Proving a negative?
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20-07-2016, 01:19 PM
Proving a negative?
I was having an online discussion with a theist who insisted that the claim that a god doesn't exist is actually a positive claim to which I replied that atheists have no belief in a god which is neutral or the default position to which he replied that the default position is a claim itself, and a positive claim at that.

I did a little looking around at differing views on this and came across a philosophy forum which discussed this very thing.

http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/ques...n-of-proof

After reading through the Stackexchange discussion I'm still of the mind that it is NOT a positive claim. Interesting, intelligent discussion over on Stackexchange though.

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20-07-2016, 01:56 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
But you are making no claim. As an atheist or indeed a skeptic you are responding to a claim made by theists. It is they who are making a positive claim. Your opponent is simply trying to shift the burden of proof by doing so in a rather more indirect way than the usual "prove I'm wrong" flavour.

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20-07-2016, 02:06 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
Prove to me that you didn't rob that bank, or you didn't kick that puppy. These are provable, perhaps depending if you can prove you weren't even there when it happened, prove to me that you don't like pretty girls,would be a bit harder.
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20-07-2016, 02:28 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
My $0.02.

If you are saying "there is no god" this is a positive claim that needs support.

If you are saying "I don't think there is a god" or "theists have not sufficiently demonstrated a god" are neutral statements.

In my experience, when theists say something like "there is a personal god and he/she/it wants us to do X" they feel/assert that is the default position which is not in need of support and if/when someone disagrees, that is a positive claim from their perspective. Most of the problem is that people seem to be taught that their perspective is obvious and not in need of support so all claims, even the neutral ones, are positive claims to them.


And to a certian degree, you can prove a negative. We can prove that there is no teapot orbiting Jupiter by checking the payload records of all spacecraft humans have ever sent up to space. The negative statement, "there is no teapot orbiting Jupiter" can actually be demonstrated as true and factual to a high degree. However, with the god question, one must demonstrate that the supernatural is even possible before one could even begin to test the nature of what it wants (of even if it cares).

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20-07-2016, 02:42 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
(20-07-2016 01:19 PM)dancefortwo Wrote:  I was having an online discussion with a theist who insisted that the claim that a god doesn't exist is actually a positive claim to which I replied that atheists have no belief in a god which is neutral or the default position to which he replied that the default position is a claim itself, and a positive claim at that.

I did a little looking around at differing views on this and came across a philosophy forum which discussed this very thing.

http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/ques...n-of-proof

After reading through the Stackexchange discussion I'm still of the mind that it is NOT a positive claim. Interesting, intelligent discussion over on Stackexchange though.

I agree with you that it is not a positive claim. A lack of acceptance of a claim does not entail any positive claim of the opposite. There is no onus to prove that the non-existent doesn't exist.

While it's not incumbent upon anyone to prove a negative, how about just proving that the positive claim that a god exists is false. That's a simple matter. It can not be the case that the claims of theism are false and the thing those claims affirm exists is real.

Theism violates the primacy of existence and therefore theism can not be true. Period. End of story. If one accepts logic then this argument proves that the claims of theism are false. Therefore the thing that those claims affirm the existence of is not real and does not exist. Of course we know that theism is not logical to begin with and so I don't recon that this proof will be accepted by any theists.

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20-07-2016, 02:44 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
(20-07-2016 02:28 PM)The Organic Chemist Wrote:  My $0.02.

If you are saying "there is no god" this is a positive claim that needs support.

If you are saying "I don't think there is a god" or "theists have not sufficiently demonstrated a god" are neutral statements.

In my experience, when theists say something like "there is a personal god and he/she/it wants us to do X" they feel/assert that is the default position which is not in need of support and if/when someone disagrees, that is a positive claim from their perspective. Most of the problem is that people seem to be taught that their perspective is obvious and not in need of support so all claims, even the neutral ones, are positive claims to them.


And to a certian degree, you can prove a negative. We can prove that there is no teapot orbiting Jupiter by checking the payload records of all spacecraft humans have ever sent up to space. The negative statement, "there is no teapot orbiting Jupiter" can actually be demonstrated as true and factual to a high degree. However, with the god question, one must demonstrate that the supernatural is even possible before one could even begin to test the nature of what it wants (of even if it cares).

I disagree with your teapot statement. How do you know there isn't a civilization that exists elsewhere in the universe that launched their teapots into orbit around Jupiter long before our space program even began?

