Let's put this common refrain to rest~ something that I hear all the time in arguments concerning religion.  It goes something like this:

" Remember, you can't prove a negative!"

Really people?

This has become much more common, especially in the arguments amongst Atheists and agnostics concerning certainty, and it really puzzles me how people can be skeptical and free-thinkers, yet take to an idea so easily and not question it.  I will elaborate on this a little more once I have the time, but let me start all of those "can't prove a negative" types off with a question~ " I am not sitting at my desk."  Thats a negative claim.  Are you telling me that there is no way to confirm or disprove that?

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Hi Park,

 

I think your point is indeed valuable to keep in mind. In a way it's an extension of the falsification principle which says a proposed thesis must be phrased and formulated in such a way that it yields testable criteria; which we can use to see if the thesis passes or fails our tests. And that of course means the claim can't be too vague, it needs to have manifestations in reality, etcetera etcetera.

 

But even with all that said and done, I think it's still valuable to point out that proving a negative is harder, just because you are required to run over the entire set of possibilities for your proof to be rigorous.

Even if I make a rather clear-cut definition for Atlantis (like that it lies somewhere between Ireland and Iceland at the bottom of sea), it's still easier to prove the positive than the negative. Proving the positive (if it's in fact the correct answer) could happen relatively rapidly (theoretically you could get lucky on your first dive for it), whereas proving a negative (if it is the correct answer) will always require a full search and a full exploration of every location, and never anything less (because you can't get lucky).

 

Kind regards,

 

Matt

But to get a clear cut definition, you either already have evidence of its existence, or you have reasoned (made up) that clear cut definition.

That's clutching at some pretty small straws though.

 

The line between having evidence of existence and reasoning your way to a definition is not always a clear one.

Do we have evidence of the existence of dark matter yet, or are we simply reasoning our way to a definition? Considering it is still largely a term rather than a concept, it seems the latter.

What about the Higgs Boson? At what point do you draw the line of "having enough evidence to think it's worth looking for" and "reasoning your way to the definition" (using mathematics). It's simply a continuum.

 

The same goes for the monster of Loch Ness, Bigfoot or any other fantastical creature. Some will say that (probably fake) personal testimonies and (probably fake) artifacts are enough to have some "evidence of existence", others will still say that they're making up a definition.

 

How do you draw the line? As with many instances of pseudo-science, there's no simple answer to that question.

The scientific method is a tool that has served very very well as a bullshit finder. Dark Matter is a term given to evidence that we do not understand yet and the Higgs Boson is something that is an idea that is being predicted by scientists based on prior evidences gathered and understood.

There is no God, therefore one can't prove a negative,  But there is a vast convergence of evidence from all of the sciences, especially psychology, that support the fact that the God concept is the product of the human mind.  There are no absolutes in science, so an Atheist doesn't have to prove there is no God.  Simply put, based on the accumulated knowledge throughout human history and our understanding of human nature, and human psychopathology it is far more likely that there is no such thing as God.  Or as Richard Dawkins put it in his book, The God Delusion in chapter 4 - Why there almost certainly is no God.

There are no free luches.  Or the odds of probability of an uncaused God is impossible.

I do not agree with the statement; "You can prove a negative." Your description of god is the main reason why I disagree. God is a concept, an idea, a malformed definition, it does not exist outside of the human mind. Having said that, there is no way to prove that god exists nor is there a way to prove that god doesn't exist because you have no way of testing the concept of god. To prove something, you need evidence. Lack of evidence is not proof of a negative because you can always say that the evidence just hasn't been found yet.

Proving a negative claim and proving a negative claim of existence are different.

 

When negative proof is cited by atheists it's referring to a god's existence, not where in existence god is, like sitting at a specific desk that can be located and subject to empirical testing.

 
Prove there is no adult T-Rex tooth in my 1 liter bottle of ginger ale that I am currently holding in my right hand =/= prove there is no invisible, matterless, massless, gravityless, Jupiter sized planet in orbit around the sun between Earth and Mars.

I find that this discussion always has a lot of hypothetical threads attached.  I can be more definitive on one point though.  I know of only one "negative" that's provable.  I can prove I'm not Jewish.  OK sorry, not a pretty visual attached to this one.
You are very correct. It should be that "you cannot prove a negative of any real magnitude." Wide open and subjective? Yeah. Just like most of language.

Go ahead and try to prove that there is no gold in China. Even if you look in every place in China I could be following you around and re-hiding the gold. Like those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. :-)

So proving a statement like "There is no God" would be close to impossible. I have seen some that show that the concept of God is nonsensical or self contradictory, or what have you. But to show there IS a God one simply needs to produce one.
I'm not sure it would actually be that simple, Joshua. How would you know for sure the god produced was, in fact, a god? There have been a lot of false gods (well OK, all of them), which nonetheless managed to fool plenty of people, but there are always skeptics, and anyhow, what sort of test for godhood is there? It's not like they get board certified or come with a holographic certificate of authenticity sticker or anything.

I'm imagining a god survey. They get to the question, "Do you need a spaceship?" If yes, then not a god. XD

 

...I think that's the thing with modern humans. Even the godlike characters we come up with, in our movies, books, and so on aren't truly gods. If we met a supreme being tomorrow, with all the bells and whistles, would you really think it to be a god? I'd be more likely to think it was a mass hallucination... I don't think our reality really allows for a god. Hard to believe in something that cannot even exist.

Thank you I was just talking about this with someone today, I am glad that this is being brought up. I think it is a response to theists telling us to "prove" there is no god and since fallacies run a muck in religious arguments the logical way people deal with this "straw man" is by replying that you cant prove a negative. However...

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence." 

— Christopher Hitchens

I do sympathise with the idea though after all it is well and good for you to claim you are not sitting at your desk because you know where you are it is easy to find you. claiming for anything not to exist in the whole cosmos is different because the space is bigger and there are more places to look. I could yell there are no spotted elephants in my room and I would be right but saying that there isn't one anywhere in the world is empirically much harder to prove. Thats when it takes a consensus of people to conclude a negative, improbable not impossible. Too many people base their whole lives solely on what they have narrowly observed. But still not enough evidence to prove a positive in the case of god therefore he doesn't exist. PS I don't think there are spotted elephants although a quick search on google gave me some very nice photoshopped ones ;)

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