The Burden of Proof from “Socratic Logic”

As most of my readers know, I often get into arguments on Twitter with Twitter atheists, who are not the best educated class of people in the world. Most of them are very fond Antony Flew’s redefinition of atheism as “lack of belief in God,” because it allows them to pretend they have no real position, and so no obligation to defend their position with reasons, evidence, or argument.  The trick here is to attempt to put all the responsibility on the theist, claiming that atheism is the “default position.”  (Often they call it the “null position”, badly misunderstanding this concept from statistics).

My response, as many of you also know, when someone says “The burden of proof is on the one who makes the positive claim” is to note that this itself is a positive claim, and that, therefore, the one claiming it to me has the burden of proof to prove it:

EveCardBurdenOfProofCard

This drives them crazy, because they cannot prove it. They cannot prove it, because it isn’t true.

Tonight, I had yet another atheist say this to me (actually five, but who’s counting?).  As her “proof” @Isobelletomkins referred me to “every logic text book there is” or something like this. I hunted for her actual Tweet for about 15 minutes before realizing she had blocked me.  No great loss, as she seemed like an extremely dogmatic and narrow-minded atheist. [Correction: if you check the comments below, you will see that Isobelle Tomkins is not an atheist. She is, in fact, some kind of priestess, who I believe considers herself to be a Christian. I had honestly forgotten this, and simply assumed her to be an atheist since she took part in the dogpile attack on me, along with several atheists. And as for her seeming to me “dogmatic and narrow-minded”, it seems she is one of those “tolerant liberals” who is only dogmatic and narrow-minded towards actual Christian orthodoxy. She has no problem with atheists—only with orthodox Christians. This is of course to be expected from a heretic.]

At any rate, before she blocked me (or maybe after—who knows?) I told her I’d transcribe the section on the fallacy of “Shifting the Burden of Proof” from the logic text I use in my classes, which is Socratic Logic by Peter Kreeft.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough, if you wish a very thorough grounding in basic and practical logic.

Professor Kreeft and I have corresponded on occasion and he has generously told me to use  his books as much as I like.

Here is what he has to say:

Shifting the Burden of Proof

The “burden of proof” or “onus of proof” is a matter of protocol, or interpersonal rules in debate. The one who has this “burden of proof” has to prove his case: if he does not, he loses the debate.

Who has the burden of proof? This varies with the situation. Sometimes it is the one who denies, sometimes the one who affirms. Sometimes it is the one who is the first to speak, sometimes the second.

In science, an idea is “guilty until proven innocent,” so to speak: a crucial principle of the scientific method is to accept no idea until you have adequate proof for it. (What counts as “adequate proof” also varies with the situation.) But in ordinary conversation, an idea is “innocent until proven guilty,” so to speak: we believe what our friends say until we have good reason to disbelieve it. If a physicist says he has discovered how to make cheap cold fusion, or if a theologian says he has discovered the date of the end of the world, the burden of proof is on him, and our rightful reply is “Prove it!” But if Aunt Harriet says the dirty little diner downtown serves the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted in your life, or if your brother says he saw a police car crash into the front door of the city library, you don’t say “Prove it.” The burden of proof is on you if you doubt it. This is not a matter of logic but of personal protocol.

It becomes a matter of logic when, in debate, the original strategy is implicitly changed. E.g. in court a prosecuting attorney may badger the defense to prove its case as if the accused were guilty until proved innocent rather than innocent until proved guilty; or a moralist crusading for a prohibition may demand proof that alcohol contributes to the health of bodies or societies. In a debate about a controversial practice that used to be illegal or unavailable, such as cloning or surrogate motherhood, the one who attacks the new procedure often assumes that the burden of proof is on the “new kid on the block,” on the new permissiveness, while the one who defends it often assumes that any practice, like a person, is innocent until proved guilty. Who has the burden of proof here is itself a matter of serious argument, but this should be agreed on before argument proceeds, and whoever assumes the burden of proof should not “cop out” on giving such a proof (i.e. proving his case) by simply accusing his opponent of not proving his case.

