the atheists who argue about this, but I assume that most of them are calling miracles "extraordinary claims." Now, let's look at this. Are miracles extraordinary claims? Well, yes. Of course they are, by definition a miracle is something extraordinary, but they're really only unexpected if there's no God. If one takes a materialistic approach to philosophy, then a miracle cannot occur. However, there's an important point missing from this whole conversation about miracles. The very existence of anything whatsoever is a miracle in itself. It's an ongoing miracle of creation. I know, some theologians will balk at this, as the Genesis account implies that God is no longer creating. Gen 2:1 says that the heavens and earth were completed and that God had "completed His work." So, where do I come off saying that existence itself is a miracle? Well, Col 1:17 Paul talks about how, in Christ all things hold together. In this paradigm a miracle is not surprising at all. Hebrews 1:3 has an even more active phrasing about how God holds everything together by His power. So, the God who holds everything together can, by His mere willpower, suspend, cancel, or defy His own control over the entire universe. Miracles are not nature behaving wrong or differently than it normally does or should. It's God doing His will contrary to what we think or what we expect.
Also, as I commented before, which is a bigger miracle: A) The universe, for no reason with no cause exists, or B) God made the universe out of nothing? Again, toss aside materialism for a minute. If you a priori take materialism to be true then of course the theistic answer sounds extraordinary. But at face-value the A) choice is obviously much more extraordinary. I have seen arguments, most notably from Hawking, that attempt to use science to say that because of the laws of physics the universe must exist. I don't even pretend to understand his scientific arguments, but have read some interesting things online that summarize Hawking and other prominent scientists' claims, and I've got to say, "I'm not buying it." First off, every time I hear these types of arguments I hear a redefining of the word "nothing." Now I understand that in certain contexts nothing can mean different things. For example, one might ask, "What's up with you lately?" To which you might answer, "Oh, nothing." Does that mean the same as deGrasse Tyson's use of "nothing" which apparently means some type of quantum field in flux? Obviously not. But, these are the types of things I see when I discuss the beginnings of the universe with a materialist. There was something (called nothing) and it exploded and became something else. I pointed at Big Bang cosmology as an argument for God with an atheist one time and after going around and around, this interlocutor ended up admitting that the Big Band was true, but we don't know what happened before the Big Bang. It's funny though, this particular atheist refused to accept that it might have been God. Basically reduced to saying, "We don't know and likely will never know what caused the Big Bang, but I refuse to accept that it could have been God." If you give me a just-so story and make all your pieces fit together by inventing facts and theories that have never been shown to work in reality and only really work in some outrageous mathematical formula, all of which you cannot explain in terms that any regular person could follow or would accept, I have every right to dismiss your claim as extraordinary. I have a saying I've been using for a while now (not sure if I've used it in my blogging before, if so I apologize for repeating myself), "Any claim made without evidence, can be dismissed without argument." These are indeed extraordinary claims, but for sure the more extraordinary is the one that defies definition, explanation, and reason.
Lastly, I want to comment on the final part of the statement, "the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist." Now, I know I'm only an amateur philosopher, but my knee-jerk reaction is, "So what?" I, as a theist, have no qualms with making a case. In general, yes, I'm making a claim. (I don't think we can completely let off the atheist, but the point still stands, I'm making a truth-claim.) My claim is fairly simple to prove though, "I believe, with good reason, that God exists." Throw that one out there and see if anyone can disprove it ... notice some important points before you attack it. First, "I believe," with this important qualifier, no one, can ever prove my claim incorrect unless that person somehow has mind-reading capabilities, which apparently doesn't exist outside God. One might attack the second portion, "with good reason." Well, let's look into various reasons/arguments. There are so many! I've already mentioned the cosmological argument. Then there's various design/fine-tuning arguments. There's the moral argument made popular by CS Lewis in his masterwork Mere Christianity. And, there are many others, some based on evidence and some on philosophy. But clearly, there are plenty of "good reasons" to believe. If you don't accept my claim, then not only are you calling me an idiot who hasn't examined these arguments, but you're making the claim that the millions of other Christians throughout history have all done the same thing. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't typically think an appeal to authority is a particularly compelling argument. However, if the authority to whom I'm appealing is sprinkled with such intellectual greats as Plato/Socrates, Aquinas, Newton, and even many of the top ten highest measured IQ test scorers who are at the very least theists, some clearly Christians, I'm justified in making such an appeal. So, tell me again how you, Mr. Internet Atheist, know that only stupid, backwoods, country-bumkin, redneck, low-brow, Bible-thumpers believe in God.
Sorry for the abundance of sarcasm, but it seems that Mr. Internet Atheist is getting to me. He's been drinking the Dawkins koolaid and doesn't really have anything new to add to the conversation. I am by no means creative or worthy to be called an innovator in this discussion, but at least I admit that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants. I don't know very much, but I do know that I exist and that I have good reasons to believe what I believe.
|Screenshot from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/finetuning|