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20-07-2016, 02:50 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
(20-07-2016 02:44 PM)WillHopp Wrote:  
(20-07-2016 02:28 PM)The Organic Chemist Wrote:  My $0.02.

If you are saying "there is no god" this is a positive claim that needs support.

If you are saying "I don't think there is a god" or "theists have not sufficiently demonstrated a god" are neutral statements.

In my experience, when theists say something like "there is a personal god and he/she/it wants us to do X" they feel/assert that is the default position which is not in need of support and if/when someone disagrees, that is a positive claim from their perspective. Most of the problem is that people seem to be taught that their perspective is obvious and not in need of support so all claims, even the neutral ones, are positive claims to them.


And to a certian degree, you can prove a negative. We can prove that there is no teapot orbiting Jupiter by checking the payload records of all spacecraft humans have ever sent up to space. The negative statement, "there is no teapot orbiting Jupiter" can actually be demonstrated as true and factual to a high degree. However, with the god question, one must demonstrate that the supernatural is even possible before one could even begin to test the nature of what it wants (of even if it cares).

I disagree with your teapot statement. How do you know there isn't a civilization that exists elsewhere in the universe that launched their teapots into orbit around Jupiter long before our space program even began?

That would require you to demonstrate that other civilizations are even possible before you could begin to assess whatever their "teapot" was even possible. There could have been an ancient civilization on Mars but if they had no space abilities, you could rule them out. I see what you are saying but your example assumes even more unsubstantiated claims.

"If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality.
The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination."
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20-07-2016, 03:04 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
But I'm not making the claim, you are. You are saying you can prove there isn't a teapot orbiting Jupiter. You can't.

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20-07-2016, 03:26 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
(20-07-2016 03:04 PM)WillHopp Wrote:  But I'm not making the claim, you are. You are saying you can prove there isn't a teapot orbiting Jupiter. You can't.

Can you prove there is no Earthly Teapot orbiting Jupiter? Probably. Why? A) there is no evidence that humans have ever sent a teapot and b) we are unaware of any extraterrestrial intelligence with the capabilities to orbit the teapot. Both of these pieces of information (and they aren't the only pieces) do not support the claim that "there is a teapot orbiting Jupiter" but they DO support the claim that "there is not a teapot orbiting Jupiter." Lack of evidence for something can sometimes be taken as evidence against, but not always. This was a bit of a poor example I admit but there are other negative claims that can be proven. It also helps to define what I mean by "prove." In this case I am opting for the most demonstrable example of a claim, to which there is none that support the teapot.

Can I prove that carbon does not make 6 discreet bonds? Yes.
Can I prove that you did not hatch from a lizard egg? Yes.
Can we prove that there was no worldwide flood? Yes.

The point is that the idea that one can never prove a negative is not entirely true. Sometimes they can be and my point is that it is unwise to make the blanket statement.

"If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality.
The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination."
- Paul Dirac
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20-07-2016, 03:44 PM
RE: Proving a negative?
(20-07-2016 03:26 PM)The Organic Chemist Wrote:  
(20-07-2016 03:04 PM)WillHopp Wrote:  But I'm not making the claim, you are. You are saying you can prove there isn't a teapot orbiting Jupiter. You can't.

Can you prove there is no Earthly Teapot orbiting Jupiter? Probably. Why? A) there is no evidence that humans have ever sent a teapot and b) we are unaware of any extraterrestrial intelligence with the capabilities to orbit the teapot. Both of these pieces of information (and they aren't the only pieces) do not support the claim that "there is a teapot orbiting Jupiter" but they DO support the claim that "there is not a teapot orbiting Jupiter." Lack of evidence for something can sometimes be taken as evidence against, but not always. This was a bit of a poor example I admit but there are other negative claims that can be proven. It also helps to define what I mean by "prove." In this case I am opting for the most demonstrable example of a claim, to which there is none that support the teapot.

Can I prove that carbon does not make 6 discreet bonds? Yes.
Can I prove that you did not hatch from a lizard egg? Yes.
Can we prove that there was no worldwide flood? Yes.

The point is that the idea that one can never prove a negative is not entirely true. Sometimes they can be and my point is that it is unwise to make the blanket statement.

I'm not stating you can't prove a negative. I'm saying you can't prove there isn't a teapot orbiting Jupiter. You've failed. Given your explanation, you could substitute "teapot orbiting Jupiter" with "god" and you're in hot water. You're then saying because we are unaware of any evidence that supports there being a god that we can prove there isn't one. That's not how it works.

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