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The so-called ''Burden of Proof''

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  • The so-called ''Burden of Proof''

    Translated from the original in Portuguese, which can be found at: https://ktreta.blogspot.com/2009/10/treta-da-semana-o-onus-da-prova.html?fbclid=IwAR098l68k54HPar2kCwHMWM3SDIrAP VRgLs2VvAIOV2b2r8DSZj7vmRna8E.

    [Nonsense] of the week: ‘’Burden of Proof’’.

    It’s common for atheists, and skeptics in general, to claim that the burden of proof is on believers because those propose that something exists, be it the monster of Loch Ness, be it God. That is not correct. It gives the wrong idea that it’s not necessary to substantiate the thesis that there are not gods or monsters in lakes simply because it claims that something does not exist instead of claiming that it does. But it’s not the type of thesis that makes us responsible for it’s substantiation. The burden of proof is on anyone who defends any thesis. It’s the responsibility of proposing something as true, due to the implicit promise, of whomever participates on a dialogue, to explain to the other party what he/she defends. If we reject the burden of proof we at the same reject defending our position or we give up on rational dialogue altogether.

    But ‘’proof’’ here is in the sense of a test to evaluate the plausibility of the proposed thesis. It’s an error to claim that one does not possess the burden of proof because you cannot prove the inexistence of something. That is to equivocate on the meaning of the word ‘’proof’’. If I propose that there are tigers on the loose in the city of Chiado, it’s not reasonable to demand a mathematical demonstration. I cannot prove it in that sense. But I have the burden of proof to show that my thesis is plausible and, in this case, it suffices to point out that there is no indication of people being attacked by tigers in Chiado. If from the existence of something, we predict certain effects and we don’t find them, it is justified to conclude that this something does not exist. The calmness of people when they see vitrines is strong evidence that there are no tigers nearby. That entirely supports the burden of proof.

    Much the same way, if somebody proposes that something exists, that person runs into the obligation to show that their thesis is the most plausible. If they don’t, it’s reasonable to reject it. Russell’s teapot is a famous example. To reject the hypothesis that there is a teapot around the Sun, it suffices that whomever proposed it does not show any evidences of such a thing, so there is no reason to take the statement as true. That’s why, said Russell, it is not up to the skeptic to prove the inexistence of something, or more generally, the falseness of an affirmation. It’s the person who claims it is true that has the burden of proof. But this is due to proposing a thesis. Be it for existence of inexistence, any thesis requires substance.

    For that reason, when the atheist goes beyond the mere rejection of believer’s hypothesis, due to lack of substance, and states that none of these gods exist, the atheist carries the burden of proof as well. In order to justify ‘’you don’t convince me’’ the other party can simply not show that their thesis is the most plausible. But in order to justify ‘’this is false’’, he has to show that this, conversely, is the most plausible hypothesis. Just like someone who claims that there are no tigers at loose in Chiado, the atheist has the burden to show that it is more plausible that gods don’t exist.

    But no mathematical proof is needed for the non-existence of tigers or gods. It is just needed to show that this is the most plausible hypothesis. And here the lack of expected clues is decisive. If everything is peaceful and calm while shopping, it is plausible that there are no tigers at loose there. By the same token, each child that gets legless for stepping on a mine, dies from cancer or is born with a genetic disease strongly suggests that there is no benevolent and omnipotent being that cares about us. Of course anyone can propose that the tigers are invisible and that they bite only the souls of people, who in turn only notice it after they die. But such hypothesis are, right off the bat, very little plausible. And, most importantly, the hypothesis of not existing continues to be the most plausible. It is not because we label something as invisible that it’s existence becomes more plausible in face of lack of any evidences.

    That’s why I think that, in those sorts of conversations, we should focus the plausibility of each hypothesis instead of letting the responsibility to the other party. That occurred to me because it happened with Ricardo Silvestre and a kardecist woman the other day. She asked him to prove that spirits did not exist, he replied that the burden of proof was her’s and she replied back that ‘’the burden is exactly the same’’. And she was right. If one states that it (spirits) exists and other that it does not, both have the duty to substantiate their thesis. But this is not a problem that is restricted to Ricardo, and that’s the reason I don’t want to focus on that particular episode.

    The problem is a common confusion between the duty to justify a thesis and the difficulty to prove, in a definitive manner, that something does not exist. In other words, the ambiguity of the term ‘’prove’’. While it is very difficult to prove, in the strong sense, that something does not exist, it is relatively easy to test the thesis of it’s existence and non-existence and infer which one is more plausible. And it is this that supports the burden of proof. In regards to extraterrestrials who steal cows breasts, to the saints that cure splashing oil, to souls, spirits, gods and company, the hypothesis that they don’t exist is much more plausible than the confusion of alternatives that the believers in these things propose.

