Saturday, 28 December 2013

Null hypothesis

The null hypothesis (warning, the linked cartoon is satirical) is the default hypothesis of science.  Fundamentally, before considering any other hypothesis you should first prove false some formulation of the null hypothesis.

In earlier articles, like On Evidence, I’ve talked about how Christian apologists attack atheists for their presumptions.  As an example, the Shaved Chimp points out (negatively) the fact that “the starting point for the atheists is that there is no purpose out there”.

Well, yes.  That is pretty much what we all should start out with, that’s approaching a good null hypothesis.

Similarly, if you want to consider a god hypothesis you should first find some evidence to negate the relevant null hypothesis – that there is no god.

If you want to consider a claim like “God saved my cat”, you should first disprove the null hypothesis - that there was no supernatural agency involved in the on-going existence of my cat.  Once you've done that, you can try to zero in on the nature of the supernatural agency involved, given that it might have been the witches down the road rather than some sort of sky-fairy.

But until the null hypothesis is negated, there is simply no excuse for considering anything else.

A lot of atheists are, to coin a phrase, null hypotheticians.  They don’t progress past the impossibility to show that anything supernatural is required to explain the universe.  Such atheists don’t need to actively reject god because there’s no need to even consider the god hypothesis in the first place.  To establish such a need, they’d first have to reject the null hypothesis – and no-one has been able to that.

I doubt that the average theist has even tried.

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