I am unsurprised to find Professor Kreeft saying essentially the same thing I have been saying for years: the “burden of proof” is neither a purely logical or ethical principle.  It is a matter of interpersonal protocol.  It is foolish to endlessly insist on some mindless “one size fits all” rule such as “the one who makes the positive claim has the burden of proof.” This is, as I have noted, a positive claim that cannot be proven, so the one who makes it is always subject to my retort above, or my friend Chris Lansdown’s standard response, which is to ask his interlocutor to prove he or she is a capable of understanding a rational proof before he makes one.

Which is to say, making up an arbitrary rule about who has the burden of proof and trying to impose it on someone is not a logical or reasonable action. It is an exercise in intellectual bullying or intellectual violence in response to which the victim is certainly entitled to refuse to play that game.  Any rules of debate must be agreed upon by all parties; else they are not binding on those who do not accept them. If someone wishes to impose a rule on themselves, that is of course within their rights; but to impose it upon others without their consent is not.

I note again that, infallibly, those who seek to impose the burden of proof rule on others do not accept it for themselves. No one has ever, not once, made a serious philosophical attempt to demonstrate that “the one who claims has the burden of proof.” Instead, they either repeat the “rule” over and over, make an appeal to authority (e.g. Wikipedia), or indulge even more bizarre behavior, the most common of which is to deny that the claim “the one who claims has the burden of proof” is a claim! They say things like “I don’t claim anything. That is just a fact.” or “The burden of proof is on the one who claims! This is not a claim.”  To which I of course respond “That is fine. I don’t claim anything either. God exists. That is just a fact,” or “God exists. This is not a claim.” [ADDENDUM: I got a new one for my collection.  “I don’t need to prove the burden of proof. It’s axiomatic.”  My reply? “That’s fine. I don’t need to prove the existence of God. It’s axiomatic.” Atheists HATE IT when you make them play fair!] [ADDENDUM 2: Got another one. “The burden of proof does not need to be proven because it is the FOUNDATION of logic.” My reply? “Accepted. The existence of God does not need to be proven, because it is the FOUNDATION of all existence.” The response? The usual: “No!!!! You can’t use the EXACTLY SAME ARGUMENT I JUST DID!!!!! BECAUSE THAT’S FAIR AND I DON’T LIKE IT!!!!”]

The problem with using dishonest rhetorical tactics is the most basic rule of fair play: if YOU can do it in the debate, then *I* can do it too! If my opponent uses an unfair or dishonest move, it then becomes entirely legitimate (in that argument) for me to make the exact same move. My opponent has no basis to call me on it, since he himself legitimized the move by making it first. So he can either (1) accept my equal right to use of his own cheat, or else (2) he can openly and brazenly specially plead and insist the rules apply only to me and not to him, or (this is possible, but has never happened) (3) he could say “I see that move I tried to make is illegitimate. Since I’m not willing to let you do it, I guess I’ll have to not do it either, since that’s what fairness requires.” I find it both interesting and depressing that never, not once, has an atheist I’ve been is dispute with elected for option (3).  They also won’t accept (1) since I use it to immediately and directly establish the existence of God and/or the truth of Christianity. So what follows is infallibly a long and tortured whining about how it is “unfair” of me to demand fairness. Many of them seem genuinely offended that I expect them to abide by the very rules they are eager to enforce on others. Which, again, I think, tells you something about the typical atheistic mindset.

All you accomplish when you dogmatically assert the unproven and unprovable claim that your opponent has the burden of proof is to thwart all possibility of meaningful discussion or debate, and make yourself an ass or crybaby (or both, a crybully):

BurdenOfProof

It isn’t only atheists who do this, nor is it all atheists, but thanks to Antony Flew’s infamous exercise in intellectual dishonesty “The Presumption of Atheism,” an entire generation of insufferable atheists think they have a God-given right (so to speak) to place the burden of proof on theists, against their will, while divesting themselves of any and all responsibility to make a rational case for atheism (which cannot be done, since atheism is a deeply irrational and incoherent worldview).

