HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Religion & Spirituality » Atheists & Agnostics (Group) » On proof, God, and gods

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 09:36 AM

On proof, God, and gods

(I didn't want to derail the Penn Jillette thread, so I started this one.)

I've been an atheist a long time -since 1974. I've given a lot of time to arguing with various species of theists with various points of views. One of the most common refrains is, "You can't disprove God!" Unfortunately, all too often that refrain is either rebutted (or in some cases, augmented) by, "You can't prove a negative." Neither of those statements is quite accurate. So, I will start with an explanation of each.


Proof is a slippery thing. It frequently gets used improperly by people, even people who should know better. We will hear someone say something like, "Science proves 'X'" -sometimes even by scientists. In every single instance such statements are wrong. Science doesn't prove things. Science is a method of learning about the world around us. The answers it provides, every single answer, is provisional. The only way science can prove something beyond all doubt is if we know everything it is possible to know about the topic under consideration. Since time isn't yet finished, and probably never will be, it is impossible to know everything about any topic. What we know may change. So, what science does it reach the best possible explanation for observations based on the information available at the time of the conclusion, knowing that further information may be -and almost certainly will be- obtained in the future. Such further information may confirm our conclusion, refute it, or amend it. Nothing is ever proven in science.


As someone in the Jillette thread rightly points out, God is a concept. The concept obviously exists -but that doesn't mean God exists. To assert that it is is a logical fallacy called "reification." Besides, very few people believe in a generic God -probably no one if they were pressed on it. As a concept, God cannot be disproven because it doesn't really mean anything in the real world.

In practical terms "God" is a job title. The many proposed versions become applicants for the position.


While we cannot disprove the concept -or job title- of God, we have a much different situation as regards the many proposed applicants for the position. These applicants almost always have some purported human or physical interaction that can be analyzed. It is this interaction, along with logic, that allows us to disprove individual proposed gods.

Gods fall into three categories: 1) those that can be logically disproven; 2) those that are indistinguishable from nature; 3) those so ill-defined or so uninvolved that it's pointless to bother about.

Those that fall into category 1 are, believe it or not, by far the most common here in America. By far, the most common retort when I say I can disprove a god is, "You can't disprove god!" I usually cut to the chase and say, "I can disprove your god, or at least demonstrate that it is irrelevant." I then ask what god they believe in. By far the most common response is, "The god of the Bible!" I then point out that disproof is a heavy burden and I want to know precisely what god I'm disproving. (I'd hate to bump off a perfectly innocent god that wasn't bothering me.) I always ask the following for the god of the Bible: A)"Is every word of the Bible literally true?" and B) "Is god all good?" The answer is always, "Yes." I follow that up with, "Are good and evil absolutes?" Again, the answer is always, "Yes." These three questions alone for disproving "the god of the Bible." Then I drop the hammer: If good and evil are absolute, the Bible is true, and god is all good, how could such a god put out a hit job on the firstborn sons of Egypt? There is no satisfactory answer to that question. It is a logical disproof of that god with those stipulations. (That disproof eliminates a solid majority of the American Christian versions of god, btw.)

Category 2 gods can be dismissed by Occam's Razor. If a god is indistinguishable from nature, there can be neither proof nor disproof of its existence. Such a god is superfluous.

Category 3 gods can be ignored entirely. If I want something squishy, I'll have a bowl of pudding. The pudding is at least useful.

8 replies, 1201 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 8 replies Author Time Post
Reply On proof, God, and gods (Original post)
-misanthroptimist Apr 2021 OP
cilla4progress Apr 2021 #1
-misanthroptimist Apr 2021 #2
vlyons Apr 2021 #3
-misanthroptimist Apr 2021 #5
cilla4progress Apr 2021 #4
-misanthroptimist Apr 2021 #6
cilla4progress Apr 2021 #7
-misanthroptimist Apr 2021 #8

Response to -misanthroptimist (Original post)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 09:41 AM

1. My problem with discussions of god/s' existence

Is they rarely start with a definition.

You hit on that.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to cilla4progress (Reply #1)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 09:45 AM

2. The definition is essential, as you surmise

Otherwise it just bogs down in conceptual and logical circles. In debate, that always plays to the advantage of the theist. Ambiguity is their only escape.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to -misanthroptimist (Original post)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 10:01 AM

3. As a Buddhist, I don't accept that there is a creator god

I'm who wrote in the Jillete thread that god is merely a concept fabricated in the minds of humans. Concepts don't really exist as real solid things, although they can seem real, "seam" being the operative word. People's concept of god can get all entwined with their concept of me-self. But guess what, self doesn't really exist either as a real solid thing.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to vlyons (Reply #3)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 10:28 AM

5. I have Buddhistic tendencies myself

I own nothing, technically. Everything is in my wife's name. There is very little I want, and nothing I want badly.

A while back I bought the entire Kung Fu series from the '70s on DVD. I'm not sure whether it influenced me or whether it reinforced the way I was already thinking. I don't really remember. (Hey, it was the '70s!) Ass-kicking aside, there was some really good stuff in that show. One thing that I know affected me was just two words. When the Emperor sent a former Shaolin priest as hit man to apprehend or kill Caine, Caine looked at him and said with utter contempt: "For money." Those two words became a guide to me. There is a vast array of things that I wouldn't do in my life, despite good money to be had. What I have done for money, I'm either proud of or at least neutral on.

I entirely get what you mean about "self" not really existing. It's one of the things that is useful for attaining some distance and perspective when the going gets rough.

Lastly, I was going to credit you, but I'm not sure of the protocol and didn't want a long post to get deleted for a violation.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to -misanthroptimist (Original post)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 10:20 AM

4. I walked through a coastal forest yesterday

and had an encounter with an 800 year old Sitka Spruce. I felt something some would describe as god.

Awe. Wonder. Beauty. The perfection of the garden we inherited.

Awareness of my smallness - perspective - in the overall realm of things.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to cilla4progress (Reply #4)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 10:40 AM

6. I know that feeling

I spend as much time as I can in the Smoky Mountains. One day, at a stream I just looked upstream at the incredible diversity of species and boggled. I tried to imagine how many different biological, geographical, climatic, and other factors had to come together to make the scene I was seeing.

My conclusion was a paraphrase from Jaws, "I'm gonna need a bigger brain."

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to -misanthroptimist (Reply #6)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 02:51 PM

7. That feeling lead me to my realization

that I'm essentially a pagan - nature worshipper!

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to cilla4progress (Reply #7)

Wed Apr 28, 2021, 04:39 PM

8. Can't say I'm a nature worshipper

But I am terribly fond of nature. I also get along amazingly well with animals*.

*except hyenas. Hyenas can go straight to hell.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread