Truth and Belief
Let us analyse the fundamental problem of all disputes between theists and atheists – the problem of god’s existence. The starting point is quite simple, because there are only two possibilities: either a god exists or he does not. It is evident that if one prooves that a god exists, it is not necessary to prove that it is not true that a god does not exist and vice versa, since both statements are equivalent. We are thus facing a well-posed question: which one of the two statements, “a god exists” and “no god exists”, is true. Quite different is the question which proof is easier and in disputes the most important question is who should prove what.
The fool says in his heart: There is no god. The wise man says it to the world.
Psalm 14, 1 and Anonymous author
Let us now note the standpoint of believers. They admit quite openly that they just believe in god’s existence, that they are not going, or are not able to prove it, but they are blaming atheists that they do not prove god’s nonexistence, so that they equally just believe that god does not exist. They are thus committing a logical fallacy the origin of which I have just shown: they have not noticed that to prove god’s existence is exactly equivalent to prove its nonexistence (just with the opposite result). Believers thus blame infidels that they have not decided between the two above mentioned alternatives. In still another words, they blame atheists that the latter have not taken troubles to find out the truth about the god’s existence as if they have not seen that they themselves did not take it either! They pretend as if it were not their task to find out whether or not a god exists, they make the seeming as if this would be exclusively the task for atheists! They are quite satisfied by their belief in god’s existence but atheists, in their view, are not allowed simply to believe that god does not exist! Where this discrimination comes from? I admit that believers have chosen an extremely convenient position in the dispute: they do not prove anything and blame others for the same thing. We could tell them that they do not have any right to blame atheists if they behave in the same way. This would, however, be extremely unfair to atheists – we would thus raise believers to the level of atheists. But actually, not atheists are those who have to prove god’s nonexistence but only and exclusively theists have to prove that any god exists!
Logical status of god is namely exactly the same as this of a snowman, UFO or Loch Ness monster. All the three examples may be used to illustrate that it is much easier to prove existence of something than to prove its nonexistence. If someone would manage to catch just one individual of a snowman, put it into a cage in a zoo, where it could be viewed, observed and investigated by anybody, the existence of a snowman would be proven without any doubt. But how can one prove that the snowman does not exist? Should we explore all mountains on all the continents, should we go into all the valleys and caves? If we do not find him (it) despite all our efforts, this may still simply mean that we were not looking for him sufficiently hard or that he was able to hide from us! To prove the existence of a snowman is much, much easier than to prove his nonexistence. The same holds for UFO, Loch Ness monster – but also for god! Why, then, believers ask atheists to produce much more demanding proof of god’s nonexistence when they themselves do not propose much easier argument for god’s existence, but instead they are satisfied with just believing in his existence? Atheists do not have the slightest interest in disproving god’s existence. They will be pleased to wait for the proof of god’s existence furnished by theists. But two thousand years of waiting is a pretty long time to doubt that some proof appears at all.
Maybe I could note here that arguments in favor of god’s existence from miracles, biblical accounts and fulfilled prophecies have much lower value than arguments in favor of yeti from unclear tracks in snow, excrements, broken branches and so on, because the latter are at least objectively observable. Believers will cheerfully agree that such arguments are not sufficient to prove the existence of yeti. They, however, somehow do not see that their “arguments” in favor of god (or virgin Mary) from places like Fatima, Litmanova or Mezhdugorie are much more miserable than those traces in snow.
I will now show that actually not the infidels are those who are obligated to prove (with great difficulties) that god does not exist, but the exact opposite is true – the sworn duty of believers is to prove that god exists. In order that I make it more comprehensible also to less receptive ones I will give an example (parable) from law practice, which should be understandable to everyone. If a prosecutor accuses a person of committing a criminal act, it is up to the prosecutor to prove it, not the accused one should prove that he is innocent. The lawyers denote this in their slang by saying that “the burden of the proof lies with the prosecutor”. If you would not understand why, imagine your hard life having a vital enemy (for example a bored pensioner bubbling over with health) hurling sues at you, and you (e. g. a shift working engine driver) would have to stay every day before the court and prove your innocence.
What is the logical essence of this parable? The fact that someone does not kill others, is a natural initial state (no bloodthirsty newborns scramble from mother’s loins with automatic guns in their hands). It does not require any reason. That is why nobody has to prove that he was not killing. A man who was killing has radically changed with respect to his past as well with respect to other people. There had to be some reason for such change and the prosecutor is the one who has to prove that the person has changed so much. The prosecutor is namely claiming that a particular person has committed something which people do not usually do. That is why he has to prove it and not ask that the person proves the contrary. How could an innocent man after all prove his innocence?
