Michael Horner's Blog

    Guest Blog by Dr. Paul Chamberlain: “Do All Truth Claims Come With A Burden Of Proof?”

    Written by Paul Chamberlain and Michael Horner


    Guest Blog by Dr. Paul Chamberlain

    Michael Horner has already written about the debate he and I participated in at the 2012 convention of the North American chapter of Atheist Alliance International in Kamloops, British Columbia.  Let me comment on one issue that became a point of dispute in the debate: burden of proof.  It’s the question of who has to prove what in order to support their position.

    Michael and I began our opening arguments with the claim that both theism and atheism make important truth claims, and as such both have an equal burden of proof to give a reason to believe their truth claims.  We then called upon the atheist debaters to put arguments on the table for their position.

    One of the atheist debaters responded passionately that this was not true.  He contended that atheism’s truth claim is a negative one, i.e., there is no God, and as such there is no burden to prove it.  The burden of proof is only on the person making the positive claim, the theist, not the one making the negative claim.

    “Is this always true,” we asked in cross-examination.  “Yes” was his unequivocal reply.  When asked if a person making the negative claim, “the Holocaust did not occur” has a burden of proof for that claim, he wavered slightly and stated that if the person is saying he does not believe the Holocaust occurred, (i.e., the absence of a belief in the Holocaust) he has no burden of proof; however, if he is saying he believes the Holocaust did not occur, then he does have a burden of proof.  We then pointed out that this amounted to an admission by him that key negative claims do have a burden of proof after all.  We then turned our attention to the question of theism vs. atheism.

    I’ll say more about the debate later but it’s important to realize how important this question of the burden of proof is in the debate over the existence of God.  Atheists have, for some time now, been working hard at shifting the burden of proof entirely to theists in this way.  Richard Dawkins admits, surprisingly easily, that no one could prove atheism (not something conceded by all atheists) but then insists that to ask for such a proof for atheism is absurd.  No such proof is necessary.  It is not up to atheists to prove God does not exist.  It is up to theists to prove He does.

    Why is this so?  To support his contention regarding burden of proof, Dawkins refers to fictional characters such as the tooth fairy, Mother Goose, the Flying Spaghetti Monster of cyber space, and even Bertrand Russell’s famous celestial tea pot.  It would be absurd, he says, to call on people who do not believe in these fictional characters to prove their non-existence.  The burden of proof is on those who do believe in them.  Similarly, those who believe God exists are the ones who have the duty to prove He does, and not the other way around. [1] (Dawkins, God Delusion, p. 51-54)

    What shall one say to this line of reasoning concerning burden of proof?  Maybe the first question should be, why should anyone think Dawkins is correct in thinking the burden of proof is strictly and always on the person who makes a positive claim (e.g., God exists), and never on those making a negative assertion (e.g., God does not exist)?  The fact is that every truth claim, whether positive or negative, has a burden of proof since it is a claim to know something and knowledge can properly be defined as justified or warranted true belief.

    When it comes to the question of God, clearly both theists and atheists are claim to know something is true.  “God exists,” says the theist.  “He does not,” replies the atheist.  Both claim to tell us something important about the world.  One says it has God in it; the other says it does not.  It is hard to see what it is about negative truth claims that frees them from having to be justified or supported.

    Consider what happens to Dawkins’ contention when we simply substitute other illustrations in place of his fictional characters.  What if a friend told you he did not believe pineapples or rhinoceroses exist or that George Washington, Winston Churchill, or Nero had ever lived as real historical figures?  Suppose he went further and insisted that the World Trade Centers were not attacked on 9/11 and that even the Holocaust never occurred?

    Suddenly things seem different.  Notice, these are all negative truth claims about some state of affairs in the world.  They tell us something is not the case and, in this sense, resemble the atheist’s truth claim that there is no God.  Does their negativity, alone, free your friend from having to give a reason for thinking they are true?  Hardly.

    These examples show that the burden of proof does not hinge merely on whether an assertion is positive or negative, as Dawkins seems to assume.  But why then does it seem to do just that in Dawkins’ illustrations above concerning the tooth fairy and Mother Goose?  The reason is because he has restricted his illustrations to trivial characters which were intended to be fictional in the first place and are recognized as such by anyone talking about them.  He has strategically used these fictional characters because his argument only works with characters such as these.  No one is asking for evidence that the tooth fairy does not exist because no one ever thought it did.