    Ludwig Krippahl
    Last edited by rogue06; 08-03-2021, 06:57 PM.

  • #2
    Given the text and arguments above, who exactly, in the end, has the ''onus'' (burden of proof) in the THEISM VS. ATHEISM DEBATE/WAR?

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Seeker View Post
      Given the text and arguments above, who exactly, in the end, has the ''onus'' (burden of proof) in the THEISM VS. ATHEISM DEBATE/WAR?
      Or any other debate come to that.
      I recall a story from some time ago where a person was challenged to provide evidence that God exists. The reply - "The Jews - they are not extinct."
      1Cor 15:34 εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λεγω
      Come to your senses as you ought and stop sinning; for I say to your shame, there are some who know not God.
      .
      "It is not divine truth that makes the man seem more innocent in what is equally sinful, but human wrong-headedness." AUGUSTINE: re adultery

      "The synoptic gospels claim that Jesus was crucified on the 15th day of Nisan and buried on the 14th day of Nisan:" Majority Consensus

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by tabibito View Post

        Or any other debate come to that.
        I recall a story from some time ago where a person was challenged to provide evidence that God exists. The reply - "The Jews - they are not extinct."
        ?

        Did not understand a word. Did you read the OP?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Seeker View Post

          ?

          Did not understand a word. Did you read the OP?
          Of course I do - I argued that same case years ago on this site. though admittedly, not in any real depth. Just one or two sentences.
          1Cor 15:34 εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λεγω
          Come to your senses as you ought and stop sinning; for I say to your shame, there are some who know not God.
          .
          "It is not divine truth that makes the man seem more innocent in what is equally sinful, but human wrong-headedness." AUGUSTINE: re adultery

          "The synoptic gospels claim that Jesus was crucified on the 15th day of Nisan and buried on the 14th day of Nisan:" Majority Consensus

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Seeker View Post
            If we reject the burden of proof we at the same reject defending our position or we give up on rational dialogue altogether.
            *we at the same TIME

            Sorry about that.

            Comment


            • #7
              I largely agree with the OP, but I think I have a simpler way of putting it: One has a burden of proof if and only if he seeks to persuade another.

              If a believer wants to persuade me that there is a God, then he certainly has a burden of proof. And if I want to persuade him that there is no God, then I have a burden of proof. But one who is willing to accept others believing what they will has no burden of proof.

              Suggesting that another's beliefs are wrong, or silly, is clearly an indication that one is seeking to persuade, and subjects one to a burden of proof. ​​​OTOH, the simple statement "X does (or does not) exist" is not necessarily an indication that one is seeking to persuade others. It could be merely a rhetorical device, equivalent to saying "I very strongly believe that X does (or does not) exist". Context is important.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Stoic View Post
                I largely agree with the OP, but I think I have a simpler way of putting it: One has a burden of proof if and only if he seeks to persuade another.

                If a believer wants to persuade me that there is a God, then he certainly has a burden of proof. And if I want to persuade him that there is no God, then I have a burden of proof. But one who is willing to accept others believing what they will has no burden of proof.

                Suggesting that another's beliefs are wrong, or silly, is clearly an indication that one is seeking to persuade, and subjects one to a burden of proof. ​​​OTOH, the simple statement "X does (or does not) exist" is not necessarily an indication that one is seeking to persuade others. It could be merely a rhetorical device, equivalent to saying "I very strongly believe that X does (or does not) exist". Context is important.
                I agree with that but on a discussion board or in a debate, each side is trying to convince the other side that their view is correct. Therefore they each have a burden of proof. A atheist trying to claim he has no burden of proof because he has "no belief" is not going to convince anyone of his view or convince anyone that the other person's view is wrong. He/she shouldn't even bother participating in a discussion if that is how they feel.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Sparko View Post
                  I agree with that but on a discussion board or in a debate, each side is trying to convince the other side that their view is correct. Therefore they each have a burden of proof. A atheist trying to claim he has no burden of proof because he has "no belief" is not going to convince anyone of his view or convince anyone that the other person's view is wrong. He/she shouldn't even bother participating in a discussion if that is how they feel.
                  On a discussion board (or IRL), if someone tells me why he thinks I should believe that there is a God, I'm willing to tell him why I don't think his reasons are sufficient (for me), even though I'm not trying to convince him that there is no God. If he is not trying to convince me that there is a God, then we can talk about something else.

