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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Cane, you don't agree because the axioms you are reasoning from are demonstrably incorrect, which you refuse to address. You simply reassert your incorrect axioms.


And if an identity can be shown to be logically impossible, then the thing referred to by the identity cannot exist. Period. Some other, perhaps very similar, thing can exist, but not the one shown to be impossible. It is strictly illogical to assert that having a "wrong" identity doesn't preclude the existence of the thing referred to. A "wrong" identity is a reference to a different thing. An impossible identity is impossible.

And over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

A very astute reply to my argument, but one must be careful.  There are two traps here. The first is defining a logical impossibility.  For instance, take the statement "there are no invisible blue monkeys."  A negative statement for sure, and false absolutely, since being invisible prevents the monkey from being blue by definition.  But have I "proven" anything.  There is no argument to be had, and no balance of evidence to be weighed.  We have not proven anything, the statement falsifies itself.

The second trap is bounding the domain.  If a friend of ours tells us he is afraid of all the large invisible gorillas roaming about, how are we to prove they do not exist?  I'll leave that for further argument, but we can certainly give our friend a secure place to sit by restricting the domain.  We tell him "There are no large invisible gorillas that I can feel sitting in this comfy chair over here."  Now we've proven a negative statement, but only in regards to one chair.  Our friend still has a problem with the kitchen and outdoors.

There is no way to prove a negative. You can prove with the scientific method that something is in all likely hood that it exists, but you cannot determine that something does not exist. I cannot determine that God does not exist due to lack of evidence toward his existence because lack of evidence does not mean that there is not evidence not yet found.


If you like, you can talk about reasonable doubt, but what that really means is do you believe or not. You believe there is no God, I believe in the tooth fairy, and Christians believe in life after death. Belief requires no evidence. Have fun people!!!

indeed. one can prove a science
there's no proof of god

ever. sorry.. meanwhile in realityville
loosen up world:

What does it mean?

Hello Drake Everren,

I have been talking about evidence, belief, knowledge, truth, and logic. 


You have added the terms evaluation, decision-making, dogma, and data.


Does data=knowledge or does data=evidence. You have used both meanings I think. Data is memories that we recall which I assume is knowledge, and data is things that act on our senses.


I agree with your definition of belief.

"Belief" is merely the recognition that you have previously made evaluations on a topic (with the data available at that time) and is only relevant as a 'sunk investment' of effort.

Here is what I think decision-making is: The process or method of coming to a belief of whether something is true or not.


I agree that as you gain more evidence, you need to again go through the process you used to convince yourself of whether something is still true or not. I think that process can be called decision-making. 


"Dogma" is a word that describes how the "knowledge" is gained by only using the tool, logic. I contend that you only gain belief using logic, but no knowledge. Knowledge requires evidence. Belief does not require evidence.


I think we are on the same page for most things, but where we part company is how our definition of knowledge is applied.


To believe the identity of something, you need evidence that that something exists. Once you gain that belief, you can use your decision-making process to determine if it is true. When you gain this belief, you can believe you have knowledge, but you really have a belief the knowledge exists.


Can you say that knowledge is the results of the decision-making process to determine if something is true? The result is belief in that something's truth. Is that knowledge? Or is knowledge the memories formed when reaching a decision?


What is knowledge? Does it really require evidence?

These more thorough definitions are better, I think I can relate them to how I approach it more clearly now:


While "evaluation" and "belief" are very close, the key distinction is that "evaluation" only refers to the results of examining something, while "belief" refers to the evaluation itself as an entity. The functional difference is that many evaluations may be merged into one result (as with experiments contributing to a theory), but every belief is distinct in form (so you have many sects of religion). 


I would also say that "data" refers to collected knowledge, but does not include predictions or anticipatory knowledge which can arise from evaluations. "Evidence" is data which is contextually valid to a specific question or method of questioning. For example, particle collision data is evidence for physics, but irrelevant to criminal psychology; conversely, indications of intent are evidence for criminal psychology but irrelevant to physics.  


From this, I can say that beliefs (evaluations as entities) can never be evidence (relevant data) because they do not qualify as collected knowledge. Evaluations (the results) either organize data or indicate how new data can be acquired, both of which can lead to evidence. "Logic" represents the system of constraints implicit to the structural source of data which may be used in evaluations to identify where new data can be found. If the data source is not relevant (it wasn't evidence to begin with), then logic applied to it will not produce evidence.