It is, in fact, an indication of the complete failure of atheism as a rational position that it has to redefine itself as a kind of agnosticism and make use of this extraordinarily intellectually dishonest tactic. I regard recourse to such foul play as a tacit admission of defeat.  If you cannot win without cheating, you should concede defeat and reconsider your position rather than continuing to advocate the position through dishonest means. [ADDENDUM: It was also a completely asshole thing to do for the atheists to redefine themselves en masse as agnostics—except instead of joining the agnostics in an honest manner, they REDEFINED ATHEISM so as to incorporate agnosticism, and FORCED the agnostics, against their will, to be “atheists”—even though the term “agnostic” had been coined specifically in contradistinction to “atheist,” with the result that no one identifying as an “agnostic” wanted to identify as an “atheist” (or they would have done so already).  But the atheists carried out a kind of intellectual-linguistic imperialism and simply conquered the domain of the agnostics.  This was a massive dick move in the part of the atheists.]

The basic point remains: no one has any right to place the burden of proof on another person without their consent. And you should think little better of people who do think they have such a right to do this to your intellect than you do of people who think they have a right to do things to your body without your consent.

Here are some things I wrote for Twitter:

Appendix A:

BurdenOfProof2

Appendix B:

BurdenOfProofWikipedia

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32 comments on “The Burden of Proof from “Socratic Logic”

  1. Isobelle Tomkins says:

    I am not an athesit in that I have a deep, abiding, sustaining but educated, intelligent belief in God. That is NOT an oxymoron viz Professor Fr Georges Lemaitre the Jesuit astrophycicist who is called ;the ‘Father of the Big Bang’ What i am NOT is a fundamentalist/literalist.I know atheists get a big kick out of demolishing these people – which is no big deal as a bright 9 year old can do that.If it pleases anyone out there to think that my faith is not strong or that I’m an atheist at heart, go right ahead, I have no neurotic need to PROVE anything, which is more that I can say for you. I am not ‘triggered’ by being called an atheist, just VERY annoyed, because Eve knows perfectly well that I’m a theist having been told MANY times, yet still chose to write a blog misrepresenting me, after blocking me so I wouldn’t find out. Nice one Eve.I’d already blocked her as I was unwilling to be bombarded over and over [as she does when she gets obsessed- this was my second time around] and I was polite enough to inform her of this, so her motive was clear.I was however informed.

    This will be my last visit to this blog – it was only a tweet from Barry Lyons which alerted me to the presence of replies to me which caused me to revisit. So don’t bother replying to me as you will be having a conversation with yourself.

    Sorry that I don’t fit your idea of a theist, all hot to prove the existence of God to you, to convince or convert you. I’m not an evangelist. if this is your first encounter with a liberal theologian, I suggest you get out more.. .

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    • Of the various kinds of atheist, I wonder if “liberal theologian” is the worst, as being the least honest?

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      • Eve Keneinan says:

        Yes. I will take an honest old atheist any time, and even settle for a dishonest new atheist, over a liberal theologian.

        But aren’t atheism and heresy at bottom equivalent? Both willfully deny the truth of God.

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    • Eve Keneinan says:

      > Eve knows perfectly well that I’m a theist having been told MANY times, yet still chose to write a blog misrepresenting me, after blocking me so I wouldn’t find out.

      I blocked her simply because she blocked me first. I do that as a matter of course. Blocking me merits a block in return.

      Also note I immediately corrected the misrepresentation, which was unintentional, in the post.

      I am sorry to inform you, Isobelle, that you are simply not so memorable that I recalled your views.

      > I was polite enough to inform her of this, so her motive was clear.I was however informed.

      As you can infer from the fact I spent a good deal of time looking for her Tweet, I was unaware she had blocked me. Perhaps she did attempt to inform me she was blocking me, but if so, I missed it, and of course, when she blocked me, the “informing” Tweet was blocked as well.

      I simply discovered she had blocked me, with no apparent notification. So I blocked her in return, and went on with my blog post without her tweet.

