Can You Prove A Negative?

Is it possible to prove a negative? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve found myself in a few discussions lately where the idea of the inability to prove a negative has come up. It’s always an intriguing claim when it’s made and usually it’s a way of trying to give the other person the burden of proof. An atheist will claim that he “lacks God belief”, which is a whole separate post, and then says that he doesn’t have to prove God doesn’t exist because it’s the responsibility of the Christian or any other theist to prove that He does exist.

Of course, this is fallacious right from the start. Let’s suppose said theist cannot demonstrate his claim. That doesn’t do anything for atheism really. It could be that God still does exist and that the theist just has really poor reasons for thinking that he does. That still doesn’t answer the claim about proving the negative.

For one thing, is this an absolute idea that you can’t prove a negative? If so, then has this been proven? If it has been proven, then a negative has been proven, and that is that a negative cannot be proven. If it has not been proven, then there is no reason to take it as an automatic truth.

Second, if the God of Christianity exists, it would be impossible to disprove His existence since, well, He exist. Yet hypothetically, one could disprove His existence. What would need to be shown is that there is a necessary contradiction in the essential nature of God. If someone can do this, then since contradictions can’t be true, God does not exist.

We can think of many statements like this. There are no triangles with four sides. There are no circles with six corners. There are no bachelors that are married. These kinds of ideas we know by the very nature of the object involved.

Are there any other disproofs that can be given? Certainly. There is no Jupiter-sized planet between Earth and Mars. I am writing this in my apartment office right now. There are no elephants in my office. I just took a look around. Nope. Still aren’t any.

Of course, there are some matters that are much harder to disprove. To say there are no elephants in my office is an easy one. To say there are no fleas in my office would take a whole lot more. There could be some technological way to demonstrate this right now that I don’t know about, but as it stands, I know of none so I would have no way of demonstrating the claim that there are no fleas in my office.

So when we come to these arguments, who has the burden of proof? I’m just going to make a bizarre suggestion, but maybe in a debate, if someone makes a claim, they have the burden of proving that claim. If someone claims to be an atheist, they need to give reasons for their claim. If someone claims to be a theist and/or a Christian, they also need to give reasons.

Might sound odd I admit. Having someone demonstrate their own claim? Yet maybe that is exactly what would work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters