Thursday, 28 August 2014

Cats and Frogs

I was recently asked why we non-theist/atheist types maintain that it is not necessary to “prove a negative”.  The challenge emerged after someone had asserted that:

            (the atheist) argument is based on two premises

1.    There is no evidence for God

2.    Atheists are not under any burden to prove no God exists

Here’s my response:

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It's not so much about proving a negative as proving something that is not falsifiable. Say we had a very large number of boxes in front of us. Before we open any, I make the claim that at least one of the boxes contains a cat. You, on the other hand, say that you don't know what is in the boxes. We then open 100 boxes and not one of them contains a cat. Instead each and every one of them contains a small frog.

We now reassess our predictions. You say that the boxes might all contain frogs, while I stick with my cat theory. Then we open a thousand more boxes. They all contain frogs.

We both have the opportunity to reassess our theories. You say that the boxes probably all contain frogs, while I stick with the idea that one box contains a cat.

We open a million boxes and they all contain frogs. Hopefully, you get the idea now. I'm now sounding a bit silly to still be hoping for a cat.

How many more boxes do we need to open to prove that I am wrong about the cat? All of them?

Ah, I say, b
ut perhaps there was a tiny cat inside one of the frogs, we don't know for sure that that is impossible. So we start cutting up the frogs. How many frogs do we need to dissect? All of them?

Ah, I say, but do we know that that was all the boxes? Perhaps there were boxes that we didn't see or that got moved while we were paying attention to the ones we were opening.

So long as I stick to my guns, you can't prove that none of the boxes contains a cat, and I haven't even started redefining what cat means yet.

Now think of "cat" to mean "god" and "frog" to mean "nature or rational science" and perhaps you'll understand why we don't feel obliged "to prove a negative".

I really do hope this helps.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Unmoved Again

The following might not make much sense to some people.  Some reading between the lines may be required.

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Let us say that there is a guy who has an admirable desire to bring philosophy to the masses.  Rather than having philosophy locked up in "schools", he tends to think of philosophy as having "lines" and he decides sets up a "line philosophy" club.  Because he lives in Owen County, Indiana, he decides to call it the Owen Line Philosophy Club.

Let us say further that this marvellous person is not made of money, so he tends to staff his club with unpaid volunteers and one of these volunteers is a guy called WaftmanWaftman has a warden-like role, which he takes quite seriously, and he has taken to calling himself a "Verger".  As well as carrying out his important responsibilities, Waftman also likes to mix it with the club members.

Now, one day, Waftman approaches a group of Owen Line Philosophy Club members and makes an amazing claim.

He beams proudly and says, "I am God!"

"Goodness," the members exclaim, "pray, tell us more!"

"Here is my proof," says Waftman, "I was able to solve the paradox which asks, can God create a rock that he cannot lift? I solved this paradox by creating a rock that I could not lift.

"I did this during a visit to Athens.  No, not Athens in Greece, Athens in Georgia, formerly known as Athens-Clark County.  While in Athens I created a rock from Lego, and was able to lift and manipulate that rock.  However, when I returned to Owen County, Indiana, I was not able to lift the rock that I created during my visit to Athens, Georgia. Thus, the logical conclusion is that I am God, because I created a rock that I could not lift.  This solves an age old paradox, to which no equivalent solution has ever been found or provided."

"Oh my goodness," says one of the Owen Line Philosophy Club Members, "you are an insane, attention-seeking, logic-challenged tosser, Waftman.  Go away and stop bothering us with your inane waffle!"