What Can't be Proven Must Therefore Exist: The Irrationality of Proving a NegativePosted on 01/17/2011
Requests to disprove that any or everything didn’t occur, isn’t occurring somewhere, or doesn’t exist somewhere are nonsense. There can be no exhaustive search of all possible places that God or unicorns or hell might exist in order to show that they are not there, are not somewhere at some time in some form, hidden, moving around into places we’ve already searched to continue their mystical game of hide and seek. The act of searching will never reveal the searched-for object, accepting that real objects are where they are regardless of one’s search methods. Such an exhaustive search is impossible, which is why it is impossible to prove a negative. Therefore, we must sensibly assume, if we are sane, that things do not exist unless we have evidence that they do, though we can never have conclusive prove that no God or unicorns exist anywhere.
Those making claims that anything exists must provide proof of their claim with plausible circumstantial or direct evidence. That has never been done for things that don’t exist. There is proof for things that do exist or for things that have been brought into existence, which doesn’t mean that given time and effort, things that cannot exist will.
According to Ayn Rand, “The onus of proof rule states the following. If a person asserts that a certain entity exists (such as God, gremlins, a disembodied soul), he is required to adduce evidence supporting his claim. If he does so, one must either accept his conclusion, or disqualify his evidence by showing that he has misinterpreted certain data. But if he offers no supporting evidence, one must dismiss his claim without argumentation, because in this situation, argument would be futile. It is impossible to ‘prove a negative,’ meaning by the term: prove the nonexistence of an entity for which there is no evidence.” (Rand, OPAR, p. 167)
Believers also want scientists to prove that God didn’t create the universe, and stop wasting time on other unprovable theories, like the universe was a muck soup or that there was a big bang that explains only a few of the phenomenon we observe in the sky. Obtaining such proof is equally impossible to proving a negative. According to Ayn Rand:
“Witness the popular question, ‘Who created the universe?’—which presupposes that the universe is not eternal, but has a source beyond itself, in some cosmic personality or will. It is useless to object that this question involves an infinite regress, even though it does (if a creator is required to explain existence, then a second creator is required to explain the first, and so on). Typically, the believer…does not contest the need of an irreducible starting point…; what he finds unsatisfactory is the idea of existence as the starting point. [A] person of this mentality refuses to begin with the world, which we know to exist; he insists on jumping beyond the world to the unknowable, even though such a procedure explains nothing. The root of this mentality is not rational argument, but the influence of Christianity.” (Rand, OPAR, p. 21)
If no evidence can be found to support assumptions, we say that no evidence can be found. The absence does not constitute proof of anything except the certainty of its own absence within a specific context. When its absence is reported in thousands of specific contexts, a strong pattern is seen, a correlation is made that no evidence will ever exist, based on a large representative sample, in a hundred million contexts to support an assumption if such evidence hasn’t been found in 10,000 years.
Lack of proof isn’t proof in the affirmative that something exists, but in the negative, that something most likely doesn’t exist after every avenue of proof-seeking has been reasonably exhausted. The compounded elusiveness of evidence to support a contention, in spite of all tests to locate such evidence, builds a stronger certainty that something likely doesn’t exist.
This is as close as anyone can get to proving a negative.
Anti-intellectuals make all of the same mistakes in believing that negatives can be proven, and that the inability to do so proves, at least through bad logic, the existence of something in the absence of evidence. Author Margaret Atwood, during a televised interview in which she discussed her agnosticism, stated that atheism is a religion because atheists claim to have knowledge that is unknowable, that is, that there is no God. Since all religion is based on the unknowable, she said, therefore, atheists rely on faith to sustain their belief that God doesn’t exist, the same as religious people depend on faith to believe God does exist. In other words, atheists must have faith in their belief that there isn’t a God, since there is no direct proof of the nonexistence of God.
A critical-thinking interviewer might have asked Atwood to prove that a ghost is NOT sitting next to her, that an invisible fire-breathing dragon is NOT taking a smoke break in the next chair over. Atwood would be forced to admit, based on her logic, that imaginary creatures aren’t really there, identifying both sense perception and reality a religion, too.
Anti-intellectuals bother me with their insistence that some things must be taken on faith. Faith goes beyond belief by accepting something without proof, something that cannot be seen or heard or documented. Atwood’s fallacies include identifying faith alone as a defining characteristic of religion, and to base a conclusion on a single characteristic is an example of the logical fallacy of overgeneralization. Two, she misstates and oversimplifies the atheist position and then attacks the misstated position. And three, much is knowable, so the absence of one piece of knowledge does not invalidate the other evidence. Nor does such absence default to an opposite concept as a truth, that since you can’t know that there is no God, then there might be. That’s circular, bad logic.
Atheism is not a religion and does not depend on faith.
The adjectives are key in my initial assertion: “no reliable, irrefutable, objective, or empirical evidence.” I presume definitions that everyone should accept, but which some don’t. For instance, reliability doesn’t mean always true in every instance. Everything is refutable, but I meant only valid refutation using valid tests. Emotions aren’t empirical because they can’t be seen, though everyone who hasn’t suffered brain damage has them and knows they exist through personal examination and experience.
If you accept and conclude that no evidence exists to support the existence of a supreme divine creator of the universe, all other arguments to prove or theoretically disprove that God exists, including acceptance that all potential knowledge is not currently known, are phony intellectualizing and add nothing to human knowledge. The future may bring tools that allow for more precise measurements, but until God is found, life should be lived based on the knowledge we have at hand.
A Major Heading HerePosted on 05/31/2010
Further development planned
Further development planned.
Further examples here.
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