[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.
4 thoughts on “Prove It”
Okay, first off you start with an ad hominem that is inappropriate: “Some atheists in their RELIGIOUS worship of evidence forget this.” It is clearly a slur aimed at a common misconception that atheism is itself a religion or resembles such. Do not think to object to this, because it is insulting enough without trying to question our intelligence in this matter as well. We do NOT worship anything: Not religion (obviously), not science, NOTHING. I may worship my wife, but that’s another matter.
Your example of eating French toast is also in error. Yes, you may have eaten the evidence and cleaned the dishes, but there is still plenty of evidence to collect that could lead one to believe you ate French toast: You may have extra ingredients still present. If someone were to have a rough idea when you ate the French toast, they could seek your trash for evidence or even your sewage (nobody said science was always sexy–that’s forensics for you). You haven’t destroyed all the evidence: There is always something left behind. Always. (Another error with this comparison is it is an event that has already taken place and has been concluded. Arguing the existence of a god is not something that was concluded long ago: It is an on-going debate about an entity that supposedly still exists and is still present, so evidence should continue to be created. As of the last several billion years it hasn’t.)
Your next paragraph is a doozy however. You accuse those who disagree with your position of playing a shell game, when that is exactly what you do with your thesis. You place the onus of the claim on the atheist, claiming this particular strawman insists you believe the truth of his/her claim. You not only shifted the goalposts with this one, you traded endzones: It is you who have made a claim (that God exists) and are insisting we believe you. God is NOT a given, no matter how hard you try. You start with a null set and go from there, and God is an added (and unnecessary) feature you must try to justify. You have made the claim, so the burden of proof is on your shoulders. You cannot try to shift this and still claim intellectual honesty.
Your belief in a god is your right, and no one is saying you can’t have that belief. The matter becomes trickier when you make claims that your belief is the only true belief among the thousands of choices available, and becomes impossible when you start telling people to act in accordance with your belief structure.
The shell game is simple.
” 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. 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.”
Once you tell me to believe something or disbelieve something against my belief state you have a burden of proof. Saying I haven’t convinced you when I wasn’t trying to do so in the first place is an intellectual shell game to absolve you your responsibility to be honest. You made a claim that I should believe. Back. It. Up.