Saturday, 22 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 1)

1) You can't disprove my article of faith, therefore it's as valid as any claim you might make.

No, no it's not... really. I think Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot argument dealt with this one adequately, as do the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Invisible Pink Unicorn etc. In case you haven't heard of any of these, they all essentially hinge around highlighting the fallacy of the following hypothesis: if I believe something, no matter how ludicrous, that cannot be disproved, it is therefore valid, worthy of my continued attention and not open to ridicule. Of course in actuality just because something might be true, this gives us no reason to believe that it is, particularly if there is not one single shred of actual concrete evidence that might allude to its truth. If it's extremely unlikely to be true, it's best for everyone if we just assume that it's false and behave accordingly; the burden of proof is on the holder of the faith, not on the rest of us. As Carl Sagan said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. In fact if the person of faith were to go as far as to assert that their article of faith were definitely true because there is no proof to the contrary, we find there is a name for that logical fallacy: argumentum ad ignorantiam : the argument from ignorance. Of course, another aspect of the argument from ignorance would be an argument that an article of faith is proven false by the absence of proof that it is true. Anyone who can think clearly would not use such an argument alone to suggest that someone's faith is unfounded, and nor need they for there are plenty of others available. The simple fact of the matter is, if you have no proof for something and it is extremely unlikely, I have no reason to take any suggestions arrived at as a result of your faith seriously or show them any respect.

"What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof." - Christopher Hitchens

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