The Burden of Proof and Non-Belief

Can anyone else see the logic fail in the following sentence?

“This is why we find very few arguments against the existence of God and numerous arguments against the arguments of the theist, which proves nothing but the strength of the argument.”

Lyle Duell

The Burden of Proof and Non-Belief

 About two years ago I became interested in the new atheist movement and began to spend some time reading and contemplating it.  As I got into it, it struck me how much stress the new atheists puts on the question of who has the burden of truth[1] and on their belief that atheism should be categorized as a non-belief and not a belief.  It seemed that the significance they gave to these beliefs in their blogs diverted the attention away from the question of ‘does God exist’ and on to peripheral subjects[2]. At first this puzzled me and then it dawned on me how crucial these beliefs are to their thought system.

Why are these beliefs so important to new the atheists?  My suspicion is that some of them on the top of their intellectual food chain know that human reason…

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22 thoughts on “The Burden of Proof and Non-Belief

  1. The whole problem is that we’re talking about an equivocation.

    When atheists say they want ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’, what they are really doing is appealing to a scientific standard , i.e. evidence that can be tested, verified, falsified, aka empirical evidence. They are taking a metaphysical argument and demanding physical proof. “Give me natural evidence of the supernatural.”

    Science doesnt (cannot) prove or disprove the existence of God, or the existence of the supernatural.

  2. I agree, the existence of any claimed deity cannot be determined through scientific methods.

    That doesn’t stop Christians from claiming that there is evidence for the existence of their god though. If there is evidence, then its testable.

    Note that the sentence I quoted talks about arguments, not evidence.

  3. there’s no doubt that some Christians misuse the idea of evidence in this regard also, but I think it is far less prevalent.

    Ask 100 Christians ‘has science shown that God exists?’ and the majority will say no. Ask them if science is why they believe in God, and again they will say no.

    Ask 100 atheists ‘has science shown that God doesn’t exist?’ and the majority will say yes. Ask them if science is why they don’t believe in God and again they will say yes.

  4. Predictably, I don’t agree with the broad statements you’ve made, reality is far more complex and opinions more nuanced.

    Although you have phrased your statements in such a way that one could easily print them out into a survey and test it for yourself.

    My experience is that atheists tend to take the view that the lack of any evidence for any god is sufficient to withhold belief. The statement that science has shown god to not exist is not commonly expressed.

    I would be immensely surprised to see a Christian say they believe in god because of science. I do very often see Christians adopting scientific discoveries or opinions for try and justify their faith though. It must be a hard act to use science to support your belief in something that science can’t demonstrate. Many do manage it though.

    • oh come on. I hear it all the time in discussions with atheists.

      It’s even expressed publicly (either stated or implied) by well known atheists like Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Sam Harris and others.

      Your own statement : “My experience is that atheists tend to take the view that the lack of any evidence for any god is sufficient to withhold belief” shows that an implicit appeal to a scientific standard is made. You’ve validated my point by citing a Category Fallacy. Thanks for playing.

  5. You appear to be equating “science shown that God doesn’t exist” with “the lack of any evidence for any god is sufficient to withhold belief”. The two are not the same.

    Making an appeal to a scientific standard is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

  6. Limey wrote: “Making an appeal to a scientific standard is a perfectly acceptable thing to do”


    It’s a complete misuse of science to state or imply that science can prove or disprove the existence of God.

    (And even if science could tackle this question, basing your position on ‘lack of evidence’ is an argument from silence, a very poor basis for anything.)

    But science cannot address the question because it’s outside the realm of science.

    “science describes and explains the natural world: it does not prove or disprove beliefs about the supernatural” — American Anthropological Association

    “no aspect of science can address supernatural questions…..supernatural entities by definition operate outside of natural laws and so [truly] cannot be investigated using methods of experimentation” — American Association For the Advancement of Science

    “Science is not based on faith, nor does it preclude faith” — American Astronomical Society

    ” theologians may also be interested in the physical world, but in addition they usually believe in a metaphysical or supernatural realm inhabited by souls, spirits, angels, or gods, and this heaven or nirvana is often believed to be the future resting place of all believers after death. Such supernatural constructions are beyond the scope of science” — National Academy of Sciences

    ” science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance.” — National Science Teachers Association

  7. I’ve already said I agree with you that science is silent on the existence of the supernatural.

    There appears to be a mixup of context, making an appeal to a scientific standard is valid, when what follows is scientific. That’s why you don’t see me saying science has disproved god. What I said was that the lack of evidence confirming god (any god) is enough to not believe. This is also why I don’t believe in Allah, or Ganesh or magical unicorns that fart rainbows, or even fairies. They all have properties not testable by science.

  8. So you agree that it is invalid to appeal to science (i.e. a standard of testable evidence), yet you do so anyway.

    I actually went and created a poll on an atheist site, and asked the question: Is science why you don’t believe in God?

    Fully half of the respondents said yes. So, it wasnt quite a majority. Only 50% instead of 51%.

    But it was far above zero, which is where it should have been if they understood science.

  9. It all depends on the framing Tim, it still looks to me like you are taking the phrase “I not believe god exists because science can’t confirm god” and turning it into “I believe there is no god because science says there is no god”. These are two very different stances.

    To not believe something is different to believing something is not.

    It is perfectly valid to take the stand that since science can not confirm god I will not hold any belief in god. In answer to your poll question above, I would say yes science is the reason I do not believe in god and I would take that stand based on the sentence at the start of this paragraph.

