Why does the claim "god exists" require justification while the claim "god does not exist" does not?

This question about the burden of proof, which was addressed here. The problem I had reading the responses was that most of the responders made a point like the following: “You have to justify your claims”. These responses seemed to elide the main point that people both sides of the faith/atheism debate are making claims. Positive atheists claim that god doesn’t exist.

Negative atheists only claim that they don’t believe in god, but isn’t this also a claim that requires just as much justification as belief in god?

Posted: January 30th 2010

flagellant www

I’ve read the previous comments and think they’ve given you a good set of answers. But let’s have another go at this. The different nature of the claims allied to a look at history means that the onus of proof is very definitely on the religiosi.

It is generally held that ‘You can’t prove a negative’, but this is not true in the case of limited systems. If I have a goldfish bowl, I can prove the truth of either proposition: ‘There is a goldfish in the bowl’ or ‘There is no goldfish in the bowl’, (the latter being the negative). However, the matter becomes more complex when we deal with wider and more complex environments. For example, compare ‘There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’ with ‘There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.’ In the first case, we can prove it by finding them; in the second we cannot, because the task is impracticable. One can be more and more certain that the weapons do not exist, as we search for them, and as time goes on, but one can never realistically prove they do not exist.

The ‘god’ question is even more complex: to find her/him/it, one presumably has to look throughout the whole Universe. And the problem is made even more complex by the reliogiosi who make claims that God cannot be seen; that he exists only in an (imaginary) dimension to which we have no access. (How extraordinarily convenient!) Therefore, god’s ‘existence’ can only be inferred, even by fervent believers, because there is no universally acceptable evidence. For atheists, the more we look for evidence of god, the less we find; and the longer the search continues, the greater our certainty that there is no god.

Given the complexity of the situation – like Iraq but much, much ‘worse’ – atheists say it ought to be easy to ‘prove’ god’s existence: show us incontrovertible evidence that s/he/it exists. We say ‘We don’t have to prove that god doesn’t exist; it is up to those who believe to convince us.’

In our everyday lives, we require evidence to believe that something is true. There is so much evidence for evolution, for example, – from a variety of scientific disciplines – that to doubt it is foolhardy. If there were a fraction of the evidence for evolution, pointing to god’s ‘existence’, I’d be convinced out of my ‘weak atheism’. My position, though, is that there’s not the slightest evidence for god and what there is – if we mean real evidence – militates against her/him/it.

In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins lists some of the many reasons given for belief in god; they are all inadequate. Most of them boil down to arguments of the type ‘I feel it in my bones’ and ‘God speaks to me.’ As I have sometimes observed on this site, ‘I felt it in my bones last week that I was going to win the lottery; Mystic Meg said so.’ Well, I didn’t.

It is up to the believers to prove their point to us. They have significantly failed to do this over thousands of years. What they do is invent stuff that’s easily demolished: the bible, prayer, the resurrection story, people ascending to heaven (one even on a winged horse), angels, miracles… all long discredited.

Religion is based on ignorance, not knowledge; plagues, storms, earthquakes, and floods used to be thought of as acts of god – punishments usually – and these events were offered as ‘evidence’ for the intervention of a supernatural entity. Now we know the reasons for these phenomena; one by one religious nostrums are being demolished by advances in scientific knowledge.

Until comparatively recently, the religiosi had the upper hand: what they taught could not be questioned, although it was essentially mumbo jumbo; scientist like Galileo were persecuted for their scientific observations; unbelievers suffered cruelly, too. At last, however, the long dogmatic 'innings’ of unchallenged, respected, and 'status quo’ religion is coming to an end.

We have given you reasons why it is more important for the religiosi to prove the existence of god than for atheists to disprove the contrary. This is only a matter of the form and logic of argument. But there is an ancillary reason: it is arrogance to accept god as a given and expect others to do the same, without proper justification.

It is not, therefore, unreasonable to put this to the believers. You should say ‘The onus of proof really is on you; show us some real evidence. Every piece of ‘evidence’ you’ve offered so far has been garbage; your track record is appalling; now it’s our turn to hold you properly to account.’

Posted: February 1st 2010

See all questions answered by flagellant

Blaise www

The answers already provided are excellent, so I’ll provide an example, to clarify.

This is equivalent to the debate over the existence of the “Invisible Pink Unicorn”. If you believe He exists, you must prove that existence with evidence. If you believe He doesn’t exist, you must also prove that with evidence.

The question then becomes one of how to find such evidence. You could look for him, but since he’s invisible, that won’t prove anything. You could feel around for him, but it turns out he’s incorporeal, so that also proves nothing. You could look for evidence of his works, but those who define the concept of the Invisible Pink Unicorn say everything you see, hear, taste touch or smell is his work, so there’s no useful standard for differentiation.

In the end, all you can do is look at the likelihood of whether the IPU exists. To be completely unbiased, we must take every claim about the IPU’s existence and nature, and evaluate it logically, to see if it is consistent with both itself and the world around us.

1) The IPU is invisible and pink – This is self-contradictory, so not logically consistent with itself.

2) Everything we experience is the work of the IPU – This is impossible to evaluate, because what we experience is all we know of.

3) The IPU is non-corporeal – This is also by definition impossible to evaluate.

4) We know of the IPU because other people told us – Unfortunately, human nature is such that it works against the likelihood of existence. People pretend, lie, and manipulate all the time, and even those who mean well are often mistaken or relying of bad source information.

So, of our four points, Two say the IPU as defined is unlikely, and two say nothing useful about His existence. Since the only reliable arguments in our analysis put Him in the “unlikely” category, we have to bet on His non-existence. If new evidence comes to light, we have to re-analyze our position, but for now, it’s a safe position to take.

Now swap in “God” for “Invisible Pink Unicorn”, make your list of assumptions, and start the process again.

Posted: January 31st 2010

See all questions answered by Blaise

Dave Hitt www

Replace the word “god” in your question with anything else, and the answer is obvious.

Why does the claim “horses exist” require justification while the claim “horses do not exist” does not?

Why does the claim “unicorns exist” require justification while the claim “unicorns do not exist” does not?

Claiming anything exists requires proof. In most cases, very little proof is required. “Hey, look, there’s a horse!” Cool, you’ve just proved your statement.

Now try it with unicorns.

Or god.

Posted: January 31st 2010

See all questions answered by Dave Hitt

Mike the Infidel www

“Negative atheists only claim that they don’t believe in god, but isn’t this also a claim that requires just as much justification as belief in god?”

Hardly. You’re never required to justify disbelief in anything if the evidence for it is nowhere to be found. And you’re not required to debunk the evidence, either; it’s up to the person making the claim to show that what they claim as evidence actually is evidence.

Posted: January 31st 2010

See all questions answered by Mike the Infidel

SmartLX www

The terminology as far as I know it is strong atheism for those who positively state that there is no God. I agree with you that this requires justification, but I don’t make that statement myself with absolute certainty.

Those of us who aren’t strong atheists (that is, most of us) are weak atheists, who simply don’t believe there’s a god.

Whereas the justification for belief in God would be some kind of evidence for Him, the justification for lack of belief is the apparent lack of positive evidence for a god. If positive evidence came along, weak or “negative” atheism would no longer be justified. Thus far no good evidence has surfaced, so weak atheism is justified, and there you are.

Posted: January 30th 2010

See all questions answered by SmartLX


A negative can’t be proven. Only a positive claim can be. Lack of god belief, a positive claim, as in I lack god belief, can be proven by a real person exclaiming it and acting accordingly. As in my life, I don’t bother with god, or with a heck of lot of other entities that can’t be proven because of the lack of significant evidence. I don’t bother even thinking about them, like tooth fairies, orbiting teapots, etc. I don’t pray, attend church service, and think about god other than accepting that others have god belief. The positive claim of lack of god belief has strong, supporting evidence.

As for atheists like Carolyn Porco, she admits that her positive atheism is a faith position. However, her strong atheism is not very common. It is much more prevalent that because of the lack of extraordinary evidence to support such an extraordinary claim as the existence of a theistic god that the basis of the lack of god belief is formed.

The god hypothesis is a failed one. It has no explanatory and predictive qualities. If it did, then it would be more reasonable to know what that possible evidence might be (For Christian god belief, the bible) and be more receptive about the possibility of the existence of a theistic god.

We know that a belief in a theistic entity is a stop-gap measure. That is what god belief is. I know that is not how god belief feels to the god believer as it is a much more subjective/emotional state of mind.

It is much more reasonable to have an open mind to the reality that just because we do not know how something happens we do not make the mistake that many generations before us have made, that is, to say, to whip out a failed hypothesis than having an so-called open mind (with our brains falling out) to the existence of an highly improbable entity like a theistic god (this is a being that supposedly interacts with us, where’s the beef?)

We just go one god further than you do. You are atheistic about all other gods. You are probably a strong atheist in regards to all those entities. I am not. I just don’t bother with any of them because of lack of evidence and because of the inanity of the god hypothesis (regardless of the god in question). Your version of god is not that special! Its nature comes from a quite common basis and therefore is very easy to dismiss. Atheists don’t get fooled by the particular garb that a god may be wearing, like Christian clothing. We focus on the god part.

Frankly, the god hypothesis is boring, and I can’t be bothered with it: God is a superior being who made us because it loves us and we must feel its love and feel good about it and that god knows everything and everything will turn out okay if you believe in god and obey its edicts (if you can manage to figure out what they are). I mean, it’s just so boring, that at this moment, I can hardly keep awake while typing what I just typed!

Posted: January 30th 2010

See all questions answered by logicel


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