I wanted to put this question out there to see how strongly everyone feels on this subject. Being that most of us trust in scientific fact and reasoning, I was wondering if everyone is absolutely, undeniably, 100% sure that a god doesn't exist.  I personally take into account that there is no proof of any cosmic creator so therefore I am about 99.9999% sure that there is no god. However we all agree that science is an ever evolving field and I don't think that there will ever be any proof to support the existence of a supreme being, but I can't be 100% sure until there is concrete proof against one. I would like to know what all of your thoughts on this.  

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Atheism is a statement about belief.


Agnosticism is a statement about knowledge.


They are related to each in much the same way as knowledge and belief are but knowledge is not belief, nor is vice versa.

An interesting and important semantic distinction. Thank you.

Of course, it is possible to at least claim belief without knowledge. And obviously possible to at least claim to reject belief, or even lack the capacity to process the knowledge that would warrant rational belief, even when it is present.

In some cases, even when data is available to afford 100% certainty, there are those who are so wed to not permitting/admitting 100% certainty in their minds that they are actually close-minded to the idea that it is possible to be 100% certain.

You can recognize such people when they say that they believe there is a possibility (small as it might be) that a self-contradictory concept can exist in reality... that there is a small possibility that 2+2 does not equal 4... or that it not only equals 4, but simultaneously does not equal 4.

This is another version of disproving a positive, not proving a negative.


You're simply mixing belief and knowledge.


You're mistaking the action or location of an object for the proof of the existence of the object, and they're not the same thing.


Volcanoes exist, lucky charms exist - they just don't exist in your hotel room or kitchen presently, they nevertheless exist.


Forget all your arguments about volcanoes spewing in hotel rooms or kitchens - just try something simple like proving the non-existence of something.


Simply try to describe the process for proving that talking, blue diamonds do not exist. - without saying there's no evidence of them.

No. Russell did not ask anyone to prove there are no teapots. He requested proof that there are no teapots orbiting the sun.

You can't have it both ways.
Park, now you are doing all of Willa's work for her.

You've chosen to use inductive reasoning to prove there are no unicorns, and that won't get you to 100% certainty. I could simply assert that unicorns don't like the parking lot you staked out. You must stake out every parking lot. And if you do, I'll just assert that they migrate from lot to lot. And if you have the manpower to stake them all out at once, I'll just assert that they are shy and though they prefer parking lots, will make do with deep forests, eating wildflowers, rather than put up with humans.

All this is why, when attempting to prove a negative, it is important to get the asserter to be as specific as possible about the thing they are asserting. If you are on trial for murder and the prosecutor asks your alibi, and you say "I was out," he will not launch an argument of induction, conclude that he can't prove you weren't "out" and forfeit the case.

But, in a debate such as this, an opponent as bright as Willa will not do your work for you and she'll feed you premises that, if you buy, will lead you right where you are. Notice that she said, "Try something simple like..." When the simpler the assertion is, the harder it is to either prove or disprove. You need it to be more complicated, obviously, because the more complex it is, the more detail and the greater chance you will have enough information to avoid the induction argument in favor of a deductive one.

In the case of the pink unicorn, Steven D. Hales has this to say (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-12-05/):
"You can easily construct a valid deductive argument with all true premises that yields the conclusion that there are no unicorns. Here’s one, using the valid inference procedure of modus tollens (Latin for “mode that affirms by denying”):
If unicorns had existed, then there is evidence in the fossil record.
There is no evidence of unicorns in the fossil record.
Therefore, unicorns never existed."

Of course, Willa might simply ask, "and when did the fossil record become a complete history of life on Earth?" or "And what of the fossil records of the Andromeda Galaxy?" or some such. Deductive reasoning will have to go a bit further than this to arrive at 100% certainty... or, simpler, question the person asserting the claim so as to issue forth greater detail so that the reasoning can be tighter. Get them to narrow their claim to "unicorns on the earth" or that they lived during the jurassic, or that they are behind me mocking me at this moment... until you have enough to arrive at 100% certainty without requiring NASA's involvement. Or until they offer something contradictory so that you only need to call bullshit.

Note that those arguing these points are merely trying to replicate the slipperiness with which theists argue the existence of God. They will give you insignificant details... but they are often just red herrings. Who cares if the unicorn is pink? Who even cares if the elephant is pink? But there is a key difference: I can paint an elephant pink. No big deal. Voila, there's a pink elephant. But try painting a unicorn.

And there is a key difference between a unicorn and God. Though fictional, a unicorn is a coherent concept. We all know that it is basically a horse with a horn growing out of its forehead. We can all visualize it. The premise is not self-contradictory. The properties of the unicorn do not prohibit its existence.

God, however, is not a coherent concept and the properties of the proposed being prohibit its existence. Even if we stick with a deist point of view that God created existence and now does not interfere, we need not search existence for God in order to disprove his existence, for it would be quite impossible for any such being to be in existence prior to the creation of existence itself. Since such a deity is self-contradictory, we disprove it without batting an eye, let alone staking out a potentially infinite multiverse.

