I so love it when someone writes a book that says stuff I've been saying on this blog for a long time. Except he says it even better.
Which explains why I'm liking Paul Singh's "The Great Illusion: The Myth of Free Will, Consciousness, and the Self" so much.
Singh is a scientifically-minded professor of obstetrics and gynecology who was raised in the Sikh religious tradition, and believed in Indian forms of spirituality/healing for a long time.
Until, he saw the light of reality.
Here's an excerpt from his book that speaks to an oft-spoken theme in my blog posts. It is up to religious believers to offer evidence that God exists, not to skeptics to come up with evidence that God doesn't exist.
Carl Sagan's tale of "A fire breathing Dragon lives in my garage" is a perfect example of how those who make scientifically unfalsifiable claims try to shift the burden of proof to others by special pleading at every step of the way.
Someone tells you there is a dragon in his garage. So you take a look in the garage and you don't see any dragon. He tells you the dragon is invisible.
So you decide to spread some flour on the garage floor to detect the dragon's foot prints, but there are none. And so it goes. Your friend will always have an excuse as to why there is no evidence that there is a dragon in his garage.
You tell your friend that there is no evidence that there is a dragon in his garage. But he tells you that you can't prove there isn't. And he is right, you can't prove there isn't a dragon in the garage.
But that is precisely the point of Sagan's tale. The burden of proof is not on you to prove anything. The burden of proof is on the person who makes the claims about the dragon. It is his responsibility to provide evidence for the dragon.
And he can't provide any because there isn't any. And you can't prove his claim wrong because his claim is unfalsifiable. And it is unfalsifiable because it makes no predictions about what you will perceive when you look in the garage.
Such unfalsifiable claims are nonsense.
This is how all superstition, pseudo-science, and religion works. Believers in such things make extraordinary claims that cannot be falsified. And when they are forced to admit that they don't have any evidence to support their claims, they respond by saying that you cannot prove that they are wrong.
But, again, the burden of proof is on the person making the extraordinary claim about miracles or UFOs or whatever to provide evidence for their claim. The burden of proof is not on the other person to prove them wrong -- something that is absolutely impossible to do given that their claim is unfalsifiable.
The take home lesson is that we should never believe a claim to be true simply because no one can prove it to be false. Theologians are experts at this kind of nonsense.
Are delusional people making things up? Evidence shows that the human brain is universally delusional in many ways and therefore people who promote superstitions are not particularly more delusional than the rest of us.
It is just that examples of religious delusions are rather classic examples of how the brain creates illusions and delusions. The use of logic and scientific skepticism is a skill that can be used to overcome the limitations of our own brains.
This skill is like any other skill such as learning to play the piano. It involves training in metacognition as well as basic education in all basic sciences.