Tuesday, November 02, 2010

God, the external world, and the burden of proof

Atheist: I'm not making a claim that something exists. You are. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim.

VR: I claim that the physical world exists. You deny it, and say that it is an illusion. Gosh, it looks like I've got the burden of proof. What am I going to do? Kick a stone?

18 comments:

Walter said...

Who has the burden of proof when it comes to discussions of heaven and hell? How can one disprove the existence of places that no one is able to verify actually exists?

Steven said...

Trivially easy: (i) the existence of Hell is logically incompatible with the existence of God; (ii) the existence of Hell is metaphysical impossible; (iii) persons are such that it is logically impossible that they survive the death of their bodies; and so on. All would disprove the existence of Hell, and (iii) at least would disprove the existence of Heaven.

PatrickH said...

Burden of proof assignment is rhetoric, not argument. Gird your loins, lads, and realize you've got to argue for your point, theist or not.

unkleE said...

"Who has the burden of proof when it comes to discussions of heaven and hell? How can one disprove the existence of places that no one is able to verify actually exists?"

Some matters cannot be proven, and some take a long time to prove. This one is potentially verifiable in the long term, but not so easily falsified.

I thought that (1) "burden of proof" was a legal rather than a philosophical term, and (2) whoever makes a proposition and wants someone else to take notice of it should give a reason to support it. If atheists make no propositions, then there is nothing to support, but most atheists I know make propositions on some matters at least.

Ken said...

The proof/evidence of the physical world is universally available, without any effort by the person making the claim. Proof/evidence of God is not.

Still, as an agnostic atheist, I disagree that the burden of proof lies totally with theists. Atheists are making a claim too, ordinary as it is -- ordinary in the sense that theists and atheists both know and recognize many mythical gods persisting in other cultures, with atheists applying that common experience to the Christian God.

Walter said...

VR: I claim that the physical world exists. You deny it, and say that it is an illusion. Gosh, it looks like I've got the burden of proof. What am I going to do? Kick a stone?

Wouldn't the easiest thing to do be to throw the stone, hitting the skeptic. He may deny reality, but the illusion of reality is going to sting for awhile. :)

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

I'm paraphrasing here, because I don't have the book in front of me, but I've always loved Mark Helprin's definition of an atheist in his novel "A Soldier of the Great War":

"He is like a man standing at the ocean's edge during a great storm. He is lashed by the wind, the blowing sand, and the salt spray. He can hardly maintain his footing in the face of the gale. And all the time he is obstinately denying the existence of the sea."

Victor Reppert said...

Proof of the physical world is universally available? There is nothing in the "proof" that is incompatible with Berkeleyan idealism. What is given in experience could just as easily by ideal.

Mr Veale said...

A very good article from "Philosophy Now" (of all places!)

http://www.philosophynow.org/issue78/78antony.htm

Mr Veale said...

A good paper on the "Presumption of Atheism" can be found on David Glass' home page

http://www.infj.ulst.ac.uk/~dvglass/research_papers.html

under

"Probability and the presumption of atheism"

Bayesians might find it interesting reading.

Mr Veale said...

sorry - that's "html", not "h" at the end. (It won't copy/paste across correctly!Grrr)

Ken said...

To repeat, I do agree with you that either side entering any debate has to provide proof or at least evidence for their claim. But could you provide evidence for God that is equivalent to kicking over a stone? I don't accept the existence of God, not just because I lack philosophical proof, but because I have every reason to believe that people sometimes believe in inaccessable super beings, wondrous places and ethereal things which don't actually exist, based on experiences we both share. I apply that simple model to the Christian god and I'm all for providing further positive arguments to make that model stick. I've kicked my stone.

Like it or not, we have common ground in believing that Zeus, Thor and many other gods are mythical. (I'm not trying to get in a cheap shot on God's existence by comparing God to Zeus. Christian theism is obviously much more sophisticated, formalized and diverse, which I strongly feel are the main problems for skeptics to overcome.) What would be the undeniable common ground or direct experience that would provide an example of a god that exists outside mythology?

ἐκκλησία said...

The theist asserts that reality (say a multi-verse) must contain at least one necessary being (called God), with particular properties, and contains many contingent beings, to explain why things are as they are.

This world view most certainly has reasonable and logical consequences. The theist is clearly obligated to provide evidence from reality, as observed, that suggests this world view.