    It is not the negativity of the claims that release them from needing any proof but their triviality.  When we simply substitute normal historical characters such as Plato, Nero, Winston Churchill or George Washington, or serious historical events like the Holocaust or 9/11 in place of these fictional characters, it becomes clear that anyone denying the existence of these people or events has a burden of proof equal to, and in some cases greater than, the person claiming they do exist.

    In the Kamloops debate, our opponent “clarified” his position by asserting that he was not saying he believed there is no God but only that he did not believe there is a God?  We will consider this move in the next post.

    What do you think of people comparing belief in God to belief in the tooth fairy and other trivial examples?  Is it a fair comparison?


    [1] Dawkins, God Delusion, p. 51-54.

    21 Responses to “Guest Blog by Dr. Paul Chamberlain: “Do All Truth Claims Come With A Burden Of Proof?””

    • Jamie Jamie says:

      Genealogies were/are extremely important in the life of a Jewish person. It is a crucial component of the preservation of the ethnic heritage and future, their ability to participate in religious rituals especially in the hope of a restored Temple, and also for the verification of the identity of the promised Messiah. Both Gospel writers Matthew and Luke would have been scorned and discredited if their genealogical records we at all compromised. The Jews of the first century were strongly opposed to the rise of the Christian Church and if Jesus’ genealogical credentials were at all in question that would have been an easy way for them to dismiss Him as the Messiah. History shows that argument never arose. There were many other ways they tried to discredit Jesus but the Jews never accused Him of not having the family lineage to King David.

      With that said, there are reasons why the genealogies of Jesus recorded in Matthew and Luke are presented as they are. As Andrew pointed out, the Luke genealogy shows the family history of Jesus through His mother Mary. Mary did not have any brothers and so it was Jewish practice that her husband would become the adopted son of her father Heli so that the family name and estate would be carried on.

      In Matthew, we have the family tree of Jesus’ legal father Joseph. One of the concerns that people have had with this listing is that there are 6 names missing: in verse 8 Matthew jumps from Joram to Uzziah, missing out Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. This was a completely acceptable Jewish practice because of who Ahaziah mother was. Her name was Athalia, the grand-daughter of King Ahaz and Queen Jezebel. These two were rebellious in the extreme to God. In recognition of God’s self-definition as “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:6-7) it was not uncommon to leave out the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation from a Jewish genealogical record because of the magnitude of their sin against God. This is repeated in Matthew 1:11-12 in the recorded offspring of Jeconiah (Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah) because of his great rebellion against God.

      I could also identify some of the other discrepancies in the lists because of multiple names for certain individuals etc. but suffice it to say, the genealogical records of Jesus were beyond reproach in the minds of highly antagonistic Jewish leaders—the very same ones who plotted and successfully had Jesus crucified—and so we can have confidence that their accuracy is firmly established.

    • Antony Burt says:

      Hi Jan,

      Some very good points!

      “… there should be a discussion as to who’s God we are talking about.”

      Easier said than done as most arguments for god are generic and unspecified. They argue for Allah as much as God, as much as Yahweh, as much as Thor and Zeus.

      “… is it not presumptuous for any monotheistic religion to insist their god is “The God”.

      Yes, to claim that only one god ever/never existed in the entire universe will likely remain an unsubstantiated claim, until we actually get to chat with somebody (need not be a god) who is omniscient and can verify the existence or non-existence of god/gods. To claim for or against any or all gods ever is to claim omniscience. No human can claim that, as it is easily testable (what is the current order of this shuffled deck of cards.)

      “When did what people “Believe” become more important than what people “do”?

      That’s a good question as morality is so easily obliterated by Jesus and his “died for your sins” stance. I think it is grossly immoral how people can be “forgiven” so easily and so often just by a little bit of penance or even just a prayer to their self claimed god. The ownership of immorality should stay with the immoral person, and truly the only person who can forgive, is the person who is wronged. If someone rapes my daughter, it would be only my daughter who could forgive her rapist. No one else has the right to side step her trespass. Even if Jesus thought the guy was correct and just in defiling her, he has no claim to offer forgiveness in her steed. I believe that any religion that puts belief in a deity as more importance than goodness, is essentially corrupting morality. Indeed any deity worth praise should not request praise at all, but that is another issue. I would like to see that… A humble god that requests that people behave well, without regard to deity. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was commandments like this: 1) Abstain from taking life 2) Abstain from taking what is not offered 3) Abstain from sexual misconduct 4) Abstain from false speech 5) Abstain from befuddled thinking. No mention of deity praise, just act well and just.

