Responding to Objections 3: “Couldn’t this be explained by . . .”

Rick Mattson Apologetics, Atheism Leave a Comment


There’s a famous essay in the philosophy of religion called The Presumption of Atheism, by the late Antony Flew. Flew spent the second half of the 20th century defending the worldview of naturalism before changing his mind, late in life, to believing in a Creator/Designer.

The point of Flew’s essay is that atheism (naturalism) is the default position all reasonable persons should adopt, until shown otherwise. Think of atheism as “innocent until proven guilty.” The only way it could be overthrown is to produce significant evidence for God’s existence which, the early Flew and other atheist philosophers would say, is lacking.

It’s a shrewd move — setting up the question of God’s existence in such a way that the burden of proof is on the opposition.

This maneuvering is relevant for my present series on “Couldn’t this be explained by . . . ,” because anytime you have two possible explanations for things like apparent miracles or answered prayer or even the design of the universe, the natural explanation wins every time — until shown otherwise.

As an example, I might talk about a miraculous healing performed by Jesus, and the skeptic simply responds, “Couldn’t that be explained by the pre-scientific worldview of Jesus’ audience?” Or, “That can be explained by Jesus’ followers making him into the Son of God, which of course he never was.”

The presumption of atheism wins automatically when the question of God is framed in this way.

In response, two points come to mind

1. Is the presumption of atheism legitimate? Perhaps we ought to presume theism (that God exists), instead. I can’t think of any rule of the universe that says atheism should win by default. That sounds like an atheist rule to me, and I wonder why atheists should be in charge of rule-making.

2. Are natural explanations always superior? I would think not. If we start with God rather than no god, or if we at least have some reason to think God exists, then supernatural explanations, in whole or in part, certainly come into play.

Next time I’ll elaborate on points 1 and 2, and give another concrete example.


Image courtesy of Kittisak at


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