Let's put this common refrain to rest~ something that I hear all the time in arguments concerning religion.  It goes something like this:

" Remember, you can't prove a negative!"

Really people?

This has become much more common, especially in the arguments amongst Atheists and agnostics concerning certainty, and it really puzzles me how people can be skeptical and free-thinkers, yet take to an idea so easily and not question it.  I will elaborate on this a little more once I have the time, but let me start all of those "can't prove a negative" types off with a question~ " I am not sitting at my desk."  Thats a negative claim.  Are you telling me that there is no way to confirm or disprove that?

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The magician case highlights the fundamental problem with relying solely on witnesses: it could, quite literally, be completely imagined without any intention from the witness to deceive. I would think the best way to be certain it's a physical memory is if there are unknowns in it; a smell, sound, color, etc. that the individual can't match up against their experiences well, so they can remember it strongly but are unable to describe it by analogy. Since mentally-generated memories are inherently constructed from other memories, such a gap indicates a foreign, external element. So while you can obtain indirect evidence this way, it's often much more efficient to simply search for direct physical evidence.


Side note: I'd only apply mental/physical to a posteriori experiences since there is no a priori data collection.


Religious beliefs originating from synthetic a priori knowledge would result in something like Spinoza's Monism, where his attempts to understand the structure of existence lead to the conclusion that the universe must be underlaid and synonymous with a necessary God.


That's not how most people approach it. Most people acquire religious beliefs through physical-social experiences as a member of a religious community, bonding with other worshipers and being accepted into the group. The general data class for religious faith would then be physical, analytic a posteriori (the personal religious identity), while their religious beliefs (rituals, behaviors of God, etc.) would be physical, synthetic a posteriori ("If I have this faith, then I must believe..."). 


Most philosophy deals with a priori analysis, so nothing Spinoza ever wrote would affect someone's sense of belonging in a religious community. Science is primarily about collecting physical analytic a posteriori data (the identity of what is and how it's put together), so it overlaps with religious faith, but not the dependent religious beliefs. Deductive arguments about human choice, etc. can overlap with beliefs, but not the primary faith.


So this would suggest two primary routes to shaking religious beliefs:

"How could ____ be allowed to exist in this world?" (contradiction of faith, despite beliefs)
"How can those people believe such things?" (isolation from community, then belief failure)


Philosophic arguments would only appear to hold sway for other philosophers trying to build a priori frameworks. Philosophy can still demonstrate contradictions which can undercut the a posteriori experiences, but it lacks the means to build faith.

I reread the post above many times and can say I understand a little. I agree with your assessment about how most people approach religion.

"Most philosophy deals with a priori analysis,..." This is something I have learned from discussing proof of no god, but no one would say it quite like this quoted phrase.

I have a better appreciation for philosophy. My view of philosophy is this: Like math is a structure for reality, philosophy is a structure of the mind. Though I may not understand the benefits I could gain from philosophy, I have decided that I no longer wish to put forth any more effort to learn about it. The very little I have learned did not alter my belief that knowledge requires evidence and belief does not. We will always disagree on the point of there being proof of a negative, so I quit. I envy you though. You understand science and philosophy. and you choose to use philosophy in addition to science. That may be where I end up, but for now, I feel comfortable with only science.

I have to ask, Why are you trying to prove a negative claim? I think once we get pulled into their crazy of trying to prove that God doesn't exist clearly our own sanity is threatened has we begin to obsess over how to do it. To me if you can't prove the positive that alone proves the negative. The reason I am an Atheist is because I couldn't prove to myself that God existed there isn't a middle ground on this issue he is or he isn't and sometimes you just have to accept that some people actually choose to be crazy because it makes them feel good. It is better to be sane than to have to prove your right all the time, for me.



To me if you can't prove the positive that alone proves the negative.


That's a very strange statement. So if we can't currently prove that alien life exist, that proves it does not exist? We can't yet prove that the Higgs Boson exists, so that is proof that it does not exist?

Clearly this is not the case.


The inability to prove a positive does not imply the negative. Not at all. To forget that difference is a fallacy.


Kind regards,




Thank-you, in the same token though since I can't prove to you that fairies exist and you cannot prove that they do not, then should we waste time on the debate. The point is this plainly put. If your making a claim it is up to you to prove it. It is not my responsibility to disprove it. How can you disprove something that has not been determined to be real? The fact that it cannot be proven indeed implies it to be false. I also don't believe in aliens either and won't until I see evidence(valid) that they are real. Some things are simple to understand.That being stated does not apply to things which can be tested and then proven through testing.Beliefs that only exist in a persons head cannot be tested, because they are made up.



If your making a claim it is up to you to prove it. It is not my responsibility to disprove it. How can you disprove something that has not been determined to be real?


I agree with all that. What I do not agree with is the implication that unless we can prove a positive, the debate is therefore "a waste of time" - or worse, that it actually proves the negative.


I had hoped the example of the Higgs Boson would have set a framework. This is a hypothetical particle which - just a few years ago - we had absolutely no way of verifying it to exist or not. Nobody could prove its existence, and nobody could prove the opposite (naturally). Does that mean we should have seen that debate as a waste of time? Of course not. In fact we spend billions of dollars building a particle accelerator to help us come to a point where it could perhaps be proven.


Some questions are very much worth investigating, regardless of whether we can currently prove the positive or the negative.


"The fact that it cannot be proven indeed implies it to be false."


There's a slight language duality at work here. There's a difference between claims which cannot currently be proven, and claims which could not possibly be proven true. It's hard what to think of the second class, but suffice it to say that the God claim is not in there: clearly the existence of a God could be proven if it actually existed.


And again, for years we could not prove the existence of the Higgs Boson. And in fact we still can't (though we're getting closer). But had we given up our investigations or seen it as a waste of time, we'd be much intellectually poorer for it.


Kind regards,



Matt again to me the God claim is a false belief that only exists in the minds of those who believe in it. Therefore to argue about it is foolish, except when that belief affects us as a whole and even in that scenario you simply point to its harm and stand against the harm. I am referring only in this case to God claims. To me it is just as foolish if you and I were debating about the existence of the tooth fairy.




clearly the existence of a God could be proven if it actually existed. Your words my point exactly. Matt this is my view and although most say they cannot say with certainty that God is not real I do. The reason being that the teaching about God is his desire to know us and we have been searching and he is not there. It is not a matter of developing the right technology to discover where he's been hiding. The truth is simple He has never been.




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