Shifting The What Now?
(This is very much a follow up to a previous blog post I did a few months back…)
I’ve seen, repeatedly, arguments that say atheists shouldn’t assert that there is no god because this shifts the burden of proof. The most recent is @godless_mom (who I very much like and very often agree with), tweet and video link here.
The problem seems to lie with how people interpret proof/prove/disprove. A widely held opinion is that any statement sufficiently vague and nonsensical can’t be disproved. For example, replace “god” in any claim with “magical platypus”. In either instance there is no evidence. And in the second anyone will admit the notion is ridiculous… a mockery even. Yet when pressed they will often admit that either claim meets the same criteria: It is BECAUSE it is purely nonsensical and totally beyond the bounds of reason that it can’t be disproved.
OK, fair enough. Let’s explore this farther. String theory of multiverse posits that there could be an infinite number of parallel universes that may or may not have characteristics similar to our own. There could be a parallel universe in which conditions to make life possible never happened. There could be a parallel universe in which the fundamental laws of physics are very different from ours. Perhaps another where 2+2=5, because the fundamental nature of reality is so completely different.
These ARE theoretical possibilities based on mathematics. Do we then say with a straight face that life doesn’t exist, gravity is a myth, or 2+2=5? Keep in mind that there IS a mathematical basis for multiverse… which is MORE than can be said for any god claim. No, of course we don’t. We discard these notions, just as we discard notions that our entire reality is a computer simulation. And I’ll state again, there is MORE reason to think these are possibilities than to think god is a possibility.
So we come back to what is proof, and what does it mean to prove or disprove… Proof: evidence OR ARGUMENT establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement. Examine these two statements:
- There is a god.
- There is no god.
The first is not a valid hypothesis because it is unfalsifiable.
The second IS a valid hypothesis because it IS falsifiable. Producing a god falsifies it.
The OR ARGUMENT portion of the proof definition is critical here. Because material evidence of the existence/nonexistence of anything sufficiently vague or ridiculous to render it nonsensical within our knowledge of reality is impossible to establish. However, the problem isn’t with ability/inability to establish the absolute, but with the acceptance of the vague/ridiculous description. Wolfgang Pauli said of such arguments, “It is not only not right, it is not even wrong.” The assertion that something ridiculous and meaningless can’t be disproved is itself a fallacy because a ‘correct’ conclusion is drawn from premises that are not applicable in any way to our reality.
A color blind person may assert red is green. They have reason to believe it true. It is still false. And can be shown as such. There is no such rationale for god claims. This is WHY Hitchens was correct in saying “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” If the god argument WASN’T flawed, if X% independently verified the claim as with color blindness, the dismissal would be WRONG. Because the argument can be shown invalid… and invalid DOES mean false… the dismissal is valid. Material evidence is not required.
There are things that ARE knowable without such material evidence… We are sure of our own existence. We are sure of mathematical truths. We accept certain logical and philosophical propositions. To wrap, we don’t need smoking gun evidence to prove or disprove EVERY claim. And it IS logically valid and consistent to say so.
Of course I invite replies and corrections… 🙂