The same is the case with god’s existence. The natural starting-point of our conception of the world is what is shown by our senses and by the science dependent on their information. Our senses do not show us any miracles, dead bodies escaping tombs, blinds instantly gaining sight, railway wagons disappearing before our very eyes. Our senses show us a relatively predictably behaving nature, the change between day and night, stones falling always downwards, never upwards. Our experience does not tell us anything about intentions of invisible creatures which do not manifest themselves in any ways. Nothing in our everyday experience, nor in results – not even assumptions – of science forces us to imagine a world governed by a god. The god’s existence can be therefore at most a hypothesis (I do not know by what reasons called to life), and it would be proper at least to try to prove such a hypothesis.
Rich experience with believers has taught me a lesson that one has to submit enormous number of proofs to them, because to any proof they do not have rational objections, but emotional aversion. This should not worry me, because if one does not accept one logical argument, he will not accept evidently ten of them, either; but it is not my intention to persuade believers, I would rather equip with arguments eventual victims of their persuasive efforts so that they will learn how to defend themselves. That is why I will give another variant of the argument of the previous paragraph.
Imagine that we would today randomly sample a hundred of newborn babies and continue raising them without any contact with religion during the twenty forthcoming years; we would, however, allow their contact with anything else. This is, of course, not possible, but such situation represents a kind of thought experiment. According to my experience, these children would grow within twenty years into young people without the slightest need in any idea of god, people who would not feel any vacuum to be filled by any religion. This my view is supported by the vast majority of any population, in which even those who are declaring themselves as believers, represent people with extremely indifferent attitude to religion. Their “belief” is only formal one and is being completely exhausted by occassional visits to churches. If you do not believe me, listen to any sermon and you will learn that the only thing to which the priests appeal is the need to deepen the belief of their sheep.
And now imagine the day when this 20 years long restriction is lifted and our hundred is flung on by a herd of evangelizers of all possible denominations. Do you think the latter will succeed with them? What can they explain to the young people today, using the hypothesis of god, what can they offer them? Nothing! The reason for stressing that the experiment should be carried today, is that two thousand years ago the answer would not be that unambiguous. At those dark times people knew really very little about the nature, they explained epilepsy and mental illnesses as the result of posession by devils, freezing of water by the direct intervention of god (Job 38, 28-30) and even the life of steppe animals was a mystery for them (Job 39, 1-2). But today one cannot stun anybody by such knowledge. Science is capable of answering much more questions than an average man will pose during his whole lifetime. The religion survived only due to continuity of upbringing since ancient times and because science does not have the slightest reason to answer the senseless question about the meaning of Universe and life, origin of evil and morality (which are in their turn kept alive again only thanks to religious traditions).
But that is the initial state of a man whom one should give reasons for accepting religious belief, not the historically conditioned state of a society in which ancient views are artificially kept alive! This is the starting point for evangelizers which are asking the (mis)leading question, whether we are looking for a god. Why should we concern ourselves with such a naive problem? Man should not know anything about god under normal evolution of society. People take religion seriously only because it has survived at all, equally as they are distressed only by the diseases which are not yet fully eradicated. If religion would not exist today, it will never come to existence again! Precisely in this sense nothing forces us even to ponder the idea of some god and that is why the believers are those, who are claiming something extremely unusual, what they should very carefully prove and not to rely on the fact that a haphazard evolution of society made them the majority of population.
It seems, however, that believers think that one has to proceed just in the opposite direction and that it is the duty of infidels to produce painstaking proofs that a being, about which the believers themselves do not know anything specific, does not exist. If you would accept such a task you would get immediately into great troubles. First of all, it exceeds human powers to prove that something, which you are unable even to describe coherently and about which you know practically nothing, does not exist. Since you cannot prove the nonexistence of a being you know nothing about, you have to turn to a bit more specific candidates. But then even the major religions of the world furnish them in excess: Yahweh, Christ, Allah, Vishnu, Shiva, Ahura Mazda, Zoroaster, Lakshmi etc. You should take god after god and according to certain criteria (I really do not know which ones) you had to exclude them one by one. Is this the amusement believers have prepared for infidels?
