I Can Prove a Negative Easily. But Who Has the Burden of Proof About God?

I can prove I'm sitting at my computer, that I have children, that I have a wife, and that I wrote a book. I can prove all sorts of negative claims with regard to these things. I can prove I am not sleeping or playing ball right now (negative claims). I can show you I'm not doing these things by having an online chat right now on my computer. I can prove I am not childless. If you ask me to prove I'm not childless, then birth certificates and DNA evidence should do the trick. I can prove I am not single. If you ask me to prove I am not single I can show you my marriage certificate, and my wife. I can also prove I am not a non-author (notice how I phrased it?). That is, I can prove a negative, plenty of them, easily.

Of course, I cannot prove anything with certainty, but that's not what I was ever called upon to do anyway. All I need is counter-evidence. And therein lies the rub. There are some negative claims I cannot produce counter-evidence. I cannot prove I was never in Hawaii, or that I was never a Buddhist, or that I was never a pimp, even though I've never been in Hawaii, or a Buddhist or a pimp. So unless I can document my whole life with receipts of all my bills, 24 hour video surveillance, or a continual stream of witnesses of my life then there's always a chance that I was in Hawaii, or a Buddhist, or a pimp.

Nor can I prove that Sasquatch or a unicorn or a Hobbit do not exist. The reason why is because there is no counter-evidence I can produce to show they don't exist. What would that kind of evidence look like, since if these things don't exist I must examine and document every inch of the earth to prove they don't? To ask someone to offer counter-evidence to some kinds of claims is simply asking way too much. That's why the person making these kinds of claims must provide evidence on behalf of them. That's why they have the burden of proof.

In a like manner, theists ask me to prove that no supernatural being exists. The problem with such a request is that this is the type of negative that cannot be proven. The reason why I cannot prove this type of negative is the same reason I cannot prove I've never been a Buddhist, or a pimp. I'm being asked to prove more than what can reasonably be expected of me, or anyone. For I cannot search the whole universe nor am I omniscient to know there isn't such a being. Here then the burden of proof must rest on the theist who claims that a supernatural being exists in the same way the burden of proof is on someone who claims I was once in Hawaii. This is the case even if I completely disregard the principle that "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence when we have reason to expect the evidence to be there." The theist has the burden of proof to produce evidence that their God exists, period. So without sufficient evidence reasonable people can be non-believers even if they cannot prove there isn't such a being.

While there is a great amount of debate about the burden of proof let me meet theists on common ground here. Surely we can agree on this point, can't we? Theists have the burden of proof precisely because asking a skeptic to prove such a negative is asking more than can reasonably be expected.

Even though we can meet on common ground I still think I can prove God does not heal amputees, nor answer prayers in any noticeably objectively verifiable way. And I think I can prove there is no God of the Bible, although this is a more complicated case demanding more by way of evidenced based reasoning. This is something I do everyday, even if it doesn't always convince believers.

But my point is that I don't have to do this. Theists must put forward the evidence.

This has been shown even though I did not appeal to the principle that "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence when we have reason to expect the evidence to be there." But how much more is it the case when I do.

13 comments:

gamedirt said...

"You cant't prove a negative" is itself a negative. If it were proven true, it wouldn't be true.

Brain melt.

ZDENNY said...

You argument may be an optical illusion since you won't accept any evidence that is not material in nature.

Since you only accept a material explanation of reality, you won't accept any evidence other than a material one.

The evidence for the Creator as well as the resurrection is overwhelming; however, you won't accept it because it does not result in a materialistic worldview.

As a result, you argument is an optical illusion. You say that the right evidence could convince you; however, you then exclude all explanations that goes beyond your senses.

You are also being inconsistent. The fact is that everyone believes in an invisible reality that grounds our visible reality. This is the current debate in science.

String theory is a great example of an invisible reality that cannot be verified or falsified. If you don't believe in string theory, there are other non-visible realities that are up for grabs.

The fact is that everyone believes in an invisible reality because it does exist. It provides the only rational explanation for the existence of what we do see.

