Community, Demography

Proving nonexistence

It’s probably a half-century and more since I realized the amount of faith it takes to be confident something doesn’t exist.  Most recently, it was a positive, confident statement that there was no voter fraud in the last election.  A half-century back, it was a college student answering the question, “How can you possibly be an atheist?”  The answer is the same – there are some things you just have to take on faith.

Just as it takes faith to be an atheist, it takes faith to be certain that voter fraud didn’t occur.  It’s the old saw “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”  Now there are occasions where the statement is worded so that it can be tested – for example, “There’s a sasquatch living in my refrigerator.”  Easy to disprove – open the refrigerator door, and if there is no sasquatch curled up in the refrigerator, we have evidence of absence.  There are items where we can prove nonexistence under specific circumstances.

During the early 1920s, my mother, a pre-teen walking to Trego school, encountered a bear.  Her parents, and the other adults of the community explained to her that she could not have seen a bear – there were no bears in Trego.  When Dad retired, and we moved to Trego, she didn’t tell the story with every bear shot on the place, but she did enjoy having evidence that confirmed her grade school encounter.  The authorities of the day had denied her experience as false – but later evidence negated the falsification.

From a scientific perspective, evidence is falsifiable, but not false – there isn’t such a thing as negative evidence.  On the other hand, all it takes is evidence of a single sasquatch, a single incident of voter fraud, or a single deity to show evidence of presence. 

Every scientific explanation is tentative, and just awaits a better explanation.  Some theories explain things better than others do – particularly in the social sciences. I have no problem with folks taking things on faith – but science is not based on faith or revelation.  Science makes a virtue of skepticism.   Proof, on the other hand is binary – yes or no.  Philosophers and mathematicians have proofs – but operate in a more limited universe.

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