Thursday, October 13, 2011

Burden of Proof

Over on the AVClub they've reviewed Dawkins' new book and there was actually some interesting discussion in the comments that (at last reading) didn't even mention "CancerAIDS." I've read very little Dawkins, even though I guess he's supposed to be required reading for the atheist set. I've read (and pretty much enjoyed) The Greatest Show On Earth, and I read a bit of The God Delusion at a friend's house when they weren't looking.

At the time I was reading Delusion, I was hard core agnostic, not soft wibbly atheist like I am now, and I remember being put off by his tone (yeah) and thinking that he was making some faulty assumptions about agnosticism and whatnot. I wonder what I would think if I read it now. I still kind of think of him as a bit of a grumpy old man, but whether he is or not, his arguments ought to be weighed by their merit, not by whether or not we like him as a person. I'm shying away from him just now as some of his comments regarding sexism, for example, turn me off, and there are plenty of other atheists online and in print that I can read instead.

Anyway, in the comments of the review a discussion about atheism and faith came up and some of the remarks really helped me to crystalize some of my thoughts about why I shouldn't believe in god. One commenter insisted that if god is outside of reality, then science can't really address this god, and should leave him alone. I mean, if god is outside or "meta" real, then we'll never be able to address the idea in a reliable, discriminating way, so it's certainly possible that anyone's ideas about god, the afterlife, etc are true, so why can't the militant atheists lay off? The nature of the supernatural is outside of science's purview, so hands off!

But, okay, we can't know, we'll never know, so it must therefore be true and possible?

I can't accept that anymore. Because, well, if we can't know anything about God, then everything we say about God is, by definition, made up. Sure, it's possible that God is what we think it is, but without being able to test our claims, this possibility is basically identical to every single other possible idea, from the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to the Orbitting Tea Cup, to the God Who Really Likes The Colour Greyish Green and Wants Us All To Enjoy Tea As Much As Possible. We can say that God is Love, we can dance through a bunch of philosophical hoops, and that's all well and good, but if the argument is that God is outside reality, that we'll never be able to measure in any way what God is, then it might as well be a made up fairy tale for all the good it does us.

Now, if there is a God who affects our universe, then science can, maybe not now, but theoretically test these claims. If that's the case, then the burden of proof rests with the theists, and they have to show their work. Otherwise, they're kind of just playing make-believe, aren't they?

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