In order that you could not say that I have got rid of you sloppily, I offer another criterion to reason about who should take the burden of proof: the one who claims that exactly one of many (a priori equally probable) possibilities is taking place. If a fool would affirm that he gets number six at every throw of a good dice, he would maintain that only one of six equally possible events happens and that is why he had to explain why this is so and why he never gets the other five outcomes. Have you understood this? Restriction of equally probable a priori possibilities requires the proof from the one stating that this reduction will happen. Who affirms that any number can appear, does not have to prove anything, because his claim does not exclude any of the possibilities. By the way, from this it is also evident that not everything has to be proved and that there are relatively good criteria for deciding what has to be proved (and by whom). The theorem of Pythagoras, for example, is being proved because it ascertains that the sum of squares above catheti of a rectangular triangle is not an arbitrary area but exactly the area of a square above the hypothenuse. The Pythagoras’ theorem, as any decent mathematical theorem, reduces the apriori possibilites and that is why it has to be proved. Any true statement is interesting precisely because it restricts the number of possibilities. Gaining the knowledge about the world during individual human life (ontogenesis) stands on gradual learning of what is not possible. For a baby everything is possible (living toys, fairies, devils, witches, conjured girls, transformations of animals to humans and vice versa), the world of a (rational) adult is already substantially deprived of possibilities. (Have you noticed that for a toddler the departure of mother to another room means her annihilation and that is the cause of the cry? It takes considerable time till the child learns that the mother uses to return from behind the door.)
Let me give still the last example (I loathe using the word “parable” in this case), namely from physics. We do not need to prove that a resting body, with no force acting on it, will remain in the state of rest (this constitutes the contents of the Newton’s first law, which is actually not being proved). Why the body should start moving and mainly how and in which direction? There is an infinity of all possible movements, but the state of rest is only one, there are no different “rests” as there are different movements. A body with no force acting upon it will not start moving exactly because it has infinitely many possibilities where to move, but without action of a force there is no cause for the “choice” of a specific one of them.
If I am claiming that a body – staying up till now in rest – will move in the next moment, I have to tell where it will move and that is why I have to prove that there is a cause for the motion exactly in this direction. The burden of the proof resides here on me only because I am narrowing all the possible future states of the body. However, the one, who claims that the body will not start moving, has nothing to prove, because his claim does not reduce any of the possibilities. But we have no right either to say about him, that he just believes this. No, he is right a priori. He has truth which does not require any proof! Yes, there are such truths – they are called axioms – but their choice is not arbitrary. I think, this is enough. I have given a sufficient number of examples for everyone. I am not going to think instead of you.
The same applies, however, to the god’s existence. Do not have yourself misled by theologians – it is not true that there are only two possibilities: one god, or no god. If you reject the possibility of one god, you are left with all sorts of alternatives: the negation of a statement is namely its complement, not its opposition. If you discover that something is not black, it does not mean immediately that it is white (opposition) – it can be of any color (complement). Refutation (and thus a compliment) of a conception of no god represents all possible conceptions of the world with arbitrary number of gods, ghosts, angels, devils; all possible and impossible religions, monotheistic and polytheistic, because all the religions deny the nonexistence of a god and they all are refuting this single alternative. The assertion that there is only one god (monotheism) is indeed a result of theological speculations which come only after the rejection of the view that there is no god at all. A believer in our region thus claims that he has chosen, from a great number of possibilities (religions), exactly the possibility of only one god with specific properties (which define him as a concrete god) and that is why he is obliged to prove his claim, which narrows all the possibilities. A nonbeliever is not saying anything about existence of any gods and that is why he has nothing to prove. He is right a priori, his truth needs no proof!
Since this represents a rather serious issue, we should examine it also from another side. The claim that no god exists, is not a claim in which god would appear. This assertion is not analogical to the statement that no tigers live in Brooklyn. In the latter statement we know what tigers are and we affirm that those well-defined animals do not occur there (but one can find them quite well elsewhere). But god is even not well-defined!
Or still in other words: the claim “I believe that god exists” means that in my mind there is an idea of the Universe in which a crucial role is played by the idea of god. The statement “I do not believe in god’s existence” means that in my mind there is even no idea of god. The mind of atheist contains only the idea of Universe. But a believer deceives himself if he thinks to be able to imagine the god in the Universe. He is not capable of that and that is the reason why one speaks so much about god’s invisibility, omnipresence, and about so many mysteries connected with his existence.
