??> Bottom line: Why does the theist have to be placed in an unfair ??> position by having

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

??> Bottom line: Why does the theist have to be placed in an unfair ??> position by having to do something that the evidentialist doesn't? It's not an unfair claim. In closing, I offer part of my thesis (rough draft) which was, in fact, partly inspired by your persistent clinging to an inverse burden of proof principle: Frequently, a case will be made by theists that the burden of proof has no logical impetus, and that it is merely a way for the negative atheist to avoid making his case. As I have been involved in debating such cases quite often, I am quite familiar with the form they take; typically, such quarrels look something like this: Theist: I've decided that atheists are the most illogical fellows in the whole world. Atheist: How so? T: Well, to begin with, you don't believe in God, yet you cannot prove that He doesn't exist. A: Ignoring the positive atheist for the moment, who believes that god-belief can be logically disproved, and just concentrating on the negative atheist, it is not up to me to disprove any god. It is however, up to the theist to prove his claim. The burden of proof is upon you, as you make the positive assertion that your god exists. T: Wait a minute! That's not fair! How come I have to prove my belief, but you don't have to prove yours? A: Technically, my position is not a belief so much as an unbelief-- it's a lack of belief. As you make the claim, so you get to demonstrate why I should consider your claim as logically viable. T: What if I don't want to? In fact, I won't! I don't have to prove anything! You don't believe me, so you prove I'm wrong! Unless you can prove I'm wrong, it's not logical of you to claim that I'm wrong! I say that the burden of proof is on you to disprove the claim! A: All right, let's for the sake of argument assume that I cannot disprove either your specific god or theism in general; let's also assume that the burden of proof is upon me to disprove your claim. Now what? T: Ha! Now, you must admit that to believe in God is rational, and that as you don't have any evidence not to believe, you're not being logical if you're an atheist. Hence, atheism is irrational and illogical. A: Let me see if I understand you properly: a position of unbelief is irrational, when the subject of that unbelief cannot be disproved? T: Absolutely! The burden of proof is on you to disprove it -- until you do, it's not logical to not believe. A: And if a claim cannot be disproved, it should be assumed to be correct? T: Well...yes. A: Very well. Do you believe in Osirus? T: Osirus? What kind of question is that? A: He's real you know. T: Prove it! A: Sorry. I don't have to prove it. You disprove it. As you said, the burden of proof is on the person who does not believe: I say that unless Osirus' existence can be disproved, that he exists. T: That's silly! A: Is it? You just made the very same claim about your god. So why does your "new improved" version of the burden of proof apply to your god but not to Osirus? Disprove Osirus, or admit that he exists. T: Ok, if you want to play it that way -- A: I do. After all, they're your rules we're playing by. T: Does anyone believe in Osirus? A: I don't know. T: Hah! If no one believes in him, he doesn't exist! A: I didn't say no one believes in him -- I said that I don't know if anyone believes in him. People might believe in him; in any case, it's irrelevant whether or not people believe in Osirus as that doesn't make him any more or less real. Before the early 1900s, no one knew the planet Pluto existed -- yet despite no one believing in Pluto, it still existed. T: There are no gods other than God! A: There are no gods other than Osirus. T: God is the one true god! A: Osirus is the one true god. He said so. Prove that he didn't. T: This is getting nowhere. A: You're right -- religious language seldom does get anywhere. Admit that you cannot prove that Osirus is not real. T: There's no evidence for him like there is for God! A: I thought things didn't have to be proven? I thought you said that things only had to be disproved? Sorry, but the burden of proof is on you to prove that Osirus does not exist. T: All right. I've changed my mind. Just because something cannot be disproved does not make it correct, as clearly Osirus does not exist. However, it still makes it rational to believe in it. The burden of proof is still on you to disprove what you don't believe. A: So to believe in Osirus is rational? T: Yes. A: As rational as it is to believe in God? T: Yes. A: Very well, we agree on something. T: We do? I thought you didn't think that believing in God was rational? A: I don't. I agreed with you when you said that it's as rational to believe in Osirus as it is to believe in God -- both claims are equally irrational. Belief in all gods which cannot be disproved is equally irrational. T: No, there're both equally rational, because they can't be disproved. A: This would mean that all claims that cannot be disproved are rational? T: Absolutely. A: I can turn invisible, you know. T: Don't be silly. A: There! I just turned invisible! T: No you didn't! A: Yes I did. I did it while you blinked. Prove that I didn't. T: People can't turn invisible. A: I can. Prove that I can't. T: Ok, how about if I videotape you? And not only video tape you, but have the tape watched by people who all blink at different times, just to make sure that at least one of the viewers of the tape is watching you at all times? There! I can prove that you can't turn invisible! A: Pretty clever. Too bad I won't do it for you when the cameras are on. T: Why not? Because you know you can't do it? A: I don't know any such thing. I just don't like cameras. By the way, I've turned invisible about one-one hundred and fifty times since we've started this conversation -- you blink a lot. T: This is stupid! A: Yes it is. It is also, by your flawed logic, exactly as logical as believing in your god. T: You can't prove that God doesn't exist. A: Do you believe that the world is going to end tomorrow? T: No. A: You should -- a yet-to-be-determined but non-disprovable disaster is going to occur, and wipe out mankind. Is belief in this rational, despite the fact that no evidence supports such a claim, merely because you cannot disprove the claim? T: How do you know this is going to happen? A: Osirus told me, if you like. Answer the question: is it rational to believe in the previously mentioned impending disaster? T: It won't be rational tomorrow. A: Perhaps, but it's not tomorrow -- you cannot disprove my claim. Is it, presently, rational? T: Well... A: I have an invisible pink hippopotamus in my backyard, which is non-corporeal, save for when it chooses to reveal itself to me, and me alone. Do you believe me? If not, why not? It is a rational belief, is it not? T: Well... A: Osirus just spoke to me: He said that I should tell you that you're losing this argument -- badly. Prove that he didn't.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank