These words are often thrown at theists in an attempt to force them to prove that God does exist. Atheists say, “You claim God exists, so the ‘Burden of Proof’ rests on the one making the claim – so show me the proof.” The intention of this is not to ingest knowledge and truth regarding God’s existence. It is an attempt to trap a theist by setting up a “debunking” session of any evidence provided in regards to God’s existence.
In other words, atheists do this in order to step outside of the debate and become a sort of outsider questioning the theist. By doing this, the atheist does not have any obligation to defend atheism and prove God does not exist. It is a safety mechanism used by them to protect them from trying to do the impossible: disprove the existence of God.
So Who has the Burden of Proof?
Well this depends on the situation. But first let me give you a bit of history as to why atheists use this sophistry during discussions/debates regarding God’s existence.
In the mid-twentieth century, Anthony Flew, a prominent philosopher who was an atheist and later a theist presented the idea of atheism being the ‘default’ position. This is also labeled the, “Presumption of Atheism.” What this means is that we all should be atheists until evidence for God is presented.
Despite being fallacious, many atheists adopt this trend of thought. There is no evidence that atheism is the ‘default’ position. On the contrary, with the discovery of the VMAT2 gene, Flew’s argument goes out the window. If atheism is the ‘default’ position or we must ‘presume atheism,’ then why do we all have a gene that predisposes us to belief in God and the supernatural? Moreover, if atheism is the ‘default’ position, then how did belief develop from a default non-belief mental state? In order to disbelieve something, one must first be aware of that something. The mind cannot make any conclusions on anything without prior knowledge on whatever it is that it will be making a conclusion on.
In reality, atheists use this fallacious argument to stall during a debate. By stating that atheism is the ‘default’ position, atheists are attempting to force believers to go on the defensive.
For example, if 99% of the people in a town are democrats and the one person who makes up the 1% is republican, then it is obvious that the ‘default’ position is the democratic one. This puts the republican on the defensive because he/she is outnumbered. Similarly, if atheists claim that atheism is the ‘default’ position by nature, then believers must defend why they are adopting a radical one. This is a set up for the shifting of burden.
Now back to the burden of proof:
The Burden of Proof falls on either party depending on the situation. Here is a scenario:
If an Atheist approaches a Theist saying that he/she lost faith or cannot believe in God because of whatever reason, then the Atheist puts the Theist on the defensive. The Theist then can either ignore the Atheist or respond by attempting to restore this Faith in God or answering whatever reason for the loss of belief.
However, if the Atheist approaches a Theist claiming, “there is no God, God is a myth, a superstition,” then the Atheist is making a claim and the Theist has the right to request proof of this claim. The Atheist must then provide evidence for this confident claim that there is no God.
The Burden of Proof always rests with the Prosecution who needs to support the case with evidence.
The Atheist site (http://www.positiveatheism.org/) seems to push for Atheists to take the former position in order to engage a Theist in a debate.
Let’s say there are two individuals, a believer (B) and a non-believer (NB).
- If B wants to convince NB that God exists, then the burden rests on B.
- If NB wants to convince B that God does NOT exists, then the burden rests on NB.
- If both B and NB are trying to convince each other, then the burden rests on both.
- If both B and NB are just discussing God and have no intention to convince either that his/her position is wrong, then neither have the burden.
So in reality, in a serious dialog the Burden of Proof rests on both. The Atheist and Theist should be able to provide evidence for his/her claim. This makes the discussion more fruitful. By having one side provide proof as the other listens, then this is not a debate but an interview. Atheists can say all they want that their position is not a claim; this is intellectually dishonest. The presumption that there is No God, God is a myth or superstition IS a claim. It has to be backed up with proof.
Even the atheism section of about.com has this to say:
“The first thing to keep in mind is that the phrase “burden of proof” is a bit more extreme than what is often needed in reality. Using that phrase makes it sound like a person has to definitely prove, beyond a doubt, that something is true; that, however, is only rarely the case. A more accurate label would be a “burden of support” — the key is that a person must support what they are saying. This can involve empirical evidence, logical arguments, and even positive proof.
Which of those must be presented will depend very much upon the nature of the claim in question. Some claims are easier and simpler to support than others — but regardless, a claim without any support is not one which merits rational belief. Thus, anyone making a claim which they consider rational and which they expect others to accept must provide some support.”
So there you have it. Any claim that someone may ‘consider rational… must provide some support.’ Atheists are not exempt from this.