Tag Archives: falsifiability

The Thinking Atheist on unfalsifiable faith claims

TheThinkingAtheist (aka Seth) gave an excellent lecture at the Oklahoma Freethought Convention last month, on the topic of challenging faith claims made by the religious. The whole thing is worth a listen, but I was particularly impressed with the first sixteen minutes, in which Seth lucidly showed why claims by religious people that God answers prayers and works miracles here on earth do not make any sense – in fact, such claims are unfalsifiable to begin with.

For example, Seth talks about a hypothetical American teenage boy who is the victim of a shooting. After being shot, the boy is rushed to the hospital, where one of several possible scenarios plays out.

  1. Imagine first that the boy makes a full recovery – the bullets missed all of his vital organs, thank God. He’ll need time to heal, but he won’t suffer any permanent damage. “It’s a miracle,” the religious will say. God is good.
  2. Second, imagine instead that one of the bullets had hit the boy’s spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. He’ll have to live the rest of his life in a wheelchair… but he’s alive! “God must have had more work for him to do on this earth. Praise the Lord he’s still with us.” God is good.
  3. The worst-case scenario is that the boy dies. His wounds were too severe; the doctors couldn’t save him. “God must have been done with him here on this earth. He’s in a better place now, with no violence and no pain. He’s been called home.” God is good.

In each case down the line, the requirements are relaxed for what state of affairs would lead to the conclusion that God is good. By the time you get to the third scenario, you’re confronted with the fact that an innocent boy is dead, and God still gets credit for being good. At this point you have to admit that the statement has no requirements on its being true at all. It’s simply true no matter what happens- and so, what does it even mean to say that God is good? Apparently it means that the world will go on as it does. Your children might get shot in the street. Or they might not.

In his lecture Seth goes through many examples of this kind of thinking, drawn from his experiences as someone who was a fundamentalist Christian for thirty years. It’s very well presented – do check it out!

(via Friendly Atheist)



Filed under Atheism, Freethought, Religion