Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is the burden of proof?

I just received the following 2 comments on another post:

Please define "burden of proof"

I am not the same guy that was writing earlier but abmin it is very obvious you do not know the definition. Prove to me simply that athiesm is in any part verifiable in history or can be proved without ANY doubt that it is even logical thinking. 

The first one is easy enough, but the second one is fightin' words.  Why exactly did this guy think it's "very obvious" that I don't know the definition?  Is it because it took me nearly 4 hours after the first comment was posted to post this response?

Anyway, the burden of proof can be loosely defined as the expectation that the person asserting a positive claim must provide some evidence to back up his statement.  Examples of positive claims include the existence of entities, a legal accusation, the occurrence of a historical event, etc.

I also think the writer of the second comment is not being honest with himself.  He knows how the burden of proof is applied in most aspects in life, and is probably grateful for it being set up the way it us, but he makes different rules when it comes to burden of proof of religious claims, almost definitely only for those of his own religion.  More on that moron (it's a homophone) later.

Let's get to some clear examples.

1.  Claim of existence:  Two little children are playing in a sandbox, without a care in the world.  They're only concentrating on the sand and having fun with it.  Suddenly one child says, "There's a monster buried in the sand."  So the second child (correctly) says, "I don't believe you.  Prove it."  The first child then says, "You can't prove that there isn't!  Prove to me that any part of amonsterism is in any part verifiable in history or can be proved without ANY doubt that it is even logical thinking!"  Who is correct in this case?  Is the first child correct in his assertion that if the second child can't prove the monster doesn't exist, then it should be assumed that it does exist?  Or does the first child have the responsibility to provide back-up for his claim?

2.  Legal accusation:  A person has been accused of breaking and entering.  He enters the courtroom and the judge says, "Can you prove that you didn't do this?"  The accused replies, "No, I can't prove it."  The judge then gives his verdict, "As the accused cannot prove he was not involved in this crime, the court finds him guilty."  In the legal system of the civilised world, we have what is commonly referred to as "innocent until proven guilty".  It means that the burden of evidence is on the prosecutor, the one making the accusation, to prove the guilt of the accused.  If the prosecutor were to merely say, "I think his guilt is self-evident.", then the defence would not be required to present any evidence at all, the verdict would be not-guilty.  I do in fact know a person who was accused of a killing that he did not commit.  The prosecution was unable to prove its case and the verdict was not-guilty.  I am very grateful that the system is designed the way it is, with the burden of proof on the prosecution.  If it was the other way around, well, that's how you end up with witch trials, in which it is the responsibility of the accused to prove their innocence.  I think that the writer of the second comment would also be grateful for this system if he was accused.  If he was accused and we had a "guilty until proven innocent" system, he'd be screaming about how the accuser has the burden of proof and that this isn't fair.

3.  Occurrence of a historical event:  A historian comes forward with the claim that in 1297, Spain invaded England.  Other historians look at their records and cannot find any evidence to support such a claim.  They ask the historian who made the claim why he thinks so, and to provide evidence for it.  The first historian then says that it's up to the others to show that it didn't happen, or we should assume that it did.  He may also say, "Prove to me that any part of aspaininvadeenglandism is in any part verifiable in history or can be proved without ANY doubt that it is even logical thinking!"

This is the burden of proof.  In the case of theist claims, which most closely resembles case #1 above, a group of people is claiming that there exists an entity.  They cannot even begin to demonstrate that it really exists, so some of us decide that we do not believe them and continue to live our lives without this belief.  There is a less-than-intelligent fucktard on YouTube, who I suspect our second commenter is a fan of, who has attempted to turn this burden of proof upside-down in matters of religion.  His line is, "Prove to me that atheism is true and accurate."  I believe theists know what the burden of proof is, they know how it works in other aspects of their lives, such as in cases #2 and #3, but their attempt to reverse it is an act of desperation.  They're desperate because they cannot, try as they might for many thousands of years, provide any evidence that they're even on the right track.

For the Wikipedia article on the burden of proof, click here.

7 comments:

ANTZILLA said...

"Prove to me that atheism is true and accurate."

I love this one.

My general responce is to anwser with a question.

"What you want me to prove that there are people that don't believe in the supernatural?"

I'm proof, Me right now, I'm proof, that atheism is true and accurate.

Admin said...

Right, because atheism is the lack of belief in gods, not lack of existence of gods. I know your response is not what they meant, but they word it poorly when they make that demand.

David McNerney said...

As is always the problem with this burden of proof thing is the belief that atheism is based on the positive assertion that gods do not exist.

I cannot prove that, nor do I have any interest in proving that.

I don't accept any of the current world religions - simply because of the inherent contradictions within their dogma - that doesn't mean there is no god, but I have yet to see any evidence (even tenuous evidence) that this is something to add to the list of things I believe.

Admin said...

It's often extremely difficult, or even impossible, to conclusively prove that something doesn't exist. So in our everyday lives, a total lack of evidence for existence is considered "good enough" to confirm. For example, if I say that there is no such thing as leprechauns, how many people would challenge me? We'd consider the complete lack of evidence that they do exist to be a pretty good indicator that the positive assertion "leprechauns do not exist" is correct. It's not 100%, but it's pretty good and we rely on this kind of reasoning in our lives. How many people ask for proof that there isn't an invisible child playing in front of their car before they hit the gas pedal? If we were constantly holding out for proof that things don't exist, we'd be crippled and unable to function. But again, the religious are desperate, so they resort to desperate measures.

Admin said...

Sorry, so the point is, the total lack of evidence for gods is a pretty good reason to decide that they do not exist. I'm just applying the same standards we use to determine the non-existence of so many other things, every single day in our lives. No special treatment for anybody's imaginary friend.

David McNerney said...

The same could be said of alien life.

There is absolutely no evidence that it exists - but I think it would be bizarre if this was the only planet that had life.

And the SETI programme etc is a testament to the fact that it's not an unreasonable view.

I feel the important point here is that religion should not be entitled to special treatment, as in, for example, schools. We don't teach our children about alien civilisations etc so we should not, without real evidence (i.e. burden of proof), teach them about gods etc. (Rinse and repeat for hospitals, abortion, homosexuals etc etc etc etc).

I'd say it's safe to assume that all atheists, whether they deny the existence of gods or simply just don't believe in gods, would see that as a good starting point.

ANTZILLA said...

Yeah its a smart ass answer, the 'trick' however comes when they try and explain what they mean. ie
"No! I'm I want you to prove god/s don't exist"

to which I answer WTF sort of demand is that...

and all add all the piont you have made.

Going by their pressupposional BS, should the 'truth' that we 'absolutely', 'honestly' don't 'believe' in a god/s be 'proof' enough?