In the war between atheists and theists, I am not interested in “burden of proof” discussions. Most atheists do not claim to know for a fact that god doesn’t exist, but many of them do enjoy arguing it with absolute certainty. They present their case as if they are participating in an evidence-based debate that someone could actually win. And I’ll admit, this is confusing. But in the end their doubt of god rather than their knowledge of him is what defines their atheism. That doubt just happens to take up 99.9% of their thoughts on the matter.

Christians, on the other hand, actually do claim to know god exists as a fact. And in a world without concrete proof of god? That’s a tricky position to hold. I agree that it is easier to say, “There are more of us than you, so you prove it.” I’d go with that, too. But what do I stand to lose if I can’t prove it? Nothing. I have no incentive to win souls. And unless a theist is trying to win my soul, I have no reason to request proof from a theist, either.

We are both in the same boat. Neither of us can prove or disprove the existence of god. We simply came to opposite conclusions based on our experience.

I used to be a Christian. Christianity required me to form a very specific opinion on god, and eventually I discovered that I could not do it. Wouldn’t it be silly to ask me for proof of uncertainty? It’s all uncertainty. Atheism has evidence, but it thrives on doubt. Christianity thrives on faith- or, at least the occasion of being born into a family of believers.

I had plenty of faith. So where does Christianity go wrong with believers like me? It was not because of evidence that I lost faith, but rather a lack of evidence. And not so much in god at first, but in Christianity itself. Eventually this extended to all religion, but Christianity was the specific source of my doubt.

Could Christians really have all the answers about god? It seems impossible. Christians ask for an unreasonable amount of faith in man. They have equated belief in god with belief in Christianity and the bible; unwittingly making god more vulnerable to mistrust when their human belief system shows evidence of error. Their best evidence for the existence of god only points toward the possibility of a god. Not their god. But they make no distinction. One equals the other.

One also unravels the other.

A quick journey through history (or even an afternoon of doubtful reflection) will easily reveal cracks in the concept that Christian men figured out all of life’s mysteries correctly, and in spite of god’s obvious silence. Once I arrived at this conclusion, I also stopped believing in the bible as the inspired word of god. This meant that I no longer knew god, because the bible had defined him for me. I needed to find god again from scratch.

I am still open to new evidence but there doesn’t seem to be any. As a believer the best evidence for god was discovering that Christians do not know as much as they claim to know. I had hoped god might be revealed under a new definition, but that puzzle is also missing too many pieces. I suppose this means that in my case atheism only needed to prove reasonable doubt of Christianity. Christianity did the rest.

Once we strip away all the clutter that separates the different religions, we are left with very little clarity about the origins of us or the universe. This is as close as we get to truth. But if even the brightest among us find this “stripping away” to be a difficult task, what hope is there for those with little to no reasoning skills at all? It isn’t polite to mention that we are not all equal when it comes to intelligence, but the fact remains. We use our instincts and reason to decide what evidence is most compelling, and we come to different conclusions for a variety of reasons.

All this “burden of proof” talk is nonsense. There is always just enough evidence to believe what you want to believe. The evidence is irrelevant to truth because there is currently no available path between the two. The burden of proof should fall upon those who wish to change another person’s belief, but the demand only seems to come up when the attempt is futile. Proof is not necessary for atheists or theists. People will continue to completely accept or reject god every day without any proof at all.

 

10 thoughts on “There Is No Burden of Proof

  1. All this “burden of proof” talk is nonsense.

    I have to disagree with you here, at least. An understanding that the burden of proof rests on the claimant had quite a bit to do with my own deconversion.

    Are you aware of the distinctions strong and weak Atheism?

      1. It may also be that I am just really tired of poor debates over God’s existence. Most people don’t understand the evidence on either side, so when they hit a wall this is the card they play. Then suddenly I’m scrolling through three pages of useless debate about how the other person lacks proof. I enjoy a discussion between two people who know what they are talking about. Of course, those discussions are harder to come by.

    1. Perhaps you misunderstand. Evidence plays a huge role, and I clearly believe the evidence atheists provide. And it is true that the inability to prove God was a big factor in my loss of faith. In my own case, it is also clear that theists would have the burden of proof- because without any proof at all I would still be an atheist.

      But the proof each side is asking for in burden of proof debates doesn’t exist. And I don’t believe it matters. Without this mythical concrete proof, each side believes as they wish according to the evidence. The theists and atheists who say “prove it” already know what the outcome will be.

  2. Yeah, I have to say I disagree with you on this one a bit. I can see how you’d get frustrated by such debates, but it’s well understood that if you make a claim, the burden of proof rests with you. Otherwise, I could claim anything and as long as it was invisible and had magic powers, I could insist you prove it isn’t true and you’d never be able to do so.

    1. I don’t think we do disagree. In my post I said that “the burden of proof should fall upon those who wish to change another person’s belief.” Isn’t that in agreement with you? I must not be very good at getting my point across today 🙂 I know whose burden it should be, but I just don’t see where it gets us. And sometimes we ask them not to believe, so then it would be our burden.

