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Have you met the wiggle-thump?

13 December 2011, 07:07

One of the recurring points of contention, in the ongoing atheism vs. theism debate, is around whether atheism is, in itself, a belief and/or religion. Seemingly, a lot would come down to a person’s understanding of a ‘belief’. Essentially, we need to ask ourselves whether disbelief is a belief, or, whether it is something less, i.e. (only) the absence of something. To unpack this would be to get to the heart of whether a person believes (a positive assertion) that there (probably/certainly) is/are no god/s, or, whether they are simply saying that, in the absence of something beyond words, they do not believe (negative) a proposition. I do not think these options to be mutually exclusive. There is, certainly, a sliding scale, on which different people may find themselves, which differing positions will probably influence what they call themselves and the way in which they will argue their points.

Personally, I do not believe that there is no god. I believe that there probably is no god. Allow me to explain why. I did not come along one day and, out of the blue, declare there to probably be no god. This is obvious, if one considers the fact that, had I done this, I’d have been presented with the question, ‘what is god?’ You see, a declaration of disbelief (wherever on the scale it sits) can only occur after a positive assertion has been made. In this case, the positive assertion can only have been ‘there is a god’ (with the appropriate subsequent explanations of what ‘god’ is/was). The point is that the positive assertion started the debate. I could not not believe in god, until there was a god concept that called for one to assert or deny. This is where the burden of proof comes into play. The following tale should show why.

If Caveman 1 walked up to Caveman 2 and said that, just over in the next valley, there was a Wiggle-Thump, it is likely that 2 would, firstly, ask 1 to tell him what a Wiggle-Thump is. Note that, at this point, 2 is neither a believer, nor a non-believer. 2 is just curious and wants to know more. 1 then tells 2 that a Wiggle-Thump is a large, purple monster type thing, which, if you approach it carefully, rewards you with roasted animal, but which, if you ignore or insult, will eat you immediately. Now, Caveman 2 has never heard of such a thing, nor has he seen anything similar in all of his experience, so, a little bit of scepticism starts creeping in. He wonders if 1 is just pulling his leg. “Show me” he says to 1, still acknowledging that 1 may be able to prove himself (i.e. 1’s claim is still falsifiable). “Sure!” says 1 and leads 2 to the top of the mountain, overlooking Wiggle-Thump Valley. 2 stares down for a few moments and asks where it is, “I can’t see it”. “Oh” says 1, “of course you can’t see it! In fact, you’ll never be able to detect it, as its invisible, odourless, weightless and has no detectable effect on our world.” (there goes the falsifiability) Now, 2’s suspicions have been fully raised. “Listen 1! You’ve led me to the top of this mountain, with this amazing story and now have nothing to show for it! Why should I not whack you over the head for wasting my time? How did you come up with this ruse?” 1 now goes on the defensive. “Caveman 3 told me of it and he has no reason to lie! Anyway, you can’t prove that the Wiggle-Thump is not down there!” 1 has now shifted the burden of proof, despite having originally told 2 of the Wiggle-Thump and despite 2 never having possessed the Wiggle-Thump concept, prior to 1’s statement. “Well” says 2 “of course I can’t prove it! You said it’s invisible, odourless and that there’d be no physical trace of it, so, what physical tools do you expect me to use?” 1 is now very happy. “Aha!” he says, “So, the Wiggle-Thump exists. And, by the way, stuff you for having suggested that I’d made it up!”


Now, what the above (hopefully) demonstrates, is the need for a minimum of two rules, in proving something to be so. Firstly, the person who alleges something must prove it. This avoids the ‘well, you can’t disprove it’ scenario, which could otherwise be used for (literally) any absurd allegation (Flying Spaghetti Monsters included). Secondly, evidence, used in support of the allegation, should be falsifiable, so that the person denying/questioning it can show your allegation to be false, by means of something at his disposal in the physical world. Invisibility is not falsifiable and lends support to the first fallacy, whereas the original purple was falsifiable, as, had there been a purple monster, 2 would have been hard-pressed to further argue with 1. If you deny that the burden and falsifiability are necessary, then, dear theists, you’ve just admitted the Wiggle-Thump (and the FSM) to exist.


The other important point, from the Wiggle-Thump story, is that 2 was never a ‘disbeliever’ (in the Wiggle Thump) until 1 had made a positive assertion and then failed to prove it, only going so far as attempting to shift the burden. Therefore, we see that the negative did not exist, until the positive came along. From this, it follows that atheists did not exist, until theists came along. They may not have believed in god/s prior to theists, but, the label ‘non-believer’ (IRO god/s) could only stick to them, after the god concept was open to consideration.  Until that point, it would have been impossible to say that they did not believe in god. There was an absence of belief, but, nothing to measure it against, i.e. no god to deny. Accordingly, it becomes clear that atheism is not a belief. It is the absence of belief. It is only a shifting of burdens, after failing to falsifiably prove the god claim, which allows some to state atheism to be a belief or religion. Seeing as the shifting of the burden is fallacious and is the premise for this argument, I can only suggest, therefore, that theists have failed to prove atheism to be a belief. Basically, you all now believe the Wiggle-Thump to not exist, but, you always actually ‘believed’ this … there’s just now the Wiggle-Thump concept to measure your disbelief against. But, that’s false logic! It does not make you somehow religious, vis a vis the Wiggle-Thump, just because I created the concept.  To allege this would be to rely of having fallaciously shifted the burden onto you.


Then, there are the degrees of non-belief. As I’ve said, I believe that there probably are no gods (remember, my ‘belief’ stems from a previous positive theistic assertion). The only reason that I do not state, with certainty, that there is no god, is because I am taken by the concept of affording everything a small possibility. God/s, in my mind, occupy the same space as Wiggle-Thumps, FSMs and Invisible Pink Unicorns. In other words, the chances are small enough that I will not base my life on the minuscule chance that they do exist.


Then, there is the atheist, who is comfortable saying that god/s certainly do not exist. I believe these people to have dispensed with the sentimental concept of affording everything a minute possibility of being true. Sometimes, some concepts are just too bizarre. I hang onto my sentimentality, but, only for the sake of it, in itself. In fact, I lean very close to dismissing the concept entirely and will go so far as to say that there is a massive probability that god/s do not exist. I just can’t make that final jump.


Finally, there are the fence-sitters, people who are unsure, but, who afford ‘god vs. no god’ equal possibility. I’m uncertain and I know that I cannot speak for everyone, but, I view these people as having failed to understand the actual probabilities involved (god/FSM/Zeus/Wiggle-Thump etc. can’t each claim 50%) and who still have attachments to the entrenched god concept and the eternal threats that follow it. These people have possibly also failed to grasp the necessity of having a burden of proof.


Ultimately, whichever position on the scale it takes, non-belief/disbelief/atheism is not a positive belief. ‘The atheist religion’ is a fallacious box that theists attempt to close us into, for whatever purpose, but, have failed to provide what is necessary to keep us in it. So, please all stop forcing your disbelief of the Wiggle-Thump down my throat! Keep your belief, that it doesn’t exist, to yourselves.   

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