Monday, October 17, 2016

Toward A Strong Atheism

For modern atheists in America, most take "atheism" to mean simply lack of belief in gods. This may be distinguished as "weak" atheism here, with the "strong" atheism being belief that no gods exist. However, in philosophy, atheism is defined solely as the "strong" variety. "Weak" atheism would be classed as a type of skepticism. Regardless, in this post I will refer to the view as strong atheism so it can be distinguished from the more common view of American atheists.

The reason for atheism to be defined as lack of belief in gods, and not belief gods do not exist, is said to be either (from atheists) because disbelief is the default position, or null hypothesis or (by theists) to escape any burden of proof. No matter who is right (and both can be correct in different cases) it seems to me a "strong" atheism is viable. Many philosophers have of course defended this since, as I said, atheism is defined that way in philosophy. More specifically, the belief God (as defined by classical theism-a being that is all powerful, all good, all wise and so on) does not exist.

It may surprise many atheists that there are many arguments against the existence of God. They are generally only familiar with arguments for God's existence. Yet while the strategy of only making counterarguments and thus declaring the case for God unproven can suffice, sound arguments that show God does not exist have an even stronger effect. For if the attributes given to God are more than just unproven, but also logically incompatible, then God cannot exist.

I do not think that atheists (for whatever reason) should shy away from holding the position that not only is God not proven, but he does not exist. The philosophical case for this can be and has been made. Philosophical or "strong" atheism is a better position to take, given its firmer and more solid approach. There is no need to settle for God simply being unproven. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence

Carl Sagan claimed that "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". From what I gather, it was in reply to people who claimed that lacking evidence for alien life meant this didn't exist. Much as I respect Sagan, however, his claim is wrong. Lack of evidence is evidence that something is not there, it is just not proof. This may seem to be a semantic issue regarding what evidence and proof mean. Nonetheless, it seems to me that being clear in our terminology is very important. Much as in the similar slogan "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" which I examined in my last post (one Sagan also used) a confusion in our terms renders these hopelessly subjective and thus useless.

Evidence means something that tends to prove or disprove, or that grounds a belief. Proof on the other hand is evidence sufficient to establish that something is true, or produce such a belief. Thus, lack of evidence for aliens doesn't prove they don't exist. It does however tend in the direction. Of course a believer in aliens may certainly have some evidence for them as well. We must weigh any evidence for or against this. Often we do not have proof, or at least none which is strong. Therefore, though absence of evidence is not proof of absence, it is evidence of absence. A difference between these is real, and as is said, makes all the difference. They should not be confused in this way.