Monday, December 22, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 14

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.
~Christopher Hitchens

Probably the most common comment I get from believers when they hear I'm an atheist is, "You can't prove there's no god!" They don't seem to understand that it makes more sense not to believe in something for which there is no proof than to believe in something for which there is no proof. Concepts like Russell's Teapot and The Invisible Pink Unicorn came from attempts to explain this to people. In the absence of evidence for something's existence, it is logical to assume that it doesn't exist. It is not logical to get offended when someone takes that position, claiming that it makes sense to believe things until they're proven to be incorrect.

Imagine if other institutions functioned like that. In the justice system, people are considered innocent until proven guilty, or, in other words, it is assumed that they did nothing until sufficient evidence is presented to convince a judge and/or a jury that they actually did commit the offense in question. What if people assumed instead that, in the absence of evidence, it made more sense to assume the person had done what they were accused of and they demanded that the defense prove the negative - that is, every trial would be about proving something didn't happen rather than proving that it did. Would that make for a fair and rational justice system, throwing people in jail if they couldn't prove themselves innocent? Anyone could accuse a person of something, and the state wouldn't need forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony to convict them - if the defendant didn't have an ironclad alibi, that would be enough to convict them.

How illogical is that?

However, believers make the same sort of argument when it comes to a god. In the absence of positive evidence to convince people of its existence, they insist we should believe anyway, or else provide ironclad evidence of the negative, that this figment of their imagination does not exist. Or, they say, since there is no evidence, we can't be sure that their god does not exist. But what sense does it make to assume it is likely or even possible that something exists when no one can prove any evidence that it does? Assuming it does not exist at all is the logical position. I will freely admit that I am open to real evidence, and if some ever appears in favour of the supernatural, I may change my mind accordingly.

However, I seriously doubt that will ever happen. Centuries of science have consistently proved religion wrong over and over again, and that trend is likely to continue. Supernatural beings were once the only explanation humans could come up with to explain the mysteries of the universe. Now, there are much better explanations and I go where the real evidence and solid proof are: science, logic, and reason.

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