      Actions speak louder than words, except it seems within some religions.

    • Jan says:

      This is an interesting but futile debate.

      To believe or not to believe,
      That appears to be the question…

      Perhaps there should be a discussion as to who’s God are we talking about.

      There are numerous monotheistic religions, so is it not a bit presumptuous for any monotheistic religion to insist that their God is “The God”?

      If God represents authority or power, the events of the last few years suggest that the God that really matters is money.

      When did what people “believe” become more important than what people “do”?

      If there is to be a “judgement”, I believe that what people “believed” or “said” will be trivial when compared to how they conducted their lives. I also suspect that if God is a “Just God”, repenting for one’s “sins” at the end of one’s life will not lead to “salvation”.

      As the Bible states:

      “According to their way I will do to them, and according to their own judgments I will judge them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 7:27b)

      “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

      Perhaps many of those who believe that “God is on their side” should ask themselves if they are “on the side of God”.

      Jan

    • Antony Burt says:

      Andrew:

      You just quoted Proverbs 26:4 to me. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him” (I prefer the King James or Darby translations over the New Living Translation) Are you calling me a fool?

      Perhaps so, as a lot of theists do when the trounce out Psalms 14:1 Which falsely and without justification claims: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, the have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

      Should we call each others fools?

      Jesus says in Matthew 5:22 “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

      Apparently not. ;-)

      Should we stop having discourse just because one of us sees the other is a fool?

      1 Peter 3:15 “… be ready to always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that in you with meekness and fear:”

      Again apparently not…

      Now, on to some issues:

      You mention : “In fact if you take the most boring book in the Bible and trace the blood line you will discover that as God promised King David that Jesus would come from his bloodline and the scriptures proves it.”

      Which of the contradictory blood lines do you believe in? Matthew 1:1-16 or Luke 3:23-38? Neither of these match 1 Chronicles 1-3. In Matthew 1:17 it states “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carry away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations” which is in error even in Matthews accounting which lists only 13 generations between the deportation and Christ… Unless you count Jechoniah twice? The problem exists that to attain these numbers the author(s) of Matthew merely excluded peoples names from the genealogy. There is no pattern in the genealogy as it is recorded in the Old Testament. These is not only a contradiction, but a contrivance that is unsubstantiated. (source: http://www.atheistconnect.org/2011/03/17/the-problems-with-jesuss-genealogy/)

      You mention: “I don’t have to prove to you that prayer works… your only purpose in poses [posing] these questions is to try to prove your are right.” Well, unless you can prove prayer works, then prayer does NOT work and the bible is lying: Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” You choice. I have said it before that the cure for cancer is in the bible: Matthew 7:7, Matthew 21:22, Mark 9:29, Mark 11:24, John14:13-14 (etc…) all attest that God answers prayer, and since asking for the cure for all cancers known and unknown to mankind is not a selfish act but a worthy prayer to be answered, all it takes is for just ONE Christian to ask. Since cancer of ALL known forms still exist, one can only think that no deity is listening, or cares.

      If you think that prayer works at all, it is because you are not keeping track, or only pray for things that will occur anyways. You don’t pray for regrown lost limbs, you don’t pray for someone to be alive again after death, or an accident to be undone. You ask for perhaps a job for someone who happens to be looking for work, or for happiness in the life of someone who is depressed. You actually know that prayer is ineffectual, but want to feel like you helped even when you don’t. The only benefit ANYONE gets from prayer is the person DOING the prayer, and they can attain the same exact benefit from simple meditation. All prayers (even those prayed to a god, a milk jug, a rock or the family dog) are answered with yes/no/later response. It does not matter at all to whom you think you pray to, there is no change in the course of actions that occur within the universe that result from any prayer.

      You end with: Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” to explain why you will not enter debate.