      What you don’t fit, Isobelle, is the idea of a Christian. Note I don’t say MY idea of a Christian. You think you are a priestess of some sort, but that is impossible and heretical. You also say you are not an evangelist. Yet Christians are, by definition, evangelists. At least those who are obedient to word of Christ (and I don’t know what kind of “Christian” feels free to ignore the commandments of Christ):

      Matthew 28:19-20

      19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you;

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      • Barry Lyons says:

        “Heresy” is a cousin to “blasphemy”. They’re both nonsensical terms signifying nothing. I take that back: they signify the existence of thin-skinned and weak-minded believers who can’t defend their own beliefs. Or as one clever, unnamed Twitterer put it: “Blasphemy is speech that has been outlawed to prevent your religion from losing arguments.” I also like this from Robert Ingersoll: “This crime called blasphemy was invented by priests for the purpose of defending doctrines not table to take care of themselves.”

        Can you think of any other area of thought outside of religion (in the sciences, say) in which an equivalent cry of “Heresy!” or “Blasphemy!” is made? No, you cannot. Only people who adhere to the wacky and inane doctrines of Christianity (and all other religions) say this.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Eve Keneinan says:

          Pure question-begging rubbish.

          Atheists have nothing to say about such matters. You are not qualified to discuss them, no more than you would be theological matters.

          Leave the discussion of true colors to the non-color-blind.

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          • Barry Lyons says:

            Hilarious! I am not qualified to discuss such matters?!? Thank you for playing right into my hands!

            “The history of theology is the history of bookish men parsing a collective delusion.” — Sam Harris

            But, hey, keep to your religious idiocies, if that’s what floats your boat. I only make two requests: a) keep this crap away from children, and b) if you decide to run for public office, keep your trap shut and your religious delusions to yourself.

            My work is done here.

            Bye!

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  2. Isobelle Tomkins says:

    HOW DARE YOU CALL ME AN ATHEIST! As I have told you many times I am a THEIST. I study Theology, Biblical Hebrew, Koine Greek, Ancient History & all forms of Bblical criticism in order properly to interpret the complex collection of anciet texts which form the Bible. I am presemtly writing an article [which will be the basis of a sermon] on Prophetic Genre, Minor Prophets -Hosea. I am scientifically literate therefore not a fundamentalist. Above all i am truthful about which parts of my belief are FAITH based. I do not claim to be able to PROVE the existence of God, any more than atheists CLAIM to be able to PROVE non existence.I am not at all threatened by atheism/atheists and have long, fruitful, mutually repectful, informative exchanges with many.I am always truthful enough to say ‘I don’t know’ when I don’t My faith is mature, deep and definitely strong enough not to be threatened by admitting that I cannot PROVE God.I do not feel a neurotic need to do so. DON’T CALL ME AN ATHEIST

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    • Eve Keneinan says:

      Oh, that’s right. You’re the heretical priestess. It’s not particularly surprising you are functionally indistinguishable from an atheist. You seem a bit triggered that I referred to you an atheist. Could it be that your faith isn’t as secure as you protest?

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    • In what way are you not an atheist? You don’t seem to believe in God in any way distinct from how the average atheist believes in God (that is, you don’t think there’s any reason to believe in him), nor do you seem to believe that he entered history in the way described by either the Jews or the Christians. That you like to dress up on sundays is… uninteresting. (Also, plenty of atheists study the scriptures and can read ancient languages, so that’s hardly proof of anything.)

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      • Isobelle Tomkins says:

        You just created a couple of straw men,I do think there is reason to belive in him and I do believe that he entered history in ways described by Judaism, Christianity, Those were not issues I was addressing.I find it tiresomely common among atheists to tell me what I do or do not believe, then to demolish these strawmen to their own self congratulatory sarusfaction

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    • Barry Lyons says:

      Two things.

      a) All religious people are atheists—about all the OTHER gods they don’t believe in. Here, have a little four-sentence play:

      Stanley. “What’s it like to be an atheist?”
      Oliver: “Do you believe in Thor or Vishnu?”
      Stanley: “No.”
      Oliver: “It’s like that.”

      b) Atheists don’t claim that God doesn’t exist. An atheist is a person who rejects the claim that God exists because of insufficient evidence put forth by the believer.

      Is this clear now? Great! Glad to hear it.

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      • Eve Keneinan says:

        The is a common claim, but it is a very stupid one. It rests on the false idea that there could be multiple gods.

        People who understand what the word God means, understand there can only be one God. Theists have nothing to do with gods, who may or may not exist. They are irrelevant to the question of God.

        For those who believe in God, they have differing beliefs and the nature of God—but they all believe in the same God. This is no different whatever from scientists who all believe in nature, even though they have different theories about nature. Scientists with rival theories about nature are not believers in “multiple natures.” There is only one nature, which they disagree about in their understanding and description. The same is true with respect to metaphysicians. When they disagree about what reality is like, they are not “believing in multiple realities.”

        Christians and e.g. Muslims are not asserting “God is real” vs “Allah is real.” BOTH Christians and Muslims acknowledge God/Allah to be real. This dispute is about such things as whether God became incarnate in Christ or whether Muhammed was a prophet of the one, true God.

        This very stupid atheistical objection confuses the one text with the multiple interpretations of the text.

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      • Barry Lyons says:

        This is for Eve Keneinan (there’s no “reply” button beneath her message (of 7/22 at 2:03am),

        Theists have everything to do with gods. It’s implicit in the definition: a theist is a person who believes in the existence of God (or multiple gods: see Hinduism). Consult a dictionary.

        “There can only be one God.” Well, yeah, sure, that’s what religious people like to say, but fervent Christians say THEIRS is the One True Faith while fervent Muslims say THEIRS is the One Truth Faith, and so on for some other faiths. How are these competing claims adjudicated?

        “They all believe in the same God.” There are different conceptions of God, which means there are different beliefs in God. What’s considered proper god-worshiping behavior can be much different from what’s considered proper god-worshiping behavior for another religious faith. If people “all believe in the same God”, why are there so many different belief systems? “Because the yearning for God expresses itself differently in different cultures,” you might conceivably say. But that’s a dodge because it avoids the elephant in the room: there is no evidence for any god whatsoever.

        Your remark about “interpretations of the text” also raise the adjudication question. How does one proceed to determine that THIS interpretation is correct but THAT interpretation is wrong?

        Finally, despite the efforts of your little essay, the burden of proof remains forever on your shoulders and the shoulders of all believers. If you say God exists, it’s not my burden to prove that God doesn’t exist. But you know what? This discussion brings to mind the following. Imagine in your mind a kitchen counter. Nothing is on the counter. Nothing. The counter is bare. Okay, now here’s my question: Do you see that red cup on the counter? You don’t? Fine. Please prove to me that the red cup isn’t there. That’s what it sounds like when you or others say, “Prove God doesn’t exist.”

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        • Eve Keneinan says:

          > There are different conceptions of God, which means there are different beliefs in God.

          Which utterly fails to get you where you want to be, namely, to “there are different Gods.” It simply doesn’t follow from “There are different conceptions of X” or “there are different beliefs about X” that “there are many Xs.” You cannot get there from here.

          > Finally, despite the efforts of your little essay, the burden of proof remains forever on your shoulders and the shoulders of all believers.

          Prove it!

          As I’ve noted before, disbelief in God is not like disbelief in invisible cups, but like disbelief in reality or consciousness. And no one has any burden to prove the existence of those things, no matter how much you desire them too. But you keep on special pleading!

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          • Barry Lyons says:

            No “special pleading” here. The problem here is you seem incapable of comprehending Carl Sagan’s famous adage: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” which, by the way, is a reworking of something Laplace said: “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.”

            “There are different conceptions of God, which means there are different beliefs in God.” What you mean to say is that there are different conceptions of make-believe. No one has established that any god exists, and so gullible believers just blather on about a fiction of their own making.

            I don’t need to prove that the burden is on believers. It’s self-evidently true that if a person make a claim or an assertion about something unusual or far-fetched, etc., evidence should be provided to support the claim. “I spoke with Carol Burnett” does not require evidence for you to accept my story. “God exists” is an extraordinary statement that does. And if no evidence is forthcoming, then Christopher Hitchens’s great comment comes into play: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

            A disbelief in God is not like a disbelief in reality or consciousness—which strikes me as a strawman argument because I’m unaware of anyone saying they don’t believe in reality, whatever that could mean.

