A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural


The 9th Humanist Symposium is now up at Greta Christina’s Blog.

The 77th Carnival of the Godless is available at The Skeptical Alchemist.

Enjoy your Sunday reading!


Google News Alerts brought to my attention this article by Kyle Lee in the Chicago Maroon, entitled Dawkins’s militant atheism delusional, in which he discusses some of his grievances with Dawkins and, in particular, his book The God Delusion. Unfortunately, Lee forgot to do one teeny, tiny thing that could have helped him out a bit. It’s really just a minor detail and I’m probably being pedantic, but actually reading a book before you criticise it is, in my opinion, helpful to one’s cause.

Not only did Lee not read the book, he told a big fat pork pie and said he had – hardly a very Christian thing to do! Well, here’s the smoking gun:

I have read his book The God Delusion

There is no ambiguity here, Lee is explicit in his claim. But, he later slips up, saying,

If he wants some rational arguments for faith, I would encourage Dawkins to read some St. Thomas Aquinas before vomiting up his next accusation against religion.

The accusation is quite clear here: Lee believes that Dawkins has not read any St. Thomas Aquinas, but anyone who has read The God Delusion knows that Dawkins devoted an entire section of his chapter Arguments for God’s Existence to Aquinas’ five proofs. By all means, say that he misunderstood Aquinas, or say that he did a poor job refuting him, but why would anyone who had read The God Delusion advise Dawkins to read Thomas Aquinas, knowing full well that he had?!

Unfortunately, Lee is not a one off. He is yet another in a long line of Christians writing about The God Delusion who have not read it, but other people’s reviews of it. Unfortunately, the writers of the reviews they have read probably haven’t read it either. Have any of them read it? My theory is that they’ve all just read The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister McGrath. Lee goes on to regurgitate all the classics:

For instance, instead of using evolution and natural selection as examples of a harsh, Godless reality, he should realize that the complexity, intricacy, and beauty of a living organism further reinforce the reality of the supernatural. It also leads someone with an open heart and mind to the unmistakable conclusion that the cell or molecule under observation had to have been designed before it ever evolved to its current state.

This is not even an argument, just assertion that is refuted in The God Delusion over and over again.

The tradition of atheism is certainly long-standing and stretches back at least as far as Western classical antiquity, but the modern trend of liberal, militantly atheist academics and of “scholars” who declare war on religion—or, more simply, a person’s belief in God—is vicious, disrespectful, and an abuse of the scholarly platform.

Liberal militancy?! I’m sorry Mr Lee, but calling your beliefs into question is not vicious or disrespectful, it is exactly what the scholarly platform is there for. It is on open discussion and freedom to criticise that both academia and a healthy society thrive, and knowledge grows.

Sarcastic attacks abound in both The God Delusion and Dawkins’s professional life. To be sure, he cherry-picks his facts, which leads him to fallacious conclusions and angry diatribe, but I pray that he finds some fulfillment in his life besides renouncing the ideas of the faithful and declaring religious beliefs a heresy against science and reason. I encourage the theists of this campus to stand up against this type of insidious “academic” persuasion and firmly assert the existence of God.

Angry Dawkins – that old chestnut! Even just reading the preface to the paperback edition could have saved him the time it took him to write his article. We also see religious terms thrown in, as is traditional when criticising atheists, like “heresy”. Christians never turn down an opportunity to make religion look scientific or science look religious, whenever they are not defending religion and criticising science, of course. Notice Lee’s closing words, “assert the existence of God”. Not “prove”, or “provide evidence for”, but “assert”. After presuming to criticise a book he hasn’t read on rational grounds, he all but concedes that there is not a rational case to be made.

My advice to Mr Lee is to read The God Delusion, and then, if he feels so inclined, to criticise the arguments that Dawkins actually made, rather than the usual straw men. I am sick to death of these online articles – and there must be literally hundreds of them – criticising atheist books without even having read them. I am always happy to scrutinise my beliefs, and I truly long for the day when an intelligent Christian will read The God Delusion and actually put a strong case forward against it. I’m not holding my breath though.


