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.


  1. There are a string of points here, but let's just just address one of them which is the position of unbelief.

    You see the world though a pair of glasses of unbelief. Everything is skewed and interpreted from that framework.

    My guess is that your belief that God does not exist is so strong that you would not change that under any circumstances.

    If God turned the sea into blood, swiped the stars from the sky, turned the moon blood red and blocked out the light of the sun (which is exactly what He WILL do) there will be millions of people that STILL refuse to believe what the Bible says.

    They'll try to find "scientific" reasons for the supernatural occurances and put off believing indefinitely while they try to figure it out. Why? Because they don't believe.

    God has already performed supernatural signs and wonders which were beheld by numerous eye-witnesses and recorded in the Bible...but that's not good enough for the non-believers. They FIND reasons to write that off.

    They frame people that lives 2000-4000 years ago as primitive, superstitious idiots who were one step away from being cavemen and their accounts of anything cannot be trusted.

    However, along these lines of thinking, in 2000 years from NOW the people that will be living will consider US to be idiots that were one step away from being cavemen!

    So even if God decided to bend to your "demand' of Him for a series of supernatural signs and you had a change of heart and wrote down and enshrined forever your eye-witness experience...your words would be just those of a dead nutter who obviously was clinging to her religion.

    This would necessitate a CONSTANT and CONTINUAL "requirement" that God continually reveal Himself in supernatural ways to each and every generation.

    But why stop there? Why not require God to come down and have a one-on-one with each and every person? After all, he is omnipresent and all-powerful. Why not it to Him that he should have to have a face-to-face with everyone on their 13th birthday and tell them that yes, indeed, the Bible is His Word, take them on a 1-minute tour of heaven to experience the glory and then drop them for a 1 minute tour of Hell so they could experience the pain, then let them make their decision from there.

    The essential problem with the burden of proof argument you have going is that people don't WANT to believe...no amount of evidence could satisfy.

    Extraordinary signs and wonders would be reasoned away, as would a personal interview with God Himself.

  2. You are incorrect. People want to believe, that is why there is faith. If people didn't want to believe, the falsehoods of religion would have been squashed long ago. Everybody wants to believe everything will turn all right in the world even though if you live a life full of ****.

    It's not a belief, by the way, to think that god doesn't exist. This is one of the points of the article, if you didn't understand. God doesn't exist, because you haven't proven him--nor has he proven himself. This is like his great noodlyness, you certainly say he doesn't exist, not that you don't believe in him. Indeed, why don't you think any other gods exist? Eh? Why must yours be the one? Have you personally been in every religion to check and make sure? Why don't you? I think it would only be the wise thing to do...

    And why do you think people write off the bible? Oh, I don't know, because of all the inconsistencies? The fact that it was written by man then picked apart by the church to allow which ones they thought controlled the masses more? The fact that the bible gives no actual proof of these... 'miracles'... nor of anything else? The fact that the bible was written far after the supposed life of the so-called "Jesus" by people who most likely never meet such a guy and made it all up?

    And no, "god" will never "turned the sea into blood, swiped the stars from the sky, turned the moon blood red and blocked out the light of the sun (which is exactly what He WILL do)".
    Let's analyze your whole argument shall we? Say that we won't believe in a miracle even if it occurred, but then say that he won't because then he'd have to do it all the time... but wait! He already did them earlier!
    By your whole argument, we can assume that god would never show himself or any miracle or proof since then he'd have to do it continually forever, thus the bible is wrong--since it does just that and you said it wouldn't happen.
    And wait, people of your faith claim that all prayers work, that he is always listening and answering, that is a CONSTANT and CONTINUAL requirement, as you so elegantly put it.

    Also, nobody said that 2000 years ago everybody was primitive. That belongs to the religious. We find very credible people like Newton and Aristotle... you know, people with actual stuff to contribute to society than a bunch of fairy tales to keep masses in line. And to fight you with your own age requirements, from a quote just a little later than the bible:
    "Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able, and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him god."

    And no, god will never turn sea blood... ect... because he has never done anything and never will. Because he doesn't exist. And you have not proven otherwise. Anyways, I find a funny correlation to turning the sea blood coincides with all Christians leaving Earth for... eh... bliss. Does that mean god's gonna kill all you and pore your blood into the sea? After all, you'll go to heaven afterward!
    Heh, in reality, if god turned the moon to blood, everybody would become an instant believer, because there would be no scientific reason for it. And that's the point, it would be a miracle, the one miracle god actually did. But he won't, ever, since he's never followed up on anything he "said" anyways.

  3. Actually, no.
    A couple of points.

    First, you are describing a movie atheist/skeptic. In movies, the nonbeliever is usually presented as a person who, when presented with incontrovertible evidence of a miracle will still doubt it. But the nonbeliever lives in a fictional universe where the supernatural is, well, natural. It doesn't work that way in real life.

    Second, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew God DID continually reveal himself in supernatural ways, and his chosen people still decided to worship golden calves or whatever.

    Third, your argument about people who lived two to four thousand years ago is irrelevant. They were superstitious. And they knew a lot less about how the world works than we do now. 2000 years from now we will probably be considered idiots by those standards as new discoveries are made. Even so, so what?