            You’ve added nothing of value and have nothing convincing or persuasive to say about the supposed emptiness of the standard “burden of proof” argument.

            Finally, a word from David Hume: “A wise man … proportions his belief to the evidence.” I’m sticking with Hume and Laplace.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Eve Keneinan says:

              It’s more than a little amusing that you angrily critique your own words, thinking them something I said.

              You are indeed engaging in special pleading. If it is true that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” then what evidence do you have that God does not exist? The verdict of the vast majority of the human species falls against you. You want to claim that your blindness is “real sight” and to tell all of us who can see, that our sight is illusory. That would be an extraordinary circumstance indeed. It is very obvious from human history that belief in God is the human default. That is to say, it is ordinary. To assert the nonexistence of God is extraordinary. So in this way too, by your principle of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” the burden of providing this extraordinary evidence for your extraordinary belief or lack of ordinary, normal belief, falls to you. YOU are the one who asserts what is novel and abnormal. This is obviously a case of special pleading, because you are precisely pleading that atheism, which is abnormal and novel, be treated as if it were the default position of humanity, as normal and established. But it isn’t. The opposite is true.

              You certainly haven’t given anyone any good reason to accept your claims that theists are making some sort of epistemic mistake. All you do, and all you can do, is repeat that something which you do not see, does not exist. But how could you know this? Epistemically, you seem very much in the position of a blind person stridently insisting that “sights” do not exist. To be frank, theists are entirely justified in dismissing atheists as either willfully blind or cognitively impaired.

              You say a disbelief in God is “not like” a disbelief in reality or consciousness, but you do not provide any evidence for this claim. Evidence seems to be for you something for other people.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Barry Lyons says:

                “If it is true that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, then what evidence do you have that God does not exist?” Did I say God doesn’t exist? No, I didn’t. I said there is no evidence pointing to the existence of a god. Sorry, but it’s your claim (that a god exists) and so it is up to you to support that claim with evidence. A mere belief in God is not evidence.

                “To assert the nonexistence of God is extraordinary.” Nice try. Again, I said (or I’ll be clearer right now) that there is no evidence that God exists. See the above paragraph.

                “The verdict of the vast majority of the human species falls against you.” All sorts of people in all sorts of cultures believe in the existence of a god. The majority of the human species BELIEVES there is a god but not a single person in the history of the world has evidence for one.

                “To be frank, theists are entirely justified in dismissing atheists as either willfully blind or cognitively impaired.” No, you have it backward: religious believers are cognitively impaired because they go around believing in things for which they have zero evidence. That way madness (and delusion) lies. Angels: believers believe in them—and yet no evidence has been offered to support the claim. Souls: believers think there’s an ethereal “thing” in our bodies that whooshes off somewhere at our death—and yet no evidence has been offered to support the claim. Catholics have their wacky and zany idea called “Transubstantiation”: that a man appears in a cracker that’s been “blessed.” Again, there’s no evidence for this claim, only a belief.

                “It is very obvious from human history that belief in God is the human default.” And at one point in our early history, we thought there there were angry gods or demons that accounted for disease and thunderstorms. Now we know better. On countless occasions in history people said “God did it” when they couldn’t understand something. Newton, brilliant though he was, thought God was needed to keep the planets in orbit. Today, no one believes this. Why? Because we have evidence that accounts for how planets stay in their orbit. And so it goes: the story of science is the story of whittling away at religious delusions and showing that there are natural processes that account for certain things and experiences (diseases, storms, etc.). As Neil deGrasse Tyson put it, “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller as time moves on.”

                “You certainly haven’t given anyone any good reason to accept your claims that theists are making some sort of epistemic mistake.” This isn’t about a “mistake” as such. It’s more straightforward than that: religious people make countless claims for things—God, angels, souls, that a certain individual lived in an aquatic creature for a few days, etc.—and yet they have no supporting evidence for any of these claims. The only thing believers “have” for these things is empty belief.