Many people hold the view that if God exists, then he is supernatural and, therefore, beyond the realm of science – which can only study the natural – to discuss. The same could be said of anything supernatural, from ghosts to telepathy; if science can study it then it is no longer supernatural. It is, quite simply, natural. Many believers use this line of reasoning as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, thinking that it forms a protective shield for their beliefs against the scrutiny science would apply. They see it as a limitation of science and rationalism, and that their beliefs are above them.

The argument is flawed and ultimately self-defeating. Science can only study the empirical world, and our senses are themselves empirical. If science can only study the natural, human beings can only experience the natural.

A commonly heard phrase can help us understand this more clearly: “I’ve just seen a ghost”. Excuse me? You’ve just seen a ghost? With your eyes? How exactly would that work? A ghost is, by all common definitions, supernatural. Our eyes are sense organs that detect light waves and distinguish the varying frequencies to make us aware of our surroundings. They detect only the natural. If you think about it, to talk of someone seeing a ghost is actually quite absurd.

Anything supernatural is, by definition, beyond the scope of human experience. If anything supernatural did actually exist, the only way we could ever be aware of it would be if it found a way to manifest itself in natural terms. In order to interact with the natural universe, the ghost would have to find a way to be seen. If it succeeded, then it would no longer be entirely supernatural, it would have found a way to ‘cross over’ into the natural world where it could be sensed and experience by humans and, more importantly, studied by science. Although, we would still not be experiencing the supernatural, only natural indicators thereof. (As far as ghosts go, some believe that “psychic mediums” are the phenomena used to cross over, hence the slightly facetious title of this article. That discussion is for another day, but the claims of mediums are without evidence, as many have observed.)

A popular defence of this problem is the appeal to the infamous ‘sixth sense’. “Of course we don’t sense the supernatural with our natural senses, that would be impossible. We all have a supernatural sixth sense with which to detect the supernatural”. This does not solve the problem, it simply relocates it, and it is a retreat rather than an advance. If we do have a supernatural sense with which to detect supernatural phenomena, that sense would, at some point, have to report its data back to the brain, just like the empirical senses do. If not, how would we know that anything supernatural had happened? The only way we could know that we had just experienced something supernatural, in fact, the only we can know anything at all, is through our brains. Our brains our natural, so once again, the supernatural would have to find a way to cross over. Instead of detecting the supernatural with natural senses, we are now detecting them with a supernatural sense, the data of which has to be interpreted by a natural organ.

If the believer tries to relocate the problem again, there is only one place for it to go, and that is into pure fantasy land. If the supernatural and the natural both exist, then there has to be a point where, or a method by which the two can cross over. The only way to solve this problem permanently, is to remove either the natural or the supernatural from the equation. Before I’m accused of attacking a straw man, let me be clear that I have never actually heard anyone argue a case for the following: the only way the advocate of the supernatural could maintain its existence, without concluding that we ourselves don’t exist, would be to discard the term ‘natural’, and claim that everything, the entire universe, is in fact supernatural. This would be ridiculous and simply an argument through redefinition, because the existence of the supernatural is dependent upon, and indeed defined by the existence of the natural. It literally means “above the natural”. If we accepted that all that existed is what we can empirically sense, than that could only be called the natural. Of course, with a little help from Occam’s razor, we can see that the universe which needs to be discarded, in order for us to make sense of anything, is clearly that of the supernatural.

The same principle applies to God. In order for god to create the natural universe, he would have to interact with it. Anyone who believes in a personal god who does intervene with the natural universe, has to concede to science a cross over point which they can study. The existence of God is a hypothesis science can address.

The response to anyone using the science-can-only-study-the-natural-get-out-of-jail-free-card is this: if you can experience it, we can study it, so do not pass Go, and do not collect £200.


The Exterminator tagged me (again). The idea is that you pick five posts from your archives that show how your blog has evolved, and explain why. Then you tag five more bloggers to do the same thing.

When Ex tagged me he apologised, but the truth is that I’m very grateful; for one thing, it’s given me something to write about! It’s a good time for me to be reflecting on the way me blog has evolved in the six months I’ve been writing it because, to be completely honest, I’m at a real low point at the moment. My ideas are few, my energy low, my inspiration significant only by its absence. Perhaps this bit of fun will get me fired up again.