      Really, you equate me to a dogs and swine? I think it looks good on you.

      Our little discourse was enlightening in a few ways, and as usual I learned something from it. Thank you very much for your time, and be well.

      May the IPU bless you if you think you need blessing.

    • Andrew says:

      @Anthony, I have learned a long time ago when a man wants to stay in the mud that all the talking and history will prove futile. I don’t have to prove anything to you as you have already decided in your mind that the Bible is not true. History has never been able to dispute that Christ existed and if you have the courage to read the whole Bible instead of pieces of it you will discover that what the prophet Isiah said would occur did happen…. In fact if you take the most boring book in the Bible and trace the blood line you will discover that as God promised King David that Jesus would come from his bloodline and the scripture proves it.

      MY task is complete to share Christ with you and like Christ stated in the Bible when a farmer sows seed some seeds will fall on rocky soil and your soil is very rocky. You state one passage of scripture to dispute the whole Bible and if you would research the scriptures you would discover that what was promised as to where Christ would be born did in fact occur! How would someone who lived thousand years before Christ be able to foretell where Christ was born? Many of the prophesies that was promised occurred during Christs lifetime and after the resurrection. I won’t get into a dispute argument with you as their is evidence in my life as well my families life of supernatural things that have occurred that proves Christs existence. The extensive research I have done on scripture proves to me that Christ is real and that God exists. If you want to deny it then do so.

      I don’t have to prove to you that prayer works as it works in my life because I have accepted Christ and you have not and your only purpose in poses these questions is to try to prove that you are right. Then it is your right to deny Christ however when you stand before Christ you will discover in fact that what you believed was worng. YOU are talking about religion when I am talking about my own personal relationship with Christ.

      Proverbs 26: 4 Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you would become as foolish as they are.

      Which is why I refuse to get in a debate with you as your mind is already made as you have made your choice. Matthew 7: 6 Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, ten turn and attack you.

      God Bless

    • Antony Burt says:

      Prophecy in the bible? Like Isaiah 17:1 where it prophesied the city of Damascus would gain a population of over a million people? Like Genesis 26:4 where it prophesied the Hebrew people would never count in population of 10^23? Or Isaiah 7:14 which prophesied Jesus’s name correctly. Or Matthew 2:23 which reminds us of the prophecy that was made in the old testament…

      By the way… All these are failures: http://faithskeptic.50megs.com/prophecies.htm

      Don’t forget we don’t even have any of the original version. Just copies of copies of copies. Why do you think there are SOME prophecies that were true. Even the Harry Potter series of books have true prophecies in them…

      Now show me evidence of prayer working as Jesus attests it should.
      Show me evidence that genesis is true and not just myth.
      You simply can NOT.

      The holocaust happened. Genesis, like all other creation myths, are false stories. While the truth is out there, it does not reside in the bible, or Koran, or Gita, or …

    • Andrew says:

      @Anthony Burt it always amazes me when people as yourself state there really is no proof that there is a God as you compare the difference between the Holocaust and existence of God to be quite different. However there are many people who deny the existence of the Holocaust when the evidence is clearly shows that the Holocaust did occur. Just as your denying that God does exist as your refusal puts you in the same category of the people who deny the holocaust.

      You may think how can I have the audacity to make this statement about your comments as what you are saying is nothing new as people for thousands of years have denied that God exists. If you have the courage to study and read the Bible you will discover that the Bible is full of prophecies of events that occurred in the future that verify God’s existence. My only responsibility is to share the news of Christ with you and if you reject it then as Christ said in Matthew 10: 33 “But everyone who denies me on earth, I will also deny before my father in heaven.”

      Jesus was having a conversation with people like yourself who did not believe that God existed as stated in John 6: 30 “They answered, :”Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do?”. In verse 36 ” But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. 47 However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. 38.For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. 39. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but I will raise them up at the last day.”

      You choose to either follow Christ or deny him as I have fulfilled my responsibility to share the good news as Christ said we should do. All your arguments are just smoking mirrors as if you decide to open your mind and accept him your life will be changed. Prove to yourself that the word of God is false as many have tried and have been unable to do so as the Bible was written by many authors over hundreds of years and the proof of God’s existence is fulfilling of prophecy of what God had revealed to them. You Choose.

