Fools say, “There is no God”
Psalm 14:1 - The fool says in his heart, “There is no God” ...
This Bible verse is often quoted by Christians against unbelievers. In their view, they are simply repeating God’s words.
Fun facts (click the triangle toggle to expand)
When I would quote this to an atheist, it would give me a prideful feeling of superiority. It was a “Christian” way of calling them stupid for disagreeing with my views.
I wrongly thought this was refuting their central point. Like, here are the words of God himself, and He’s calling you a fool, so take that!
There is some truth to this verse. If someone claims that “there is no God,” they have the “burden of proof” to support their claim.
Burden of proof — a legal standard that requires parties to demonstrate that a claim is valid or invalid based on facts and evidence presented.
To show that a deity doesn’t exist, one would have to comb through the entire earth, explore the furthest reaches of this universe, and even venture outside the universe. This is an impossible task. So it could be considered foolish to boldly make such a claim.
The same thing applies the other way around. Anyone claiming “there is a God” also has the burden of proof. Most theists have a particular God or group of gods in mind, usually based on some holy texts. And they go a step further by claiming: “This specific God is real.”
When the theist’s claim is challenged, a common comeback is: “Well you can’t disprove this God.” This is an attempt to shift the burden of proof. They still have the responsibility to produce evidence for their position. Plus, if there is no way to disprove it, the claim becomes unfalsifiable.
Unfalsifiability — when an assertion is made that cannot be contradicted by any kind of observation or test
If I were to make a claim that can’t be disproven, there is a temptation for me to think the claim is valid and should be considered as a reasonable possibility. This would be a mistake. When it’s impossible to methodically test a claim, then the claim itself becomes useless. Example:
The Dragon in My Garage (click the triangle toggle to expand)
Excerpt from Chapter 10 of The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
“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. 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.”
You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, except she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick.”
An so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.
Now, what's 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? Your 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.
Of the thousands of past and present religions in the world, there is no reliable consensus as to which deity exists in reality. They can’t all be right. But they can all be wrong.
What happens when both claims of “there is no God” and “there is a God” do not have testable evidence to support their positions? (to be continued)
Partly continued in Definition of “Atheist”