I had long been pondering writing down some of my grievances with the world, even if only for myself, when I took a few days off sick from work in March. Feeling under the weather and sorry for myself, I switched on the TV and began flicking through the channels randomly. When I found myself on “Psychic TV”, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. With nothing better do, I sat down at my computer and wrote a short rant, which turned out, later that day, to be the first proper article (after my brief introduction) on A Load of Bright. To this day, it is yet to receive a comment, but I decided to take a view that no news was good news. It was a start.

In early April, Ebonmuse announced his project the Humanist Symposium, and I was invited to contribute. Especially for the first edition, I put to paper my feelings about the idea of an afterlife in my article The Credit We Deserve. It was the first listed in the inaugural edition and received a great response. To this day, I think it is possibly the best piece I’ve ever written. I think it earned me a lot of new readers. It was the first genuine sign of growth.

Later that month, I decided that my blogroll had more or less taken shape. Having decided that I would write a short post introducing any new additions from that point on, I decided to write an article giving a brief introduction of the blogs already there: Introducing my Blogroll. It was really only intended as an FYI post, but it provoked a warm response and a lot of traffic. It was at that point that I realised that I was part of a blogging community, and that aside from the rewards of blogging that I had anticipated, I had earned an unforeseen bonus that was, if anything, more special: new friends! Evanescent and I go way back (we used to work together) and I had been in email contact with Ebonmuse previously, but since I’ve been writing for A Load of Bright, I have also come to consider The Exterminator at No More Hornets, John P at Spanish Inquisitor, Nullifidian, Sean at Blacksun Journal and Vjack at Atheist Revolution, among others, as friends in their own right, despite never having met them in person, seen their faces or heard their voices. We were all, and still are working towards the same goals. It was nice to feel part of something like that (and it still does!).

Shortly after Alister McGrath released The Dawkins Delusion I read a number of articles by him in the newspapers, outlining his arguments. I was frustrated and incensed by his feeble fallacies. I searched the internet looking for work debunking his book, but found almost nothing. In the morning of the day I ended up starting A Load of Bright, I emailed Ebonmuse about a couple of other things, but mentioned Alister McGrath and said I’d love to see him ‘take the gloves off’. As soon as I’d sent it, I felt a pang of guilt. A voice in my head was saying “why are you asking someone else to do your work for you, do it yourself!”. At that moment I resolved to start my own blog, read The Dawkins Delusion and (if I still felt the same way) write an article debunking it. On 3rd May, I did just that. It is still one of the most popular articles on this site, it is listed as an external source on the Wikipedia article about The Dawkins Delusion (or at least it was at one point, I’ve just discovered it’s been deleted), and it has received many comments and trackbacks. I had finally done what I had set out to do. It was a coming of age for A Load of Bright.

At the end of August, I published my article Holy Smoke, which was included in the Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium. It was a post I was pleased with because, as far as I know, it was a genuinely original idea, and I felt that I structured the argument well, and that the writing was reasonably good. Although I still felt that the site was very young, it represented a level of confidence that I had not had when I started in March. There is certainly a lot more evolving to do, but it made me feel that I had, at least to some degree, established myself.

The five blogs I’m tagging are:

Blacksun Journal

Letters from Le Vrai

Naked Pastor


Atheist Hussy




Welcome to A Load of Bright and Carnival of the Godless 76. I am your host and humble author Tobe38, and I hope that you have arrived here well. Let me tell you, there’s nothing that annoys me more than a carnival host who, instead of just introducing the articles like he should, shamelessly exploits the opportunity to promote his own site. So, if you’re not a regular reader of mine, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear that I won’t be asking you to add A Load of Bright to your Favourites Folders and Blog Aggregators. Nor will I be crudely inviting you to peruse the archives to view my many articles, book reviews, critiques and analyses on religious news stories in the UK, US and all over the world. Most of all, rest assured that I will not be plugging my recently introduced “Must Read Posts” section (at the top of the sidebar on the right of the homepage screen) which marked my recent six month blogging anniversary.

So, with that self publicity prostitution safely avoided, on to the carnival. The quality of work submitted has been outstanding, and a true pleasure to read. I hope you enjoy the collection as much as I have.

