My village atheist alarm started going off this morning so I checked the blog and discovered that somebody was comparing God to the tooth fairy. This is part of what “Contararian” wrote:
“If I wish to claim that either being [a tooth fairy or God] exists, it is for me to demonstrate that to an “outsider” – a non believer in tooth fairies [or God, presumably].”
This is an excellent example of a statement which is tortured by its own ambiguity. Let’s put it out of its misery by teasing apart the two different possible meanings.
Meaning 1: “If I wish to persuade somebody of p, I must provide evidence for p to that person.”
Meaning 1 is clearly true, so it has that in its favor. On the downside it is so obviously true that nobody would doubt it. It’s on the same level as “Don’t stick your hand into a running lawnmower.” Once you’re older than three you’ve already figured that one out.
Meaning 2: “The existence of people who do not accept p obliges me to have evidence for p if I am to believe in p rationally.”
The problem is that if Contrararian opts for this meaning he/she is hoist by his/her own petard. Consider:
p1: God exists.
p2: God does not exist.
p3: The evidence is insufficient to believe God exists or God doesn’t exist.
Every one of these propositions has dissenters and thus, on meaning 2, holding any one of them would oblige an individual to defend it. So meaning 2 saddles the “skeptic” with a burden he/she was hoping to sluff off.
But the deeper problem with meaning 2 is that it is simply false. Here’s an example of why. Some philosophers are idealists. They do not believe a material world exists apart from our minds. Meaning 2 would thus oblige a 10 year old to be familiar with defeaters to idealism before he could believe the external world exists. But a 10 year old has no such obligation and thus meaning 2 is clearly false.
So Contrararian’s statement actually juggles two statements, one which is trivially true and the other which is obviously false. An accomplishment such as that would draw big applause at the epistemology circus, especially from the younger crowd.
Well done Contrararian.