Who has the burden of proof?

I’m pretty good with logic, but I haven’t extensively studied philosophy and the few classes I’ve taken have never covered burden of proof.
From my understanding, burden of proof falls upon whoever makes the claim, correct?

Here’s a scenario that happened last night in a discussion on Facebook, between a few Christians and an atheist:
The atheist claims that Christian beliefs are nonsense, and that God does not exist. His sole argument (as far as I can tell) is that the Christian has the burden of proof, and that since Christians are unable to prove it then God does not exist.
I reply to him, saying that the atheist also has the burden of poof, since he is also making a claim.
The atheist tells me that I am wrong, and that the burden of proof only falls upon the person making the claim when that claim is that something exists.
(I was busy and had to leave, so I didn’t stick around to debate it further.)

Am I correct in saying that the atheist is completely wrong on this?
Assuming a Christian was attempting to debate this, then I agree that the Christian would have the burden of proving his case.
However, the atheist in this scenario is not simply denying the Christian’s claim (i.e. “weak atheism”), but instead makes his own claim that God does not exist (i.e. “strong atheism”).
Such a claim is just as faith-based as the belief that God does exist, so I don’t see why the atheist does not also have the burden of proof in this scenario.
Related to that, his entire argument (which seemed to be something along the lines of, “God does not exist because you have not proven that he does”) seems fallacious in that it assumes that God’s existence depends on the Christian’s ability to prove God’s existence, not the other way around. It is quite possible that God could exist and the Christian could have a poor argument or no argument at all.

Oh, one more sort of unrelated question (I don’t see the edit button on my first post):
If I make a valid argument (i.e. the conclusion logically follows from the premises), and the other person claims that my conclusion is incorrect because one of my premises is incorrect, who has the burden of proof? Do I have to go back and prove my premise to be correct, or does the other person have to prove that my premise is not correct? Or does it depend on the situation?

up nè … dang quan tâm …^^

The atheists I know do not say there is no Deity.

They, and I, say there is not sufficient evidence for such a Deity.

If you are claiming there is a Deity, and further, you’re claiming this Deity is the God of Christianity, then the burden of proof is on you to prove your claim.

I’ve not been convinced by anything that people of any branch of faith offer as ‘proof’.

Sarah x :slight_smile:

That position seems to hold that there is a possibility for the existence of a Deity. Which would make you and them Agnostic not Atheist.

according to Websters An Atheist is " Someone who denies the existence of god."

Life exists. People from the beginning of time have attributed this to the divine. The atheist position that life exists apart from anything supernatural is the new kid on the block.

Since the default position is that life comes from God, or a god, or gods then the burden of ‘proof’ really rests with the atheist. Since he is the one challenging the default position.

For me it is quit the other way around The argument that life came from nonliving material or Abiogenesis is absurd. No matter how much time you add, or how slow you say it happened. No matter what 1 moment there is no life then the next there is. And we are expected to believe this happened without an intelligence?

There is a scientific law from Louis Pasture (the law of Biogenesis) that says that life doesn’t just appear. That life must come from another life. Granted he was talking mainly about maggots appearing seemingly out of nowhere in bread. But we accept the law on every life form we see. If I see a cat I know it had a mother and father even though I didn’t witness it birth. But somehow the very first lifeform just ‘poof’ appeared? It’s simple logic and common sense in my opinion

  1. No one has privileged insight into the nature of reality.

  2. Our starting point is that we know nothing.

  3. The burden of proof presupposes the power of reason.

  4. Therefore the burden of proof rests with anyone who rejects the power of reason.

Maybe I wasn’t clear.

You are what I think is referred to as a “weak atheist” (which I think is the same thing as an “atheistic agnostic” or “agnostic atheist”). You would not have the burden of proof, since you don’t claim that there is no God, just that you have not found substantial evidence to indicate that there is.

However, from the context the guy made it pretty clear that he believes that “there is no God.” Not that he simply doesn’t believe in God, but that he believes for certain that God does not exist. I’ve heard this referred to as “strong atheism,” which seems to be entirely faith-based.

His argument commits a logical fallacy

  1. He presents a circular argument when he says Christians have the burden of proof when he does not even defend this claim. The fact that he is saying that we Christians have the burden of proof when he does not even defend that claim is a burden of proof in itself.

  2. He claims that “We cannot prove God exists, therefore he does not exist” is yet another logical fallacy. He is clearly *appealing to ignorance

  • (this logical fallacy is called ad ignorantium) meaning that he is attempting to infer the conclusion that God does not exist from the premise that we can not prove that he does. The claim that we can not prove that God exists is irrelevant to whether God exists or not.

“The fact that we do not know one thing is not relevant reason for believing another” - Trudy Govier in Practical Study of Argument

His argument is non cogent. Sorry LOL. :smiley:

You must provide a sub-argument, when necessary, and reasons for your claim (Unless it is common knowledge and is known to be a priori true, you do not need to provide a sub argument). A sub-argument (which must be stated in your argument) is central to any claim that needs clarification. He has the right to deem your premise unacceptable (therefore non cogent) if your premise in itself is vague and ambiguous. If you do not provide reasons for a particular claim that needs more clarity, it might be deemed as such.

