Theism and the burden of proof


Some theists in our world have given, and are giving, the rest of us an immense amount of grief. So it's worth clarifying where the burden of proof for their belief lies.


It's always with the people making the claim. The people rejecting the claim have no responsibility for proving (showing) the claim is false. Some theists seem to think atheists have to prove that theism - the claim that there is a god or there are gods - is false.


But that is to try to shift the burden of proof. They do this because, so far, they have no proof for their belief that there is a god or there are gods - let alone that we know what any god wants. If they did, those of us who are rational would be theists.


Instead, all they have are refuted but endlessly repeated arguments, and personal testimony, which consists of claims - not the objective justification of evidence.


And that's embarrassing. Who wants to admit that a deeply held belief is irrational?


Some people may always give the rest of us grief, for all sorts of reasons. But the long-attenuated downgrading of theism to the status of a niche hobby like alchemy or astrology - where it belongs - may at least remove that reason for people to believe and do irrational or wicked things.


Peter Holmes

3 September 2017

Testimony and evidence


Philosopher and Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga has made a claim.


"Testimonial evidence [that the moon is made of cheese] is indeed evidence [that the moon is made of cheese]; and if I get enough and strong enough testimonial evidence for a given fact [such as that the moon is made of cheese] … the belief in question [such as that the moon is made of cheese] may have enough warrant to constitute knowledge" (Plantinga Warrant and Proper Function 1993, 82).


(Square brackets added. Insert the belief of your choice.)


Relieved believers commented:


'Confronted with reasoning like this, skeptics around the world have no choice but to throw in the towel. Belief that [the moon is made of cheese] is indeed warranted.'


A lowly amateur skeptic commented:


'Testimony is evidence that the testifiers probably believe that what they say is true, which it may be. But testimony needs objective justification in the form of evidence. Testimony and evidence are not the same thing.'


Peter Holmes

26 May 2017

The cost of care

The Tory premise on paying for our own care: there must be, and always will be, massive economic inequality - so it's unfair for all of us to pay for someone's care, how ever rich they are.


Reject the premise, and the conclusion becomes ridiculous. If we share the wealth we all produce equally, we can share the cost of everyone's care equally.


And what a better world that would be.


Peter Holmes

May 2017

What are people worth?


An example. In the health service, cleaners are paid a small fraction of what consultants or managers earn.


But why are cleaners paid so little in comparison? What's the pay hierarchy - and the massive difference between what consultants and, for example, cleaners earn - really about?


How hard people work? - But how do we measure and value this: the physical demands, the number of hours a week, the holiday entitlement?


The pride they take in their job? - But what's the difference between excellence in cleaning and in any other kind of work? How do we measure and value them?


How important their work is? - But without cleaning work there's little nurses, doctors and consultants can do safely. How do we measure and value responsibility?


How much advantage they took of their education? - But did the cleaner and the consultant have the same educational opportunities and life-chances?


How clever they are? - But do we want to discriminate on the grounds of abiity?


How long and difficult their training was? - But who financed and supported the consultant's training?


None of the justifications for massively unequal pay - and wealth - stands up to scrutiny. We're just supposed to think this is how it has to be.


And whose interest does economic inequality serve?


We depend on each other. And a chain is as strong as its weakest link. If every link is as strong as the strongest, the chain is as strong as it can be.


Peter Holmes

February 2017



Just some reminders:


1  The line people must pay their debts is an example of capitalist ideology dressed as homely common sense. Other examples are: competition means efficiency; and the market works in everyone's interest. They seem obviously true, but in some contexts they can be false and misleading.


2  The debts run up by a government are the people's responsibility only if the people actually agreed to the debts. So the first delusion is that elected representative government is genuinely democratic. Democracy means power in the hands of all the people. Do British people want to pay for the renewal of Trident? Did we want the invasion of Iraq? Who knows?


3  The big illusion is that capitalism is the fairest and most efficient economic system; that profiting from other people's labour, directly or by charging interest on loans, is the best way to organise production in everyone's best interest. We have to expose the illusion. The most rational system is the one that works best for everyone, not the wealthy few.


4  Rich Greeks are not suffering from the austerity imposed on ordinary Greeks - the rich never do suffer from the consequences of their defective system. They have the means to protect themselves.


Peter Holmes




Children are to be warned about the danger of radicalisation by religious extremists.


Quite right.


But we should be warning them about the danger of all irrational beliefs, such as those promoted in faith-based schools.


Belief in the supernatural and the exclusive truth of one revelation is the heart of the problem. It's the foundation of religious extremism.


Peter Holmes




Shock news: the eight richest people in the world own as much as the poorer half of the rest of us. Something must be wrong. But what can it be? After all, capitalism is the fairest and most efficient economic system. Everyone knows that. It's a fact and force of nature.


So perhaps we just need to make capitalism better: make rich people pay their taxes; reduce the pay gap between bosses and workers; redistribute the wealth we all produce a little more fairly. And of course that would help. It's the social democratic or reformist solution.


But is that all we can hope for? A few more crumbs from the bosses' table? After all, we make everything on the table. And we made the table.


Economic inequality is more than a problem with capitalism. It's the problem of capitalism: competitive production for private profit.


This wretched system creates and relies on economic inequality - a hierarchy of wealth with a tiny minority of the fabulously rich at the top, more of us more or less comfortable enough not to complain, and by far most of us more or less scraping along from day to day, or sinking into poverty.


And we're supposed to think this is the natural and inevitable state of affairs in our world - that inequality is a necessary evil if we want the 'benefits of economic growth'.


Capitalist investment is driven by the greed and fear of capitalists, and the rest of us are forced to live with that greed and fear, competing with each other and workers around the world to 'get on' or at least avoid poverty.


We pay too high a price for their artificial competition for profit. Capitalism doesn't work equally well for all of us, because it can't.


How we get over capitalism is our big issue, but that's what we have to do. We need a productive system that works equally well for all of us, so that everyone has equal access to what we all produce co-operatively, so that 'equal opportunity' becomes real, and not just an obfuscatory slogan.


Only collectively can all of us thrive equally as individuals.


Peter Holmes

17 January 2017