Where is the Burden of Proof: Christianity or Atheism?

Christian & Atheist discuss who has the burden of proof for their position.

A: Since I am the only reasonable person here, the burden of proof lies with you theists.
C: I readily welcome the burden of proof for my views, for there are proofs for God’s existence and evidence that the Bible is true. But you have a burden of proof also. Are you making a claim that your view is true? If so, you are making a truth claim and have a burden of proof for your idea.
A: No, atheism is a-theism, a lack of belief. Since I make no truth claim, I have to prove nothing. I merely have no belief. Since you believe something, only you have to prove something, not me.
C: If you do not believe God exists, then you must hold to naturalism, which is the view that the only things that exist are natural, such as matter and energy.
A: Yes, of course. I am logical, and naturalism is the only logical position. Only matter and energy exist.
C: You then have a burden of proof to show that naturalism is true.
A: No, silly Christian. The natural world is just there, as Bertrand Russel said. It does not need an explanation.  But I do not believe in God, so you have a burden of proof for showing God exists.
C: I am an a-naturalist. I have a lack of belief in naturalism, and the burden of proof on you is to show that naturalism is the correct viewpoint.* As an a-naturalist, I merely disbelieve that the natural world is all there is. I do not have to prove anything, but you have to prove your point.
A: Well, I….uh….it just exists.
C: While you are at it, please explain the existence of things such as mathematics and justice, since they are neither matter nor energy.
A: You’re a fundamentalist and an idiot. And Christians are hypocrites. And your dog is ugly.
C: It seems that I have a great deal of rational explanation for my belief, but you have ducked your responsibility. You merely try to focus on the reasons for my viewpoint, but by your own admission, offer no good reason to say that your position is true. I will continue to hold that God exists and the Bible is true.

 

*Thanks to Jon Stewart for the inspiration.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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13 Responses to Where is the Burden of Proof: Christianity or Atheism?

  1. Wow, you have beaten that straw man quite thoroughly. Must be proud of yourself. And now? Perhaps you’ll take on some barbie doll at scrabble?

  2. I am a Naturalist for precisely the same reason as I am an Atheist: I do not assert the proposition “the natural world is all that exists,” but rather “I am unaware of anything supernatural which exists.” I further extend this by asking for a cogent definition of “supernatural,” as I am quite honestly unsure what it even means.

    If you are looking for a Naturalist’s– or even just a non-Platonist– explanation of the nature of mathematics, I’ll recommend one of my own posts:
    http://boxingpythagoras.com/2014/04/21/mathematics-natural-or-supernatural/

    • humblesmith says:

      Your reply aligns with the position I explain in the post.

      • Not at all! Not once have I asserted that “Only matter and energy exist.” It may well be there there is something other than the natural world which exists. If you want to convince me that such a thing exists, then the onus of proof is upon you. If you do not want to convince me that such a thing exists, then there is no burden of proof.

        • humblesmith says:

          I am an a-naturalist. If you do not wish or are unable to demonstrate naturalism, then you have made no truth claim, have demonstrated nothing, and made no conclusion. Therefore I am unable to respond and my position is not refuted.

          • I agree! Although, I would nitpick and say that you are a supernaturalist, not an a-naturalist. Unless you are attempting to say that you don’t believe claims that the natural world exists…

            The point that I was trying to make is that your Dialogue is fairly flawed. The atheist therein is an awful caricature which is representative only of a tiny minority of atheists, at large. If I were to similarly set up a Straw Man Christian which I subsequently knocked down, you would rightly object to the fallacy. For example, if I wrote a dialogue in which my Christian argued that the Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun because of Joshua 10.

            If you’d prefer to begin this dialogue anew, but with a real atheist answering the questions, I’d be more than happy to participate.

  3. humblesmith says:

    The point of this post, perhaps clumsily presented, was to respond to the oft-repeated claim by some atheists that atheism is a lack of belief, makes no truth claim, and therefore has no burden of proof. Of course this is false, for any position, even one that says someone else is incorrect, is making a truth claim. Everyone who is saying anything is holding their statements to be correct and the opposite to be false. I was merely trying to show that both Christians and atheists make truth claims and both have a burden of proof to support their view.

    Such a position is not “an awful caricature” for such statements by atheists are prevalent, whether it be in popular atheist literature or in statements to me.

  4. [link removed]

    An atheist’s only responsibility, if he/she cares about the truth of the various God claims made by theists—it’s hard to argue that one shouldn’t care about such important claims—is to evaluate the evidence in support of these claims.

    Additionally, *if* an atheist continues to make the positive claim that no god exists—and cares about the truth of this claim or wants to convince anyone else that the claim is true—he/she is required to justify this claim, and thus carries a burden of proof.

  5. The Thinker says:

    Oh come on. This is a terrible characteristic of atheists and you know it (I hope). The burden of proof lies on the one making the positive claim, which if the debate is about god’s existence, lies with the theist/Christian. It’s that simple.

