The “Bigfoot” Argument

From Reddit: “Do you believe Bigfoot exists? How about fairies? Vishnu? If not, how much “faith” does your disbelief require? Does one need positive evidence that these things don’t exist?”

The Context: A Christian redditer was tired of anti-christian sentiment coming from atheists online (and on Reddit). There was some sympathy in the thread, and some explanations or justifications for the hostility (Christians deserve it, one way or another), and some atheist polemic. This quote was an atheist’s response to the claim that atheists believe that God doesn’t exist without evidence.

The Point: One doesn’t need evidence to believe that God doesn’t exist because God is like Bigfoot, fairies, and Vishnu, and one doesn’t need evidence to believe they don’t exist.

Why? Because Bigfoot, fairies, and Vishnu are unlikely to exist to begin with! And God is like them.

Which God? If we are talking about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the God of theism.

But what is that God really like? God is an immaterial, personal being that created the universe. God is often thought to be omnipotent, omniscient, and morally good.

Is this God like really like Bigfoot then? Honestly, I don’t see the resemblance of God to a hairy, big, physical, human-like creature.

All right, what about fairies? They are tiny supernatural human beings (with wings?) with special powers. Is God like that? Not really. God isn’t a physical being, and so doesn’t have a diminutive stature, nor wings, nor a magic wand (only physical creatures could have such things). The only things they have in common with God are being supernatural and having powers. But that’s not ridiculous in itself.

What about Vishnu?

If you are thinking of a blue, magical, human-like creature with four

arms, then this being isn’t really much like the God of theism either. If you are thinking instead of the formless metaphysical concept of Brahman, then I’m not sure you can rule such a thing out without any evidence. In fact, the less you anthropomorphize Vishnu, the less you can say about its (his? her?) inherent plausibility.

The same goes for God. The supernatural, that is, what may or may not be beyond the universe as science sees it, can’t be dismissed without evidence, for that dismissal implies that we know something about its inherent probability, that we know that such things are highly unlikely in themselves. So I think the comparison of God with fairies and Vishnu doesn’t make the atheist’s point here.

Back to Bigfoot. Does this atheist wrongly  assume that Bigfoot is inherently unlikely? After all, how inherently unlikely is a large, hairy humanoid, given all the humans and different species of apes on the planet? I don’t believe in Bigfoot, but I don’t rule out his existence of either. To do the latter I’d have to suppose that he desires not to be detected and is clever enough to avoid the confirmation of its existence all these years. But since Bigfoot is a physical creature, the odds of a such a creature evolving and remaining hidden from us all this time are not high. So there are decent arguments that Bigfoot is unlikely, given his unusual size and the fact that we have no real confirmation of one. But it’s arguable.

God, on the other hand, shares none of these characteristics. He is not an ape, nor even a physical being. In fact, the God of classic theism is probably more like Brahman, when considering His/Hers/It’s (no specification of gender here) inherent likelihood at least (though God differs in many other ways). We have no way of saying whether God is inherently likely or not. Evidence is required either way.

So I would say to this rather insensitive atheist redditer: “You assume God is like Big Foot, and think you then get this massive burden of proof advantage. But nobody has to grant your assumption, nor give you this advantage.”