A Naïve Look at Basics of Theism, Atheism, Agnosticism, & Burden of Proof

By | May 29, 2012

by Juan Bernal

Statements of fact:

There is a great variety of belief in G-d.  There isn’t any general consensus on the claim that G-d is real.

There is a great variety of non-belief in G-d.  There isn’t any general consensus on the claim that G-d is fiction or non-existent.

In short, these are facts that do not require supporting argument.


On the question – Does G-d exist?  -  there are three general orientations:

1  Neutral view         -    Who knows?  He might or might not.

2  Affirmative view  -   Yes, G-d exists.

3  Negative view      -   No, likely He does not exist.

1 – Neutral View    Generally, this is the attitude that a deity may or may not exist; often this is associates with an attitude of not caring or worrying about it one way or another.

(It can be a mere psychological state without a theory of reality.)

This can be the position that does not imply any theory of reality, i.e., a metaphysics.

Sometimes this is the agnostic view:  we simply don’t know whether a deity exists and don’t have any rational grounds for the belief that G-d exists.

Example:  Jack omits belief in G-d, i.e., Jack stays neutral and simply does not think about G-d.  Jack does not commit to a theory of reality, i.e., a metaphysics.

Non-Neutral Positions

But if you opt to take a position on the issue of a deity, then there are two alternatives.

2 – An Affirmative View  -   One affirms that G-d exists.   This general view comes in several versions:  for example,

Cases in which .  . .

a)      …Enrique affirms that G-d is objectively real (i.e., there really is a G-d).  He has the burden of making a positive case (argument) for G-d’s existence.

b)  ..Jill believes in G-d.  Jill proceeds as if there was a G-d (she has faith in or personal reason for believing in G-d.)

c)…Teresa claims that G-d’s reality is a unique reality, not subject to proof or disproof. G-d is a reality of faith, a mystical reality.

3 – A Negative View  -   One doubts or denies that G-d exists. This view has several versions, and in some cases is compatible with agnosticism:    For example, cases in which . .

d)…Thomas asserts that there is no G-d, i.e., there is no such objective reality.  He has the burden of making a case for his conclusion: There is no G-d.

e) …Jeronimo does not belief in G-d, i.e., Jeronimo proceeds as if there were no G-d (He may think about the possibility of G-d, but does not believe in a G-d.)

f)…Lorenzo holds that the proposition that G-d exists does not have a clear, unequivocal meaning, and that the whole business of trying to prove or disprove G-d’s existence is a questionable enterprise.


Sometimes people take on the philosophical burden of making a good case for G-d’s reality.

Sometimes others take on the philosophical burden of making a good case for G-d’s nonexistence.

Some versions of positions 2 and 3 call for argument, i.e., have a philosophical “burden of proof”

With Enrique (a) and Thomas (d) there definitely is a “burden of proof.”  To make good on their respective views, each would have to present arguments or evidence to support his view.

In some cases, Jeronimo’s view (e) may not require that he argue against the reality of a deity, although he might occasionally take up the cause against deity.  He could also be an agnostic, emphasizing that nobody knows that G-d exists.  Likewise, Jill’s faith (b) does not require that she try to make a good, rational case for the existence of G-d, although she might take up the cause of arguing for G-d’s existence.

In short, certain varieties of belief or non-belief in deity may have a philosophical  “burden of proof.”

Others do not.

For both Lorenzo (f) and Teresa (c) there is no rational test for G-d’s existence, since they explicitly rule out the relevance of argument for or against the reality ‘G-d’.


When we attempt to show either that G-d exists or the contrary, that G-d does not exist we might think of ‘proving’ our proposition in terms of one of these analogies.

  • Proof in logic or mathematics:   Logically prove your conclusion
  • A Hypothesis in science:   Pose your hypothesis and attempt to confirm it
  •  Police Detective work: Seek evidence for concluding that E did or did not happen.
  •  Court of law:  Work out a good case, by legal argument, for a legal client
  •  Ordinary Experience:  I say that X is true and try to show reasons why others should concur.

Question: When you try to show that G-d exists or the contrary, that G-d does not exist, which type of ‘proof’ do you have in mind?

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