                “You say a disbelief in God is ‘not like’ a disbelief in reality or consciousness, but you do not provide any evidence for this claim.” As Sam Harris has pointed out, “The term ‘consciousness’ is notoriously difficult to define.” Still, he gets a good handle on the subject here: https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness. Enjoy his blog post!

                I now await you response: “Oh, so you say angels and souls don’t exist? What’s your evidence for that?” Sigh.

                Barry

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      • Zach says:

        > People who understand what the word God means, understand there can only be one God. Theists have nothing to do with gods, who may or may not exist. They are irrelevant to the question of God.

        As an atheist, I agree. But that’s the problem. Let me change the definition of athiest a little bit to clarify:

        “Someone who believes god exists, but is simply unsure of what follows.”

        The claim that “a singular god exists” doesn’t lead to any particular theological claim or consequence. Let’s try some other metaphysical claims:

        1. We’re all actually inside of perfect computer simulations of the universe.
        2. We’re all actually inside of one of an infinite amount of recursive perfect simulations of the universe.

        Honestly, it’s not clear to me that even if these claims were true, what sort of implication it would have on me. “So?…”

        See, I’m more interested, as an athiest, about these claims:

        > This dispute is about such things as whether God became incarnate in Christ or whether Muhammed was a prophet of the one, true God.

        And that’s where my protocol for burden of proof definitely turns on. Not that it’s logical or anything. It’s just… I don’t, my operating protocol? Isn’t it yours, for other claims of historical significance?

        How many times has someone misquoted a famous politician / scientist / philosopher? How many social media posts have been made claiming all sorts of false things about various people?

        I just suspect, that after all the times I and other people around me have been fooled, that I should bring some skepticism to any such remarkable historical, physical claim. I guess that’s my “burden of proof” protocol?

        But yeah, paradoxically, on the claim “does god exist?”, I don’t think athiest has to say “yes” or “no”. I suspect it doesn’t matter either way. The real point is, after all, all the other specific theological claims that should, afterall, be met with a similar amount of skepticism we give similar non theological claims.

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        • Eve Keneinan says:

          You are talking about, as you say, “your own protocols.” Those are up to you, and how you see fit to regulate your belief acquisition or rejection.

          I am talking about a kind of intellectual violence where some people try to force their beliefs onto others. Atheists very frequently accuse theists of doing this, and perhaps some theists do do this, but in my own experience, atheists very commonly do it as well: they believe they have a positive RIGHT to command or demand proofs, or else they attempt to deprive theists of their own rights of belief by asserting that theists are committing some sort of fault, moral or logical or both, for believing in God—although if challenged to tell me WHAT moral or epistemic duty I am violating by believing in God, answers are not forthcoming.

          To take a pertinent example, although I am a theist, I rarely assert the proposition that “God exists” directly to atheists. In spite of the fact that I do not assert this, I am ENDLESSLY told that “I am the one asserting the positive claim”, etc. etc. If you browse my timeline, you will see me frequently ask “What claim did I assert?”, a question which has never been answered.

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  3. byblacksheep says:

    If you engage in these conversations often, I imagine you are familiar with Russell’s teapot.

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    • Eve Keneinan says:

      All too familiar.

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      • byblacksheep says:

        Then you know that your focus on the positive claim aspect is disingenuous, by ignoring the fact that the onus is on the theist for making an unfalsifiable positive claim.

        If I make a claim that something does not exist you can easily falsify that by producing the thing in question. But if you make the claim that something in fact exists, I can provide millions of examples of it not existing, and while compelling, that is not in itself evidence for the things non existence.

        Take the platypus for instance, when the first reports of the platypus reached Europe no one believed an egg laying mammal with a duck bill, webbed feet, and poisonous spurs. Then a pair of platypuses were produced and the unfalsifiable claim was proven.

        This is not an appeal to authority, it is demonstrable how logic works. By the way, I liked how you trashed appeals to authority, and then half your post as an appeal to authority. Nice.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Eve Keneinan says:

          Your use of the term “unfalsifiable” is what is disingenuous. “Falsification” was never anything more than Karl Poppers attempt to formulate the “demarcation criterion,” which separates scientific knowledge from non-scientific knowledge.

