Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I'm behind on virtually everything, since I took some time off to work, and then to recuperate. Plus, it was Canada Day, and there was beer to be drunk, so while I posted, I did not read anything. As a consequence, my reader was pretty full this morning, and much of it is old news.

Same with this, an article by Austin Cline on

Reasons for atheism vary as do how atheists approach religion or theism. One very common response to claims about gods and the supernatural, though, is "we're atheists because you can't support your claims about gods existing." The
primary burden of proof (or support) lies with those alleging that some sort of "god" exists. In the absence of any evidence or successful arguments, some resort to hand-waving and diversionary tactics which give the appearance of "sophisticated" and "deep" thinking, but which is meaningless unless and until there is good reason to think that the foundation of all that thinking — a god — exists.

Underverse writes (via Pharyngula):

Our scientists used to offer us more. They can again if we refuse to accept Hooliganism as an acceptable form of discourse about the world, and our place in it.

This is what the defense of theism and religion has been reduced to: it's "hooliganism" to demand evidence and proof, to dismiss empirical claims that lack any evidence or proof, and to publicly proclaim the vacuity of ideas for which people will nor provide evidence or proof. It might be regarded as pathetic that defenders of theism and religion have fallen so low, but was there really ever any other place to go? The absence of evidence and proof in their discourse has long been a problem. The irrelevancy of the hand-waving and linguistic acrobatics in "sophisticated" theology is recognized even by some theologians. Once outsiders started to put those two together and making a public case about it, there really aren't any other options available.
The topic is a good one, and it made me think, yet again, about the burden of proof that we place on theists (rightly so), and whether or not such a burden is reasonable (hear me out). As an aside, the comments are interesting, too. It doesn't take long for things to get ugly.
Skeptics point out that the burden of proof regarding any claim is on the one making the claim. If you say there's a god, it's up to you to prove it, not to me to prove you wrong. There are dozens of blogs on the topic all over the atheosphere. Find one. I don't feel like linking. This claim is reasonable: theists don't believe me if I say Wolverine is real, and the burden is on me to prove it. Perhaps a less "disrespectful" example is Thor, and he has the added advantage of also being a Marvel Hero.

The problem lies in the fact that atheists, while either making a negative claim or no claim at all, are in the minority. The vast majority of mankind believes in some sort of supernatural power, and so when we claim that there's no evidence, it seems to the theists that we are the ones making the claim that demands proof. In fact, in explaining my position once at a meeting, I pointed out that I hadn't seen any proof of god, and a surprisingly indignant woman retorted, "It's all proof."

I think I know what she meant, and that brings me to my second point. I see a natural world, and see nothing that requires the supernatural. She saw exactly the opposite. So once again, if I may belabour the point, we aren't even having the same fucking discussion. She believes in god, and finds proof all over the place. However, proof for a religious skeptic is a little more extreme than that. I'd need a burning bush, a sea parted or a plague of the death of the firstborn. She (and my wife) needs a cute baby. So our standards of proof are different.

Further, and I'm not 100% sure this even fits here, though it comes from the comments on Cline's article, the fact that god isn't obvious in many ways argues against their belief. They say that it's impossible to prove that god doesn't exist, because we haven't been all over the universe. It apparently never occurs to them that an obscure god hiding behind a nebula is not what they posit, but a big ass-kicker who intervenes on the planet regularly.

And finally, I've said it before, but religion isn't about proof. It's why theists don't understand us when we ask for it, and why what they offer is never good enough. It's also why proving what they believe would negate it and, in essence, make it worthless to them.

The debate is largely pointless. Either they get it or they don't and they don't seem to. It'd make more sense if any religion was at least internally consistent, but I haven't seen one that is. All that proves is that logic is clearly not in the game.

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