I am always interested certain memes move through the atheistic community. Because they are primarily a reactionary group, and because they have a tightly knit group of leaders who seem to set the drumbeat by which the group (mainly young, single men) follows, one can often follow the tract of an idea of the group like ripples on a pond.
One such meme currently disseminating across the blogs is the idea that atheism isn’t an alternative hypothesis to theistic beliefs, but merely a skeptical stance which an atheist isn’t required to defend or prove (as in my discussion on the A-Unicornist here). They can merely argue from a position of skepticism from which criticism of religious beliefs can be leveled. The advantage of course (at least in the mind of atheist) is that they presume this puts the burden of proof on the theist to demonstrate that God exists. Of course such proof must be ‘extraordinary’ because the claim that God exists is by any arbitrary standard they come up with, extraordinary. They then define such proof as needing to be scientifically irrefutable, requiring historical documentation of the sort that doesn’t exist for any event that occurred more than 100 years ago, and that such evidence must not employ references to writings deemed to be religious, traditions, personal experiences, philosophical proofs, or the effects of said belief on human societies. Other than that, the onus is on the believer to prove the truth of his view because atheists are just hanging out being skeptical.
I think the easiest way to see how disingenuous such a position is to consider the fact that a theistic position can be cast in exactly the same manner. One could say it’s not that I believe God exists, it’s just that I don’t see any reasonable evidence that the universe could exist as a wholly materialistic entity. I am in fact, an A-Materialist. I am open to proof that that the universe, biosystems, living organisms, and self-aware intelligences can arise as the result of the interaction and activity of matter, but I simply don’t see sufficient proof that this is so. I would accept observable and repeatable experimentation demonstrating matter acting in such a manner and producing such entities, but since to my knowledge this has never been done, I consider the claims of materialist to be extraordinary and proof of them will require the most rigorous proof and extraordinary evidence. To such end I will arbitrarily proclaim that such evidence should include a demonstration of life originating from non-living matter, as well as, perhaps even requiring (depending on my mood) other similar evidences. Of course it will be unacceptable for the materialist to utilize philosophical proofs, personal experiences, the history of religious activities impact on various societies, etc.
Oh, and because I am only a skeptic of materialism, the burden of proof is on the materialist to convince me otherwise. Absent such proof, we should consider the belief of the materialist to be merely an article of faith.
Ya know, I have to say I can see why they employ this rhetorical device. Makes ones job much easier, and it requires much less actual thought.