Posts Tagged ‘Proving a Negative’


Richard Dawkins

“There`s an infinite number of things that we can`t disprove. You might say that because science can explain just about everything but not quite, it`s wrong to say therefore we don`t need God. It is also, I suppose, wrong to say we don`t need the Flying Spaghetti Monster, unicorns, Thor, Wotan, Jupiter, or fairies at the bottom of the garden. There`s an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in, and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in. If there`s not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother? The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it.”

–Richard Dawkins, quoted in Wired


“Let’s get a certain point straight here once and for all, shall we? Yes you can, under many circumstances, prove a negative. You can do it when definitions are tight enough and when conditions are specific enough. For instance, anyone reading this magazine can prove instantly that the Declaration of Independence is not printed on page 13 of this issue. How? They turn to page 13 and look. It’s when assertions become more and more general that they become more and more difficult to disprove. If somebody says that Jesus Christ is standing on the corner of Speedway and Alvernon dispensing tea in paper cups, all you have to do to prove it’s not so is to go there and check . . . If somebody says that Jesus Christ is dispensing tea on an unnamed street corner in this city, you have a larger number of places you have to look before the idea percolates down through your little mind that, gosh, it may not be so after all.

“If some whacko bellows that Jesus Christ is somewhere in the entire universe, can you prove that he isn’t? Strictly speaking, no. On the other hand, you don’t have to; as specificity departs, a claim becomes more and more extraordinary, and as it does so another philosophical rule takes hold, which is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

“Lacking that extraordinary proof, we can maintain that there is no such god as the religionists claim.”

–Fred Woodworth (publisher of The Match!), American Atheist, February 1984


Proving a Negative, cartoon by April Pedersen

–Cartoon by Pamela Sutter, from her e-book, May the Farce be with You

May the Farce be with You