On proving a negative
I saw a comment from a GRADY on my post the other day, in which he said my statement that we know people rising from the dead is impossible was begging the question. This is what we must deal with in battling religious people. This attempt to draw a false equivalence of ideas is encapsulated by apologists in a number of ways.
“You can’t prove god doesn’t exist!”
“It takes more faith to be an atheist!”
Well GRADY, banking on someone’s inability to prove a negative is a really poor way attack a position. I mean, how about that human beings can’t live without their heads? Am I begging the question there just because I haven’t personally examined everybody without a head? If you have evidence of someone rising from the dead, bring it forward. Otherwise, it seems that all available evidence indicates that people do not rise from the dead, while people making contrary claims have nothing but anecdotal evidence from a third party that cannot be investigated (the worst kind of evidence) in their favor.
Still, the demand that we atheists prove a negative is so widespread that I guess I need to explain why it’s lame. Here we go…
The nature of knowledge
For even our most certain claims, we must allow for the possibility we are somehow wrong. Even something as simple as 1=1 might not be true (you may be dreaming this life, and in the real world this is not the case). So what we do is we attach probabilities to truth claims based on the evidence on hand. While I’m pretty sure that there are no purple, nine-legged bugs with heart shaped candy eyes and a radio dial on their forehead on this planet, we may one day turn over a rock and find a colony of such insects. While this is highly unlikely, it would be wrong to deny it as a (very distant) possibility, and thus my claim that there are no such insects is not absolutely certain. It is this possibility, one so distantly small that we all just ignore it in our daily lives, that people like GRADY are deferring to when they accuse us of question-begging. Even so, the probability that someone rose from the dead is so small as to be meaningless, and it is contradicted by all available evidence. That means anybody who believes it just because human beings haven’t scoured every inch of the cosmos for somewhere where a person has risen from the dead is not treating the accuracy of their beliefs as though it were important.
Iit should be noted that even god would be subject to these constraints. What if he was wrong about being omniscient? What if a demon is feeding god his every thought? Such a demon could even make god feel omniscient and god would never be the wiser. God would have to allow for this possibility, and so even he cannot have 100% certain knowledge. The point is that what we’re after is not absolute certainty, we’re after reasonable certainty - ideas that are so likely to be true that they are as close as we can get.
“The evidence doesn’t disprove god”
What would that evidence look like? I mean, if something doesn’t exist, what more evidence could we have than the lack of any evidence? The evidence also doesn’t actively disprove the existence of smurfs. Does it really take more ‘faith’ to believe smurfs don’t exist? After all, what more evidence do you have that smurfs don’t exist than you do that god doesn’t exist?
Furthermore, what does this scenario tell us about god? If a god exists who elected to use only natural means to create a universe and chose to mask any evidence of his existence, it can only be concluded that such a god does not want us to believe. Additionally, that he would use a means to produce humans/biological order like evolution, which requires millions of years of a sick rewards system in which animals must often kill each other to survive, and in which the weak often die painfully, suggests a god indifferent to suffering (since a malicious god would start us in hell and a benevolent god would conceive a more compassionate system). An indifferent god is hard (I’d say impossible) to discern from a pitiless universe that functions through unfeeling forces, and nothing more. There are plenty more problems like this, and they all point to a god that virtually no human being believes in, and for which a godless universe is a better explanation.
But apart from simply pointing out that no evidence whatsoever exists to suggest a god was at work anywhere, we have plenty of evidence to support the conclusion that the universe is without god.
Evidence supports a godless universe
First, the universe produces order all by itself via mindless forces acting on inanimate objects. So you cannot simply point to an instance of order and say, “There is complexity, hence it must have been designed!” What’s more, thus far whenever humankind has explained a phenomenon, it has been shown to be the result of natural forces with no appeal to god being necessary. All of them. Now imagine you’ve watched two horses race hundreds of thousands of times, and every time the same horse wins. They’re getting ready to run another race and you have to bet your life savings on one of them. Which horse do you pick? Do you need “just as much faith” to pick that horse? Yes, we have other unknowns out there, but to say that it takes just as much faith for me to assume that we will continue to find natural explanations rather than supernatural explanations is simply wrong.
Second, life is very difficult to get started via natural means (go here and read the section “abiogenesis”). A godless universe therefore predicts that we would find ourselves in a very large, very old universe, so that things that have a very low probability of occurring would become probable. That is exactly where we find ourselves.
Third, the flaws in design don’t make any sense if a god created anything, since such a god would necessarily be more crafty than humans. If that were the case, it’s incredibly odd that we could pick up mistakes that such a god would miss. These are things like the existence of the appendix, babies’ heads being bigger than the birth canal, and the clunky nature of DNA.
Fourth, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that our universe had a beginning, and the existence of a god before there was any time or place to think is illogical. Moreover, it is up to the theist to explain how a bodiless mind could both exist and accomplish anything. So far as we know, minds only exist as machinery powered by tissues constructed of cells which, themselves, are made up of elements that took time to create within stars via r and s processes, which means that a mind could not exist before stars. Also, if thought does not require a functional brain, why do we have them?
Fifth, as I said in the first part of this response, the existence of suffering is incompatible with an all-powerful being. An evil god would have us suffer more, and a benevolent god would not allow suffering to continue. That life is based on a system that requires millions of years of agony spread over millions of species of animals is inexplicable via the god hypothesis.
Sixth, if god existed there would not be so much confusion among the world as to which God existed or what he wants from us. Often people say they have experienced god and that’s how they know one exists. But god would not be giving everyone contradictory messages and experiences of the divine, nor would a god allow this confusion, since compassion would compel him to give us the best chance of being saved, not the worst.
Seventh, the universe is indescribably vast. It is so large than the human brain cannot comprehend it without invoking logarithmic functions. To give you some perspective, a particle of light will travel around the entire Earth seven and a half times in one second. It would take that same particle 5.3 hours to reach Pluto, and four years to reach the closest star, and there are roughly 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and there are trillions of galaxies. That same particle would take 93 billion years to go from one end of this universe to the other. As I pointed out earlier, such a universe is precisely what we would expect to find if life arose from natural causation. It makes absolutely no sense that such a universe was created for something so mind-numbingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things as humans.
There are many, many more, but you get the picture. Any evidence to support a godless universe is evidence against god’s existence. I will go further to assert that no evidence whatsoever exists to support the conclusion that god exists. This makes a godless universe (far) more likely, and makes it difficult to contrive a more inaccurate statement than, “It takes just as much faith to believe in a God or to believe there is no higher power” or “You can’t prove god doesn’t exist/people don’t rise from the dead.”
What we can say with as much certainty as humanly possible is that any person claiming to possess evidence that a god exists has not submitted it scientific scrutiny or, if they have, it has been shredded like any other unsupported idea. Moreover, if you believe in god just because we haven’t combed our universe to the very edge to make sure there’s no place god might be hiding, thus ‘disproving’ his existence, then it’s curious why you don’t believe in smurfs, unicorns, leprechauns, and seventeen-legged insects with candy apple horns, since we can’t/haven’t disproven those things either.
To believe in something for which there is no evidence, that requires faith, and that’s not a good thing even though many religious people will throw that word out as though it absolves any shortcoming in reasoning. In fact, it’s just another shortcoming. Similarly, it is not a matter of faith for me to say that people don’t rise from the dead, that this universe appears to be godless, or that those saying otherwise do so for crummy reasons, if they even advance reasons at all.