Allow me to introduce you to gibberflabs. If you’ve watched any of my youtube videos you will have heard them mentioned a time or two. Now, I say I’m introducing you to them but, in fact, I have absolutely no intention of elaborating on them in any meaningful way. It suffices to say “gibberflab” is a word without a referent. That is, I have strung together a collection of syllables and I have deliberately avoided conceiving of anything to which to attach the word. The fact is, it’s a completely hollow word. I will avoid all attempts at explaining them in a meaningful way. Now, that’s not to say I can’t attach adjectives to gibberflabs. They are, in fact, very polite, fans of stand up comedy, and they’re good at math. And, not that you know what Winkums are yet, I will go ahead and say now that Gibberflabs created all the Winkums in the universe.
Now, with this information, you have learned absolutely nothing with which to go about determining whether or not gibberflabs exist, because I haven’t said what gibberflabs are. I haven’t said whether or not they are material, I haven’t said where to go looking for them, I haven’t said by what mechanisms you can detect them, and I haven’t said how, upon detecting them, to distinguish them from anything else… I’ve given no size nor shape nor any physical description by which you could apprehend them with one of your senses.
It’s a lot like when people say that God is “Omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and the creator of the universe.” That’s great and all, but… WHAT is “Omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and the creator of the universe?”
But let’s move on. The more inquisitive among you will be curious what a Winkum is. Winkum is another term I’ve invented.
Winkum: any thing for which existence or non-existence is principally or practically indistinguishable.
So, if X is a universe in which W (a particular winkum) exists and Y is a universe in which W does NOT exist, X and Y are completely and utterly indistinguishable from one another. If you lived in X and were magically transported to Y it would be impossible for you to detect the difference. The existence or non-existence of W is trivial; if W popped into or out of existence it would go completely unnoticed by the surrounding universe and any resident observers.
Not unlike when ghosts or prayer are said to be scientifically untestable and consequently immune to validation or falsification. Any argument hung upon an article of faith flirts with becoming a defense of Winkums.
So… to the burden of proof. When told the burden lays on the theist I have heard one or two of them respond, “Really? That’s an interesting proposition… can you prove it?” This is precisely the sort of petty trick one expects from the cerebral but dishonest theist. (Dinesh D’souza does it.) Of course I can’t prove it because proof connotes truth and a method is not a proposition, that is, it may not have a truth value. We can only evaluate the method and determine for ourselves whether or not it seems more reasonable to adopt it and use it consistently or, on the other hand, if we ought to consistently avoid it.
Consider the Law of Non-Contradiction, just try and conceive of a world where the inverse was preferred. Can you imagine a world in which contradictions could be taken to be meaningful and true? Well, it’s rather like that, isn’t it? Can you imagine a world in which all positive and fully articulated claims were assumed to be true until someone demonstrated that they were false?
So, if the theist contends that the burden is on anyone who has taken a position rather than anyone who has expounded a positive claim, they have to address a few things. Gibberflabs being chief among them. Of course, if they would like to take the same position with respect to gibberflabs as we atheists have taken with respect to their God, then they must first provide some positive reason for doing so, by the very standards they espouse. I can, of course, match them, point for point, on any defining characteristic they are willing to arbitrarily invent or otherwise provide for God. If they do this and yet would like to exempt gibberflabs, excluding them from the propositions for which one must justify disbelief, then this is a concession that their beliefs are arbitrarily selected and completely disconnected from Method, Sense, or Reason.
On the other hand, if one contends that a positive reason must be provided before a well articulated claim can be accepted as true then no such problems arise. Gibberflabs are reasonably excluded from the list of things a person has a belief in; not just because there is “no evidence” but also because a coherent definition of Gibberflabs hasn’t been provided.
If the theist describes a God such that he is commensurate with a universe devoid of a god or gods, then we’re brought to winkums: why should a person subscribe to the existence of a winkum?
As an aside: ever heard of The Prince Phillip Movement on the Island of Vannatua? They can actually SEE their God… he just happens to be human and probably nothing more. Even so, see how they have the upper hand on most other theists? When they say “God” the word has a referent and if he didn’t exist the world would be different.
So, before any debate on the existence of God, it’s important always to be clear which sort of God you’re talking about: a Gibberflab god, a Winkum god or something else? Something… better?