Who does the burden of proof lie with? (the non-believer or the believer) Why?

I got into a debate with someone in school about this. Of course, I changed the word “god” into “boogey-man” to prove my point. Still, the guy I was debating said the burden of proof is for whoever is doing the convincing ie. if I say the boogeyman does not exist, I have to prove it. I responded that my “proof” was the lack of proof. Thoughts?

Posted: February 9th 2009

George Ricker www

In any discussion, the person making a claim bears the burden of proving its validity. If you claim something does not exist (which is a joyless task), then it is incumbent upon you to marshall the evidence on which you base that claim.

It is probably a better approach to argue probabilities rather than making a blanket claim of non-existence.

Always remember that “prove me wrong” is not an acceptable argument. It is not enough that a proposition cannot be proven false. What is necessary is that it be proven true. Therefore, if the proposition “God exists” is under discussion, the burden of proof rests on the one who claims it to be true.

Posted: March 4th 2009

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George Locke

I hope the debate was friendly. Sometimes you get into a heated argument without realizing it, but if that’s what happened then you and 'the guy’, whom I’ll call Francis, are probably better off if you don’t try rekindling the issue. That said, I think you’ve raised an interesting question, and I’m happy to respond.

If you’re trying to convince someone of something, then you’re trying to 'prove’ that s/he should rethink his/her position. While it is certainly true that god doesn’t exist, this isn’t what i’d try to prove. Instead, you should try to prove that Francis has no good reason to believe in god. Your object is to show that there is no reliable evidence or effective argument for god, and that therefore there is no justification for believing in it.

The point here is that in a debate, the one making the claim has to justify the claim, but everyone should be able to justify each of his/her beliefs. The 'burden of proof’ is always on Francis to justify his own beliefs, maybe not to you, but to himself, at least.

First you have to establish that you should only have beliefs that you can justify, and then you have to qualify what constitutes justification. Most likely, you will find a double standard between what Francis believes with regard to ordinary non-spiritual matters and his religious beliefs. If you want to be very exact, defining what justifies belief is a hairy philosophical question, as a quick visit to wikipedia will demonstrate. I would just stick to examples of actual beliefs that Francis holds and ask him why he believes in them. Be prepared to defend your belief in science (why you trust/“have faith in” scientists, etc).

If you can establish this baseline, then Francis might resort to a position like 'faith justifies my belief’ or make some other argument for god, eg design, fine-tuned universe, personal testimony, etc. If you bring it this far, then you’ve succeeded in turning the debate around so that he has to justify his belief.

Posted: February 9th 2009

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Well, strictly speaking, I think he’s correct.

It’s important to differentiate between positive beliefs and lack of belief.

If somebody comes to me and says that they believe that aliens are abducting people, I lack that belief. They are the one making the positive statement, and therefore they bear the burden of proof.

Further – my lack of belief has the great advantage that it is very simple to prove me wrong – one documented example of existence does that.

On the other hand if I say that I believe alien abductors do not exist, I am making a positive claim, and given that non-existence is pretty hard to prove, not an easy one to justify.

However, most people conflate those two things, so it’s hard to be technical.

For atheists, those that lack belief are often known as “weak atheists”, and those that actively believe that god does not exist are known as “strong atheists”.

I am a weak atheist. I might be a strong atheist on the existence of a particular “god”, but I’ve been having a little trouble getting anybody to tell me exactly what is meant by the word “god”, and if you can’t define what something is, it’s a bit hard to discuss whether it exists or not.

Posted: February 9th 2009

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Dave Hitt www

It’s not possible to prove that something doesn’t exist. Vampires, werewolves, unicorns, dragons, fairies, Santa – it simply can’t be done. Therefore, the burden of proof always falls on the person making the positive claim. He claims something (God) exists. You can’t prove he/she/it doesn’t any more than you can prove vampires are fiction.

Using his “logic” he also has to also believe of all those creatures, and every other creature of the imagination, is real. That leaves him in a rather tricky spot when it comes to Zeus, Thor, Shiva, and the thousands of other gods man has worshiped through history.

Posted: February 9th 2009

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