      God Bless

    • Antony Burt says:

      Correct, my humblest apologies for getting you and Paul mixed up.

      Now on to the nitty gritty…

      You state that both the holocaust and God have been proven, but, I think you will have to admit that the proofs for both ‘things’ are quite different.

      For the holocaust, the evidences are: moving pictures and still photographs of concentration camps and people involved. The remains of actual structures involved. Eye witness accounts proven to be written during the actual time of occurrence. Government documentation from within the Nazi organization, from the actual time of occurrence. A lot of physical evidence. Court trials about the crimes against humanity have been levied against some of the perpetrators of the holocaust and enough evidence was placed within the courts to convict them. There is verifiable evidence to support the claim that the holocaust occurred. Hard cold verifiable evidence.

      Now, what about God? The Kalam Cosmological argument, the Argument from Morality, and the Fine-Tuning Argument, are absolutely not evidence. They are logical arguments which can not be placed into the realm of actual evidence. As for the scriptures, there are none that could be claimed as actual evidence, as the authorship is well after any of the facts talk about. And there are absolutely no government records to back up any of the miracles. There are no actual artifacts to back up any claims. All artifacts claimed have been found to be forgeries.

      Do you see the difference between the cold hard facts for the Holocaust, and the supposed ‘evidence’ for God?

      The arguments for God, actually support ANY deity who’s myth involve creation or morality. After the Kalam argument, the user need only insert the Egyptian god Atum or Khepri to be just as equally valid as for God, Allah or Yahweh. The logical arguments essentially end in “A god of your choice” and is not specifically any particular God. The courts do not accept evidence that ends in “A human of your choice”, as that essentially is a whole whack of ‘shadow of doubt.’

      There are no verifiable evidence to support ANY god’s existence, let alone a particular god.

    • Antony & deedee
      Denying the holocaust is like denying God’s existence. And btw it was Paul Chamberlain who was making this analogy in the debate not me. But I certainly agree with him that the negative claim “the holocaust did not occur” is analogous to “God does not exist.”

      You wrote: “the holocaust has been proven to have happened”
      But the theist says the same about God’s existence. That is what the 3 arguments I gave at the debate were all about.
      You might say, “But we atheists don’t accept that as evidence.”

      But that is exactly what Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other holocaust deniers say in response to the holocaust! In both cases you have evidence presented; a much larger majority believing the positive claim; and a smaller minority denying the positive claim on the alleged basis that there is no evidence; and then the minority making the negative claim.

      Repeating the assertion that there is no evidence for God, when volumes of scholarly writings have been published about arguments and evidence for God’s existence is no more legitimate than Ahmadinejad’s repeated assertions that there is no evidence for the holocaust.

      As you noted Antony, Dillahunty admitted that someone claiming the holocaust never happened has a burden of proof to provide evidence for that claim. Likewise, so does the person who claims there is no God.

      The examples atheists typically put forward to dispute this like the tooth fairy or the celestial teapot, only work because they are trivial and are things that no one believes. When a truly analogous example like the holocaust is presented, it shows that Dr. Chamberlain is right – that the burden of proof does not hinge on an assertion being positive or negative, but on the fact that a truth claim, a claim to know something, is being made.

    • Antony Burt says:

      Two examples of negative claims (one needs evidence the other does not).

      1) The Sun does not exist.
      With this negative claim, we do have a huge amount of evidence to the positive that our solar system has a star which we call the sun. This negative claim would need to provide a huge amount of proofs to refute all existing positive proofs otherwise it can be dismissed. If the negative claim can refute all evidences, the claim is valid.

      2) The Sun’s Twin does not exists.
      With this negative claim, we have zero evidence to the positive that our solar system has a star which has a twin. This negative claim too, must provide proofs to refute all existing positive proofs otherwise it too can be dismissed. Since zero evidence to the positive exists, this claim need not provide any evidence to be deemed valid.

    • Antony Burt says:

      I was at the debate at Image No Religion 2 on May 19, 2012, and remember when Michael posed his position that claims to the negative need to supply proof, and thus Atheists must provide proof there is no God. His example (there may have been more than one example) was that someone claiming the Holocaust never happened would need to provide proof to back up his claim or that claim could be dismissed. Matt Dillahunty did agree with this position and it is correct within the limitations of the example, but there is a fundamental flaw in Michael’s position that this example can be extrapolated to all other claims to the negative.

