Tag Archives: burden of proof

Whoa There!


In arguing against materialism, one of the more common objections I’ve encountered has been a demand that I offer undeniable proof (to someone intent on denying) of my exact position before anything I say should be taken seriously.

This has come from enough people that I think it is worth mentioning the three main reasons why this is wrong-headed.

First is the simple fact that this is shifting the burden of proof.

The type to attempt this maneuver, of course, is likely to balk at that. Many see the burden of proof as something the theist alone has. But this is only when we are considering theism. When we’re looking at materialism, it is the materialist who has it.

Part of me suspects that there are many materialists so used to defaulting to the “give me evidence” response, that they literally don’t know what else to do. This is fine, so long as one is willing to learn. It is only with those that dig in their heels and demand that there is never a time when they need to support their position that it is a serious problem.

Second, this is off topic.

Whether or not I’m right about other matters has nothing to do with the current topic. I think we all grasp this on issues where we are more neutral. Someone who believes there are twenty provinces in Canada might still be right to say that hydrogen bonding is vital to life. It takes the fervor of controversy and passion to blind us into a kind of tribalism, where anyone who believes “those things” can’t possibly be right about anything.

Many of the people making this objection don’t even know my actual position, and actually have to ask me what it is in order to mock it. (Others simply start mocking what they think my position is–and are nearly always wrong.)

Third would be the fact that I am offering exactly what is requested: reasons to believe my claims.

I’ve now encountered quite a few people who, out of impatience, start demanding that I get from pure materialism to belief in a very specific understanding of Christianity in the span of a blog post. They often say things like “just give me your proof of Christianity, then we’ll talk about my view”.

I’ve tried explaining that there are quite a few steps, and, more pertinently, that the reasons to reject materialism is one of those steps. As such, these people are actually claiming “I reject the first part of your argument because you haven’t already proven to me that the whole thing is true in the space of a paragraph”.

But it doesn’t do any good to ask for reasons to believe something if one doesn’t understand logic any better than this. It’s always easy to reject the final steps if one hasn’t bothered to look at the opening which supports them.

Those who are willing to consider that opening will find that there are reasons posted here. They may agree or disagree with those reasons, but realize that they are there and need to be understood in order to disagree rationally.

Got Evidence?

It’s been some time since I’ve run across anyone on the internet who, taking a cue from the milk campaign, ended an anti-theistic polemic with the refrain “Got Evidence”, but the spirit of this concept is alive and well.

On some levels, I completely agree with it. Certainly, it is rational, upon hearing a claim, to ask for reasons to believe it. I don’t imagine that any but the most ardent fundamentalist would disagree with such a concept. Of course, I complained for years that the standards of evidence being used were both wildly and arbitrarily exacting (which they were), and that equal standards were not being applied to the alternatives.

That last statement is what made the conversation interesting.

It seems to come as news to many secular individuals that they have a position at all. Many seem to think that, as a Christian, I accept everything they do, then add belief in God to that. To be clear, I completely agree that this would be unparsimonious at best and wildly inconsistent at worst.

But, then, if the anti-theist wants me to accept this idea – that all of his or her answers to the questions of life are more valid than those presented by Christianity – I’m going to ask for reasons to believe that.

I am strongly of the position that there are atheists who would be happy to take a stab at providing those reasons. I’m open to the idea that some may even have them. But, as an autobiographical point, I’ve never encountered such people. Every atheist to whom I’ve made this request (and it has been quite a few), has declined the offer.

I really don’t think this says much about atheists in general. Rather, I think it says something about self-selecting. Those who are on blogging sites, arguing that Christianity is stupid and evil (two of the less colorful adjectives I’ve encountered), seem to have a particular mindset that cannot be assumed to hold for the group. Still, it seems more than a little problematic that people who loudly declare that one should believe nothing without evidence are not remotely prepared to give any in support of their beliefs.

For this reason, among others, I’m inclined to think that all this talk of “evidence” is rhetoric, rather than a serious request. Whatever I may think of the ethics of that (and I don’t think much of it), I’m left feeling that I’m under no obligation to impress such people. Increasingly, I’m disinclined to share the reasons I do have for my beliefs until they can offer reasons for their own position.

This may leave me open to the accusation that I’ve become somewhat less than charitable (though I try to be kind). What it is not, however, is unreasonable. To insist on that one’s view, for which one has no evidence, is correct on the grounds of demanding evidence for other views is clearly something less than rational. Certainly, the self-proclaimed champions of reason should avoid such an obviously fallacious approach.