Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Religious Debate: The elusive 'burden of proof'

As I was surfing around on various forums today, I came across a discussion about religion, one that got on my nerves! As is always the case with these discussions, it quickly escalated before collapsing to the familiar “The burden of proof is on you, ha!”, which begs the question: where does the burden of proof rest on the battlefield?

What Happens Typically
Ok allow me to get everyone up to speed first. So whenever religious and non-religious people discuss about the existence of god (or the lack of), the question always arises about which side is responsible of producing evidence. Usually this is a show stopper in the discussion because proving beyond any reasonable doubt by providing infallible evidence is simply implausible by either party.

Habeas Corpus This Isn't
The thinking behind the invocation of the “Burden of Proof” argument is that the party most responsible of producing the evidence, loses.

On one side of the discussion, believers say “Prove to me that God doesn’t exist” or “Show me evidence that the logic behind God’s existence is inconsistent”.

Meanwhile on the other side are atheists and according to them the burden of proof rests solely on believers’ shoulders to produce proof of God’s existence.

ALL Possible Permutations Covered
So who’s right? Well actually, neither. Let’s look at all the permutations to understand why:
1) Burden of proof rests on Atheists.
2) Burden of proof rests on Believers.
3) Both atheists and believers share burden of proof.
4) Neither atheists nor believers share the burden of proof.

And let’s take a look at the reasons why not:
1) Burden of proof can’t rest on atheists because it’s impossible to prove a negative.
2) Burden of proof can’t rest on believers because God makes the rules and ‘his’ rule is to have faith, not seek facts. These are concepts that are mutually exclusive.
3) Since (1) & (2) are negative then by extension sharing the burden of proof is a no for (3) as well.
4) Since (1), (2) and (3) are all impossible, then using simple elimination we're only left with one option which is that neither share the burden of proof.

No Burden of Proof? Really?
If both parties get a free pass then on who falls the burden of proof? Simple, it falls on the party who’s making the assertions. For instance there is nothing logically wrong with believing in God, but then to go ahead and assert that he really exists is 100% wrong. Likewise it’s ok for atheists to say “Based on the lack of quality of the evidence I don’t believe”, but then to assert that “God doesn’t exists because there is insufficient evidence for his existence” is also 100% wrong.

Helping and Hurting both Sides
Since this essay (and the truth) is likely to be more helpful as a self defense tool to believers than to atheists, I want to even the playing field a little by suggesting to atheists a different angle of attack against people of faith. Because religion - rather than being based on fact - is based on a value system; the more is the perceived value of it, the stronger is the belief/zeal of the follower.

The most legitimate way to challenge the faith of a believer is to have respect for them; to emphasize a strong bond of friendship; and to show that value isn’t only found within scripture but also without it.

What do you mean "A Value Proposition"?
Why is religion considered a value proposition? Because it covers all the essentials to human survival: law, justice, family and most important of all eternal life. What is more valuable than all those things?

Which country?
I'd hazard a guess that countries with very strong and reliable legal systems, with low crime rate, and with tax funded family oriented programs (maternal leave etc.) are low on religious zeal. While conversely, countries with weak law, high crime rate, and little to no state funded family benefit programs which emphasize the sanctity of a family would be a hot bed for religious zeal and perhaps even religious extremism.

Easy Summary
The burden of proof rests on the side making assertions. If you don't make an assertion then you have no obligation to provide proof. Religion is doubly exempt from showing proof because it's existence relies on lack of evidence. As in, proof and religion are incompatible.

Note1: The use of the word Atheists as opposed to agnostics was deliberate.
Note2: Russel's Teapot and The Flying Spaghetti Monster not applicable here.

Edit1: Added the final paragraph "Easy Summary".

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