Christians argue that this invisible reality is ultimately mind; however, atheist argue that this invisible reality is just too small to be seen being ultimately material.

The evidence is overwhelming for an invisible reality; however, you will only accept a material explanation even though you in principle accept an invisible reality which grounds our existence.

An invisible reality that cannot be falsified or verified at this point provides the only rational explanation for our existence.

As a result, everyone accepts an invisible reality that we have no direct evidence of since it existence goes beyond our senses.

The fact that Christians can know this reality and an atheist can't is what bothers you. Christians who know the love of God stand on faith; however, you don't know the love of God even though you have the same faith that this invisible reality exists.

I just wish you were honest with people; however, your arguments are very deceptive and misleading. The fact is you know that they are deceptive and misleading.

Matt Watson said...

@ZDENNY, that was a rambling mess.

All religion is an illusion.

There are 6,000,000 people on this planet and they all have different religious beliefs. You will be hard pressed to find any 2 people that believe exactly the same thing about every issue.

All 6,000,000 of those people can't be correct or factual in their beliefs, so they must ALL be wrong, except for maybe one guy somewhere...

John W. Loftus said...

Zdenny said "You argument may be an optical illusion since you only accept a material explanation of reality, you won't accept any evidence other than a material one."

What kind of evidence do you propose to offer that is not material evidence? How can anyone accept non-material evidence when you cannot distinguish such evidence from mere wishful thinking or an intense feeling? Given the fact that every single religious believer claims to have the same non-material evidence to support beliefs that you disagree with how do you propose to distinguish between non-material evidence for claims that are mutually contradictory--Other than shutting your eyes and hears and repeatedly yelling, "I know what I know what I know."

busterggi said...

And every believer knows that they are the one that truly understands.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Z

Do you have a medical doctor or do you put your faith into practice when your children are sick and trust in the invisible forces of prayer and elder anointment with oil as prescribed in James? Is anointment the first line of medical therapy in your household and if not, why not? When do you move to material based later lines of therapy? Thanks.

christophermencken said...

Go, John! Nice post.

Enough people are kicking around Zdenny.

But can I add that his string theory comparison is wrong. String theory will get tossed as a theory if solid evidence is not available. It's still so new.

But the believers have been chatting this god thing for centuries, millenia and ain't come up with anything.

Vinny said...

"Burden of proof" is like "tie goes to the runner." It is useful in a court of law to resolve cases where the evidence is too close to call or lacking on both sides. It is a necessary tie-breaker because there are only two possible outcomes. I am not sure what relevance it has in a discussion where there are three possible outcomes, i.e., true, false, and insufficient data to reach a conclusion.

Piero said...

Zdenny:
"Since you only accept a material explanation of reality, you won't accept any evidence other than a material one.

The evidence for the Creator as well as the resurrection is overwhelming; however, you won't accept it because it does not result in a materialistic worldview."

As John has already pointed out, all evidence is material evidence; non-material evidence is not evidence, much less an overwhelming one. I think you are aware of this, because you could not bring yourself to claim that John pigheadedly rejects overwhelming material evidence: instead, you shifted your focus to claim that accepting the resurrection would lead him to a non-materialistic worldview, which is a far weaker claim.

Double A said...

Zdenny said it quite well. Especially: "The fact is you know they are deceptive and misleading". That is the truth. And when the deception is revealed through truth, more atheists jump out of the blogosphere to attack character. Neat-O!

Piero said...

DoubleA, I love your reasoning. Where can I get some? Macy's?

Laughing Boy said...

The burden of proof is on the person making a truth claim.

paul said...

@ ZDENNY
you say:
"You say that the right evidence could convince you; however, you then exclude all explanations that goes beyond your senses."
I say:
The only way to come to an explanation beyond our senses (i'm assuming here we all have the same senses: eyes, ears, ...) is to make stuff up. I'm suggesting you have no justification (beyond your personal emotional bias) to believe more in your specific God than in Dawkins' teapot. Simply because you state that the explanation for one of those to be the better idea falls outside what can be detected by your own senses.

You acuse John of closemindedness when it is you that are closeminded, a concept explained clearly in this presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI