Burden Of Proof Lies With The Claimant
As an atheist, it's important to understand what the Burden of Proof is, and how it works. Why? Because theists misuse it against us. In return, we need to be better educated and set them straight.
The burden of proof (latin: onus probandi), falls under the maxim 'necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit' or, "the necessity of proof lies with he who complains". The burden of proof usually lies with the party making the new claim, in terms of law.
But where we are much more interested is in science, where the burden of proof lies with someone suggesting a new theory or stating a claim. They therefore must supply evidence to support it.
So if someone makes a bold claim, it isn't another person's responsibility to disprove it, but rather the responsibility of the person making the claim.
Also, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, meaning the less reasonable a statement seems, the more proof it requires.Some examples:
I heard of a study published recently regarding acupuncture. It was a blind study where the results turned out that the placebo produced better results than the actual acupuncture. The burden of proof was on the people claiming that acupuncture is effective for helping with in vitro fertilization in scientific trials. They failed to do that.
I've been told that it's up to me to prove that god doesn't exist since I'm an atheist. But that is wrong. The claim of the existence of a god falls under the maxim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Claiming that there is a creator being who made us, and is watching over us, who gave us free will then refuses to let us make our own choices, who made us less than perfect and then gave us the wherewithall to make mistakes, then threatens to punish us for all eternity when we screw up, even though we are far from perfect, who then had to create a son by impregnating a woman while she was asleep, who he then had to sacrifice to save us... that's all pretty incredible, don't you think?
Not to mention the only thing that could vaguely be called any sort of evidence is fragments of scrolls and texts written around 2,000 years ago, then interpreted and translated many times, with books removed, etc. to form a book that has changed over time. This book is filled with contradictions and falsehoods. It is poorly written by men in the bronze and iron age. It has little value beyond a historical text, in my opinion. It certainly isn't a recipe book for how to lead a good life.
Oh, and then there's this: in all the world and all the universe that we can observe, there is not one single shred of evidence that a god exists. So the burden of proof lies with the claimant, the person claiming that there is a god.
Another way to look at it is that you can't prove a negative. No one can prove that there is no such thing as a god.
For example: If you say that pink unicorns don't exist, it's harder for you to prove that, because you can't search every inch of the planet all at once. What if they are invisible? My pink unicorns are. So of course, you'll never be able to prove they don't exist. It doesn't matter though, because the burden of proof lies with the person making the extraordinary claim.
Assuming you could see or touch or somehow record evidence of a god, you would have to look everywhere all at once, to make sure that god couldn't just hide behind a rock when you're not looking.
It's much easier to prove a positive. Let's say I make the claim that pink unicorns show up in my living room every thursday night. It's up to me to have a way to record the pink unicorns, say on video cameras, and to have a bunch of people waiting to see them when they arrive. Damn, I'd better bake some cookies if I'm having company. Luckily I have chocolate chips. Invisible pink unicorns love chocolate chip cookies.
There is a follow-up post titled Belief, Unbelief and The Scientific Method.