      The problem with Michael’s argument is that the holocaust has been proven to have happened. A claim refuting it must attempt to negate the proofs already established (for example: the pictures are forgeries, the eye-witness stories are bogus, etc.). If no supporting evidence supports the negative claim, the claim to the negative can be dismissed.

      In the case with claiming there is no God, there has not been any evidence brought forward to initially prove the existence of God. Thus there is no requirement to refute the non-existent proofs.

    • deedee says:

      The burden of proof would shift to the negative claim IF and only if the positive claim had anything concrete TO refute. So far, nothing concrete to prove god’s existence has been offered. The bible is not proof. We need external verifiable (testable) repeatable data. ONCE THIS IS IN EVIDENCE, which it currently is not, we will have something to refute. That is why the burden is STILL on the positive claim for the existence of god. Once you are able to provide ANY evidence, THEN the burden will shift to the negative claim that you are wrong and there is no god. If theists want the burden to shift, it is up to them to provide the evidence that will shift the burden.

    • Tim Stewart says:

      Well, I’m not sure how much more I can or need to explain. I think you’re missing my point about the examples we use. Like I said, Chamberlain understood it and responded. My point is that if it is unfair to use obviously false examples, it is also unfair to use obviously true examples. When we’re questioning who has the burden of proof, it is most helpful to use an example where its truth is debated by people. If we’re debating the existence of God, we should use a parallel example of something that is also debated (not something that is obviously true or obviously false). And Paul explained that the Holocaust, like God’s existence, is debated. Therefore, it is a good parallel example. Is that clear?

      As for the rest of your response, it sounds like you’re responding to someone else’s comments, not mine. In my second paragraph, I did not say that the burden of proof is “only” on the positive side. My example there was to demonstrate that there is a burden of proof for the positive side, just like the negative side. I should have said “also” to be clearer.

      I’m not sure why you’re talking about not blaming atheists for being close-minded, and about convincing them to open their minds. I’ve already said in both my posts that we’re responsible to testify to the truth in word and deed. And that God has done a lot of work in proving His existence to us. Through His work and our obedience, He reveals Himself to us and opens their mind by His Spirit, convicting them of their sin.

      Paul’s whole argument was that Theists should have no more burden of proof than atheists, because the burden of proof is not only on the positive statement, but also on the negative statement. And with this I agree.

      And it’s a little strange that you’re emphasizing so strongly that we need to convince people, because that’s what Paul’s argument is trying to release us from!

    • Andrew says:

      Tim,

      I think I understand what you mean when you would prefer another example. What I would offer you though, is that perhaps a simple emphasis on the fact that some people do not believe the Holocaust is true, would solve your issue (The issue that you feel he is simply using an equal metaphor to refute Dawkins, rather than one that has all it’s bases covered).

      I did get a little confused by your 2nd and 4th paragraphs though. In the 2nd, you said that the burden of proof is only on the positive evidence, but in your 4th paragraph, you stated that you agreed that the burden of proof is both on the positive and negative evidence. Could you clarify?

      I agree with you that God has provided the evidence of his existence to those who are open minded. So the question is…

      …how do you get an athiest to open his mind?

      We can’t simply blame them for not being open minded, and when the time comes (for judgement), just say “Oops, well you should have been more open minded”.

      As christians, out of love, we need to convince the atheist to be open minded. With the barrier of “I need not provide evidence for this negative claim” standing in the way, I believe this will be quite difficult.

      This is the barrier Michael and Paul are working to tear down.

      So, to help their efforts be even more effective: Putting an emphasis on what I said before (That some people actually believe there is no holocaust), can help to make that distinction between their argument and Dawkins argument.

      I don’t think that conclusion would have been available without your original comment. Thank you for that.

    • Tim says:

      Andrew,

      Of course I agree that the intentions of the two sides of the argument are different. Like you say Dawkins is using mockery, and Mike isn’t. But this comment misses my point, entirely. My point is that just as Dawkins uses examples that are unanimously understood to be ficticious, so we shouldn’t use examples that are unanimously understood to be real. The existence of God, in this setting (meeting with atheists) is up for debate, and it’d be more helpful to use a parallel example. Paul Chamberlain actually explained to me that some people do dispute the occurrence of the Holocaust, so fair enough.

