[This post has been updated to reflect how people abuse the idea of “burden of proof” and for clarity.]
Evidence is powerful in our society. We live in a postmodern world that practically worships it. We exalt science, where material evidence is the sine qua non, as a major source of truth in our world. It is necessary, more or less, in our American justice system to convict a person of a crime. But evidence is not the equivalent of truth. It points to truth.
Some Positivist-leaning atheists forget being unable to prove something exists isn’t proof it does not now or ever existed. It is a reasonable justification for skepticism but not much else. Our world provides ample evidence (Ha!) for why it can be foolish to insist on negative beliefs. If I had French toast for breakfast two weeks ago, I simply can’t prove to you that I did in fact do so. (A witness helps but that evidence is weak.) The physical evidence has long since disappeared. This dearth of evidence has absolutely no bearing on the fact that I did indeed eat French toast. Any cop or lawyer will tell you how wide the chasm is that exists between what you know and what you can prove. So if someone comes along and insists that I did not eat French toast because I can’t offer evidence, a normal person would find this ludicrous and/or insulting (by the implication I’m a liar).
Evidence becomes necessary, rationally speaking, when one party attempts to convince another party of a truth or reality that the first party does not immediately accept. A free mind is not under any compulsion to accept any proposition without evidence. So, I don’t have many kind words for intellectual shell games that glibly attempt to absolve people of the responsibility to be intellectually honest. I believe in God. If an atheist insists that there is no God, fine. People can believe what they wish. It’s a free country. But if she demands I believe the truth of her claim, well, I’m going to demand proof just as she would of me. And the claim that I’m the one with the burden proof is just a glib attempt to change the subject. She is the one making a claim that in her mind I should accept. Thus, she has the burden of proof attendant to her demand.
I believe in God for subjective, personal reasons. God is a Reality in my life. I can no more prove this reality than I can prove the love I have for my late grandmother. And you would be a fool to question this for lack of “evidence.” My love is no less real than Newtonian physics. I have no burden of proof because I already have all the proof I need. I trust my powers of reason, my experiences, my heart, and, slowly, my intuition. I have no desire to convince others, atheists in particular, that I am “right.” That’s neither my wish nor my purpose. My purpose is to prove to myself through a deep commitment of faith and a life well lived that what I say is true:
Love God. Love people. Prove it.