Should The Atheist Have to Prove There Is No God?

This is to addresses a Frequently Asked Question/Frequently Offered Claim that since the Atheist claims there is no God, they should prove it.

Should the Christian be required to prove there are no Hindu Gods? Should anyone have to prove that something does not exist? Proving a negative is problematic. To prove something is not there or proving a negative requires iterating through all possibilities and ensuring that if it were possible to prove it, it could be proved. For a closed system or a system where the parameters are well defined it would theoretically be possible, but not practical. For an open system or a system with parameters not defined, it should be impossible. In Informal Logic this is called an Argument from Ignorance.

Typically when someone is expected to prove something they are expected to prove a positive. Plaintiffs are expected to make a case and prove it in court. Citizens are usually considered innocent until proven guilty. Cases where citizens have been considered guilty and required to prove their innocence haven't turned out very well. The Salem Witch trials, McCarthyism and political mud-slinging are all examples of the problems with having to prove a negative.

So now how does one go about proving that God doesn't exist or that anything doesn't exist? One way to do it is to turn it around, inventory what you know and come up with some expectations and test for them. Find something that makes some positive claims and test them. In the case of God, the Bible makes many testable positive claims. Some of them have been verified and some of them have not. Some of them suggest something completely different and weaken those testable claims. Christians make a lot of claims about their experience. As these claims are iterated through, we can get a better idea of what is valid or not. As we go through this process, we gain knowledge and come to a point where we can come to a reasonably sound conclusion.

To assert that someone should prove a negative is to place an extraordinarily high burden on them and history has shown that the process does not have a high rate of success. This is one reason why it is not generally considered a reasonable demand to be placed on anyone. Since, if a thing exists, there should be evidence of its existence, it should be easier to find the evidence of its existence than the evidence of somethings lack of existence.

Since the Christian God is one of many throughout the ages, the default position should be neither for or against and the party making the positive claim should handle the burden of proof. In fact, Jesus reportedly did not tell his disciples to be convinced, he told them go convince (Matt. 28:16-20).