      But take the example I provided. Things are assumed to not exist, or not have happened, until they are proven. Think of the justice system’s approach to guilt: “innocent until proven guilty.” Likewise, when we are born, we don’t know about historical events until we are taught about them. In this sense, the burden of proof is on the positive statement.

      And, it seems to me, that God is ok with this. He has revealed Himself through Scripture, historical events, creation, and supremely, Jesus Christ. The evidence is there, and I think that if people are honest, they’ll admit a sense of the divine.
      Personally, I believe most atheists are rebelling against the implications of God’s existence, and their perception of lost freedom if God does exist.

      But I agree with the overall argument, here, that both sides equally have (or don’t have) a burden of proof. God has revealed Himself, and we are given the responsibility to testify to what He’s done. We should feel no more responsibility to prove His existence than atheists feel they need to disprove it. I think it’s more about our personal, chosen response to His revelation.

    • Andrew says:


      “I agree that the negativity of a claim does not release it from the burden of proof.
      And I agree that using trivial examples that are known to be ficticious is not helpful in this debate.
      But to view it from the other side, is it fair to use examples of historical figures that are generally believed to have existed? Who would argue that George Washington did not live, or that the Holocaust did not occur? Don’t these sort of examples employ the same tactic in response?”

      I believe that it IS fair to use these examples. And for 1 reason, and one reason only. You and I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those things happened.

      I would disagree that this is employing the same tactic, because the atheist is left with very real tools to prove the existence of these events.

      Dawkins example is used to make fun, and make a fool out of Christians. It is not an earnest attempt to use scientific examples to disprove god: It’s mockery disguised as intellectual conversation. I’m not saying that he doesn’t have intellectual conversation, but that exact portion of his words is not.

      Michael’s example above doesn’t use mockery, but simple facts to make a point seem valid. As he stated above, The Tooth Fairy was a story we purposely made up. It wasn’t intended to be believed (Except by children).

      The bible is a story in which the writer’s believed what they were saying. They intended it to be true, and they intended people to believe their words.

      That’s how I think the two examples are the same, and why I believe Michael has not simply used the same dirty tactic back on the atheist; he’s just speaking in an example they already understand – meeting them on the same field.

    • Bobby elkins says:

      all these words saying nothing. Does anyone “ever” take the physical history of Israel serious? In particular, where it is written, “I make known the end from the beginning.” will someone please, “look – research-investigate-” the scriptures.Jesus in his earthly ministry, spoke: “if you don’t believe me, at least believe to works that are being done.” Namely, healings, which are still going on this day, and will continue to go on until his return.

    • Tim Stewart says:

      I agree that the negativity of a claim does not release it from the burden of proof.
      And I agree that using trivial examples that are known to be ficticious is not helpful in this debate.
      But to view it from the other side, is it fair to use examples of historical figures that are generally believed to have existed? Who would argue that George Washington did not live, or that the Holocaust did not occur? Don’t these sort of examples employ the same tactic in response?

      Let’s say I’m a newborn child. To me, George Washington doesn’t exist unless it’s proven to me – taught in history class, or read in a book, and confirmed by enough people. Might it not be the same with God, that we really don’t know He exists apart from His personal revelation – through nature, history, consciences, Scripture, etc?
      Even if the burden of proof is on the positive statement, God seems to have provided for this with indications of His existence (John 1:18, 14:9, Rom 1:18-20, 2:14-15, Acts 14:17, 17:26-27).
      And we, Christians, are to testify with our words and actions of His existence and work (1 Pe 2:11-12, 3:15).

      grace and peace,

      Tim

    • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

      Jan, While I can see that you have put a lot of time and thought into your comment here I disagree with the logic. You said that, “Having God in the world means little or nothing if God is not within humanity, and the evidence that God is not within enough of humanity is overwhelming.” In particular it’s the “enough of humanity” part that I disagree with. I do not think that there is a critical mass point at which God becomes real or useful. It sounds like you have confused the existence of God with the actions of people who believe, or claim to believe in God. I do not believe that humanity’s actions can affect God Himself.

