The Burden of Proof
October 1, 2013
When Christians and atheists argue, where does the burden of proof lay? Could it not be said that logically and rationally speaking, the default position is always a negative ? Should not any claim to the affirmative be supported by evidence? Is it not true that a claim without evidence can be dismissed without evidence?
This is the case frequently argued by atheists.
But the answer is that this is simply wrong. It is not always the case that the affirmative needs to be proven. For example, if you and I are sitting in a room and I point out the window at a tree and tell you it is real, I would have the default position. If you seriously doubted the existence of the tree (say you suspected it was a projection from a nearby building) the onus would be on you to prove that the tree was not there.
Many other things fall in that category. For example, the rationality of our brain is assumed. Those who doubt it need to prove why they doubt. The testimony of most scientific work is taken as basic also. When you read a scientific periodical, even the peer reviewed ones, the scientific experiment itself is not repeated (but simply the method and process verified) – we take their testimony as true and then if someone doubts it, they need to repeat the experiment to show it was poorly done (or fabricated or whatever).
If you think that a soccer game is not honestly being refereed (the negative), no one would say that the league needed to prove it was. Instead they would turn to you and say, “what evidence you have that it is not being done honestly?”
And this is especially true in cases of personal testimony (which is really at the core of much of the argument for God). If I tell you I saw a friend today and you doubt it, few people would be on your side in the issue. They would ask “why do you question him? What evidence do you have that he did not see his friend? What evidence do you have that he is a liar?”
The argument could be made that the existence of God is one of those basic things that the skeptic must prove why he doubts. After all, most people have experienced God in some way. Most people know he is there. There are countless testimony and claimed witnesses. So why is that knowledge and those experiences and those witnesses all supposed to be on the defensive for the skeptic? Shouldn’t the skeptic be in the position of the man who doubts the tree’s existence or the soccer game’s honesty?