A fellow atheist posed a series of questions to me the other day and I'm trying to land on the best answer. Basically, he asked the boolean question "is there a god". 

From the standpoint of "is there a God", where God is defined to be any god defined by previous religions, then I'm comfortable in responding with a definitive no, since these gods can pretty much be shown not to exist either by science or by showing contradiction in their definition. 

However, from a more vague standpoint, one of either "does something like the god I've defined exist" or "does some higher entity with godlike attributes exist", I'm not as comfortable with an absolute no. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe they exist, just like I don't believe in a pink teacup orbiting the sun somewhere between earth and Mars, but I feel that the only answer that is completely honest is "I don't know", since technically I don't know. 

I know we are stumbling into the "proof of a negative" side of things, whereas it's logically sound to deny existence until positive proof arrives, but I wanted everyone's thoughts on this. 

Tags: existence, gods, logic

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I know I’m going to take a lot of heat from my fellow members for this response but I think a former US Secretary of Defense quote could be considered a fitting response to your inquiry…


“T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know”

-Rummy

Interesting! I haven't posted on here in a good while.

1) "I don't know" is an honest answer. But giving such credence to silly things is absurd to me. We don't know about the existence of a trillion and one things but we don't believe them. Think on this: "Harry Potter does not exist." "Ali Baba does not exist." "The planet of ice-cream does not exist." All, from your standpoint, wrong.  

2) If you take a view that everything not specifically disproven therefore has the possibility of existence and requires special recognition of such, you're going to lead a dull life. However, going the short route and dealing only with positive evidence makes things a damn sight easier, and surprisingly, is the default position virtually everyone follows constantly.

3) I think we can prove a negative in that we have looked where believers have looked and found nothing. Further, If the only defence to an existence claim is "you can't prove a negative" then it really shows the weakness of the argument. Take the following: Is the cheese in the fridge or not? We don't know, but you can claim "we can't prove that it isn't" - that is - until we open the fridge and see no cheese : )

1) I'm with you on that. From a practical standpoint it's entirely honest to say no. I'm just looking at this from a purely mathematical perspective (the person who posed this question was a fellow grad student in mathematics) and it got me thinking. 

2) Right - denying anything that has not been proven completely is ridiculous. We may as well deny gravity. 

3) From a purely (again) mathematical sense proving a negative gets a little tricky, but again I'm with you - the complete and utter absence of positive evidence in places it has been claimed to be is enough to disregard the claim. 

Really, this is more of an exercise in thought than anything - don't worry, I'm not going to fall off the rational wagon or anything ;)

Sure, just because you're not comfortable with an "absolute no" to the god question doesn't mean you've fallen off the rational wagon. But even so, I have always wondered what the meaningful difference is between, "There is no god," and, "There is no evidence of god that I have found even remotely convincing"? All just semantic pedantry I suppose!  

Right. The existence of something is a boolean situation: it either is or isn't. Technically answering a positive or negative can imply knowledge one way or the other but which is more academically honest in the case of gods? (no, clearly). And you're right - saying "I don't know" to everything you don't "know" leads to a boring life :).

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