The atheist also asserts a particular type of reality (again suppose a multi-verse) where no necessary being exists. Depending upon the extremity of the views of the atheist, even the existence of contingent beings is subject to doubt. But still this world view supposedly explains why things are as they appear to be.

The athiest world view also has reasonable, and logical consequences. Because the atheist is positively asserting a certain type of reality, within the marketplace of ideas, this assertion must also and absolutely be substantiated against observation.

That atheisms portrays theism as irrational, or atheism as the de-facto position is ludicrous.

Theism cites as evidence the existence of objective morals, or the fact that life has only ever originated from life, for example, as tangible observable evidence of the necessity of a necessary being with particular qualities.

If no necessary being exists, the atheist is obligated to show how life can come from non-life, or how the rational can arise from the irrational, or how order can spontaneously arise from chaos with no particular cause, since we've never observed any of these things.

Shackleman said...

"Like it or not, we have common ground in believing that Zeus, Thor and many other gods are mythical"

This notion has come up frequently on here of late.

It'd be nice, Dr. Reppert, If you would do a formal post on it (unless you already have and I missed it).

Ken, I do not share your common disbelief in Zeus. I believe the being I refer to as the Christian God is the *same* being the ancient Greeks called Zeus.

Obviously I think the ancients had an underdeveloped and less accurate description of God, but, they were praying to the same God as I pray to today.

After all, I believe in a living and eternal God. So He was there when the ancient Greeks were too. He didn't evolve, but our understanding of him did.

Shackleman said...

"What would be the undeniable common ground or direct experience that would provide an example of a god that exists outside mythology?"

I was once an atheist and skeptic. Over the course of probably 2 decades of research, meditation, thought, book readings, and other studies, I became convinced of God's existence and of His love for his creation.

If you've read all the best works by the best scholars, if you've meditated and thought, if you've turned over every stone that you can possibly turn, and still remain unconvinced....and yet you STILL find yourself seeking and desiring God, then I suggest you...

Pray.

No man can do for you what you're asking. No man can prove to your satisfaction that God exists. You must do that for yourself, and then, only with God's help.

Now, to answer your question more directly. Existence itself is the foundational common ground, buttressed, in my view by Reason and Morality, which point toward a real God that exists outside of mythology.

Arthur said...

Shackleman said... "Ken, I do not share your common disbelief in Zeus. I believe the being I refer to as the Christian God is the *same* being the ancient Greeks called Zeus.

Obviously I think the ancients had an underdeveloped and less accurate description of God, but, they were praying to the same God as I pray to today.

After all, I believe in a living and eternal God. So He was there when the ancient Greeks were too. He didn't evolve, but our understanding of him did."


Shackleman picking you might also agree with Metaethical Moral Relativism too then.

Arthur said...

PatrickH said... "Burden of proof assignment is rhetoric, not argument. Gird your loins, lads, and realize you've got to argue for your point, theist or not."

Trolls,Pink Unicorns,Fairys,FSM,Warewolfs all do exist also im quite sure of it,myself and many others have even personally experienced these things also.Meaning there is also some evidence of such things existence.

Gird your loins Patrick and prepare to argue they dont exist.You have got! to argue for your point to try and prove beyond all doubt against such things, and any failure to agree to do so, is only pure rhetoric and delusion on your part.

If you cannot prove these things dont exist in fine detail, i suggest all humanity! should quickly approach governments and demand for the justice! of our faith, and that in keeping with such justice rightous ammounts of funding should also be allocated to help benefit in furthering the continued reverence of all our glorious faiths in these beings.

And until these glorious beings can all be disproved unequivocally, it is only stubborn pure rhetoric and ignorance on the part of those who refuse to be prepared to agree to deal with it.

Arthur said...

ἐκκλησία said... "Theism cites as evidence the existence of objective morals"

Why should we first have need of these Gods, before all humanity ever being able of having the ability to finally All be seen to decide on certain objective morals.

Anymore than it being possible for mind of ALL humanity to finally decide that round wheels seem to work far better than square wheels.

If all humans are human,and all humans feel pain ,and all humans have human feelings and emotions etc.

Why then would we have good reason to expect that even seperation by sea, might cause one nation to all totally enjoy murder or rape and think of it as moral ,while another would find it as immoral.

Existence of certain Object moral that is seen among most all nations worldwide, is little different to us also all having decided on having round wheels rather than having them square.