    This is not the same as saying I believe science has disproved god and therefore I believe there is no god. Someone who has this view would also answer yes to your poll question. This is not the position I, and many other atheists, take. I would recommend you do a poll that makes the distinction between the two and examine the results of that.

    I have a question for you. Why do you believe in something for which there is no verifiable evidence?

    • “It all depends on the framing ”

      No, it doesnt. You are implying that science somehow is the reason you have reached your position. But science has nothing to do with it.

      It’s like saying “I don’t believe in God because there’s not a Cadillac in my bowl of chili” Well there will never and can never be a Cadillac in your bowl of chili, so that has nothing to do with it.

      “Why do you believe in something for which there is no verifiable evidence?”

      Same reason you do.

      You believe that your wife loves you. But you have no scientifically verifiable evidence for it, and never can have. Yet you base your whole life on your relationship.

  10. I’m still getting the impression that you’ve not at all understood what I’ve been said, despite explaining it more than once.

    Re the love of my wife, there are plenty of ways in which that can be known and scientifically verified. Her actions and her words, both things that can be and occasionally are recorded and shown to be from her. Something that is not true for your god. Your example is not equivalent.

    I’m happy for you to keep trying to come up with something that I do believe that is equivalent to your belief in god though.

  11. You can have a video of your wife saying “I love you” but that isn’t scientifically verifiable proof of anything. It’s her assertion, and you accept it on faith. Accepting her say-so isnt proof that meets a scientific standard. Not by a long shot.

    See, here’s the thing. There’s limits to science, and you don’t seem to recognize that.

    You telling your wife “I love you” isnt proof. No third party can test or verify that you truly love her.

    First of all, there is no scientific definition of love. So let’s start with that. What would they test for?

    Are words or actions that we perceive as ‘loving’ really evidence of love? What if someone repeats those words or actions? Does that mean that they love too, just because they repeated what you said or mimicked the actions you performed?

    No, its not scientific evidence at all.

    And it doesnt have to meet a scientific standard. That’s the whole point. There are lots of things that science cant study or test or quantify.

  12. Science does have something it can say about love:

    Brain scans show a an indication and if you combine that with observation of behaviour you can be accurate at separating the false claims from the real claims of love.

    I do note that you’ve done a smart sidestep and away from talking about evidence for your god. Was there a point you were trying to make that would link back to evidence for your god or were you simply creating a distraction?

  13. I would like to be a fly on the wall when you tell your wife “I only love you if you are making me feel good and lots of feelgood chemicals are flooding my brain”

    I am a nice guy, and would volunteer to drive you to the hospital after she is done teaching you a thing or two. lol

  14. Well that is all that any emotion we feel is, a chemical reaction.

    I also notice that you still haven’t said how this diversion helps your argument that your god exists.

  15. That’s the point. Love is not an emotion. Love may or may not be accompanied by emotion, but it is not an emotion.

    Your wife loves you when you make her happy, when you make her sad, when you make her angry, when you make her frightened, when you bore her.. Regardless of the emotion she is feeling, she loves you. Therefore, love is not an emotion.

    The reason that is relevant should be obvious, and I did state it already. Try to pay attention.

    You have no verifiable scientific evidence that your wife loves you. None. You don’t even have a scientific definition of love.

    Yet you believe it and you base your whole life on it.

  16. And that emotion is just chemicals reacting.

    There is a plethora of verifiable evidence, that she laughs is just one. How she behaves gives away how she feels. What she does and says betrays what’s in her heart. Whether that takes the scientific label or not, it is measurable, repeatable, observable and verifiable.

    My belief doesn’t come into it, it’s there to be witnessed, not just by me but by everyone she knows.

    You are over stating your case by claiming no evidence and you are most certainly making presumptions when you claim I base my whole life on it. You don’t know me well enough to make that claim.

    If you’re trying top draw a parallel between a wife’s love and your god’s love, you are failing because a god can’t be touched, or heard, or cook dinner, or do the ironing or any of the myriad practical and intimate things a loving wife does to demonstrate that love.

  17. Thanks for ignoring most of what I said.

    Your wife loves you no matter what emotion she is feeling, or if she feels none at all during any given moment.

    Therefore, love is not an emotion, and lack of any particular emotion isnt a lack of love.

    If you are married, then yes you have based your whole life on your relationship with your wife even though you have zero scientifically verifiable evidence that she loves you.

    You disagree? So tell me the names of the researchers who verified your wife’s love before you married her………

    Tell me what methodology they used and give an example of the data they collected to verify her love……..


    You’ve got nothing, my friend. N-O-T-H-I-N-G to support your contention that you can or have scientifically verified love at any time.

    You don’t even have a scientific definition of love, because science itself doesnt have such to provide to you. So you don’t even know what you would test for IF you could test it. You are shooting in the dark.

    So please answer your own question:
    Why do you believe in something for which there is no verifiable evidence?

  18. No I don’t believe something for which there is no verifiable evidence.

    With regards the love of my wife, I have already suggested to you ways in which that love can be verified, yet you accuse me of ignoring much of your post.

    Now.. if we can get back to how you verify your god …

  19. As I’ve said, science doesn’t verify that God exists or doesn’t exist. So I’ve never said that I (or anyone) can ‘verify’ God.

    yes you do seem to ignore what I’ve said

    • I’m not ignoring (edited to add ‘not’, pesky phone). I’m addressing what i see as your biggest errors and trying to get you to see that.

      If your god can’t be verified, on what basis can you judge any of the claims attributed to your god?

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