                  As for a formal debate, there is usually a proposition being debated, and the affirmative side has the burden of proof.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Stoic View Post

                    On a discussion board (or IRL), if someone tells me why he thinks I should believe that there is a God, I'm willing to tell him why I don't think his reasons are sufficient (for me), even though I'm not trying to convince him that there is no God. If he is not trying to convince me that there is a God, then we can talk about something else.

                    As for a formal debate, there is usually a proposition being debated, and the affirmative side has the burden of proof.
                    As it stands, I don't have a problem with this. But then, the question becomes, "How large is the burden of proof on the theist?" and - more importantly - "Why is it that large?"

                    The burden of proof for a defender of a certain thesis should always be inversely proportional to the prior probability of that thesis.

                    If you're going to say silly things, like "the existence and orderliness of the universe are brute facts," "entropy and the expansion of the universe don't prove that it began to exist," "things can begin to exist without causes," "the constants of physics aren't constant, but change within other bubbles of chaotic inflation," and the like to avoid the inference that God exists, and consider it eminently rational to do so, it follows that you hold that the burden of proof on the theist is unusually high - you wouldn't accept these sorts of "explanations" in ordinary circumstances - and thus that the prior probability of God existing is unusually low.

                    That, my friend, is a positive claim. One which, a far as I have seen, has not been adequately supported.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by DaveTheApologist View Post

                      As it stands, I don't have a problem with this. But then, the question becomes, "How large is the burden of proof on the theist?" and - more importantly - "Why is it that large?"

                      The burden of proof for a defender of a certain thesis should always be inversely proportional to the prior probability of that thesis.

                      If you're going to say silly things, like "the existence and orderliness of the universe are brute facts," "entropy and the expansion of the universe don't prove that it began to exist," "things can begin to exist without causes," "the constants of physics aren't constant, but change within other bubbles of chaotic inflation," and the like to avoid the inference that God exists, and consider it eminently rational to do so, it follows that you hold that the burden of proof on the theist is unusually high - you wouldn't accept these sorts of "explanations" in ordinary circumstances - and thus that the prior probability of God existing is unusually low.

                      That, my friend, is a positive claim. One which, a far as I have seen, has not been adequately supported.
                      My own estimate of the prior probability of God existing would depend on what properties one assigns to God. If one starts with a vague conception of God, as something which existed prior to the universe as we know it, and gave rise to the universe as we know it, and about which we know nothing else, then the prior probability would be reasonably high. But then it would also seem reasonable to consider it just an unknown part of the universe, where "universe" is properly understood to be everything that exists, or has existed, or will exist.

                      But if one considers God to be an omnipotent, omniscient being who has existed eternally, created the universe about six thousand years ago, inspired men to write an infallible Bible, still gets involved in controlling the world, and sends men to hell if they don't believe he exists, then I would consider the prior probability to be quite low, and the burden of proof to be correspondingly high.

                      But I consider prior probabilities to be very subjective, so while I would be willing to discuss how we come up with them, I wouldn't insist that others agree with me about those probabilities. Instead, I expect that we would eventually agree to disagree.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Stoic View Post

                        On a discussion board (or IRL), if someone tells me why he thinks I should believe that there is a God, I'm willing to tell him why I don't think his reasons are sufficient (for me), even though I'm not trying to convince him that there is no God. If he is not trying to convince me that there is a God, then we can talk about something else.

                        As for a formal debate, there is usually a proposition being debated, and the affirmative side has the burden of proof.
                        Taking what you say above, let's say I claim that I believe in God because of the bible. You counter that you think the bible is unreliable and full of errors. At that point you made a claim (bible full of errors) - which means you have the burden to back up that claim if you wish to continue the discussion. As I would have the burden to back up the reasons why I think the bible is reliable and true.


                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Sparko View Post
                          Taking what you say above, let's say I claim that I believe in God because of the bible. You counter that you think the bible is unreliable and full of errors. At that point you made a claim (bible full of errors) - which means you have the burden to back up that claim if you wish to continue the discussion. As I would have the burden to back up the reasons why I think the bible is reliable and true.
                          Agreed.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Seeker View Post
                            Given the text and arguments above, who exactly, in the end, has the ''onus'' (burden of proof) in the THEISM VS. ATHEISM DEBATE/WAR?
                            I think you said it best in another thread:


                            The burden of proof is not something exclusive to the claimant. It is part of the process of evaluating propositions and falls on whoever is interested in ascertaining the truth. -Seeker

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Stoic View Post

                              Agreed.
                              But you never agree!!! Are you feeling alright?

                              Comment

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