At the top of the bill is an absolute tour de force from Martin Wagner at The Atheist Experience. In Why do Atheists speak out? This is why Wagner publishes a letter that he sent to the editor of a news website in response to an anti-atheist article. From a merciless demolition job, I have to draw your attention to this quote in particular: “Maybe the fool does say in his heart there is no God….but the wise man says it out loud.”

Next, we have Evanescent with his excellent Religion’s Old Clothes. I’ll borrow his opening sentence to introduce it: “Religion has nothing worthwhile to say on anything.”

The inimitable Ebonmuse of Daylight Atheism discusses the fallacy of believing “that the truth always lies in the middle, as if the correct position on any issue could be found by taking the average of the two most extreme positions”, with his contribution Clearing the Ground.

Inspired by Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, Dr Martin W. Russell of Self Help Blog ponders the significance of our place in a godless universe, in A Foundation for Self Help.

Prompted by the reaction to Kathy Griffin, Cheerful Iconoclast examines the consequences of appeasing Christianity’s fondness for being offended, in the provocatively named Suck it, Jesus. You too, Mohammad..

With his article Religion and Freedom, (The Tortured Mind of) Buford Twain insightfully shows that strong religious belief within a geographical area is an indication of a lack of freedom, not an abundance.

The Atheist Ethicist Alonso Fyfe launches an acerbic pre-emptive strike on an imminent pro-Christian film, in the form of an open letter, Ben Stein’s “Expelled”.

(Life according to) Mike White discusses the dangers of belief without evidence and its encouragement within society, in The Virus of Faith.

Greg Laden of Evolution … not just a theory any more parodies the Christian Ministry It Is Written and their Creationist blunders in It Is Stupid..

In Gods “R” Us, Andrew Bernardin of An Almighty Alpha clinically deconstructs the hierarchical systems religions entail, and exposes the dangers that lie therein.

My good friend John P, A.K.A. Spanish Inquisitor helpfully plugs some of the gaps in Creationists understanding of evolution, in God of the Gaps.

Mike Haubrich, author of Tangled Up In Blue busts some creationist myths and shows that religion is not necessary for a peaceful society to maintain, in his article The Noble Lie.

Using the gay movements of the 80s and 90s for comparison, Greta Christina gives us a compelling, intelligent argument that moderate and extremist approaches to atheist activism can complement each other, rather than impede each other, in Good Cop, Bad Cop: Atheist Activism.

Francois Tremblay of Check Your Premises dispatches a fundamentalist Christian quiz for atheists in a ruthless, but humorous fashion in Christians Arrogantly Ask: How Can You Possibly Live Without God?

Over at Staring At Empty Pages, Barry Leiba highlights the shortfalls in claims that morality can only be accessed through religion in Religion, atheism, and morality.

Nelson Khan, writer of The Clear Path criticises the hypocrisy of Christianity and suggests that religion is an impediment to happiness in Quit Religion = Gain Freedom.

Adam H, at his blog …And That’s How You Live With A Curse, confronts head on the tiresome accusation made against atheists from the religious, you’re just angry.

I have on many occasions on this blog bemoaned the many critics of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion who have clearly not read the book. No More Mr. Nice Guy agrees with me in his Deluded about Dawkins (Part I), in which he defends TGD. “It’s clear to me that many of Dawkins’ critics haven’t even read the book. Or perhaps they read it like too many people read the bible: with their eyes closed.”

Phil (for Humanity) offers a cogent argument that Faith is a Mental Disease

Sieow Yeong Huah of Skeptical Personal Development demonstrates that religion can be harmful in Divisive Dogma and Christianity in Singapore.

Vjack at Atheist Revolution uses a thought experiment to argue that Atheism Does Not Require Faith.

Bad, of The Bad Idea Blog tackles the religious challenge to atheists to justify the meaning in our lives, in The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter.

And that, as they say, is all folks. Thank you to everyone who submitted articles and all of you, kind readers, for stopping by to enjoy them.

The next Carnival of the Godless is on October 14th at The Skeptical Alchemist.


Please remember that submissions for this Sunday’s Carnival of the Godless have to be in no later than tomorrow. You can email me directly or use the submission form.