Of course, as theists pile even more properties upon God, it gets even easier to disprove. An omnipotent, omnibenevolent God is disproven by a stroll through a children's cancer ward or a brief scan of the daily newspaper. A being who cares profoundly about everyone and has the power to make them all happy would certainly not watch cancer destroy a child. Therefore, such a God cannot exist. Everything from a paper cut, to an earthquake offers proof on proof.

As for Willa's talking blue diamonds, I don't disbelieve in them any more than pink elephants. Just as I can paint an elephant pink, I can imagine rigging a blue diamond (blue diamonds really exist) with a tiny processor and speaker so that it talks.

However, if she is to further assert that the blue diamond has no such aids or electronics and is actually capable of speech, then the task at hand is simple.

Natural speech, without electronic synthesis, requires the passing of air over a structure like a larynx. Diamonds do not possess such structures and even if they were hollowed out, would not possess the soft bellows-like tissue (lungs for example) necessary to move the air in and out. More importantly, speech is impossible without a brain to control the process and stimulate the topic in the first place. As diamonds do not contain such fatty tissues necessary to form a brain, they are further incapable of speech. Hence, there are no talking diamonds.

It is not enough to say, "I have never seen a talking diamond or heard any reports of one, therefore they do not exist." And it is impractical to quest thoughout the universe surveying for talking blue diamonds. Yet it is simple to examine the properties claimed, see that they are contradictory, and rightly conclude with 100% certainty that they cannot, therefore, exist.

And if you ever do see what appears to be a talking diamond, a proper examination will reveal that it does not qualify under our commonly accepted definition (this from Webster):
a : native crystalline carbon that is the hardest known mineral, that is usually nearly colorless, that when transparent and free from flaws is highly valued as a precious stone, and that is used industrially especially as an abrasive;also : a piece of this substance
And yes, we all know that the burden of proof is logically, and as a matter of manners, on the person asserting the claim. However, this is not always a useful tactic. If I really wish to claim "there is no God," I had better be able to do better than that. As I have.

This usually leaves people asserting that God is something other than an oxymoron. They do this by asserting that God is love. This is easily handled by rejecting the premise. I believe in love, but love is not, in itself, a deity. Or they will claim some pantheistic nonsense, that God is their name for the universe. Fine. I can name my goldfish "God" and there we have it. I can assert that the world is full of Gods by saying that I define God as people or insects or molecules or atoms.

Semantics is the key to strong debate. You will know when you are being effective with semantics when your opponent says, "That's just semantics!" as if to spin an argument from intimidation off the weakness of implied negative connotation. And if you are intimidated into accepting that false premise, you've lost already.

As we arrive at a position of atheism about Odin, Zeus, and individual god after god, we do well to notice the common traits of gods... ie, the definitive property that qualifies a proposed being as actually being a god... and then recognizing that this property is contradictory and actually prohibits actual existence. Then we may assert that there is no god. Or even, "there are no gods out there anywhere."

Hello Vince,


Ivory Soap Non-Theist here.  (Yes, I find it hilarious so I'm taking on the label)  I've been reading more about this 'not being able to prove a negative' thing - more specifically the link that you posted here.  I'm baffled.  If you can find the time, I would like to hear your opinion on the following:


Mr. Hales stated: For one thing, a real, actual law of logic is a negative, namely the law of non-contradiction. This law states that that a proposition cannot be both true and not true. Nothing is both true and false.


I can think of at least 3 different examples of how a proposition can both be true and not true at the same time.  All of them are primarily based on perception - which is a major facet of obtaining scientific data.


1)  Taiwan   I'd say 'enough said' but by stating the proposition: Taiwan is a member of the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC).  This is both true and false depending on different individual's perspective.


2)  Objects at rest.  (Newton's first law)  The cup on my desk is at rest; however, it is also in motion because the earth is in motion.  [I'll expound on this but only if you're interested.]


3)  In responding to the proposition 2+2=4, I would hope a reasonable response would be:  From what observable data do the numbers 2 and 2 come; and for what is the number 4 being used?  This proposition/equation/tool-of-math is far too over-generalized to be of any use (much like the word God) without exposing the source of measurement and its application.  Did some observer originally measure 2.0000000001 and another 2.0000000002, determine the units are used only in feet, then round off?  The answer 4 is true.  The rounding is accurate if we're moving the aforementioned cup 2 ft then another 2 ft guranteeing a 4 ft result.  But if the rounded 2's are used in a complex project to account for a 4 ft shift if we're sending the cup 20 light years away, that would be a different perspective where the 4.0000000003 ft would be important.


Most importantly, (if I'm so far off the mark that you simply don't have the time to even begin educating me on the errors of my way) I must know:  What on earth do you have against Ivory Soap?  I've used the products for years and they're awesome!


Thanks in advance.

None of the examples you gave are both objective and contradictory... as you well know.

I didn't say 2.000000000001. I said 2.

