In a debate with William Lane Craig entitled “Does God Exist?”, the late and great Christopher Hitchens was asked by WLC if Hitchens asserted there is no God as the debate was not about if either debater held the belief God exist or not, but how specifically he answered the great debate question of “Does God Exist?”. WLC asked:
𝐖𝐋𝐂: “What is your view exactly? Do you affirm God does not exist? Or do you simply withhold belief?”
Notice WLC is explicitly to differentiate between merely “lacking a belief” and “believing God does not exist” by asking if Hitchens merely suspends judgment and lacks a belief in God, or if he actually affirms God does not exist which also would imply he lacks a belief in God.
𝐇𝐢𝐭𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐧𝐬: “I think, once, I have said that I’ve never seen any persuasive evidence for the existence of something. And I’ve made real attempts to study the evidence presented and the arguments presented that I will go as far as to say—have the nerve to say—that it does not therefore exist—except in the minds of its—”
There are few things of note in this exchange that many atheists fail to recognize.
1. Hitchens was not merely a lack of belief atheist who suspended judgment on the proposition of God. Hitchens believed God does not exist and was comfortable making that assertion.
2. Hitchens reasoning for his assertion however was fallacious. It was in the form of (From “God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens):
“For something to be true there must be evidence for it.
There is no evidence for the existence of God.
Therefore atheism must be true.“
This is called “Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam” or “Argument from Ignorance”. Specifically in this case a “naturalism of the gaps” fallacy (Thomas Nagal). While logically valid, premise 1 (p->q) is clearly false are clearly things which are true which we may never have any information on, or which are simply not evidentiary. The veridicality of a proposition is not dependent upon if evidence exists or not for the proposition as truth values are either True or False regardless any evidence we may or may not have for the proposition.
Premise 2 (~q) “There is no evidence for the existence of God.” is clearly not going to be accepted by a non-fideist theist as true and even held false by most atheists who study some form of philosophy or theology. However, even if premise 2 is accepted, the argument still commits the fallacy of argument from ignorance.
The argument from ignorance occurs when someone argues a proposition is False, merely because it either has not been proven True, demonstrated to be True, or has evidence that it is True (or argues a position is True given the same type of reasoning).
To rationally hold the position there is no God one can’t just justify it by saying there is no evidence for God…they can however rationally justify it by giving evidence FOR the assertion there is no God. They merely need to give reasons why it is more likely the case that God does not exist than does exist.
Theists commit the same fallacy when they assert:
p->q There is no evidence against the existence of God.
:. p Therefore, God exists.
That is called the “God of the gaps fallacy”.
The atheistic version is what Hitchens committed as it is the exact same logical error in the negation:
p->q There is no evidence God exists.
:. p Therefore, God does not exist.
That is the “naturalism of the gaps” fallacy. It is obvious that if one is fallacious for p, then it *must* be fallacious for ~p, else that is another fallacy called “special pleading”.
Both WLC and Hitchens are/was brilliant rhetoricians, but both is/was brilliant sophists as well. Both in their debates about the existence of God tended to be more akin to being sophists than being philosophers. (Lataster, Raphael (2015))