      It never comes to fruition. When you tell a Christian they have the burden of proof for those “magical powers” they will not be able to prove anything. You already know that. Our right to ask them to prove it means nothing- because we also do not have the proof they require. They still believe in God and we don’t- so what’s the point?

      Well. I suppose maybe I shouldn’t have called it “There Is No Burden of Proof.” That is confusing….

  3. I think there’s a nuance that’s commonly glossed over in this. I can say I reject all the evidence that I’ve seen proposed for any god. This is atheism stripped down to its core level, and I’m not sure it has any burden of proof. It’s simply saying, “Prove it.”

    Most atheists I know won’t make a direct claim that there is no god because that is impossible to prove. However, many atheists (myself included) will say that there is absolutely no chance that the Christian God exists as presented in the Bible. Likewise, there is no chance that Allah exists as presented in the Qur’an. And so on.

    When you say that atheists argue as if they have absolute certainty, I think this is where the disconnect is. If an atheist is arguing about the possibility of gods in general, there is no burden of proof. However, once they go to arguing against a specific god, there definitely can be a burden of proof. Unfortunately, I think a lot of atheists miss that when they shift the conversation.

    1. Yes, I definitely agree. My mind was in this place when I tried to explain how Christians require too much faith in man. Specific religious ideas about God can absolutely be proven wrong. The Christian god’s nonexistence is the thing I am most sure of. You have to strip all of that away to get to the basic concept of God; the part we think we are proving or disproving. But really, how often do we get that far?

      It is difficult not to shift the conversation. For example, if Christians are equating God with the Christian God in the bible, we must first prove to them that the bible is not the word of God as fact. Not an easy task, but possible. We cannot have a rational discussion on the existence of God until we get past this point, but the conversation often skips ahead anyway. Now we are arguing about the bible with them as if winning proves that there is no god. It does no such thing. Casting doubt on Christianity only allows us to finally have a real debate- where we discover neither of us has the required evidence.

      Debates are seldom this successful. However, this very scenario did play out in my head- and this is how I got here.

  4. I think there is a general misunderstanding of what you mean when you use the term “burden of proof.” Generally I think people are equating proof and evidence, which is completely untrue. In science, evidence is data collected, either directly or indirectly, from the physical/natural world. Proof is a mathematical term in which the conclusion is directly established from the given statements. Unfortunately, the dictionary does provide the following as its first definition for proof : “evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this is in fact NOT the definition you are using when speaking of “burden of proof.” In short, you are stating that neither side can prove anything, thus speaking of burden of proof is ridiculous, however, you can speak to evidence, which completely changes the game. There is an overwhelming lack of evidence for one side’s claims (theism) and the other side doesn’t need any evidence because they are not actually making a positive claim (i.e. God doesn’t exist). This negative claim merely follows from the complete lack of evidence. It’s the same as me stating “my house is not infested with tiny elephants” I need no evidence that it is not aside from the LACK of evidence.

    All that being said, I do believe that the actual definition of the legal term “burden of proof” (http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/burden+of+proof) does apply in the atheist/theist debate. In the legal system, the burden of proof falls to the party asserting the positive factual statement (this personal committed a crime). “The burden of proof always lies on the party who takes the affirmative in pleading.” (from above link) Thus it is up to them (prosecutor or plaintiff) to provide evidence for the backing up of their claim. The claim is only accepted as true once a substantial weight of evidence is provided for the positive assertion.

    Just my 2 cents about the disagreement here. Still an awesome post, though! As always I LOVE your content!

    ~The Holy Goat

    1. Did I mention how I don’t like discussions about burden of proof….:-) And this is without Christian input! I think I can’t help but believe that theists have the burden of proof. However, in this case I suppose I am referring to burden of proof as the evidence that can convince even the most stubborn opposition. If God is real, I don’t think he has that kind of proof, either. We all waste a lot of time claiming the default position as if it will somehow give us more credibility. Even if theists suddenly agree unanimously that the burden is theirs alone, I have no idea what meaning this could possibly offer any of us.

      Now, I myself am an example that shows that you can convince someone to believe beyond reasonable doubt. In fact, I am quite certain the Christian god of the bible isn’t real. I think an evidence comparison on that claim should be proof enough- although, we know it is not enough for many. But I convinced myself. No one believes based on someone else’s claim, no matter how convincing. It may inspire a search for the argument, but they need their own experience to change their mind.

      I suppose scientists could recreate the earth and every living thing and say, “Look! That’s how it happened!” and most Christians we know would still not be moved toward doubt in god. I have to ask myself what I would think if Jesus suddenly came down from the clouds- and it wasn’t just me seeing it. How long would it take for me to believe it wasn’t some hoax?

      I don’t know. I guess I just don’t find enough value in this particular debate. I agree with all of these comments, but I’m not sure where the conversation with theists is going or what it’s doing for anyone. That doesn’t mean others shouldn’t discuss it, it just means it frustrates me a little. I appreciate your thoughts and kind words! I’m glad we have stumbled across each other 🙂

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