Comments on Proof of Teapots and God

Posted by on August 27, 2011 in Thoughts | 2 comments

I received the comment below on the post “Russell’s Teapot, God and Proof” and thought it worth following up. The comment came from someone calling themselves “Noah”:

“Couple of general things to keep in mind.

One person’s inability to prove something does not make the converse true.

Inability to conceive an experimental proof does not render insight invalid. The average man in the street is unlikely to be able to prove the actual form of the law of refraction but knows from experience that light can be refracted, even if he doesn’t know what ‘refracted’ means.

Convincing someone of an argument requires that the unconvinced is both open to being convinced and capable of understanding the argument / proof.

Atheism is also a belief system as no one can definitively prove that there is no God. Agnosticism is different but my observation has been that agnostics are generally disinterested rather than unconvinced by either side of the debate.”

Thanks Noah for your comment, and while I agree with the sentiment of your comment, there are a couple of things I’d like to address. Firstly your comment:

One person’s inability to prove something does not make the converse true.

Correct. Nobody is claiming that. What I am getting at here is that those who claim God will always ask non-believers to prove their standpoint, whereas the burden of proof lies with the claimant, not the denier. I thought I made this quite clear, and was actually the basis for the original post. In a nutshell, if you make a claim then you better be able to back that claim. For me to say that I think your claim may be false does not require that I offer up an alternative, or that if I do that my alternative is going to be the truth either. But I will, if I offer an alternative, at least be making my claim based on evidence, not a gut feeling or whim of fancy.

Inability to conceive an experimental proof does not render insight invalid. The average man in the street is unlikely to be able to prove the actual form of the law of refraction but knows from experience that light can be refracted, even if he doesn’t know what ‘refracted’ means.

This is correct also for things like gravity and the effects of heat on things such as food. The average man on the street may not know how gravity works, or the physics of heating a steak, but they know if you put a steak on the BBQ, it will cook. They “why” and “how” of the situation is not something that the average man cares about, because while it effects their life, it’s not something they need to be continually proving in order for it to remain a fact. My biggest problem here is you are equating the existence of God with the physics of light, one can be proven and the other is mere hypothesis. The existence of God and the way light works are in different ball-parks completely. You make it sound like the existence of God is something that everyone experiences daily, when in fact they don’t. As far as can be proven, refraction of light will continue long after humans are extinct, but God dies with the humans. I think therefore that your comparison isn’t compelling enough to be taken seriously.

Convincing someone of an argument requires that the unconvinced is both open to being convinced and capable of understanding the argument / proof.

You make it sound here like skeptics and atheists are simply shut off from the possibility of a God because that’s what they’ve decided and that’s final. From my standpoint, nothing could be further form the truth.  Most skeptics and atheists/agnostics I know are very open-minded to facts, as l0ng as the facts are presented in a logical fashion. On the idea of being incapable of understanding an argument, this harkens back to the oft used concept that “in order to know God, you have to be open to him”. This is not the same as needing to be open to the idea of gravity in order to not float away into space. I can prove gravity’s existence by dropping an apple, and I can prove light refraction through the use of a prism in sunlight, well enough that even the most simple person should be able to understand it. How do you propose to prove God? Far from being closed off to any ideas, I’m yet to see any convincing proof that should suggest to me that the God hypothesis is anything more than a fanciful way of explaining things for those who either unwilling or unable to learn the nature of the universe around them.

Atheism is also a belief system as no one can definitively prove that there is no God. Agnosticism is different but my observation has been that agnostics are generally disinterested rather than unconvinced by either side of the debate.

Ah, this old chestnut. Well, atheism is a personal statement on a lack of belief pertaining to the hypothesis of God. It is more of a destination of reasoned thought, not a systems of beliefs. People can be atheist and still think ghosts are real, People can be atheists and still thing astrology is real. People can be atheists and still think that a black cat crossing your path, or breaking a mirror is bad luck. Atheism is no more a system than existence is a system. Semantically I will say that atheism is a “lack of belief in God or gods”, and nothing more. You cannot make a system out of a negative. A positive, a position where a statement regarding the positive existence of God is a system, and the converse is not a system. I can see why so many people call atheism a belief system, vocal atheists such as myself are consciously trying to educate people in how to think and be a little more objective, share interests such as science, or philosophy, or history. We may appear to be an organised system, but the only organising principle is a yearning for fact over fiction, of logic over fancy, and of reason over dogma. As to the proof of God? You got it in one, nobody can prove the existence of God, and now you understand why I am an atheist rather than an agnostic. The fact that nobody can disprove it either does not make religion more appealing, rather it makes the whole idea of religion seem even more silly.

The fact that there is no conclusive proof for or against the existence of God does not therefore compel me to choose the path of least resistance (religion), rather the path where learning and thinking bring forward a conclusion (atheism). Rather than try to disprove God (as I’ve said, you can’t prove a negative hypothesis), I live my life as though there is no God, for there is no need for there to be one with my understanding of the universe.

As Richard Dawkins said in an interview for Salon Magazine:

“Just because science so far has failed to explain something, such as consciousness, to say it follows that the facile, pathetic explanations which religion has produced somehow by default must win the argument is really quite ridiculous.” – from “The flying spaghetti monster“, Salon Magazine, by Steve Paulson

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2 Comments

  1. Point well made Martin. The comment you addressed seems to have been made by a rather poorly informed person. But, in spite of that, the educational effort must be made from time to time. A good pair of posts. I have admired Bertrand Russell since I was 16 yrs old.

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  2. Martin, as a strong atheist, using ignosticism, I rightly declare no God can possibly exist. He has no referents and has contradictory, incoherent attributes such that He is non-existent.
    Google the ignostic-Ockham and arguments about Him-that square circle to see why in full. And Google the teleonomic argument to see why it alone eviscerates His referents.
    We gnus have the good news- that evangel for that more abundant life!
    I am Naturalist Griggsy, Rationalist Griggsy, Skeptic Griggsy and Ignostic Morgan and use [ Google:]those terms as well as gnu atheist to describe me.

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