The Burden of Proof

So probably one of the most annoying things I’ve heard is the claim: “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist…” That claim is supposed to make you think… Yet there are plenty of other things we cannot prove don’t exist such as genies, fairies, and cosmic teapots orbiting the sun. But the main point that must be made is that in the scientific community the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim. That is the whole point of the peer review forum. Evolution was proposed at the end of 1859 in On the Origin of Species but was not widely accepted until it passed the test of peer review. It was not the job of skeptics to disprove that evolution was occurring, but it was Darwin’s duty, as the person who proposed the theory, to prove that it was. As the great Bertrand Russell once said regarding this very topic:
“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
~~Bertrand Russell, 1952
In case you chose not to read the woefully long paragraph, here is the basic premise: If I said there was a teapot orbiting the Sun between Earth and Mars you would not be able to disprove my claim but does that mean you believe it? Of course you don’t for the simple reason that there is no evidence to support my assertion that there is in fact a teapot orbiting the Sun. It is the same way with God. I have heard quite a few people make the claim that I cannot prove God doesn’t exist and thus I have no reason not to believe. But if we went by that logic you would also have to believe in Odin or Thor, the Cosmic Ice Cow (Adhumla) or that the universe is atop the back of a giant turtle. (Might I add that if you go by that logic then you cease to be a monotheist considering that any other systems of belief can be justified using the same illogical premise)
So as we can clearly see that line of reasoning is a dead end considering that if you apply it you can justify belief in just about anything. So if you set out trying to convert someone, for your own sake don’t use that argument because anyone who has even a minuscule understanding of the burden of proof will call you out faster than you can say “Yahweh is real”.
~~Peter

13 comments

  1. peter…. there is not difference your right… so why do you put the burden of proof on god always? why not put it on your own beliefs….

  2. Did you honestly miss the entire point of this? You [theists] are making an extraordinary claim that there is a cosmic sky daddy who created the the Cosmos and the Earth in 6 days yet you provide no proof of that. I don’t believe it BECAUSE you provide no proof. I am a skeptic. But evolution has plenty of evidence and thus it has been proven and there are plenty of theories about how the universe began as well. I’m so sorry that you missed the point of this post but I am not making a claim. I am denying your claim for the simple reason that you have no proof… If I was believing that Odin made the Cosmos then I would have to put the burden of proof on that belief but I am not making a claim, merely denying yours.

    ~~Peter

  3. Peter, Jasper didn’t provide proof. We all know you have to prove something. Just…stop. You’ve talked about Russell’s Teapot like 400 times.
    -Aldon

  4. I agree with most of this except for the part where you claim that Charles Darwin proposed the first theory of evolution; theories of evolution predate Christianity by more than 600 years, and many cultures have come up with them independently. Organized Christianity didn’t really even object to these theories until the Protestant Reformation. Also, Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had his own theory of evolution. Darwin and Wallace simply proposed a mechanism for evolution, and rarely ever referred to their ideas as “evolution”.

    Since theories of evolution have been proposed independently many times based on careful observation of nature, whereas the Abrahamic religions all originate from a bastardized oral history of the Semitic peoples, you could argue that they are less valid than the theories of evolution, which they are.

  5. Peter – you are an extremely good writer and clearly very intelligent. But you are missing the boat on the God thing. Not everything that is real can be proven. Example: true story – an elderly woman goes to a doctor and says, “Doc, I am seeing streaming lights in front of my eyes, feeling odd sensations in my head, and having difficulty thinking.” The doc runs every tests he has at his disposal and tells the woman, “There is nothing wrong with you. All the tests come back normal. You are stressed and old. Go home and rest.” The sensations gradually diminish but return again once more over a period of years. Then one day she passes out, but this time the doctors have a new test to run; an MRI. The MRI tells him that the woman has had 3 major strokes. Her experience of sensations in her head were real, the doctor simply didn’t have the tools to identify them the first 2 times. Just because science can’t validate something, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. When a human being personally experiences God, she/he doesn’t need science to validate it. It isn’t quantifiable. It’s a personal experience. And by the way, evolution and God are not mutually exclusive. They only conflict if you subscribe to a literal interpretation of the biblical creation story. Do you really insist there is no God or have you simply yet to experience God for yourself?

  6. First off I would like to say thank you and judging by your writing you are quite intelligent as well. 🙂
    But let me move on to your argument. Let me give you an example, say the women went to the same doctor with the same symptoms and he told her the same thing. She then came back a few years later and the doctor did an MRI which found there was no stroke and she was just stressed. We can conclude that she was deluded. Both case scenarios are equally probable and if you grant one water you must also grant the other one the same water. But putting that aside, in the case of the “God Experiences” they are the only testament to the belief that God exists whereas with all medical problems there is not only one way to reach a conclusion about whether or not the problem exists. So as we can see, the example doesn’t fit with the argument you are making. Taking only the information you provided in the story we have at least two ways to conclude if a stoke did or did not occur. We can look at her symptoms and compare them to other patients who displayed the same symptoms and were know to have had a stroke or we could use the MRI. So we have at least two methods of diagnosing the problem using only your information. But with the God experiences are there are no objective methods of testing God like there are with the stroke and the MRI.
    Next I would like to point out that I never state that evolution and God are mutually exclusive because they are not, I was just using evolution as an example to show how things go though the peer-review forum.
    And to answer your question, I say there is no God. It’s not that I have yet to experience it seeing as that is not the case considering I was Jewish for 13 or so years of my life and prayed.

    ~~Peter

  7. Anonymous:

    “Her experience of sensations in her head were real, the doctor simply didn’t have the tools to identify them the first 2 times.”

    So, if I understand your analogy correctly, you’re saying that God is quantifiable, just not yet. You could also use this argument to say that bigfoot, unicorns, leprechauns, ghosts, etc. are real.

    “When a human being personally experiences God, she/he doesn’t need science to validate it. It isn’t quantifiable.”

    Seriously? You can justify about anything by saying that.

    “And by the way, evolution and God are not mutually exclusive. They only conflict if you subscribe to a literal interpretation of the biblical creation story.”

    No, but if you don’t believe everything in the bible (which wouldn’t make sense anyway, since there are tons of contradictions), then you’re just picking and choosing what you like out of it.

    “Do you really insist there is no God or have you simply yet to experience God for yourself?”

    So, Anonymous, in what way have you “experienced God”? I’d really like to know, since, as far as I know, there have never been any well documented cases of anyone experiencing God. Also, if God made man in his own image, how is God invisible? What is he/she? A shape-shifter? If so, then were we made in the image of only one of his forms? I’m pretty sure I’m not invisible.

    I know you didn’t say that, but it’s a common argument.

  8. I enjoy that comment Django 🙂

    It seems the person who wrote the original criticism did not respond to my rebuttal thus I doubt they will respond to yours. But regardless, you did a nice job of shutting down their arguments. I like your style of argumentation.

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