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Member since: Mon Mar 22, 2021, 07:23 PM
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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.

Posted by -misanthroptimist | Wed Apr 28, 2021, 09:36 AM (8 replies)
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