    Ultimately, it's not a question of want at all. Just because I want something to be true, doesn't make it so. The idea that someone doesn't want to believe so they won't is just a strawman argument- not so different from Pascal's Wager.

  4. I started to answer you but, I just realized, I don't want to reply to you here. I think your comment deserves a post all on its own. Stay tuned. I'll try to reply properly in my next post later today.

  5. Brian, your response has one major flaw: you assume disbelief we atheist have is because we don't WANT to believe. The real reason is because there is no logical reason TO believe.

    You're looking for god in nooks and crannies, anything slightly unexplainable to you is evidence of god it seems... but things unexplainable eventually become explained. Science is the study of the way things work. God is the study of how ones imagination wants things to work.

    In the end, most atheist will tell you that if there was iron clad proof that God existed, that it was scientifically viable and provable then you'd find that many would turn religious.

    However, no evidence - not even flimsy - has ever turned up. I would absolutely LOVE to see any evidence you have for your god.

  6. Nice arguments, GMN. One point though, Epicurus actually lived around 270 BCE, so he's older than the christian god. But the old testament god of Abraham and the Jews was already causing trouble in the middle east when he was alive.

    You made some great points. I especially agree about religious people praying and believing that those prayers really work. You're right, that is continual and constant. But there is no scientific evidence that prayer works in the slightest. So god fails that one. Sorry, Brian.

    You're so right, people are desperate to believe in anything, not just an invisible man in the sky who watches them take showers, etc. Just look at what's popular on tv today, like the ghost hunters, bigfoot searches, etc.

    Excellent point, as well, that we don't disbelieve in god, because there is no god to not believe in. Just like Brian doesn't not believe in Zeus' godliness, because according to Brian, Zeus was never a real god. Right? Ok, maybe I worded that better in my head....

  7. Excellent points, Steve. Well said! I wholeheartedly agree.

  8. Yes, exactly, Doug! There is no reason or evidence that warrants belief in a god!
    In my followup post a bit ago, the only thing I would say is that if there was verifiable, scientific proof in god, it wouldn't turn me religious. I'd agree that there was a god and believe in his existence, but if it was the god of the bible, I certainly wouldn't worship him just because he proved his existence. He's kind of a dick and not someone I'd choose to worship.

    I too would love to see even just a mustard seed's worth of evidence that a god exists. It certainly has yet to show itself in all this time.

  9. The followup post is available here: http://www.heavingdeadcats.com/2008/12/12/belief-unbelief-scientific-method/

  10. god exists because it is logical that he does. nothing cannot create something. NOWHERE in all of the world do you find things being produced from nothing. The pillars of creation create stars and planets but they use molecules from the dust and the clouds around them. no where is there a nonexistence of matter and suddenly somethings there. existence in itself is implausable. Big Bang? what other theories you got, Im sure that is not the newest one. what is? Explain 2 things. How anything got here. you can almost lose yourself in your mind if you think of the true definition of nothingness. black is not even a color in nothingness. there isnt even the concept that there are colors. where out of nothingness, because there was noone to make it and nothing cannot produce something, out of the first moments nothingness did something come from????? Thats question 1. heres 2. MAKE AN ANIMATE OBJECT OUT OF AN INANIMATE OBJECT WITH EVERY OBJECT AT YOUR DISPOSAL. thats not a question i guess. more a challenge. answer that neece. Wait a sec, popcorns ready............. OK Im back. :) :) :)
    those also seem very implausable theories. The earliest of man believed in gods or spirits. you are the antagonizing theory. you prove your claim. religion is that, mythology, mysticism or spiritualism but all established and passed down. your the new theory. you say earth just made itself. Who's to say another planets not just gonna appear and block out the sun? planets just appear n shit an humans just develope. I hear thats how ferraris are made. theres this moss in italy, you just wait around. one day there's a big bang and... AWWWWWWWWWW :):):) a ferraris born. awww

  11. Nobody said nothing creates something. Way to stereotypically be ignorant of what the big bang says.

    Big bang states that energy existed, and stuff expanded from that. In fact, to our knowledge, energy always had and always will exist, because it can be neither created nor destroyed. Matter is energy by the way, just in case you didn't even know that. Why energy likes to clump are called natural laws, it's how stuff works. If you want to learn more how about you bloody look it up for a change. Actually, watch a video not created by creationists, then maybe you'll learn a thing or two about what they theory actually says and evidence behind it.

    Again, tell me again how your version goes? god magically created everything from nothing one day just because... oh, and there is absolutely no evidence of that at all. Right.

    But hey, the reality is that ONLY religion says stuff came from nothing, that god created things from nothing.

    But how about you think of something, of how god was in this nothingness. He existed infinitely before he created yes right? Take that into consideration, what the hell took him so long? Your argument completely defeats itself.

    Again, abiogenesis is a theory of how life came from nonlife.

    "The earliest of man believed in gods or spirits."

    CORRECT. That is because your religion was created by man 2000 years ago.

    And as I already gave you in my other post, abiogenesis.