And that's the root of my argument for how you can prove a negative statement: data can't disprove what it doesn't contain (the problem of exhaustive searches), but logic applied to data can tell you what it cannot contain (incompatible elements)-- so you know that it cannot be found at all, regardless of whether you search for it. This is distinctly different from extrapolation (which is only suggestive) because it's like saying "The box is full; nothing else can fit." That knowledge about the data you possess is, itself, data that can be used as evidence. 


I consider 'truth', in its traditional sense, to be an inapplicable term. All data is some form of knowledge-- the challenge is determining if it's relevant knowledge (evidence). While the term 'truth' can still be useful in casual discussion within an agreed context, it becomes utterly useless in philosophy or any other intellectually-rigorous application.


And lastly, your selected connotation on "dogma" doesn't match up with how I was applying it. I would consider "1c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds" to be much more accurate for this discussion, since 1b seems to require a social context for belief (which we have not been using). The basic premise of slipping into dogma is that you ignore data which threatens the grounds of your prior evaluations to avoid the effort of re-examining the topic.

I agree that evaluation is different than belief. Belief is tied to identity, evaluation is tied to evidence. Evidence is that which acts on one or more of our 5 senses. Evaluation is a method to reach a belief. A belief is the result of deciding that an evaluation is valid. Another way to say the previous sentence is: A belief is forming an identity and deciding it is valid. An identity is just a definition to describe what is believed. 


I agree with your usage of evidence and data. I contend that predictions are beliefs, not knowledge.

But I contend that applying logic to data, equates to my definition of belief.

Side Note: There are up to 16 human senses, more senses found in other organisms, and no clear agreement on how to classify them, so I'd avoid restricting it to only 5 senses.


To narrow this down, I think that you have oversimplified your approach to logic by clumping its products into a single category, then classified the entire group as "beliefs" by evaluating only one subset, predictions. I think I can highlight the distinction you missed by borrowing some database terminology:


Logic, in general, in used to generate metadata using the regular data we collect. As I described before, you can learn two things from this: how data is organized, or where new data can be acquired. These correspond to structural metadata and descriptive metadata (also called metacontent).


Scientific theories, most philosophy, and all forms of prediction are types of structural metadata; they reflect how data structures are built, and can stand without reference to any collected data (they are effectively a priori in nature). The general results are possibility (could be), necessity (must be), or contradiction (can't be). Contradictions represent malformed concepts and cannot correspond to any possible evidence, but all possibilities require confirmatory evidence. 


As you determined, all structural metadata qualifies as "belief" in this discussion and cannot be used as evidence. 


Metacontent, on the other hand, follows directly and causally from existing data such that metacontent qualifies as embedded data. Nearly all metacontent is some form of positional index based on the relative arrangements of data within a set. Common examples are a library catalog, human memory, or contents pages, all of which represent data sequences by spatial, temporal, or numeric ordering.


The argument I provided for proving a negative statement relies on metacontent, specifically by identifying contradictory overlap. Essentially, given a theoretical new piece of data, you can determine where in data arrangement it could fit (possibility), but if that position is already filled then it has been pre-empted by other data (contradiction). So the key twist is that this approach uses embedded data to identify contextual contradictions, which can be found a posteriori with partial knowledge but never by a priori analysis.


So the problem I see is that you assumed all applications of logic follow the traditional a priori method to produce structural metadata, which very clearly leads to beliefs. But this is a non-traditional approach which uses the metacontent within evidence to exclude pre-empted possibilities (i.e., negative statements).


So it comes to this: how can embedded data not be considered evidence when it is contained within and inseparable from evidence? Any functional distinction between the two would appear to be totally arbitrary and unsustainable, so an exclusion by metacontent should be interchangeable with a confirmation by regular data.

Logical proof is not my definition of proof. Proof to me is having a body of evidence sufficient to convince people of its existence. If you use my definition, you cannot have proof of nonexistence.

I am using this definition of data (I use the word evidence):


: information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful


I am using this definition of knowledge:


b (1) : the fact or condition of being aware of something (2) : the range of one's information or understanding <answered to the best of my knowledge>


I think we are using this definition of Dogma:



a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet


I am using this definition of belief:



: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing




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