Once again, I’ve seen this conversation between atheists, and it’s got me irked enough to write about it:
Atheist(1): Theists are the ones making claims about god(s). We don’t have to prove god doesn’t exist. They have to prove he does.
Atheist(2): I dunno. I think you’re just being harsh. I’m a live and let live person.
Does anyone else see the disconnect between these two statements? Atheist(2) isn’t even addressing what Atheist(1) is saying. They’re talking past each other. This is very simple.
Burden of Proof – One of several foundations of critical thinking and the scientific method.
Live and Let Live – A life philosophy. A political view. A moral code.
What do the two of these things have to do with each other? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
The Burden of Proof is simply the logical demand for evidence supporting a claim. Proving the burden of proof is very easy. All we have to do is assume that it’s false. Let’s suppose that a claim is assumed true until proven false. Now, let’s suppose that I claim the following: “Invisible pink unicorns are the only kind of unicorn that exists.” You counter with “Invisible green unicorns are the only kind of unicorns that exist.”
Both statements are true until proven false. The only problem is we can’t prove either false. We can’t find any unicorns to begin with, much less invisible pink or green unicorns. So, lacking any proof to the contrary, we must believe that both green and pink unicorns are the only kind of unicorn in existence.
Except that’s obviously internally contradictory. Both cannot be true. But… we can’t prove either one false. So we’re stuck.
On the other hand, if a claim must be proven to be held as true, we have the following assumption to begin with: Unicorns do not exist. (If you’re interested, this is what’s known as the null hypothesis.) Now, when you or I claim anything about invisible pink or green unicorns, we are met with the retort: “Prove it.” Since neither you nor I can produce a unicorn, we must both shrug our shoulders and admit we can’t prove it. There is no internal contradiction.
Imagine how you’d feel if you saw an ad on tv for a pill that would prevent you from ever getting cancer, and then found out — after taking it — that it actually caused cancer! What do you think would happen if it turned out that the company selling the pill hadn’t actually done any research at all to see if the pill prevented cancer? Would you want some heads to roll? Maybe see a few CEOs in jail for the rest of their lives?
We live by the burden of proof everyday. People who believe things just because someone claims it are called gullible, naive, suckers, and chumps.
On to the next topic. “Live and let live” is a great life philosophy, if you ask me. It’s the one I live by. If you’re doing something with your life that doesn’t negatively affect me or other people, I’m perfectly fine with it. If you believe that purple fairies live in your refrigerator and dance the samba whenever you shut the door, but you don’t want to make anyone else pay a purple fairy tax… we’ll be fine. I probably won’t hang out with you much because you’re INSANE, but I won’t mess with you and your fairies.
The thing is, when you tell me I also ought to believe in purple fairies, I’m going to look you dead in the eye and ask why.
When we part ways, one of two things will have happened. You’ll have shown me evidence of purple fairies, or not. If you haven’t, I’m going to let you go back to your house and keep leaving snacks for the fairies. But I won’t believe. That’s how the Burden of Proof works, and how Live and Let Live works.
Being “live and let live” is great. Not demanding proof from someone making a claim… that’s just being stupid.