Agnosticism and Proof

Agnosticism and Proof

Andrew Bissell

3 Mins
January 23, 2011

Question:  Objectivism states that there is no proof that the supernatural exists. However, wouldn't the Objectivist assertion that the supernatural does not exist require proof as well? Does a lack of proof in the affirmative justify the negative? As a result, wouldn't the more rational position with regards to the supernatural (ghosts, gods, afterlife, etc.) be “We have no information on which to make a decision” (agnosticism) rather than “The lack of information proves the negative” (atheism)?

Answer: Consider what it would take to try to prove that there is no such thing as a supernatural realm. What evidence would you cite to prove that proposition? Which pieces of data are necessary to establish such proof?

Actually, such data does not exist and cannot exist. If there is no such thing as a supernatural realm, there will be no evidence of its existence. So to establish the nonexistence of the supernatural, the only thing we can point to is a lack of evidence in its favor.

One cannot prove a negative like “there is no God” in the same way that one can prove an affirmative statement like “this apple is red.” But this inability to establish a proof arises from the nature of the claim being tested, not from some defect in our perceptual or rational faculties. An affirmative proof of a negative is impossible, and demands for such proof require that one entertain any claim, no matter how fantastic or ridiculous, simply because there is no evidence against it.

We do not face a “lack of information” when it comes to the existence of God or the supernatural. What we face is a complete and total lack of evidence in favor of these propositions. This absence of evidence is one kind of information, and it suggests that these fantastic notions are just that: fantasy.

As a matter of logic and epistemological necessity, one must affirm the negative when one has no evidence for the positive. Otherwise, one would have to remain open to an infinite number of arbitrary claims.

Personally, I turned to agnosticism for several years when I first began to doubt the existence of God. That belief represented—as I believe it does for many agnostics—a hedging of my bets, a fearful unwillingness to acknowledge what my reason and logic had concluded: that there is no basis for a belief in an invisible man in the sky (or on some higher plane of existence) who watches over and protects us.

Agnosticism may seem like an appealing third way between mysticism and “cold, calculating” reason. But no matter how delicately one tries to straddle the agnostic fence, one cannot evade the fact that one must take responsibility for one’s own life. One will be granted no second chances by a benevolent creator or an immortal afterlife in an ethereal realm. The effective application of reason demands that we reject those propositions that have no evidence to back them up.