And thirdly, the claim about existence of god does not answer the question where the god is; it is the answer to the question what exists outside of us. A believer answers the question by stating that (also) god exists there, an atheist does not even mention any god in his answer. Think about it a bit deeper. This is probably the deepest thought which can be formulated about god’s (non)existence!
I have thus shown that the task of proving god’s existence rests on believers, not on atheists. The standpoint of the latter is quite natural, it requires no proof at all, equally as the first law of Newton. Atheism is the natural initial axiom which could be refuted only by a positive proof of existence of a god, in the same way as the existence of a snowman could be easily proved by finding a single individual of such a creature.
But what does a long history of philosophy and theology demonstrate? Only the fact that nobody has ever proven existence of god. Believers are even proud of their belief without any proof – they consider it to be of special merit before their god. And I think they behave reasonably, because a proof of god’s existence, refuting the atheist axiom will never appear, equally as nobody will find a physical counterexample, disproving the first law of Newton.
This situation is even more miserable for believers: even if somebody would prove the existence of some abstract god, he would do too little on behalf of defence of a specific belief. The belief in “some” god is the attribute of most major world religions so that if we would “prove” god’s existence, e. g. with the help of Aristotle’s “proof” from the first mover, it would left us in doubt about what we have actually proven. The god could be namely a god of Jews, Christians, Moslims, Hinduists – actually any god. But Christians cannot surely feel comforted with such a result, because the purpose of their missionary efforts is to persuade pagans that only the Christian god is the true one. So that even if the existence of an abstract god could be proven, one would be left with the necessity to prove also that the given god has specific properties declared about a god by a specific creed – for example that his son was disowned by certain St. Peter three times before the cock crowed, once even before a pitiful serving maid.
No wonder that contemporary situation of Catholicism is so awkward as is illustrated by the fundamental work of the Catholic dogmatics, Catechism of the Catholic Church. There we find, e. g. such a lamentable statement: “The person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of “converging and convincing arguments”, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth.” (§ 31). Only three such “converging and convincing arguments” follow, pale echos of five classical “proofs” of Thomas Aquinas, renowned for their irrelevance. (Their easy disproof is given by Bertrand Russell in his essay Why I am not a Christian.)
The Catechism has reduced those former pillars of theology to vacuous phrases. Let me cite an example: “Starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world’s order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe.” (§ 32). In this sentence I do not understand at all what role in recognition of god plays beauty (my supremely subjective emotion), nor what for content can the expression “the end of the universe” have at all?
In my opinion it is worth mentioning that Christians have not even defined the notion of god up to the present time. The “definition” from credo – “the maker of heaven and earth” is an evident tautology. Do you not believe this? Then try to answer the question, who created heaven and earth? You should get the answer: “Heaven and earth was created by the creator of heaven and earth”. But I have not found any better definition in the above mentioned Catechism. Its index does not even contain “god” as a separate entry! This is really strange when compared to the occurence of such circumstantial notions as “bishop”, “charity”, “demography”, “virtue”, … But when the notion of god is not even properly defined, how can one expect that somebody is about to prove or disprove the existence of such undefined entity?
I hope I was able to demonstrate that precisely the believers are those who should urgently try to prove the god’s existence (but they do not even try to do this) and that it is quite clear that infidels do not have the slightest logical reason to prove its nonexistence. The infidels simply claim that the nonexistence of a god is a quite natural initial axiom which does not require any proof, approximately as there is no need (or even possibility) to prove the nonexistence of yeti. One cannot, however, arrive from this at an accusation that they “only believe” in god’s nonexistence, equally as the claim, that the first law of Newton does not require any proof, cannot be abused to accuse the physicists that they “only believe” in classical mechanics.
From all this I draw a very simple conclusion. The Catholic church had two thousand years to prove at least that its god exists at all. Instead of this, it was losing the time by meticulous reasonings what would follow from the fact that the god’s existence would be certain. At last it perfectly forgot about this original fundamental problem and nowadays (some of) its apologists require infidels to prove the god’s nonexistence and threaten that if the latter will not succeed in this, their failure will prove that god exists. I believe that I was able to persuade the thinking reader that such a policy is turned upside down – at least from the viewpoint of (completely informal) logic.
Responses are expected at my address.
god, existence, nonexistence, definition, believer, theist, atheist, infidel, catholic church, proof, law, belief, logic, axiom, Newton, snowman, yeti, UFO, Loch Ness, credo, catechism