The Burden of Proof and Non-Belief

The Burden of Proof and Non-Belief

 About two years ago I became interested in the new atheist movement and began to spend some time reading and contemplating it.  As I got into it, it struck me how much stress the new atheists puts on the question of who has the burden of truth[1] and on their belief that atheism should be categorized as a non-belief and not a belief.  It seemed that the significance they gave to these beliefs in their blogs diverted the attention away from the question of ‘does God exist’ and on to peripheral subjects[2]. At first this puzzled me and then it dawned on me how crucial these beliefs are to their thought system.

Why are these beliefs so important to new the atheists?  My suspicion is that some of them on the top of their intellectual food chain know that human reason can question and deny almost any belief.  Reason can  lead you to doubting your doubts.  So, how do you avoid this?  By simply declaring your thought system as an non-belief, making it immune to doubting and skepticism.  You never have to question it, for how can you question a non-belief?  So in essence, you can be a true believer without believing anything.  Ingenious to say the least.

What about the burden of proof?  Everyone who has dabbled in philosophy knows that you cannot prove empirically metaphysical ideas, you must infer them from facts and the inferences you contribute to the facts.  These inferences can always be questioned and doubted.  The atheist knows that the hard work is not questioning the inferences but creating them.  So, in their discussions with believers most stoop to the level of criticism.  This is why we find very few arguments against the existence of God and numerous arguments against the arguments of the theist, which proves nothing but the strength of the argument.

Some atheists have gone so far as to declare their un-belief as an absolute, claiming to have proven atheism[3], even to the point of criticizing and attacking agnosticism, which is the very state of mind that doubting is grounded on.  The agnostic says I do not know, therefore ‘I should question everything including my doubts’[4].  On the other hand some atheist[5] say you should doubt everything, but not your doubts about the existence of God and of course whatever else they deem as important.  Now I admit that atheism is the more manly and brave position rather than agnosticism, but it’s not the most rational or consistent position, from a doubters (skeptics) and believers point of view.

[1] I have a number of articles on my website about the burden of truth.  The technical definition of burden of truth basically says that it falls on the person making a positive affirmation. However, you can make a positive affirmation on a negative.  Example: there is absolutely no God.  Most reasonable people will admit that this statement cannot be proven beyond a shadow of doubt but the statement itself demands evidence or else it is simply an empty statement.  If not then why do atheists argue about it all the time?

[2] In one exchange the new atheist spent so much time arguing about the burden of proof we never got to the subject of the existence of God.  The young man seemed incapable of simply carrying on a conversation about the question, ‘does God exist’.

[3] Not many will make this assertion.  However, a few are brave enough.

[4] The true skeptic believes that the way to truth is through doubting.  Thus if you stop doubting you close off the source to truth and actually become a believer.  Atheistic absolutists’ are true believers in that they brand their abstract reasoning as absolute, and put their faith in it.

[5] These atheists are true believers, that believe that reason is pure and therefore can be absolute.  Of course reason is never pure and human knowledge never reflects reality totally.

Burden of Proof

Burden of Proof

What about the burden of Proof?  There seems to be three definitions for what the burden of proof means. There is the philosophical definition that is used in debates where the burden of proof is on the person making a claim for something. Then there is legal definition that varies from country to country. In the United States, the legal burden of truth is on the prosecutor. Then there is, what you might call the agreed-on  burden of truth where two people holding opposite views agree on each taking turns to affirming a proposition with the other taking the negative. The latter form of the burden of truth is what is practiced tacitly in a normal discussion.

It could also be argued that if one is challenging a recognized consensus of a culture or a discipline, the burden of proof would be on the challenger. For instance, if a person challenges a theory of science in which there is a consensus that a theory is correct the burden of proof would be on the one challenging the consensus, e.g. the big-bang theory. The scientific community does not accept that it has the burden of proof to prove to every individual in the culture that what it says is, in fact, the truth. The burden of proof is on the one questioning the consensus.

One fallacy of the skeptic is that many of them seem to believe placing the burden of proof on the believer in some fashion wins the debate, as though the one who has a so-called non-belief has nothing to prove. If the believer makes a positive affirmation, he has no burden of proof until someone questions the truthfulness of his statement. If the questioner offers evidence for his doubt, he also, then shares in the burden of proof in proving his evidence against the affirmation.

Let’s assume that atheism is a non-belief, would it not follow that if you had no obligation to support it or prove it, that it would be equally hard to speak about it in any way negative or positive. This would infer that the atheist, if consistent, should not spend a lot of time talking about a non-belief. Yet, we find them writing books and articles about their non-belief all the time, attempting to support and establish it by an appeal to philosophy and science. How in the world can you support something that does not exist, i.e. an non-belief? One man has said that to claim that atheism is not a belief is like saying anarchy is not really a political position.

Let us again, assume that atheism is a non-belief as the atheist often asserts. What if someone simply asked them if they believe in a God and they responded, “No, I’m an atheist”. The person who questioned them could simply respond naturally by asking the question, “Why are you an atheist?” According to atheism, the right response should be “I don’t have to answer it because atheism is a non-belief.” Who has the burden of proof?

Now if we reverse this line of questioning and have someone ask a believer “Do you believe in a God?” and the believer says, “Yes I do”, this response would then put the burden of proof on the believer, especially if the person in turn asked “Why?” This is an example of the agreed on burden of proof, which is just a part of ordinary conversation.

It would also seem rational if the atheist used science or philosophy  in an attempt to prove his worldview or his atheism. He must accept the burden of proof in regard to his arguments from science or philosophy for he has shifted the burden of proof from his non-belief to those beliefs. So the great emphasis that atheists put on the burden of proof and atheism being a non-belief seems to be a lot of twaddle.