Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!
"Show me", you say, and I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle - but no dragon
"Where’s the dragon", you ask.
"Oh, she’s right here", I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon".
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints. “Good idea”, I say, “but this dragon floats in the air”. Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire. “Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless”, I say. You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible. “Good idea, except she’s an incorporeal (bodyless) dragon and the paint won’t stick!”
And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
Now what is the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? You’re inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.
A story from “The Demon Haunted World”, by Carl Sagan
“The Cosmos extends, for all practical purposes, forever. After a brief sedentary hiatus, we are resuming our ancient nomadic way of life. Our remote descendants, safely arrayed on many worlds throughout the Solar System and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that, whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the Universe come from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.”—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (via thedragoninmygarage)
Last Sunday I went to a philosophy conference and saw a presentation titled “Salvaging Pascal’s Wager” by Liz Jackson and Andy Rogers. Naturally I was skeptical as the standard version of Pascal’s Wager is such a bad argument that it seemed beyond salvaging.
“I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it… Somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable…because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or agnostic. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”—Isaac Asimov (via facesofatheists)
“We just can’t seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal, and the remains of ancient plankton, in the form of oil and gas. If we could, we’d be home free climate wise. Instead, we’re dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn’t seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past, the ones that led to mass extinctions. We just can’t seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can’t we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us? The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What’s our excuse?”—Neil deGrasse Tyson (via thatlitsite)