The Burden of Proof is on the Skeptic (part II)

May 29, 2010

Plantinga sitting on the steps......not sure why he looks so mad.

Recently, I made the very brief case that the burden of proof should be on those who doubt God not on those who believe. I was asked to expand upon this (by a skeptic). Here is my response.

My argument that God is philosophically basic is actually based on the work of a noted philosopher at Notre Dame named Alvin Plantinga. In the world of philosophy it is generally accepted that it is impossible to truly prove anything. For all I know, I am a butterfly dreaming that I am a person typing on a computer.

But things get ridiculous and conversations get meaningless when proof is demanded for everything. Do we really see the tree out our window or is it some sort of illusion? Are we really talking to a colleague or is he an imaginary friend?

The solution is just to accept certain things as philosophically basic. If we all accept that we are not butterflies dreaming, let’s make that a basic premise that doesn’t need to be proven. If we all agree that our senses should be generally trusted, we don’t need to prove that the tree is really out the window and that our colleague is not imaginary.

Now because something is philosophically basic doesn’t mean that can not be disproved. It is possible for a skeptic to walk out and demonstrate that the thing we thought was a tree was actually some sort of projection from a nearby window.

So then comes the question. What are the rules for what we consider basic and what we maintain must be proven? This is where Plantinga argues that it must be some sort of common consensus as to what is accepted. Plantinga argues that on this point, it appears that Theists are standing on firm ground in the majority. Most Theists will confess that they have had some sort of experience with God. They have sensed Him, they have had prayers answered, they have been persuaded by proofs/events/arguments that He is there. So Plantinga says, that if we are going to classify God, we should put Him in the basic category.

This doesn’t of course mean there is a God. Just as the skeptic of the tree can walk out and show that it is a projection, the skeptic of God can attempt to show that God is not real. But the burden of proof in both cases is on the skeptic.

Other people have thrown out unicorns, FSM, etc but those clearly would not fit Plantinga’s criteria.


5 Responses to “The Burden of Proof is on the Skeptic (part II)”

  1. maggie Says:

    He does look pretty angry in that picture, LOL.

  2. rewinn Says:

    1. Due to limitations in philosophy, we must accept certain things as “basic”

    2. Things that are “basic” have a wonderful property: the burden of proving their non-existence rests upon the sceptic. Because, y’a know, they’re “Basic”!

    3. The existence of God is basic. Because, y’a know, I said so.


    This is a silly argument.

  3. W. Vida Says:

    Hi rewinn,

    //The existence of God is basic. Because, y’a know, I said so.//

    Actually, that is not right. I provided a series of reasons why God should be considered basic.

  4. rewinn Says:

    //I provided a series of reasons why God should be considered basic//

    The reasons were “some sort of common consensus as to what is accepted”.

    So … basically it’s “I said so and so do a lot of people”. That doesn’t sound “philosophically basic”; it sounds like polling.

    Basic should refer nor merely to a common consensus but to things that are necessary to the existence of discussion: things like “Hey there really is someone writing a message here” or “If this message quotes that message, it occurs sequentially afterwards”.

    This is especially important in matters involving things which are difficult or impossible to prove; declaring them “basic” then reduces to assuming a conclusion.

  5. Steven Says:

    I’d have to say he looks mad because (you can barely notice it) but he is wearing glasses. He reminds me of House in this picture.

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