Burden of Proof. You’ve seen that phrase before, I’m sure. It can be used in different ways, depending on the context. If you happen to be discussing a legal case in the United States, it has a particular meaning. However, in this case I’d like to discuss the term in the context of logical arguments, not legal arguments. [It’s been my experience that logic and the law are like east and west: never the twain shall meet.]
In order to be taken as true, an argument has a burden of proof that must be met by providing evidence. This seems to be rather easy to understand. Unfortunately, I frequently see arguments regarding anything supernatural “turned around” by those who believe in the particular supernatural idea at issue. In essence, they say “You can’t prove X doesn’t exist.” This somehow gives them the feeling that they’ve won the argument. What they’ve done is attempted to transfer the burden of proof onto those who do not accept their assertion of the supernatural. The burden of proof generally rests on those who claim that something exists (i.e. Bigfoot, psychic powers, little green men from Mars, God™, honest politicians, etc.). Why do people want to switch that burden to the opposite side of the argument (to those who deny or question the existence of these things)? I think it’s because they know, deep in their thoughts, that they have no evidence to bolster their claim.
I have seen the same thing over and over again in many places. Most recently I’ve seen it in arguments from a friend (Yes, I yell and scream [figuratively] obscenities [those words are described as such by most Christians] at Denny, and tell him how wrong I think he is, and that I think he’s a liar, but I’d still like to consider him a friend… is that weird, or what?) on a few different blogs. I’d like to discuss this topic a bit here, and I do hope to hear from one or two people who have some training in logic and debate at the college level (accredited institutions only please—no Christian Ministry™ theology majors need apply. Why not? Because they are consistently the type of person who gets this wrong, and it’s always because there is something they don’t want to have to prove [meaning they can’t provide empirical evidence]) so that they might weigh in on the discussion.
I don’t want Denny to think that I’m picking on him or singling him out. He’s certainly not the first person to make the claims that I’m going to discuss, and I highly doubt that he will be the last. Recent discussions that he and I have had did return this topic to the front burner for me, so to speak. I’ve seen the same reasoning (or lack of reasoning) used in other places in much the same way.
In one of Denny’s recent posts, he provides the following (the emphasis is mine):
If Atheist could demonstrate that God does not exist, then their belief would be rational; however, they would have to deny their own existence in the process. The fact is that their bodies are the most specified and complex design that could ever be devised. The Atheists unwillingness to recognize the evidence is telling. They are relying on their feelings demonstrating that they are killing the human spirit by offering humanity a philosophy of hopelessness.
In part of my response to his post, I said the following:
You are falling prey to the Burden of Proof logical fallacy in your argument here. Atheists are under no burden to prove that God does not exist. The burden lies with those making the claim of God’s existence. I could no more disprove God’s existence than I could disprove the existence of invisible pink unicorns.
To which Denny replied:
The Burden of Proof fallacy is not being applied in this case because an Atheist does have to explain away all evidence that does demonstrate the existence of God such as the almost universal idea that people have that God exists as just one example. The idea of God is properly basic to humanity demonstrating design.
WTF!?!?! I really mean that. WHAT THE FUCK!?!?! In essence, he’s saying that he’s not switching the burden of proof. He’s says there’s plenty of evidence that God™ exists. The fact that so many people believe in God™ is evidence enough. Now he seem to be arguing that because so many people believe in God™, God™ obviously designed us to believe in him. Atheists must disprove this awesome, earth-shattering evidence of God™’s existence in order to continue the debate.
*BZZZZZTTTT!!!* Wrong. Yet another logical fallacy. This time it’s “Appeal to Belief”, which is really “Appeal to Popularity” (Ad Populum) when you get down to its essence.
I pointed this out to him:
This is another logical fallacy, often called Appeal to Belief. I see it as a subset of Ad Populum, or Appeal to Popularity. Because the majority of people in the 13th century believed the earth was flat, was the earth truly flat? Did it suddenly become round when people stopped believing otherwise?
The burden of proof still lies with those making the positive claim, namely the existence of God. I’ve still seen no empirical evidence supporting God’s existence, thus I have nothing to refute.
Denny’s reply contained this:
You are correct to say that a popular belief would be a fallacy; however, I am not referring to a popular belief. I am arguing that the “God belief” is basic to our humanity. I am not appealing to the concept of popularity at all. If God designed us for relationship with him, then our idea of God would be inherent in our design since this is who we are and were designed to be. I don’t think you understood the argument.
In my opinion, the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that reality is not designed. Whenever you have process, pattern and form, you have design. The atheist now has to show how reality such as grass, trees, etc… do not involve process, pattern and form. The atheist claim is very counterintuitive to almost all the evidence that we have in reality.
Once again: WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!
In my reply, I said:
This is a classic “Argument from Design”, often referred to as the “watchmaker argument”, as popularized by William Paley in 1802. The basic argument usually takes this form:
1. The complex inner workings of a watch necessitate an intelligent designer.
2. As with a watch, the complexity of X (a particular organ or organism, the structure of the solar system, life, the entire universe) necessitates a designer.
Of course, this assumes that a person one can infer the existence of intelligent design simply by examining the purportedly designed object. What features of an object indicate that it was designed? Complexity? Order? Beauty? Many objects that we know to be designed by intelligent beings (humans, in this case) can lack these attributes. Other objects (take snowflakes as an example) possess complexity, order, and beauty, yet have been shown to be the result of natural processes. What is it about any particular thing in nature that logically necessitates intelligent design? This also leads to the the fact that the designer is arguably a far more complex organism than that which was designed, and if complexity proves intelligent design, then we get to another question: who created God?
Which prompts Denny to come up with this:
You asked, “What is it about any particular thing in nature that logically necessitates intelligent design?”
First, I did not state intelligent design; rather, I stated design. You are making the same mistake that William made by equivocating on the concept of a designer. The proper definition of design is that which contains process, pattern and form.
First Premise: If God exists, then proof of his existence would be the evidence of design.
(Definition) Design is defined as process, pattern and form.
Second Premise: There is evidence of design
Therefore, God exists.
An atheist in order to really refute this argument has to prove that our universe does not contain process, pattern and form which is a self-evident truth. The burden of proof is on the atheist to demonstrate that our world does not have process, pattern and form.
Where he come up with such utter meaningless bullshit is still beyond my knowledge. He comes up with a definition of design that is completely meaningless. He states that he never said intelligent design (Which is true; he didn’t. But doesn’t that mean he’s saying that God™ is an idiot?). And then he goes on to try to switch the burden of proof again. He states that this valid because his logical proof is unassailable, completely irrefutable, and like a steel trap.
Second, the sub-atomic world forms the basis of reality that we have proof of. Each atom is both specified and complex resulting in process, pattern and form. Even a snowflake does not escape the necessity of the atom.
In theory, the sub-atomic world may be broken down even further since even the sub-atomic world appears to have process, pattern and form; however, we cannot see beyond the sub-atomic world and enter the world of pure theory.
God by definition does not fit the definition of design that I am giving you. A design is that which has process, pattern and form. God is not in process, does not have a pattern being that he is in a class of one having no parts, and God does not have a form. As such, God is not designed and therefore does not require a designer.
* I am sorry that I am not responding to the argument for inherent design because your examples demonstrate inherent design so I was unable to follow your argument since you are proving the premise that you supposively disagree with. You may need more thought on the matter.
Once again: WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!
I look forward to comments regarding such inescapable logic.