Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Burden of proof

This sums up my philosophy in a nutshell:


QualiaSoup recently created a great video regarding the burden of proof.  I love his point that we don't create encyclopedias full of all of the possible things that have not been disproven, e.g.,

  • A psychic werewalrus
  • A wizard with milk in his fingertips
  • A blind unicorn galloping backwards
  • A sentient machine composing anti-music
  • A gold hand floating in a crystal cave
etc. etc.

However, this is precisely what we have when discussing the unfalsifiable claims of religion.  Shouldn't we need more than the ravings of a 7th century bedouin that he met the archangel Gabriel in a cave and flew through the air on a magical winged horse before we devote serious time or energy to discussing them?  


  1. We agree that the burden of proof lies with the person that makes a claim. ANY claim.

    If I say that I believe God exists, it's my responsibility to prove my claim.

    Here we agree.

    The problem is that the claim "There is no God" also bears with it a burden of proof.

    If you say that you're an atheist because "religion cannot prove there is a God" is also a logical fallacy (appeal to ignorance).

    The argument: "You can't prove a negative" (i.e. "God doesn't exist") has been defeated by philosopher Stephen Hales, saying that the rule is an "oversimplification," since any one person can be equally as confident about a negative as a positive.

    So, yeah. If you claim that God doesn't exist, you'll need to prove it.

    THAT'S how burden of proof works.

  2. Also, the claim "There [is a/no] God" is a philosophical one, not scientific. So the meme claim about following "scientific method" is not entirely applicable.

  3. I put a link in this comment (you can access it by clicking my name in THIS comment) that gives nice little charts of how Burden of Proof works.

    Hope you find it helpful.

  4. I think you are attributing to atheism a claim that we do not make. Atheists do not assert there is no god (at least no atheist that I have ever met). We say that we have encountered no persuasive evidence for the existence of God. Some atheists would go a step further and say that you do not know that there is is God. I'm not sure I would even go that far. I do think that there is a very low probability that God exists, particularly the Christian God.

    So as far as the burden of proof goes, I still believe that it lies with the theist who asserts without compelling evidence that some form of God exists. Evidence that I do not find compelling includes the standard local "proofs": cosmological argument, teleological argument, argument from morality, etc.

  5. Why don't you find them compelling? What kind of evidence would you find compelling?

  6. I could go through each of the "classic" arguments and point out the logical fallacies, from circular logic (cosmological argument), to appeal to ignorance (design argument), to false premises (argument from morality).

    There is very little evidence that I would find compelling. If God appeared to me, I would doubt my sanity before I believed I had an authentic encounter with God. Perhaps if he appeared me and hundreds of others on multiple occasions and performed miracles on par with those of the Bible, that would be a start. Still, how would I know that "God" wasn't simply a clever alien with advanced technology...

    As a former Mormon, I utterly reject the "emotional" epistemology of "if it feels good, it is true." Therefore, nothing I feel could be evidence of God.

    Maybe another form of compelling evidence would be if I personally received a detailed revelation of improbable events that would occur in the future, and they do, in fact, occur.

    1. It would seem that you are not open to the possibility of God. No matter the miracles, the appearances, the... whatever... you'd find a way to explain it.

      It would seem that what you claim that you're an atheist because you've found "no persuasive evidence for the existence of God," yet you reject the possibility of a God out of hand. If there ever was a definition for closed-mindedness, that would be it.

      Still, I would love to know the circular argumentation you claim comes from the Cosmological argument, the appeal to ignorance of the design argument and the false premises you claim the argument from morality has.

      You've still missed the most important argument of all: Jesus' existence.

      How do you explain that one away?

    2. What makes you think that Jesus existed? Because the Bible says so? Many people, including many Biblical scholars, think that he was a myth.

      Even if Jesus existed (I tend to think that there was a historical figure upon which the myths were founded), what does that prove? No one can know that Jesus was anything more than a Jewish apocalyptic prophet that was executed by Pilate in the early first century.

    3. No, not because the Bible says so.

      Sources outside the Bible confirm Jesus' existence. See Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and Lucian, to name JUST a few.

      The only myth here is thinking that "many people, including many Biblical scholars, think that [Jesus] was a myth."

      No reputable historian or scholar will argue that Jesus didn't exist. There's more sources (outside the Bible) for Jesus than there are for the Emperor of the time (Tiberius). Those who say that Jesus was a myth, cannot say that Tiberius was real without willingly ignoring hundreds of pieces of data and reliable documentation. They might do so just to prove a point. How far are people willing to go to ignore the truths about Christianity?

      Irrationally far, it would seem.

      Now, the fact that Jesus existed is important. Not just because he was a real person (making the Christian truth-claims based in solid, testable and provable history), but because there's evidence for Jesus' bodily resurrection (again: testable, provable history). The fact that He has been resurrected proves, by all accounts, that He was, in fact, Divine.

      Also, I'd love to know the circular argumentation you claim comes from the Cosmological argument, the appeal to ignorance of the design argument and the false premises you claim the argument from morality has. You still haven't addressed this.

      Have a great day!

  7. Thought you might like this video: (Click on my Name)