Don't Be a Ball Bag
Advice and the musings of somewhat who isn't a Ball Bag

The Burden of Proof

I spend a significant amount of my time on the internet in debates, discussions and occasionally arguments on various issues, mostly things of a skeptical nature. It has appeared to me that there seems to be a really strange occurrence amongst those people who disagree with me that they don’t understand evidence in general.

Part of this issue i find is a lack of understanding of what science is and the nature of science in general. People seem to think that science must always have a constant belief, that if the scientific consensus ever changes it invalidates any of the opinions that they hold. Firstly i would say that the beliefs of science very rarely dramatically change and secondly far from the changing opinions of science being something the weakens it position it is an incredible strength to be able to say “we we’re not quite right, we’ve adjusted our views based on the best available evidence and we are now closer to the truth.”

The other major issue I’ve seen with debating skeptical issues is people seem to be unaware who has to provide the evidence. This is a rather important point but it is really quite simple, if you make a positive claim (i.e. Homeopathy works) then you have to provide the evidence of that claim. It is difficult to make a testable negative claim and as such are unhelpful and best ignored.  This is why in the arena of atheism for example it is not down to the atheist to prove the non-existence of a god, the position of an atheist is not making a claim, it is a belief the burden of proof has not been met for the existence of god.

The final problem with debating these issues comes down to an individuals belief they have a right to an opinion on some given matter. In many arenas one persons opinion is entirely as valid as another, there are many subjective debates where this is the case. However in science not everyone is entitled to an opinion, far from it. There are verifiable facts in science, it doesn’t matter what your opinion is on the effect of gravity on a pen in your hand but if you drop it it will fall regardless of  how strongly you hold the opinion that it won’t.

If you are going to get into a debate on a skeptical or scientific issue then i very much recommend knowing the evidence and accepting that sometimes your opinion doesn’t matter,



5 Responses to “The Burden of Proof”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I think that this idea of burden of proof is a bit misleading, because if we could prove anything to a certainty, then wouldn’t everyone believe it? What you would really be looking for is reasonable evidence that makes a viewpoint the most plausible worldview.

    However, when it comes to worldview, everyone has to make a positive argument, because everyone believes that their worldview is right. For the Christian, positive arguments are needed to support why Christianity is true. For the atheist, positive arguments are also needed, because to make a negative claim against Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism doesn’t really validate an atheistic belief, because a Buddhist, Orthodox Jew or agnostic can make the same negative claim and not be an atheist. The atheist either has to say that they really can’t say for sure whether God exists, which would make them an agnostic, or a positive statement that God does not exist, which then necessitates reasonable evidence in favor of that worldview instead of against other worldviews. Otherwise, atheism cannot be said to be true.

    One of the big traps that Christians fall into is debating the idea of evolution as grounds for God’s existence. If one were to look at what is actually necessary to be a “Christian,” evolution is irrelevant. One can believe 100% in evolution and still be a Christian in a fundamentally Biblical sense.

    But ultimately, you are right; science is on a quest for truth. The problem is that truth is not determined by a majority vote, but rather what corresponds to reality. So to say something is true because scientific consensus favors it is not looking objectively at truth. For example, the idea that the solar system is geocentric was a scientific consensus for many years, but that doesn’t change the truth that it is, in fact, a heliocentric system.

    Not trying to pick a fight here; just agreeing with you in a roundabout way. 🙂 Thanks for posting!

    • Atheism isn’t the claim that god doesn’t exist, atheism is the belief that the evidence required to prove the existence of God has not yet been provided and therefore there is no reason to believe in a God. To say that there is no definite proof that there is a lack of a god isn’t an argument against atheism as you can’t prove a negative. I can’t be completely certain there isn’t a god but i do not believe there is as I’ve never been presented proof to suggest there is and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests to me there isn’t.

      Don’t worry about picking a fight or disagreeing with me, i have never minded a reasonable disagreement and discussion on any subject, without discussing my beliefs then how can refine and improve them.

      • Thanks for the input. Wouldn’t your position instead be one of agnosticism then? That is to say, you’re withholding judgment because you don’t have all of the evidence. An agnostic is someone who is comfortable saying they don’t know for sure. If you would not apply this term to yourself, then you would be making more of an affirmative about the nature of God’s existence, which would require an equivalent burden of proof. Being an agnostic is not a terrible place to be; I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish those who claim to be atheists would just be more definitive in their position. Non-belief is agnostic; dis-belief is atheistic. Where would you place yourself?

        What is your experience in discussing the cosmological argument that theists put forth? How do you think the universe came into existence? I suppose that would be a place to begin meaningful dialogue.

        Thank you for your candor and respect for my position. I hope what you get from me is not disrespect for your position, but merely questioning what that position actually entails. I actually have quite a respect for the position of non-believers or disbelievers. I wouldn’t want to put myself in line to be called a ball bag, after all. 🙂

  2. I wouldn’t call myself an agnostic, i would refer to myself as what i’ve heard is a “type 2” atheist. I don’t believe in a God because no evidence has been presented to me that suggests one exists. However i am open to the idea of there being a God, if someone can show me evidence i’ll change my mind. It just feels illogical to me to believe in somethings existence without proof. The reason i don’t expect proof there isn’t a God is the same reason i don’t expect anyone to prove there is no Santa, you can’t prove a negative. Just on balance of probability and the suggestion of the evidence is that neither god nor Santa exist.

    In terms of the beginning of the universe i don’t really know beyond the big bang and the energy which caused it as that’s what science tells us happened and seeing as it’s backed up by evidence it seems senseless to believe something else. As to where the energy came from i have no idea, and I’m O.k. with ignorance in this area, i think saying “i don’t know and that’s fine for now” is something people should say more.

    If you can’t respect other peoples positions you shouldn’t expect them to do the same and i appreciate the questioning it helps me improve my position.

    • Thanks again for the feedback. I hadn’t really heard that there were multiple “types” of atheists, so your “type 2” position is a new one on me.

      As to the evidence of God’s existence, have you ever heard a theist’s position on the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument? If not I would be more than happy to give you the theistic perspective on these matters. If so, then what evidence do you disagree with?

      The Big Bang theory is interesting, because some naturalists believe it is enough to explain the beginning of the universe. I read this on Wikipedia today though: “Without any evidence associated with the earliest instant of the expansion, the Big Bang theory cannot and does not provide any explanation for such an initial condition; rather, it describes and explains the general evolution of the Universe since that instant.” So science agrees with you that we still don’t know what caused the Big Bang if it happened.

      I guess that’s where I get confused, because you are OK with ignorance in this area, when the theist has a reasonable answer to this problem of an Uncaused Cause. If it is unreasonable, it must be shown why. But Christians believe in God as the beginner AND sustainer of the universe, which would lead into the teleological argument, and is for a later time. Although I’m not in a position to justify the fine tuning of the universe to someone who is OK with not knowing about things, so if that is your position, then more power to you I suppose. The reason that I’m a theist is because I’d rather have an answer than not-an-answer, because to be more OK with not-an-answer seems a bit illogical, but you are of course welcome to your belief and I respect your right to do so.

      Anyway, if you’d like more such evidential points, I’d be happy to indulge. I’m glad you are open to hearing my points, as I am to hearing your points. Thanks for taking the time to read this and again for your feedback.

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