from Martin S Pribble

"The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike." Delos Banning McKown

This quote has been appearing on Twitter from numerous accounts with the hashtags "#atheism #air" appended to the ending. This does one thing, and it's not in favour of the intended or original meaning or context of the quote. What it illustrates is that atheists should be  very careful with the words they choose to try and illustrate their points. In this case, it is quite obvious that the theist who appended the "#air" hashtag to the tweet is pointing out the error in this quote as an ally of the atheist standpoint. Using a logical fallacy, the fact that air is invisible, and yet exists, therefore God could exist (or even "MUST exist") because God too is invisible.

We know that many things that are not directly visible do exist, such as gravity, x-rays, and of course air, and the defence of the existence of these phenomena is testable and verifiable by experimentation, observation and testing. But this does nothing to add to the argument of disproof of a God, or gods.

We can then extend this flawed viewpoint to include any phenomenon such as "Russell's Teapot", or Carl Sagan's "Invisible Dragon" from The-Demon Haunted World, and we can point out that just because something could exist, doesn't mean it does exist. To quote Carl Sagan:

"...what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true."

Sagan's words are much stronger than McKown's, and much better illustrate the self-same point. And while McKown's statement is a statement of truth, it is a weaker standpoint, and can be flipped over on it's head to support a theist's view, even if it is just to add enough doubt in the reader's/listener's mind to allow for the possibility.

While this logic from the theist/deist is flawed (i.e. "everything that is invisible could exist" by this standpoint) it does point out that if we as atheists want to be taken seriously, we must think out our points carefully, and think through exactly how this can be interpreted by our readers/listeners.

If we don't make our points clear and without easy rebuttal, then our credibility as commentators can be damaged. Also, the audience will not be convinced by a weak argument, rather they might even be pushed farther away from a rational viewpoint.


from Martin S Pribble

Views: 727

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 30, 2011 at 6:57pm
A good message and well formed.  Thanks for the good advice and the good read.
Comment by Morgan Matthew on March 31, 2011 at 12:10am
I agree, featured.

Comment by Lee Davis on March 31, 2011 at 11:16am
It makes more sense to me if I think of "invisible" as a synecdoche. Things are literally visible because of their interaction with light and the light's interaction with our retinas and our brains. In that literal sense, gravity is invisible. But gravity certainly has effects that can be observed and registered in our brains. The same is true of sound, temperature, radio waves, magnetism, and lots of other things that actually do exist. Gods are invisible, and so in that literal sense they are like gravity. But unlike gravity, gods don't interact with the physical world in any way that can be registered in our brains. The statement makes more sense if "invisible" means that which does not interact with the physical world in any way that can be perceived. That's not an unreasonable reading of it, I think.
Comment by Will Sloan on March 31, 2011 at 2:31pm

Good post! I'm breathing some god in my lungs right now... it feels amazing. Oh wait, that's air. Never mind. Almost got spiritual for a second. Whew!

Comment by Monica McGee (Monicks) on March 31, 2011 at 5:37pm

We've been discussing this for a few days, Marty. We are on the exact same page on this subject. Ours is a tough sell, we need the strongest arguments possible when dealing with the delusional.  

It's not that theists could validly disprove this particular argument, but it could be confusing for the rest, especially those sitting on the fence.

Thanks for cross-posting this, and congrats on the featuring of your post. Well done!

Comment by M on March 31, 2011 at 8:56pm
My sister actually pulled that one on me before: "The wind is invisible, yet we know it exists.  Isn't it the same with god?"  And I gave her the scientific explanation for wind and how it can be tested and verified, which leaves god...  where?  Good post!


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