Friday, April 27, 2007

You can't disprove it

In various arguments, and this is certainly not limited to religon, but it is sometimes mentioned in those debates, it has been pointed out to me that I can't disprove the existence of God. This is true of course, and this is what makes a scientific hypothesis so special- one of the key parts is that is must have testable claims, i.e. you can disprove it. Which is why intelligent design is not science, by the way, but thats a whole other enchillada.

My problem is, is that people don't believe in something with absolutely no evidence for it. Of course not, otherwise we'd have to believe an uncountable infinity of things. I'm sure you can make up stuff that is impossible to disprove, but is very unlikely- for example that there is a gigantic number floating above your head at the moment that has no reflection. And is intangible. It's ridiculous, and colossally unlikely, but you can't disprove it. Thats still no reason to believe it's there though.

So why do people believe in God? It's because they have personal evidence- perhaps they have seen the complexity of the universe and believe you need God to explain it, perhaps they simply feel the prescence of God. A scientist would probably dismiss these for various reasons, but thats hardly the point- it's you who has to decide what you believe, and good for you. But the point is that we believe things because there is evidence for them, because if we didn't, then we would have to prove pretty much everything.

This is what confuses me a little about agnostics. Atheists say they do not believe God exists. This is a reasonable position to take if you do not feel there is evidence for them. Richard Dawkins eloquently expresses this as going "one god further" than most theists- after all no-one believes that Thor exists anymore, or Zeus or Appollo. But agnostics claim "not to know". This seems fine, but it's kind of odd- if you don't perceive evidence for something, then you shouldn't believe in it, quite frankly, which, as I understand it, most agnostics (the adamant ones anyway), claim to do. Yes, we should be technically agnostic about most things, but we wouldn't feel the need to declare our agnosticism on santa claus or the tooth fairy.

[Note that all through these arguments I am working from the premise that there is no evidence for god. If you believe, then you undoubtedly think differently, and thus would not equate God with the tooth fairy- this is all purely for the sake of argument]

This argument, incidentaly, is the problem with Pascal's wager. It claims that given there is no evidence for God, we might as well worship him anyway, because if we do and he exists, we get to go to heaven, but if we do and he doesn't we suffer no ill effects. The problem is is that if you accept there is no evidence for God, and that you are only believing on the possibility he might exist, then it is actually impossible to pick the right god. There will be an infinity of gods, including gods who will punish you if you DO worship them. When you exclude evidence, arguments become farcical.


At 4:39 pm, Blogger Hilarious Catastrophes said...

Scientists are very fixated on evidence as a solid tangible basis for everything...before you laugh at that as the dumbass state the obious quote of the day, read on. I honestly think that whatever one believes, it is important to recognise that a purely scientific way of thinking can be very limiting (and Yes I know Scientific knowledge is getting greater and more complex everyday).

I am fascinated by science and understand more of it than I can describe, but do not see why scientists think that they would be able to find evidence of God anyway. As far as I'm concerned, the only reason Science, and everything exists, is because of God. In fact I would go as far as to say, controvertially of course, that Science is God. And God is Science. Without God there would be nothing, so without science there would be nothing. Human beings have learnt that if they plant an Acorn an Oak tree will grow... they have worked out what happens to the Acorn in its transition from seed to plant, but they do not have the ablility to know the REAL reason why this happens... The question that I think people really struggle with is, what does it mean to be alive? and therefore, what is it that's different when we die? Science still hasn't come up with answers to that.

At 5:13 pm, Blogger Mr K said...

I get your point, but as i say, I think we all use evidence in our lives- possibly not in a direct scientific manner, but we still have reasons for believing something, and that generally is because we have some evidence for it. It might be evidence others would not accept, but that is immaterial- the thing is we simply do not believe in things we do not have evidence for.

Obviously the metaphysical questions you pose are somewhat out of scope of science, but i would argue that nothing can actually provide answers for that in any kind of definitive way- science is a tool designed to increase understanding, and obviously only works in certain situations. What does it mean to be alive truly depends on what you define alive to be, and, in fact, how you define, "means". That is, I could tell you several properties that describe something that is alive (and actually there is some difficulty deciding what is and isn't alive in some borderline cases in terms of a scientific definition), but obviously that doesn't MEAN anything. I suspect any meaning we derive from life is a very personal thing, but I would argue that science can help me there.

From my rather basic level knowledge of science I can still appreciate how amazing our universe is, whether inspired by God or not, and to me why exactly I am alive is immaterial (although to think of the processes that led to it are pretty amazing too), but the fact I am means I can enjoy all that happens to be here, and am willing to do it. That is the meaning I get from life, and my enjoyment of life is enriched by my understanding of how the world works. Obviously everyones meaning is very different.

This is a detour though, from the point I was making in the post. I was not in anyway devaluing anyones viewpoint, I was devaluing an argument that I do not believe anyone genuintely subscribes to. That is that there being no way to disprove something being reason enough to believe in something. This is clearly a fallacious argument, yet, "you can't prove it!" is again and again the battlecry of some in arguments of all kind. Of course if we truly did hold this viewpoint we would have to believe in more things than we could even possibly imagine, and this is... well impossible. Even if we were to have the standard of evidence as "someone told me it was true" that would be some benchmark (although an odd and deeply contradictory one) to base our worldview on. My main target for this post is that particular argument, agnostics and pascal's wager, not religon itself, although I do have some problems with it's claims to a monopoly on the soul (and by the soul here I mean moral and ethical issues), but thats a whole other post entirely.


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