          Popper was aware that the principle could not be generalized, since it self-destructs if one tries to do so. The claim “all rational claims must be falsifiable” is unfalsifiable, and so, if accepted, must be rejected. So you are making an error in supposing that “unfalsifiablity” has anything to do with metaphysical (or meta-scientific, if you prefer Popper’s term) claims. Worse still, falsification failed as the standard of scientific knowledge.

          So you are essentially taking me to task for an arbitrary failure to meet a failed principle. Tell you what: make falsification WORK, that is, formulate the principle of falsification with respect to metaphysics in such a way that it both can be falsified and is not falsified, and then you can appeal to it, but not before.

          I am actually in doubt you even know what “falsifiable” means, given your example of the platypus. Clearly you are completely mistaken when you refer to “an egg-laying mammal with a duck bill, webbed feet, and poisonous spurs does not exist” as an unfalsifiable claim, since it obviously was falsified.

          Finally, an appeal to authority is a material fallacy, that is, a fallacy of content rather than form. When one appeals to an authority, this appeal may or may not be fallacious, in each case. Not every appeal to an authority is fallacious. For example, if one were to make a point about the burden of proof by appealing to the authority of a well-respected professional philosopher and logician, this is entirely in order.

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      • byblacksheep says:

        My first blog post was on Peter Kreeft actually. He may not be the person you want to take your logical ques from. Here is a short series I did on one of his videos, it might interest you

        https://byblacksheep.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/the-moral-commander-series-part-1/

        https://byblacksheep.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/the-moral-commander-series-part-2/

        https://byblacksheep.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/the-moral-commander-series-part-3/

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    • Russell’s teapot is a weak argument for this “burden of proof” principle, and it is pretty easily shown that we do often believe in the existence of things without any evidence.
      People think that Russell’s teapot in space doesn’t exist because they have good arguments against its existence (e.g., it is implausible that a teapot got in space), and not because denying something’s existence is the reasonable thing to do when there is no evidence in its favor. For example, if a stranger told me he had a wife, I generally believe him even though he has given no evidence for this wife.

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      • Barry Lyons says:

        The stranger and his wife example doesn’t fly because the stakes are low. I once sat next to Carol Burnett at a play. We had a nice conversation before the play started. Do I have any evidence to back up this story? I do not. But anyone listening to me doesn’t need evidence because it’s a relatively trivial story in which nothing is at stake. It’s part of the grease on the wheels of day-to-day conversation that we accept certain stories “on faith” (in the colloquial, NOT the religious, sense).

        But the higher up you go in which a claim seems extra-ordinary (deliberate hyphen for emphasis), the more that claim demands extra-ordinary evidence for anyone to accept it. If you tell me that a person appears in a Sunday cracker (Catholicism), the burden is on you to provide evidence for this extraordinary claim. If you tell me that corpses in a graveyard came to life and walked out their tombs (see the Bible), the burden is on you to provide evidence for this extraordinary claim (hint: the Bible isn’t evidence). And so on.

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  4. What if two people are having a discussion about opposing beliefs, but neither is trying to persuade the other? Do you feel there’s a burden of proof in that situation?

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    • Eve Keneinan says:

      In that case, not at all. No one has any obligation. The two are simply clarifying their own beliefs to one another.

      In a friendly (or dialectical) discussion, two people can explore claims to test whether they are true or not cooperatively.

      In a contentious (or eristic) debate, unless there is an explicit agreement about the matter, the only rule that applies (so far as I can tell) is Socrates’ rule of natural justice: if I give my reasoning, it becomes your job to refute me. You are not allowed to continue requesting more reasons and arguments infinitely.

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      • Interesting point. Some related follow ups, if I may.

        What about being persuaded itself? Who ultimately decides what is persuasive in a discussion or debate? Does it change if it’s a discussion or a debate, or is it the same no matter what?

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        • Eve Keneinan says:

          I would say that the objective criteria do not change, but obviously one is much less likely to be persuaded psychologically by an enemy/opponent. If ‘to believe’ is “to think with assent” then the will as well as the intellect is involved, and the will can *resist* the promptings of the intellect, especially when the truth would require us to admit defeat or lose face.

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