Ivory soap is 99 44/100s percent pure... hence those who say they aren't 100% certain are Ivory soap atheists. I thought it was funny, but concur that Ivory soap is a fine product.

Thanks.  A little humor to lighten a topic is always a good thing.  I hope the 100%er's aren't having secret meetings to excommunicate us Ivory Soapers from the Non-Theist Church.  It would be such a shame to have to call up my Atheist Mafia friends.  (Admit it... you really enjoy this topic :)


But my examples are not only objective and contradictory, they are self-evident.  Math fails in the sense that one should not have it both ways:  there is an infinite amount of decimals between any two numbers (a tangent to a line) AND it is also possible to reach the next number (completing the tangent).  Either you can't get to the next number or there are a finite amount of decimals between two numbers.  I say we 'should' not have it this way, but we do.  We accept it as contradictory but we don't discard the usefulness of the tools.


You did propose 2.  But much like the term 'God', without inquiring further into how it was gathered and for what it is used, it's just a useless digit typed on the screen.  [I'm imagining the carpenter who refuses to build the building because his 2x4's are all mismatched to the 10th decimal place.  That would be a hilarious conversation with his contractor.]


I'm really only debating this False Dilemma because I can't seem to fathom why some people need to have absolute certainty of things.  I don't understand it coming from the religious and I don't understand it of the non-theists.  You do seem to be the most adamant on here to the latter.


Oh, BTW.  The cup on my desk has not moved.  (I began measuring and re-measuring since my last post)  But I suppose the Earth hasn't moved in the meantime.


Thanks for being a great conversationalist and a good sport.

What I'm looking for now is how to prove a positive with absolute certainty.


The other day I brought home 2 "things".  Yesterday I brought home 2 "things".  Does this mean I now have 4 "things"?  I can say yes.  But that might be a presumption if I don't investigate further what those 4 "things" are.


I had brought home 2 white swans and then 2 black swans.  Does this mean that I have 4 white swans?  No.  {OMG, did this guy actually kidnap swans to make a lousy point on a website?  Does the ASPCA know about this thread?}  Do I have 4 birds?  Yes.  (And I'm not giving them back.  They will be well cared for.)


A proposition can both be true and false if it's so over-generalized like the proposition 2+2=4


The assertion one can prove a negative from the premise that a proposition cannot both be true and false is either:  1) a fallacy because there do exist propositions that are both true and false; or 2) a tautology if one defines the word "proposition" as a statement that cannot both be true and false.  Either way it's improper.


So I'm now seeking even one positive proposition which by itself cannot both be true and false even upon further investigation.


BTW, I did see your response to Joel concerning the inability to absolutely prove (not claim) the existence of "God".  Very nicely stated indeed - all of you.  ;D

Oh, yes.  I find it fascinating the micro and macro universe.  It's a mental technique I do to try and imagine making myself smaller and smaller, etc and what the perspective would look like.  (LOL if you could watch me through a microscope trying to breathe in that one gigantic oxygen molecule to stay alive - hilarious)  I do the same in the macro way - larger and larger, etc.  Fun things the minds do invent.  I do hope scientists will be able to view these perspectives better in the future.


Thanks for your posts, Vince's and all the others I cannot name at the moment.  It really is a fascinating topic and there are lots of great people on this site.

Zeno's paradoxes are not actually paradoxical. They are just mental exercises, but require a false premise.

For example, in order to leave the room, you must first walk half way to the door. The half of the rest of the way, and so forth... meaning you cannot leave the room.

But that isn't what we do, now is it? We do not reduce ourselves to the size of quarks in order to chase the infinite points between whole numbers. We don't walk half way to the door. We walk all the way to the door and leave... which we prove possible every day.

If you accept the false premise of Zeno's mind game, you will see a paradox, but you'll be wrong of course.

Zeno and your carpenter might get along because they both enjoy uselessly false premises. Again, I didn't say "about two" or "twoish." I said 2.

Notice that when you wish to do your taxes or other accounting, you use a calculator with digits rather than actually counting money. The digits work fine.

How many nostrils do you have? 2.00001? Or 2? How many legs? Arms? Ears? By 2, I mean 2.

BTW, the cup on your desk has moved, but not in relation to your desk which has also moved, but not in relation to the room which has moved, but not in relation to the building or the planet, which has moved...

You still have not demonstrated an example of something that has a property while simultaneously not having the property. And you won't.

Thanks back at you.

I could take the time here to posit responses to each of your points.  And as much as I would LOVE to, I don't want to appear to hijack this thread any more than has already been done.  I've given my opinion as to the question posed.  I've also given many examples of things that have a property while simultaneously not having the property.  So, we regress.


As I've stated, I'm currently looking to get some insight on why people feel a need to pursue absolute certainties; and once they believe they have found them, do often act in extreme ways (such as speaking angrily resolute, authoritarian and condescending toward others.)  But now I'm also gleefully looking to find even one positive incontrovertable proposition.  So, as soon as I can figure out what to do with these swans (can't keep them away from my cup), I will begin a new thread in either the Science or Philosophy Forum.




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