      If I am reading your comment correctly it sounds like you’re saying that God might exist, but if those who believe him aren’t better, or if the world isn’t better then it doesn’t matter if he exists or not and might as well be a fantasy. I don’t think that’s true. The existence of God changes everything. For a person who does not believe in God it will change their reality very little, perhaps not at all, but that belief or lack thereof does not take God out of existence.

      I wonder if you are very disappointed in what you’ve seen religious people do or if you are perhaps disappointed with God. If he’s here why doesn’t he fix this? That sort of thing? For me the existence of evil in the world and the existence of God are not mutually exclusive ideas. The only way for the world to be perfect would be if God took all free choice away and forced each of us to do the very best thing at all times. As long as people can choose, some will choose well and some will choose things that hurt other people. The question of where free will ends and God’s sovereignty begins is one that you will have to ask someone smarter than I am.

      Having God in the world means everything, even while there is still suffering, because it means that there is hope. Without God all we have is what we can see, the things and people and relationships we have now, the ones we can hope to build int he future. But with God, with His promise that He makes all things, there is so much hope in that. It is very difficult for me not to be selfish, but with God I can learn how to be less selfish.

      I think that if you’re waiting for all of humanity to agree on something before you consider God that you’re going to be waiting for a very long time. We can’t even agree on the best way to not deplete this planet that we all rely on for life. We can’t even agree that we need to do anything to protect it. Action is more important than talk, and I have seen many people, of many faiths, who let their actions speak and speak for good.

    • Jan Loimand says:

      It would seem prudent that before debating the existence of “God”, the definition of “God” for the purpose of the debate be clearly defined. For example, what are the differences between the “Christian God” and the “Muslim Allah”?

      What about other Monotheistic religions?

      Judaism can be traced back to c. 1500 BCE, and Zoroastrianism enters recorded history in the mid-5th century BCE. Hindu religious leaders have repeatedly stressed that God is one and his forms are many. The Baha’i Faith and Sikhism are also monotheistic.

      Why are there Christians who appear to profess that the manner in which they define “God” is “correct”?

      ““God exists,” says the theist. “He does not,” replies the atheist. Both claim to tell us something important about the world. One says it has God in it; the other says it does not.”

      Does the existence of God say “something important about the world”, “something important about humanity”, or “something about Christians” and other monotheistic “religions”?

      Are we defined by our beliefs, or by our actions? Professing beliefs is simple, but it boils down to “all talk, no action”.

      Having God in the world means little or nothing if God is not within humanity, and the evidence that God is not within enough of humanity is overwhelming.

      As long as there are people who do not have enough food to eat, clean water to drink, proper shelter over their heads, do not have proper medical care, have no access to a proper education, and spend their entire lives living in desperation, it is clear that there are many who do not believe in God, regardless of what they profess.

      As long as there are brutal governments and corporations that exploit the poor, God is not in the world. (This is not the same as saying God does not exist.)

      To borrow a phrase from Roger Waters and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), far too many Christians, and much of humanity have become “Comfortably Numb”.

      When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye.
      I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now.
      The child is grown, the dream is gone.

      When I was a “child”, I believed in truth, justice and equality for all.
      I still believe in truth, justice and equality for all, but they, like God, are very hard to find. I ponder on the remaining years of my life, and find little comfort knowing that those who believed in truth, justice and equality for all, like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Stephen Biko, and many more, just like Jesus, eventually paid with their lives for not just their words, but their actions.

      Perhaps that is why “talk” is much more common than “action”.

    • kahu says:

      to me it is trivial to ask either side of burden of proof when it comes to rather or not God exists. Our Heavenly Father is life itself and without it no one exists. Just look around us Everything is living and continues to produce more life. Those that believe can see God in and throughout everything living. However, those that don’t believe want to believe that there is but need physical proof. Such as Thomas, when Jesus arose and went to his diciples many of them believed he was Jesus Christ risen except one. He need to touch Jesus to believe he is. So what that said, maybe those who don’t yet believe eyes will be open when Our Father reveals himself to them as he did to us. Maybe we are to pray more so our faith, our belief will not falter by their unbelief. You can not change what someone else believe until they want to change. I will ask you why do you even bother to debate with someone who don’t believe ther is a God? Ask the non-believer what do they believe in?

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