Monday, March 16, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 26

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
~Bertrand Russell

Russell's Teapot in his own words. In short: it's not my job to prove something does not exist when there is no proof that it does. Anyone can claim something exists and, when challenged, say that it is impossible to prove that it doesn't exist. That's not an argument. That's avoiding the issue. When someone says, "There's no proof that teapot exists", the correct response is not, "But you can't prove it doesn't exist!" The correct response is, "Here is my evidence for saying the teapot exists" or "Here is my sound reasoning as to why you should believe me when I say the teapot exists".

It makes far more logical sense to not believe in the existence of something for which there is absolutely zero proof, then to believe in something for which there is no proof, just because there is no evidence to the contrary. After all, the logical extension of the non-belief stance is that a person believes in only things which have evidence to support their existence, and, as new evidence comes in, that person adapts their beliefs to suit what we understand about reality. On the other hand, the logical extension of the believer's stance is to believe in everything unless someone can prove it's not true, which means believing in anything anyone tells you unless someone else proves otherwise. Fairies, unicorns, every deity ever imagined, leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster, etc. Which of those two options sounds more rational?

And, more importantly, which one sounds more like the person is thinking about and engaged in the world they live in rather than believing whatever they're told?

1 comment:

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