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The rationality of atheism

The rationality of atheism, like the rationality of theism, is a perennial topic in the philosophy of religion. If one is an atheist who desires to hold onto one's atheism (in the sense of what freethinkers sometimes call "positive atheism") rationally, it is sometimes held that one needs some arguments that God does not exist. Many theists maintain that it would not do simply to refute arguments that God exists. That would--many theists maintain--only show that there was no good philosophical reason to believe that God exists. It would not show that there was good reason specifically to believe that God does not exist.

This is particularly true of reformed epistemologists[?] who maintain that an individual can have non-philosophical reasons for believing in the existence of God. For example, Alvin Plantinga argues that his belief in God is "properly basic" because it rests on experience in much the same way as his belief that he had eggs for breakfast this morning. This view is sometimes misconstrued as a claim that basic beliefs are irrefutable, but Plantinga reminds his readers that there are circumstances in which he could be convinced that he did not really have eggs for breakfast this morning. Thus for Plantinga, theists who've had decisive religious experiences[?] ought not give up their beliefs unless they are presented with significant "defeaters" by atheists.

Some theists might go farther and claim: you can't prove that God does not exist, because you can't prove a negative; so atheism requires just as much faith as theism does; so at least you should be agnostic. This is often countered by an argument based on Occam's Razor--if there truly is no reason at all to suppose something exists, then chances are it doesn't. However, that cannot be the final word, because most theists claim that they have some evidence for their position.

See also The problem of evil, Faith and rationality and Rationalism.

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