    • humblesmith says:

      There’s no getting around the fact that anyone who is making a truth claim has to demonstrate the truth of the claim, and anyone who is not making a truth claim has stated nothing.

      • The Thinker says:

        If you’re saying “god exists” you’re making a positive truth claim, and the burden of proof is on you. If you’re saying “the natural world is all that exists” you’re making a positive truth claim, and the burden of proof is on you. The burden of proof depends on who’s making the positive claim whether it is for theism or atheism or anything else.

  6. Allallt says:

    Quite a few issues. I’ll number them to make it easier for you to reply if you choose to:

    1. “A: Since I am the only reasonable person here, the burden of proof lies with you theists.”
    When have you ever heard an atheist claim that?

    2. “C: If you do not believe God exists, then you must hold to naturalism, which is the view that the only things that exist are natural, such as matter and energy.”
    How do you defend this being a true dichotomy?

    3. “A: No, silly Christian. The natural world is just there, as Bertrand Russel said. It does not need an explanation. But I do not believe in God, so you have a burden of proof for showing God exists.”
    Again, I’d love to know when you’ve ever been told this. There’s methodological naturalism, which is the recognition of limits to reasonable inquiry; there’s recognition that the natural world does exist (which is non synonymous with denying the natural world); there is fallibilism, which can be summarised as “the criticism is as reasonable as the claim, dismiss the claim”.

    4. “C: I am an a-naturalist. I have a lack of belief in naturalism, and the burden of proof on you is to show that naturalism is the correct viewpoint.* As an a-naturalist, I merely disbelieve that the natural world is all there is. I do not have to prove anything, but you have to prove your point.”
    Ignoring the false dichotomy of “supernaturalism or naturalism”, a-naturalism is compatible with solipsism so is not an accurate description of your position. You hold the positive view that a supernatural realm exists. I (and many other atheists) simply don’t accept that the supernatural realm contains a God.

    5. (a) “C: While you are at it, please explain the existence of things such as mathematics and justice, since they are neither matter nor energy.”
    I get that you’re still busy attacking ontological naturalism, a position I haven’t known an atheist ever to claim (but I’ve known many theists assert that position onto atheists… do you notice the dishonesty?), but have you really never heard of methodological naturalism, empiricism, fallibilism, induction, scepticism, doubt, humanism? Can you not see the problem with taking an absence of a belief, and trying to turn it into a positive worldview?
    5. (b) But, while we’re talking about naturalism, how did you get from matter and energy being examples of natural things that exist to them being the only examples of natural things that exist? That’s a big leap and I think you need to show your working.

    6. (a) “C: It seems that I have a great deal of rational explanation for my belief, but you have ducked your responsibility. You merely try to focus on the reasons for my viewpoint, but by your own admission, offer no good reason to say that your position is true. I will continue to hold that God exists and the Bible is true.”
    Argument from ignorance? Yeah… that’s what this is. Start with a false dichotomy (supernaturalism or naturalism) and then say you don’t know how to defend naturalism, therefore supernaturalism.
    6. (b) Also, you’ve spent this post doing exactly what you accuse atheists of doing: you’re dodging your burden of proof and simply stating that you have a great deal of rational explanation.

    • humblesmith says:

      This post is meant as a whimsical way to state what we see in much public debate. It did not attempt to prove theism, nor portray itself as doing so. The main goal was to point out, as I have done other places on this blog, that if an atheist makes a statement that purports to be true, why then he has made a truth claim. If he makes no statement that he purports to be true, then I have no ability to respond. An oft-repeated position from some (not all) atheist circles is that atheism is merely, purely, only a lack of belief, and therefore has no burden of proof. This is false, due to what I just explained.

      I have indeed heard atheists claim that they are the only ones in the conversation who are reasonable, This is unfair. You may disagree, you may think our conclusions wrong, but the wild claims on atheist forums and from some writers is at best a stereotype of Christians.

      I fully realize that such views as humanism, skepticism, empiricism do not explicitly hold to physicalism per se, but the unerlying position is there. The view is clear, from such things as Carl Sagan’s famous quote “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” If you need more people who support such a view, simply go to the website of the Center for Naturalism….they give a very clear definition of their view, “there is a single, natural world as shown by science, and that we are completely included in it. . . even our highest capacities are materially based.” They also give a host of authors who support this view, such as popular author Sam Harris. So the view is widely held and very clear.

      I, and the naturalists, hold that materialism is the logical conclusion of the law of excluded middle: if there is no non-natural (i.e., supernatural) causes, then all that exist are natural ones. This is not controversial, nor is it an invention of theists. Again, see the Center for Naturalism.

      Bertrand Russell had a debate with Frederick Copelston and is widely quoted as responding to one of the questions about the origin of the universe as saying “it’s just there” and does not need an explanation.

      The rest of my post was just a light-hearted attempt to spin the logical tables on the portion of atheists who claim they do not have a burden of proof since they claim they are making no claims.

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