On the Nonexistence of God and Proving a Negative
A common objection to atheism is that it is impossible to “prove a negative.” This objection is exposed as a myth: it is possible to prove a negative, and several examples are provided in the articles by Carrier, Lowder, and Vuletic. It is therefore illegitimate to rule out, a priori, the possibility of a logical argument for the nonexistence of God. More to the point, one does not need to be omniscient in order to argue for God’s nonexistence. Therefore, the arguments for atheism cannot be dismissed out-of-hand. If we are going to keep an open mind, we need to seriously consider the the arguments for atheism on their own merits.
The following essays address this very issue:
Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s claim that atheism is incoherent.
A common objection to atheism–one stated by both theists and nontheists–is that it is impossible to prove the nonexistence of God. Yet there are actually two ways to prove the nonexistence of something. One way is to prove that it cannot exist because its very concept is self-contradictory (e.g., square circles, married bachelors, etc.). The other way is by carefully looking and seeing. Both of these methods can and have been used to disprove various conceptions of God.
Wilson, a nontheist, argues that it is impossible to prove any nonexistence claim.
The myth of “you can’t prove a negative” circulates throughout the nontheist community, and it is good to dispell myths whenever we can. The real issue is the problem of induction, which is faced by both positive and negative claims. But there can still be a reasonable belief or unbelief even in what we can never know for certain.
Many Christians maintain that, in principle, atheists can never “prove the negative” that God does not exist. But atheists often regard this objection as a mere quibble, counterclaiming that the burden of proof rests solely upon the believer who has claimed knowledge of a supernatural being. In “Proving a Negative” Richard Carrier argues that proving the nonexistence of God is actually relatively easy, making passing appeals to the role of evidence in epistemology and the presumed incoherence of Christian theology. But in taking this position Carrier has assumed a substantial burden of proof, a burden that his arguments fail to meet.
In this response to Don McIntosh’s “Transcending Proof,” Richard Carrier explains how McIntosh does not actually address the logic or arguments that Carrier makes in his “Proving a Negative,” and updates its logical structure to make the same point using Bayesian epistemology.
Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.