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Frequently, one finds the following statment: "You cannot prove a negative." My question is, in this context, what is meant by the word "negative?" I understand how the word is used in mathematics and I "think" I know the meaning when used in logic. I just cannot seem to get a handle on how it is used here. Moreover, does it, perhaps, refer to a total position in the debate over the existence of God? Any comments you would make would be greatly appreciate. I enjoy your application very much and, moreso, since I am so old. Thanks. JH

This is a pretty confusing expression. What's usually meant, I think, is that a negative general proposition -- a proposition asserting that a certain kind never occurs -- requires much more by way of justification from its defender than from its opponent. Take the proposition "there are no black swans," for example. To prove it, you would have to comb through the whole universe, presumably all the way backward and forward in time, to demonstrate conclusively that nothing contained therein is a black swan. To disprove the proposition, by contrast, all you need do is produce a single black swan. Given this asymmetry, it thus makes sense to saddle the opponent, rather than the proponent, of a negative general proposition with the burden of proof. What's confusing here is that the same sort of asymmetry is present with affirmative general propositions as well. Thus the proposition "all elks like mushrooms" requires much more by way of justification from its defender than from its opponent. To...

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