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Burden of Proof
Burden Of Proof
The argument usually goes like this:
Theist: I believe that god exists.
Atheist: Prove it.
Theist: You prove he doesn’t.
Is it fair to ask the atheist to disprove god’s existence?
Suppose I take Bob to court with the claim that I hold an IOU which indicates that he owes me a sum of money. It is incumbent upon me to produce evidence for the IOU’s existence – and if I fail to do so, Bob walks free. Imagine the situation if I told the judge that I have proof that the IOU exists – but it is Bob’s responsibility to disprove the existence of that evidence. If that request for disproof is accepted, Bob could immediately declare that he has new evidence that proves me wrong – and I need to disprove it. And I could retaliate with the claim that there is additional evidence in my favor so the ball is back in Bob’s court. He needs to disprove my additional evidence. Already the argument has become farcical and that’s why disproof is never accepted in a court of law. The burden of proof always remains with the person making the initial claim.
How does this apply to the question of god’s existence? It would be fair to assume that the theist and the atheist both agree that the universe exists, but the theist says that over and above the universe there also exists a deity. Clearly the theist believes one more thing than does the atheist and he is therefore required to produce evidence for his additional belief. If no proof is forthcoming, the unbelieving atheist can safely assume that he is correct. There is no need for him to “prove that god does not exist.” But wait a moment. Which god are we talking about?
As it happens, the atheist made his first mistake by asking the theist to “prove” that god exists without first asking for a description of god. He has to do that, or he won’t know what he is talking about. He might spend his time arguing against the existence of Mithra, only to discover that the theist is defending a god named Osiris.
Christians, for example, are notorious for shifting the goal posts as the debate progresses. They might start out by defending god as an old man sitting on a cloud and, when that position becomes untenable, they declare that god is some sort of “energy” that exists throughout the universe. And later still, they might redefine god is nature itself. “Look at the sunset and see god,” or “You can see god in a baby’s smile.”
Clearly it is in the atheist’s best interests to establish exactly which god is being discussed. That’s a completely different debate of course, but it has to be done. There is no point in trying to prove or disprove the existence of a deity if neither party knows anything about it.
Proving A Negative
It has been established that the atheist has no need to prove that god does not exist, so why is he often asked to do just that? The theist has probably heard that it is impossible to prove a negative, so he figures he can score some easy debating points with a request for disproof. After all, if the atheist is left with his mouth hanging open and nothing to say, then many observers will assume that the theist has won and the atheist has lost.
Luckily though, despite popular opinion, it is not impossible to prove a negative. In fact it is quite easy. Mathematicians long ago proved there is no even prime number greater than two – and just think how easily you could prove there are no coins in your piggy bank. So the atheist is still in with a chance…
The Problem Of Evil
Most theists (especially those who believe in the Christian god) will eventually agree that the deity is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Most of them will also agree that evil exists. (Hardly surprising since the subject is mentioned 613 times in 569 verses of the King James Bible.) If the atheist can get agreement on these points, he can proceed as follows:
-If god doesn’t know about evil, he is not omniscient.
-If god knows about evil but cannot stop it, he is not omnipotent.
-If god knows about evil and he can stop it but doesn’t, he is not omnibenevolent.
QED: God does not exist.
Apologists have come up with dozens of explanations for this “problem of evil” as it is known, but all of them have been successfully refuted and the conclusion holds good: God does not exist.
Evil Does Not Exist
To give you an idea of how serious this problem is for religionists, it is worth pointing out that some of them have actually suggested there is no such thing as evil – everything that happens is good. Some things are obviously not as good as others, but they are always good, never evil. If a person is murdered by a serial killer, nothing evil has occurred. The victim just happened to be in a place where there was a little less than the usual amount of good. Her death was actually a good thing. Not quite as good as she may have hoped perhaps, but still good. And the serial killer is not evil - he's actually good. Not as good as you and me, but still good. The mere fact that apologists find it necessary to raise such a ludicrous defence of their god is enough to suggest that the conclusions drawn from the problem of evil are far more effective than any of them would dare to admit.
The Whole Edifice Crumbles
Now that we have proved that God does not exist, we can go on to say:
The bible is not the inspired word of God. It is an ordinary book written by ordinary men, and no more important than that. Some will argue that it offers good advice like “thou shalt not steal” and “do unto others” (and it should be revered for that reason), but the bible is not the only source for such advice – and remember that “holy scripture” also tells us to kill disobedient children and old men who pick up sticks on the Sabbath. Clearly, the advice it contains is not worth much.
And if God does not exist then neither does the Son of God, so the Jesus story is a complete myth. Some may argue that a man named Jesus did exist about 2000 years ago and there is a kernel of truth contained in the New Testament stories about him. But where is the truth in those tales of the virgin birth, raising Lazarus from the dead, walking on water, resurrection from death and ascension into heaven? Take away those obvious fables and what are we left with? Not much. Certainly nothing of importance.
- Atheist Debater’s Handbook (B.C. Johnson)
- Atheism – The Case Against God (George H. Smith)
- Prospect Magazine (A.C. Grayling) March 2008 http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=10063
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