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“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” – Christopher Hitchens. Do you agree?

As human beings, when we first hear this quote we instantly agree to it and make a correlation with science. But when we actually listen to this quote and ponder about it, we figure we cannot entirely agree with this quote or disagree with it completely. This quote brings about various knowledge issues and in some cases you agree and some cases you cannot. The knowledge issues that come up are – science, history, human science, religion, belief, and faith.


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  • Dec 19 2012: Every time I read this quote, the words "can be asserted" causes a brain bump. I wonder if these words were carefully chosen. Any statement can be asserted without evidence. When considered literally, out of context, the quote is meaningless, or nearly so.
    • Dec 26 2012: Seriously? I think the words chosen were spot on. It is a statement of fact. Without evidence it is only possible to have a childish "yes it is" "no it isn't" type argument... if you wish your assertions to be strong enough to stand against rebuttal and rejection then you must have evidence. It is a sublimely clever quotation with perfectly chosen words.

      Dwell on "can". That doesn't mean "should" or "will".

      You CAN assert anything you like.
      (Many people may agree with you)
      But without evidence behind your assertion IT IS POSSIBLE THAT (can) one person in your audience will dismiss what you say.

      I actually take it further, though, as it suggests (and you may have read it this way) that in a rational World where we seek truth we probably OUGHT to dismiss all assertions without evidence. I go with the weak and strong readings of this statement completely but actually the weak version is all he said, as you can see by substituting "it is possible to" for "can":

      Would you agree with

      Anything that it is possible to assert without evidence is by its nature possible to dismiss without evidence.

      • Dec 26 2012: You are making my point. If we have to discuss what the quote means, it was poorly stated.

        The word "can" has too many meanings. The phrase "can be asserted" can be interpreted in different ways. "Can be dismissed" does not mean "can be refuted". In any case, whatever meaning you might like to give these phrases, every interpretation is obvious and trivial.

        I fully agree with Edward. The quote is a linguistic train wreck.
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        Dec 27 2012: Re: "Dwell on "can". That doesn't mean "should" or "will"."

        Dwell on "dismissed". As Barry mentioned, it does not mean "refuted".

        Re: "World where we seek truth we probably OUGHT to dismiss all assertions without evidence."

        We do not always seek truth. Sometimes we seek safety, comfort, trust, or justice, for example. When someone yells "Fire!" or calls in with a bomb threat, such statements are taken seriously and the dreaded burden of proof is NOT on the one who makes the statement. Nobody questions the famous "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,..." and no evidence is required to prove this statement.

        Sometimes we OUGHT to do the opposite - believe without evidence. It's not just about religion. Regarding when we ought to believe what, I would refer you again to http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-belief/ .

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