I’m following on from a good idea started by Migrations, which has been carried on by Why Don’t You Blog among others, I’m posting the entire Atheist Blogroll (Mojoey’s highly successful project). I agree with them that this is a good way to increase everyone’s Technorati and search engine authority.


1 2 3 Religious Comics
2 Intellectual Atheists
A Daily Dose of Doubt
A Human Mind
A Load of Bright
A Night on the Tiles
A Veritable Plethora
A Whore in the Temple of Reason
About: Agnosticism / Atheism
Abstract Nonsense
Aces Full of Links
Action Skeptics
After Faith
Agnostic Atheism
aidan maconachy blog
Ain’t Christian
Al-Kafir Akbar!
Alien Atheist
Am I mad, or is the world?
Amused Muse
An Atheist Homeschooler
An Enlightened Observer
Angels Depart
Angry Astronomer
Arcis Logos
Atheism and Coffee
Atheism is the Rational Response
Atheism Online
atheism | simra.net
Atheism: Proving The Negative
Atheist Blogs Aggregated
Atheist Ethicist
Atheist Ethics
Atheist Father
Atheist Girl
Atheist Housewife
Atheist Hussy
Atheist Movies
Atheist Revolution
Atheist Says What
Atheist Self
Austin Atheist Anonymous
Author of Confusion
Axis of Jared
Ayrshire Blog
Babble, bullshit, blasphemy and being.
Bay of Fundie
Beaman’s World
Beep! Beep! It’s Me.
Ben’s Place
Bert’s Blog
Bible Study for Atheists
Bill’s View
bits of starstuff
Bjorn & Jeannette’s Blog
Black Sun Journal
Blogue de Mathieu Demers
Bob Kowalski
Born Again Atheist
Buridan’s Ass
By The Book Comics
Can’t make a difference
Christian Follies
Church of Integrity
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Circular Reasoning
Cogita Tute – Think For Yourself
Coming Out Godless
Complete Materialist
Confessions of an Anonymous Coward
Cosmic Variance
Crazy Christian Chain Emails
Culture for all
Daily Atheist
Dark Christianity
Dark Side of Mars
Darwin’s Dagger
Daylight Atheism
Debunking Christianity
Deep Thoughts
Deeply Blasphemous
Desperately Seeking Ethics and Reason
Deus ex Absurdum
DEVOUT Atheist Godless Grief
Diary of a Teenage Atheist
Die Eigenheit
Dime a dozen
discernible chaos
Disgusted Beyond Belief
Dispatches from the Culture Wars
do not read this blog
Dorset Humanists blog
Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge
Drunken Tune
Dubito Ergo Sum
Duplicitous Primates
Dwindling In Unbelief
Edifying Spectacle
Edward T. Babinski
Elaine Vigneault
Everyday Atheism
Everyday Humanist
Everything Is Pointless
Expired Convictions
Explicit Atheist
Feersum Endjinn
Fish Wars on Cars
Five Public Opinions
Flex Your Head
Free Mind Joe
free Thoughts
FreeThought by a FreeThinker
Freethought vs. Friel-Thought
Freethought Weekly
Friendly Atheist
Geoff Arnold
Gimme Back My God!
God is for Suckers!
God is Pretend
Godless Kiwi
Godless on the Wasatch Front
Goosing the Antithesis
Gospel of Reason
Gratuitous Common Sense
Greg Hartnett
Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes
Hayleys Paranormal Blog
Hellbound Alleee
hell’s handmaiden
High Maintenance Hags
Honjii’s Harangues
Human Psyche of J.D. Crow
Ice Station Tango
In Defence Of Reason
Incessant Expressions
Inkblot Icon
Irked off
Jewish Atheist
Judith’s thought-provoking hard-hitting journal
K H A L A S !
Kill The Afterlife
King Aardvark
Lary Crews
Le Contestataire
le tiers monde
leaping rabbit/lapin sauteur
Leicester Secularist
Let There Be Light
Letters from a broad
Life & Otherwise
Life is an adventure
Life Without Faith
Life, the Universe and Everything
Living with Missy and other thoughts
LOL god
Look at the Bright’s Side
Lord J-Bar For Democracy, Not Theocracy
louis’ blog
Love the Nimbu
Lubab No More
lynn’s daughter, thinking
Masala Skeptic
Matt’s Notepad
Mechanical Crowds
Meet An Atheist
Memoirs of a (G)a(y)theist
Memoirs of an ex-Christian
