Skip to content

On “What Can Be Asserted Without Proof Can Be Dismissed Without Proof”

July 27, 2013

The late Christopher Hitchens is often quoted as saying “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof”. Does this statement have any value in favor of atheism? Let’s use critical thinking and unpack this statement to find out just where it leads us.

First, it must be noted that despite “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof” being given as an assertion to set a standard for all assertions, Hitchens never bothered to apply the statement to itself–he never gave any proof of his assertion that “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof”. So if we follow Hitchens assertion, it leads us to dismiss Hitchens assertion, and Hitchens statement turns out to be self-defeating.

Second, the assertion that we can dismiss something without proof is of course silly and unrealistic–unscientific even. This assertion ignores the fact that we can come to a reasonable conclusion based on relevant evidence and reasoning.

For example, demanding proof instead of accepting a reasonable argument means that, under Hitchens assertion, that everything under the category of theory should be summarily dismissed, because of course a theory is not the same as fact. So from Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity to practically all of quantum theory, everything categorized as theory should be dismissed according to Hitchens assertion. Of course this is unreasonable nonsense.

Now one may argue that Hitchens put the qualifier of “can” in the statement, meaning that not everything that is asserted should necessarily be dismissed. The question then becomes “what then is the standard”? This would seem to be arbitrary, and further still, Hitchens gave us no insight to what he considered to be that standard–which of course would have only been subjective–and therefore not proven–so we could have dismissed it anyway, especially if we again took Hitchens advice and dismissed anything that wasn’t proven. And of course a subjective standard is objectively meaningless.

So the argument “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof” is seen to be not only unproven itself, but actually disproven, and complete nonsense with no value in favor of atheism.

Advertisements
4 Comments
  1. Hitchens’ comment is not intended to “prove atheism”, (which is not a positive assertion requiring its own evidence ) but, rather, is a reasonable criterion for withholding credulity regarding apologists’ claims of proof.

    “If you torture your data long enough, you can get it to confess to anything.” If Mark Twain knows that then so does a deity intent on edifying his precious creations.

    Yet here we are presented with rhetorical speciousness which amounts to little more than rickery. Not at all reassuring, let alone convincing.

    • Hitchens comment was undoubtedly an assertion meant to suggest that Christianity (or theism in general) had no “proof”.

      You say the proposition “is not a positive assertion requiring its own evidence”. Of course the proposition is a positive assertion. It’s an argument, and any argument requires proof. The statement surely must be applied to itself.

      The Twain quote you utilize is quite ironic, since I use solid principles of philosophy and logic to show that Hitchens proposition is nonsense, and you yourself just use rhetorical, subjective arguments–while accusing me of rhetoric.

      • “Hitchens comment was undoubtedly an assertion meant to suggest that Christianity (or theism in general) had no “proof”.”

        It wasn’t meant to suggest this. It was in response to the reality of the lack of evidence.

        “The statement surely must be applied to itself.”

        Why? Simply look at examples of the statement and see if it works.

        I have a dragon in my backyard.

        All dogs are green.

        I can fly.

        See if the statement makes sense when applied to those un-backed-up claims.

      • “It was in response to the reality of the lack of evidence.”

        1) If there is lack of evidence, there cannot be proof. If there is no proof there is no evidence. You supported my argument.

        Moreover, to say there is no evidence is simply false. The cosmological argument, for one among many. One may disagree with the conclusion, but to say there is no evidence is certainly false.

        “Why? Simply look at examples of the statement and see if it works.”

        You’re committing the fallacy of special pleading, where one makes an unreasonable exception, because you’re attempting to except the very statement from it’s own assertion. This is illogical.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: