“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” – this statement is hard to fault when used in the right context, however it resolutely does not work as an argument against atheism, or a means to shift the burden of proof. Why is this so? Because my assertion as an atheist is not “the absence of evidence for God is evidence of God’s absence”, rather it is; “the absence of evidence for God is all the justification I need not to believe in it”. In other words, I don’t have to prove that there is not a God because I do not make that assertion.
I’ve spoken in recent posts about the null hypothesis – which is the default position on any claim. When postulating the existence of a God, the null hypothesis is as follows; God does not exist. This is not a dogmatic statement, it is the starting block for any claim, a statement which you seek to disprove under experiment or observation. As yet, no one has provided any credible evidence to refute the statement God does not exist so my atheism is perfectly justified. It’s that simple.
Apologists of various stripes will claim that their arguments resolutely do refute the null hypothesis, however their arguments do not meet the standards of evidence required to falsify a scientific hypothesis. Logical arguments cannot be enough to disprove a null hypothesis. Take the Higgs Boson for example, there is quite a sound and reasonable argument that says; in order to make sense of everything we know about particle physics something with the properties of the Higgs particle must exist. This is not enough to prove that it does exist however. Scientists at CERN didn’t hear this then switch off their particle accelerators satisfied that their job was done. This is because no matter how sound, the argument itself cannot prove the existence of the particle, and so the search goes on (which is heating up of late incidentally). Furthermore, the argument for the Higgs particle is far better than any argument put forth in favour of the existence of God. There are no logical arguments for the existence of God which are not contestable or flawed in their premises or conclusions.
So having said all that, I am perfectly justified to disbelieve in the existence of God. I am not asserting that the null hypothesis has been proven correct (that can’t happen), what I am asserting is that the lack of convincing refutation of the null hypothesis is all the justification I need for my atheism. I don’t use absence of evidence as evidence of absence, I use the absence of evidence as a good enough reason not to believe. If you say that you have a pet elephant in your garden – the absence of any convincing evidence does not prove with any certainty that you do not have an elephant in your garden, but it is good enough justification for my not believing you…