Monday, 10 May 2010

Can You Prove It?


Why believe in that which can't be shown?

The theist may assert that it makes more sense to believe in god than not because it can be shown that god exist while it can't be shown that god doesn't exist. IOW, the atheist is taking an unprovable position while the theist is taking one that can be confirmed. Therefore, the argument goes, the atheist is taking on a position that can never be confirmed, only disconfirmed, which is a losing bet. Therefore, it doesn't make any sense to be an atheist, since you can only be proven wrong, but never proven right.

This is a variation on the oft-heard argument from theists that, "You can't prove my god doesn't exist, so I'm gonna believe until you can." And, yes, I've heard both versions of this argument.

So, let's think about this idea for a bit. If we went by this "logic," we'd also have to decide that it's better to believe in unicorns, leprechauns, etc. Isn't it an unprovable position to take that unicorns/leprechauns/etc don't exist? Well, of course it is. It's just as unprovable as the idea that god does not exist. So, if the theist is justified in believing in god, then everyone is also justified in believing any other idea/creature/etc for which that non-existence is unprovable.

Of course, this is an untenable position to take for the theist. Claiming that their god belief is warranted while other beliefs are not would simply be a case of special pleading. This is why we should rightly recognize that the burden of proof lies on the one making the positive declaration - a position the theist holds by claiming that god exists. Without meeting this burden of proof, the rational position is to simply not accept the claim that god does exist, regardless of whether it can ultimately be proven or not.

9 comments:

Tigerboy said...

Absolutely correct. One cannot prove the nonexistence of anything. One cannot prove the nonexistence of Russell's teapot.

One can imagine all sorts of outlandish things.

Merely because one can imagine something, it means nothing about the reality of that something actually existing.

L. Frank Baum imagined a "Wonderful World of Oz."

I can't prove that Oz doesn't exist. I don't need to offer evidence that Oz doesn't exist. The rational position is that Oz does not exist.

If someone feels that Oz does exist, the onus is on them to provide evidence. If there is ZERO evidence that Oz exists, and someone still believes that it does exist, that person can safely be described as a lunatic.

Celestial Teapot said...

GCT,
Is it just me, or have you changed your blog title? I'm liking it. Did you have an incident on the way to Damascus?

Tigerboy said...

Clever. I get it.

tinkbell13 said...

I always liked how Dawkins expressed this type of sentiment. He said;

“There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?”

byrom said...

"One cannot prove the nonexistence of Russell's teapot."

Actually you can. We have good evidence that neither the Americans or Russians have launched such a piece of china into space, nor that extra terresttrials have put it there, nor that matter can self-assimilate into such artefacts.

Contrary evidence can be given against such things like the teapot, santa, fairies etc. It's just that people don't really have much need to think of them!

GCT said...

You still can't prove that some celestial teapot doesn't exist byrom. You can provide a lack of evidence for it or even counter evidence (what you provided was a lack of evidence) but that doesn't prove that it doesn't exist.

LiberalFreeZone said...

The onus or burden of proof is on the one doing the claiming of existance of a thing : Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. The existance of God is one such claim. No evidence has thus far been forthcoming. The logical position is to therefore believe no such thing exists.

alicehightopp said...

Many things cannot be proven. For example, that Julius Ceaser ever existed cannot be proven. However, we can arrive at the conclusion that it is likely he did exist due to evidence we've found.

Jesus undeniably existed; the question is whether He is who He, and consequently Christians, claimed to Him to be.

There are three possibilities. Jesus was crazy, Jesus was a liar, or Jesus was God. There are no other possibilities.

Jesus performed miracles so he wasn't a liar, nor was he crazy.

Therefore, to quote Arthur Conan Doyle, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

GCT said...

"Jesus undeniably existed; the question is whether He is who He, and consequently Christians, claimed to Him to be."

Based on what evidence?

"There are three possibilities. Jesus was crazy, Jesus was a liar, or Jesus was God. There are no other possibilities."

CS Lewis's liar, lunatic, or lord idea...which is erroneous for many reasons. One, Jesus may not have existed, and we have scant reason to believe that he did. If he did exist, we have even less reason to believe that he did and said the things attributed to him. Taking the word of people writing well after the supposed events with obvious axes to grind as "gospel" (sorry for that one) and developing some sort of test based on it is folly.

"Jesus performed miracles so he wasn't a liar, nor was he crazy."

Where is the evidence that Jesus performed a single miracle? Let's see it.

"Therefore, to quote Arthur Conan Doyle, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.""

If only you actually understood how to apply that principle...which brings us back to the OP. I suggest you read it, especially starting with the third paragraph.