Atheist one liners

December 19, 2010

Here are some famous one liners that atheists are fond of using against believers.  Whilst they might initially sound profound and challenging, deeper reflection reveals that they make little to no substantive points.

1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

A famous phrase popularised by Carl Sagan.  The basic claims is that God is extraordinary, hence the beleiver shoulders the great burden of providing this evidence.

What is important to realise here is that the word ‘extraordinary’ is ambiguous.  The atheist has to clearly define the word, and then show how God is extraordinary according to his definition, and how this sense of extraordinary requires extraordinary evidence.  Whilst some senses of extraordinary do require a greater amount of evidence,  it is clear is that not all do.  Here are 2 different senses of extraordinary, one requiring extraordinary evidence, and the other not.

(i) Evidentially extraordinary, meaning that it directly contradicts evidence. For example, someone carries out a study that finds carrots to be bad for our eyesight. This is extraordinary in the sense that it contradicts many other scientific studies that say otherwise. In this sense, extraordinary evidence IS required, and this is because it needs to outweigh and falsify all the other evidence that’s opposing it.

(ii) Psychologically extraordinary, meaning that it just seems weird or strange to us, but on reflection this is not because there is any good argument contradicting it. This may be because we’ve never thought about it before, or because we’ve grown up in a society that demeans and ridicules this particular claim, and that has created a psychological barrier making it difficult for us to accept it. In this case extraordinary evidence is NOT required, because the claim does not contradict any evidence, and is only extraordinary for psychological reasons.

2. You can’t prove a negative

This famous one liner attempts to shift the burden of proof away from the atheist, and onto the believer in the following way.  The atheist can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, as you can’t prove a negative, so it’s irrational for the believer to require the atheist to do so.  Rather, it’s the believer that has to prove that God exists, and the atheist is perfectly within his right to deny God by default, unless and until this is done.

First, this one liner is so obviously false that it’s a wonder why it’s so famous.  Take the following claim : the moon is not made of cheese.  This is a negative, and whatsmore, it is easily proven.  So the claim that you can’t prove a negative is nonesense.

more to follow.