Questions Regarding Burden of Proof Discussions


#1

I occasionally see people say they don’t have to prove their reasoning for a lack of faith due the burden of proof being on the other side to make such a claim, and that makes sense, I always assumed the burden was only on you though if you were trying to convince someone. How big of a deal would you say this sentiment is when holding an opinion? I’m curious as to how to engage in discussions of rhetoric regarding this specific component. I do not aim to force anyone to my sentiments I just wish to convey my perspective while showing that I am not anti-intellectualism.Some people are quite fierce on that and I wish to promote open minded coexistence. I suppose if I had to defend myself in such a debate I would say it’s a value judgement with how I trust Jesus, how I personally interpret potential evidence, and that I think it is more open minded to not force someone to one opinion in a somewhat binary angle as opposed to the open sharing and discussion of various sometimes conflicting opinions.

Thoughts? How do I carry myself in a reasonable way? Thank you very much.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Those are good questions and concerns, Andrew, and just being sensitive to those very issues is probably most of your battle won already.

You’re correct that people are sensitive to how rhetoric on this is applied. Right out of the starting gate some clarity is needed that “proof” almost never refers to some hypothetically perfect argument that would force every reasonable person to acquiesce. Almost always “proof” is really conversational shorthand for “well-evidenced” or a “warranted conclusion.” Around here, most are willing to accept that whenever somebody make a positive claim, they have picked up, with their positive claim, at least some if not all of the “burden of evidence.” “I know there is a God” is of course a positive claim, but “I know there cannot be a God” is also a form of positive claim (in my opinion.) Note that this last statement is not the same as “I don’t know if there is a God” or even “I think there isn’t a God.” Most atheists around here have stopped short (I think) of adopting the militant “I just know …” line, but it doesn’t make them any less atheistic. They still make that choice and might even think in those stronger terms in their more private sentiments. But if they refrain from advancing it as a universal or public compulsion, they effectively dismiss themselves from having to publicly shoulder any burden of proof.

We Christians, on the other hand, do actively promote a universal truth that there is a Creator God. So that does give us a “burden of evidence.” We probably have somewhat broader categories for what we admit as potentially good or accumulating evidence than most empiricists are willing to admit. But nonetheless, we are obliged to supply whatever warrant we think we have whenever we advance that positive claim. But then there are speculative claims too, where we do think something true even while realizing that we can’t supply evidence of it.

So I guess that’s my short answer: the more someone wants to compel somebody else to share in their belief (or their refusal to believe!), the more reasonable it is to expect that “the pusher” has shouldered a burden of evidence.


(Mark D.) #3

In mine too. It is all well and good to say one isn’t convinced by the argument in favor of God belief, and no one will be owed any further justification. But if anyone wants to persuasively argue there is no God, they’ll need to demonstrate they know of what they speak, produce the evidence and reason to why it is conclusive. Not likely to happen. Of course the difficulty is just as great on the other side. So unless you find much relevant common ground it probably isn’t worth the effort.

In my experience the most important thing is not to overplay your hand. Don’t promise evidence you can’t produce. Don’t insist your argument/logic is air tight when it obviously isn’t having the desired effect. Don’t insinuate that any right-thinking, morally fit person should have to agree.

Be sure the other person is genuinely interested in having the discussion to begin with. It is best to be honest about your own reasons for belief if you want to get back the same. If you honestly admit that your belief requires some amount of faith, that would help establish your bonafides where I’m concerned.

Good luck!


(Christy Hemphill) #4

In conversations with people, I find that discussions are much more pleasant and constructive when people are in “tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine” mode instead of “prove to me you are right and I’ll prove to you you are wrong” mode. Especially if the topic is deeply held values and beliefs. I think it is good to check our motivations in these kinds of discussions. Do we really care where people are and how they got there? Or are we most interested in protecting ourselves from feeling threatened by differences or validating our beliefs by tearing down or attacking beliefs that challenge them. Any discussion that comes from a place of fear or aggression (however subconscious those feelings may be) is bound to get a defensive or counter-aggressive response. Of course, we can’t control whether or not other people are threatened by our different beliefs, but we can do our best to communicate genuine interest and empathy when others are sharing theirs.


(Mark D.) #5

When no one is making any empirical claims and you just want to talk about what matters or why we’re here, there really isn’t any reason to come on like a used car salesman eager to close a deal. Sometimes I imagine what we might say to each other and how we would receive what the other has to say if we were neighbors camping and sitting around a campfire. No one would be pushy in those situations. If both sides are sharing what they hold near and dear, who would be so rude as to challenge or dismiss what the other thought? You’re just finding out what another person on the planet thinks matters; they can’t really be wrong about that.


#6

There are aspects of human psychology and social contexts that need to be considered. Humans like a good debate. We also tend to think that our own opinions are right, which leads to a bit of tension between people who have differing opinions.

There can also be a social context. Atheists have been in the minority for most history in Western culture, and have been looked down on in many cases. There is also a history of christian evangelism, missionary work, and apologetics which actively tries to change the mind of non-believers. Christians are even commanded to convert people to christianity. Given this context, I don’t think it is surprising that people feel like someone is trying to convince others of the truth of religion when it comes up in conversation.

For these reasons, it understandable why there is a social rule that polite conversation does not include religion or politics. These are heated topics and difficult to traverse without it becoming contentious or emotional. As Biologos has shown, it is possible for people with differing views to have productive discussions and walk away with a better understanding of what other people believe, but these types of conversations are probably in the minority.


(J Richard Middleton) #7

Christy, this is exactly right. Whenever I post something on a blog or a social media site it is in the spirit of this is what I think; maybe it might be helpful to others. And I’m open to a conversation. Sometimes (more often that I’d like) someone responds in such a way as to try and prove I am wrong or more often just to aggressively contradict me or even reprimand me. I try not to engage such responses at the level of the ideas, but rather to try and clarify the spirit of the discussion. It doesn’t always work.


#8

JRM, I like this approach above. I like the idea of humans having faith in our abilities to present, and follow, rational, logical common sense scenarios.

There is so much of Universe/God that we have not proof of even tho much more has been proven to exist relative to what could be proved 1000 years ago.

Imagine a human a1000 years ago believing there was something —ex a photon— that passed from sun to human and burned their skin.

Imagine a human 2000 years ago who believed the Earth is spherical and not flat.

Imagine a human 500 years ago that there may exist very small micro-orgnaisms that live in humans and detrimental or beneficial effects.

Imagine more than five regular/symmetrical and convex polyhedra of Universe/God. This last one can not be imagined, other than as a false statement of belief, because we now have proofs ore than five cannot exist.

We will know more in the future. We know more than we did in the past and we have proofs. We only have faith in rational, logical common sense for what will or can be proved in the future.

I have faith that the human in the on-coming auto will not cross the center line on the road, at the last second and crash into me, yet that does happen on ocassion.