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Atheist Experience
The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

I recently watched a debate on youtube between an atheist and a theologist. The atheist's argument was because there was no evidence of god, there is no way to prove that he exists. The theoligists rebuttal was that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.

This argument is fairly compelling on both sides. There is no way to prove one side or the other, much like there is no way to prove how the universe was created. There are theories and beliefs that suggest how it was created, yet no refutable concrete evidence of how it was created. Obviously we know it was created otherwise we wouldnt exist. However, the same cant be said for the existence of a god.

Bible aside, how does one prove that any god does not exist? Or beyond that, that one does.

In his book, "God: The Failed Hypothesis", Victor Stenger looks for evidence of the Christian god in all of the places Christians say such a god would intervene in the universe and, in every case, finds no such evidence.

Whenever a believer makes a claim about the nature of the universe, it can be tested. If a god does not intervene in the universe, it is irrelevant and not worth discussion.

Alright, I get what your saying, but Im more curious about the argument used in the debate.

Intervention would sure be a sign of existence of said god(s), but according to the theist's argument (sorry for my previous misspelling of theist), the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It's almost a catch 22. The theist seems to pick and choose which arguments support his claims, I suppose any debater would.

I'm not by any means agreeing with the theist in his fantastical views, but trying to understand his argument, and why in this debate it was so powerful.

Here is a link of the debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgGxdqMNWes

Apparently the link that I attached to my previous post is not the correct debate. Although the Theist in the debate I did link is in the other debate that I did not link. I would link it if I could find it, but I believe it may have been removed from youtube.

Carl Sagan's phrase "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" is a criticism of the argument from ignorance found in "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection".

Carl Sagan compares the phrase "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" to an "appeal to ignorance". He is criticizing the idea that whatever has not been proven false must be true. "The Dragon in My Garage" is the same kind of statement about an invisible dragon in the garage that cannot be detected by any means.

If a theist is using this phrase to prove something about God they simply missed the point.

"The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science." Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan said, "The fossil record implies trial and error, an inability to anticipate the future, features inconsistent with an efficient Great Designer." Carl Sagan "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" is giving evidence that there is no creator.

Caral Sagan also said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For all I know we may be visited by a different extraterrestrial civilization every second Tuesday, but there's no support for this appealing idea. The extraordinary claims are not supported by extraordinary evidence."

Carl Sagan did not believe the stories about UFO's landing or UFO abduction stories because there was not compelling evidence. Nevertheless, Sagan was a proponent of the search for extraterrestrial life. He urged the scientific community to listen with large radio telescopes for signals from intelligent extraterrestrial life forms. He advocated sending probes to other planets. Sagan believed that the Drake equation suggested that a large number of extraterrestrial civilizations would form, but that the lack of evidence of such civilizations (the Fermi paradox) suggests that technological civilizations tend to destroy themselves rather quickly. This stimulated his interest in identifying and publicizing ways that humanity could destroy itself, with the hope of avoiding such destruction and eventually becoming a space-faring species. But the Drake equation was not based on the information we have today; it was based only on 400 billion stars we knew about in our galaxy at that time. Therefore, the possibility of extraterrestrial life is far greater than was predicted previously.

In "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" Sagan presented tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent ones, essentially advocating wide use of the scientific method. He said, "The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by 'God' one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying - it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity."

When you start basing what is true on assumptions you wind up with religion.

"You cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into." Jonathan Swift

I beg to differ on the logic used and I'll use an analogy. Suppose someone writes a powerful piece of software. It finds itself in many applications and proves to be very useful. Most users are not aware of the contents of the software, who the inventor was and how the software works. In many instances the users would not even be aware that the software exists let alone prove who the author is. Does that render the software or the author irrelevant ?

Are you then arguing for a Deistic god, that wound up the universe like a clock and abandoned it? I was arguing against a god that answers prayer and creates parlor trick miracles to impress the gullible.

(Linda) Since you posted this right under my remarks From: Linda (Posted May 18, 2011 at 6:22 am) Carl Sagan compares the phrase "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" to an "appeal to ignorance". He is criticizing the idea that whatever has not been proven false must be true. "The Dragon in My Garage" is the same kind of statement about an invisible dragon in the garage that cannot be detected by any means. If you really think that your analogy about software depicts the actual situation better there's a glaring misconception on ;your part.

The Demon Haunted World" story that I referred to is about something being invisible yet having visible characteristics The dragon in my garage story is from "The Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. The story is an analogy of believing in something (in the absence of evidence) on my say-so. God is not different from the dragon.

The story goes "A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage."

Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me", you say, and I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle - but no dragon

"Where's the dragon", you ask.

"Oh, she's right here", I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon".

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints. "Good idea", I say, "but this dragon floats in the air". Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire. "Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless", I say. You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible. "Good idea, except she's an incorporeal (bodyless) dragon and the paint won't stick!"

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now what is 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? You're inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so."

From: fran (Posted Jul 7, 2014 at 1:13 pm)

(fran) "I beg to differ on the logic used and I'll use an analogy. Suppose someone writes a powerful piece of software."

(Linda) It's most likely that anyone who would work to write a powerful piece of software would also get a copyright. It's also obvious that it was done by a human not something invisible.

(fran) "It finds itself in many applications and proves to be very useful. Most users are not aware of the contents of the software, who the inventor was and how the software works."

(Linda) Nothing just finds itself in many applications - it was programmed to do what it's doing - and just because someone doesn't know it's there doesn't mean that nobody could know it.

(fran) "In many instances the users would not even be aware that the software exists let alone prove who the author is. Does that render the software or the author irrelevant ?"

(Linda) There are many ways to detect this kind of software and to find out where it came from. "What's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?" Software that someone has not detected "yet" is not "invisible".

The existence of any specific god; christian, roman, etc. can be disproven, and has been disproven, mostly through logical fallacies. The existence of some vague, generic undefined god can't be disproven. However, with the absence of evidence, the default position is disbelief. Fairies, unicorns, leprechauns and so on have no evidence, so it is justifiable to be skeptical. For some reason the opposite is true with regards to religion and god. We're the weird ones for not believing.

If such a deistic god were proven to exist, it wouldn't be worthy of worship though, so don't be concerned.

Please note that the examples you give are non-applicable to this debate since all your examples are part of the (fantastical) physical or natural world whereas the christian god (and many other major religion's gods) are NOT part of the physical world but rather the metaphysical world and can hence not be proven to exist in the natural science.

"I recently watched a debate on youtube between an atheist and a theologist. The atheist's argument was because there was no evidence of god, there is no way to prove that he exists. The theoligists rebuttal was that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. " Then the theologian wasn't listening. The atheist didn't say "therefore god doesn't exist," he said there was no way to demonstrate that he did. There's a significant distinction. The problem is, I can make up any ridiculous claim such as there being an invisible intangible leprechaun on my shoulder. You have no evidence against it. Your theologian's argument is that we must accept the existence of the leprechaun because we don't have any evidence against it. That isn't how we justify positions. If someone makes the claim, he has to back it up, not just tell us we can't show him to be wrong. The burden of proof is on the theist.

The jewel that "absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" is flawed in that it supposes that one has not actually looked for evidence in a quantifiable manner. I am sure that if you were to look for evidence of leprechauns of faeries quantifiable, and find none, you would come to the conclusion that there is little or no reason to believe in their existence. Likewise, one can do with god.

Absence of evidence for a god many not be evidence that a god does not exist, but it is at least compelling evidence that faith in one is misplaced. Furthermore, absence of evidence after searching for it in places it should be, is good evidence that a theory or phenomenon is false.

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