On the other hand,for the other person to deem a premise unacceptable, they must also state a reason as to why this is so.

If I was convinced it wouldn’t be Faith.

I am convinced that I have a relationship with God/Christ/the Spirit in that I have emotional responses and feelings that only affective prayer can bring - true peace of mind for instance.

However, I don’t have proof that God exists.

I do have “proofs” that God works in my life though - Recently a dying student of my school who literally recovered when they took him off the machines - or whole school was praying for him - the doctors were flabbergasted at his recovery - and I have a lot of these “small” proofs.

Reason, though points to God. There needs to have been an “unmoved first mover” to use the old language.

Stitching this reason to my emotions and proofs by way the the Church and transubstantiation etc is tougher; but I’ve decided - yes decided - that if I have had the small proofs, then relying on 2,000 yeas of these “proofs” within a Church is no bad thing, and is not a cop-out. In fact the fact that the Church has survived for 2,000 years is proof of the divine.

Do I wish that I had received an apparition etc etc.,… no, not at all - I think that would merely cause me to doubt my sanity.

I’m happy with the relationship I have, even though I always hunger for more.

Normally who ever makes a claim, one must be ready to prove or defend the statement. Its not written in stone, on average philosophy web sites.

If some one claims there is a God, then the proof is on the claimer, the atheist really doesn’t have to proof his statement that there is no God, because he can’t prove there is a God even if he believed there is a God. No one can prove there is a God, it is only God who can prove He is and its only by revelation. Note that not all of mankind has experienced the revelation of God, that He is. Also no one can make God reveal that He is to anyone, unless He chooses to.

1Cor:1:21: For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22: For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24: But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25: Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26: For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28: And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29: That no flesh should glory in his presence.

**If You claim there is a lack of evidence for such a Deity, then essentially You are saying there is no such Deity. If that is not the case, then You are an agnostic. So, the burden of proof really falls on whoever made the first claim in the debate. If an Atheist was trolling the page, the onus falls on the Atheist to prove His statement. If a Christian is trolling the page, the onus falls on the Christian to prove His statement. **

**There are many such miracles in the History of Christianity. There are logical and rational philosophical arguements for Christianity. No one can fully 100% prove the Existence of GOD, nor can anyone outright 100% deny HIS Existence, which renders Atheism obsolete. There are only hardcore agnostics or those who hate GOD. Atheism at its core, is logically impossible. **

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Hi all, interesting discussion.

I think the burden of proof rests not only on the person who is making the claim (this, to me, is a pointless distinction because both participants in a debate are making a claim: the theist, that God exists; the atheist, that God does not exist or that the evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or invalid; and the agnostic, that we cannot know) but also on the context in which the specific claim is made.

For instance, if the claim aims to change an established opinion or belief (such as the heliocentric theory), the person proposing the change bears the burden. If the claim aims to defend an established opinion or belief, the contrary person bears the burden.

In the discussion of whether God exists or not, I think both parties bear some burden of proof only because the “God” in question tends to be specific. If it was a generic deity or “the divine”, then I think the burden of proof falls on the atheist because (i) the common consensus of human history and culture is that “the divine” exists (this is context) and (ii) because I think versions of the Ontological Argument prove that “the divine” is a necessary being and therefore any reasonable possibility of “the divine’s” existence needs to be shown to be impossible to deny such existence (I can explain what this means if you like).

How do you know?

If that is the case, then it seems we don’t know 1.

If we start knowing nothing, on what do we base our initial reasoning?


If the burden of proof presupposes the power of reason, then how will one who rejects the power of reason apprehend the proof? Let alone present it?

While the above is logically sound, does it therefore follow that “God exists” is the default position?

And more to the point of the relevance of this debate to human lives, if one judges there to be insufficient evidence of the existence of God, what obligation does that one have to believe the Gospel? Many of the atheists I have encountered have said, “give me a sufficient reason to believe,” rather than, “prove God exists.”

Atheism does make a claim, and it is not a negative claim. Since the universe does exist, atheism makes the claim that the existence of the universe can be explained, can be accounted for, in purely naturalistic terms. That is a positive claim that requires proof.

How do we know the revelation is from God, and not merely from human imagination, or worse, from an evil spirit?

Does God then choose some to save and others to condemn?

The idea that God cannot be known except by revelation begs the question of authority. Whose testimony ought we to accept, and on what ground?

To believe based on authority alone is problematic, because of the question above, that that raises. According to Scripture, the Apostles gave proof of their authority via miracles, as did Christ. But, Our Lord also said to Saint Thomas, “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe.”

Still, belief on the basis of authority alone has rightly been condemned by the Church as Fideism.


So it would seem, if we reject Fideism, some kind of argument or proof is called for. At the very least, some kind of supporting evidence that the preacher of the Gospel is trustworthy.

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