Midwest Atheist
Mike’s Weekly Skeptic Rant
Misc. Musing
mister jebs blog
Modern Agnostic
Modern Atheist
My Case Against God
My Elemental Muse
My Life Thinly Disguised as Groove
Naturalistic Atheism
Neural Gourmet
New Humanist Blog
Nicest Girl and Destroyer of Planets
No Double Standards
No More Hornets
No more Mr. Nice Guy!
Non Credo Deus
North Alabama Rant
Nothing Is Sacred
Nut Watch
One Fewer God
Onion Breath
Onwards and Forwards
Open Parachute
Oz Atheis’s Weblog
parenthetical remarks
Philosophers’ Playground
Pink Prozac
Pinoy Atheist
Planet Atheism
Pooflingers Anonymous
Primordial Blog
Principles of Parsimony
Prose Justice
Psychodiva’s Mutterings
Quintessential Rambling
Radical Atheist
Ramblings of an Atheist Undergrad
Random Intelligence
Rank Atheism
Re-imagine Ritual
Reeding and Writing
Religion is Bullshit !
Rev. BigDumbChimp
Richard Carrier Blogs
Rideo ergo sum
Robert’s Thought’s
Ron’s Rants
Rupture the Rapture
Russell’s Teapot
Saint Gasoline
Sans God
Scientia Natura
Sean the Blogonaut
Secular Humanism with a human face
See For Yourself
Shared Difference
Silly Humans
Skeptic Rant
Skeptical Personal Development
So long, and thanks for all the guilt!
Son Shines Zee 365
Southern Atheist
Stardust Musings and Thoughts for the Freethinker
Staring At Empty Pages
Steven Carr’s Blog
Strange Land
Summer Squirrel
Talk Reason
Talking to Theists
Tangled Up In Blue Guy
Tarpan’s Blog
Televangelists with Toupees
Terahertz – From Physics to Life
Thank God I’m An Atheist
The Affable Atheist
The Allen Zone
The Angry Atheist
The Anonymous Atheist
The Apostate
The Ateist Endeavor
the atheist chronicles
The Atheist Effect
The Atheist Experience
The Atheist Jew
The Atheist Mama
The Atheist Resistance
The Atheocracy
The Atheologist
The Bach
The Blasphemous
The Blog of M’Gath
The Cat Ranch
The Chronicles of Gorthos
The Conscious Earth
The Daily Cat Chase
The Eternal Gaijin
The Flying Bagpiper
The Flying Trilobite
The Fundy Post
The Gay Black Jew
The Godless Grief
The Good Atheist
The Great Realization
The Greenbelt
The Happy New Atheist
The Happy, Religion Free Family
The Homeless Atheist
The Honest Doubter
The Humanist Observer
The Incomer
The Jesus Myth
The Jewish Atheist
The Labour Humanist
The Libertarian Defender
The Lippard Blog
the LITTLE things
The Mary Blog
The Nate and Di Show
The Natural Skeptic
The New Atheist
The New Horizon
The O Project
The One With Aldacron
The Pagan Prattle Online
The Panda’s Thumb
The People’s Republic Of Newport
the post-bicameral mind
The Primate Diaries
The Questionable Authority
The Rad Guy Blog
The Raving Atheist
the right of reason
the Science Ethicist
The Science Pundit
The Second Mouses Guide to Life
The Second Oldest Question
The Secular Outpost
The Secular-Man Blog (An Oasis of Clear Thinking)
The Serenity of Reason
The Seven Solitudes
The shadows of an open mind
The Skeptic Review
the skeptical alchemist
The Strong Atheist
The Thermal Vent
The Uncredible Hallq
The Underground Unbeliever
The Uninformed Suburban Housewife
The Uninspired Manifesto
The Zen Of G
These Twisted Times
They Promised Us Jetpacks and We Got Blogs
Thought Theater
Toxic thought waste site
Ungodly Cynic
Unscrewing The Inscrutable
Uri Kalish – Urikalization
Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Vetenskap & Frnuft
View From Earth
Villa Nandes
Wanderin’ Weeta
Way of the Mind
Why Dont You Blog?
Wild-Eyed Atheist Boy
Without Gods
Writer Philosopher Culture Warrior
Yet Another Blog
You Made Me Say It
Young Earth Creationists Anonymous
Zeemy’s Paradigm
Zen Curmudgeon


The 8th Humanist Symposium is now up at Elliptica, and Lynet has done a really great job. One of my early posts, An Atheist’s Sonnett is included.

Remember that I’m hosting the Carnival of the Godless a week from today, so please keep your submissions coming in. You can email me directly, or use the submission form.


Quite a few times, recently, I have heard Christians cite the time-worn words “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. It’s a catchy sound bite and a highly successful meme, but it is utterly false. Absence of evidence most certainly is evidence of absence.

Before I explain why, I think it’s important to understand the difference between evidence and proof. The two are often used synonymously, to the point where the semantic lines have blurred. Strictly speaking though, evidence is defined as:

Facts or observations presented in support of an assertion.

Proof has a number of definitions, but I think this one is the most appropriate for the point I am trying to illustrate:

That degree of evidence which convinces the mind of any truth or fact, and produces belief; a test by facts or arguments that induce, or tend to induce, certainty of the judgment; conclusive evidence; demonstration.

To summarise this as simply as possible, evidence doesn’t have to be conclusive, it is gradual. In rational terms, the greater the amount and the stronger the nature of the evidence, the more secure becomes the claim it supports. As more evidence becomes available though, the balance can shift either for or against the claim at any one time. One could see it as a sort of ongoing tug of war, where the more ground you take from your opponent, the harder they have to work to recover the position before they can look to take the advantage. Proof, on the other hand, is seen as holding a sense of finality – leaving the truth of the claim beyond any reasonable doubt.

There is a saying (the original source of which I am unable to ascertain) that “proof is for mathematicians and alcoholics”, which is very apt when applied in response to the “absence of evidence” saying. Because, even though they say ‘evidence’, what the people who use the quote really mean is ‘proof’. What they’re saying is: just because there is no evidence that God exists, doesn’t prove that he doesn’t exist. And, of course, they’re right – it doesn’t. It doesn’t show that God does not exist, beyond any reasonable doubt, but it most certainly is evidence against the existence of God.

Let’s say that you are in a large, empty, rectangular room, on your own, or at least as far as you can tell. The claim we will consider as a thought experiment is: there is a twelve piece marching brass band in the room with you. How will you analyse the truth of the claim? Can you see a marching band? Can you hear a marching band? The answer is no, so you are lacking visual or audio evidence of the presence of a marching band. Is there any other evidence that a marching band may be in the room with you? None. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that there is a marching band in the room with you. Is this fact, this absence of evidence, itself evidence that there is no marching band in the room with you? Of course it is! When analysing any claim, the absence of evidence for its truth can automatically be counted as evidence in favour of its falsity. Not conclusive proof, but strong, valid evidence.

The “absence of evidence” quote is normally one of the last resorts before the proposal to agree to disagree. To my mind, it is to all intents and purposes a concession of, and withdrawal from the argument. It translates roughly as: I have no evidence to support my claims, but that doesn’t mean that they’re false. What else could it mean? If someone accuses you of having no evidence for a claim, but you believe that you do have evidence, you don’t start defending your claim as if you didn’t have evidence, you present it. If someone uses that phrase, then it implies agreement that there is no evidence. How can they proceed in a rational discussion if they have just admitted that they have no evidence? What can you say in response? Not an awful lot, in my opinion. If you have stressed the importance of the burden of proof (or should that be burden of evidence?) and that it lies with the positive claimant, and reiterated the points I have tried to make in this article, then I believe that the discussion should end there. You can only hope that the person with whom you have been talking will give some serious thought to the implications of acknowledging the absence of evidence.


The 75th Carnival of the Godless is now up at Ain’t Christian?

The next edition of Carnival of the Godless will be on 30th September right here at A Load of Bright, so please spread the word. You can email submissions directly to me or use the Blog Carnival Submission Form.