Friday, October 6, 2006

The Burden of Proof (aka: Should We Presume A God's Existence?)

I always am confounded when theists assert that the burden of proof is on atheists, rather than theists themselves. That is, theists often claim that a god’s existence should be presumed, rather than a god’s non-existence. This, of course, despite the fact that there is absolutely no hard, scientific evidence to support the contention that any gods exist. Belief in gods is based upon faith, rather than hard, scientific evidence. Yet, in the opinions of many theists, the burden of proof remains on the non-believer. This is very curious.

I frequently use the following analogy, to which I've never received an adequate response.

Should a woman have a double mastectomy because she presumes the existence of cancer cells, sans hard evidence? Of course not. She assumes the non-existence of cancer cells, until presented with substantial evidence that cancer cells are present. In my view, presuming the existence of a god and acting accordingly would be exactly the same as presuming the existence of cancer cells and having surgery accordingly. When presented with something questionable, one always should assume non-existence, until presented with hard, scientific evidence supporting the contention of existence. Even then, one must decide whether that hard evidence is compelling enough to warrant belief.

This especially is true for an extraordinary claim, such as the existence of a god. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as the brilliant Carl Sagan reflected. An omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity certainly would be extraordinary, in that such an entity never has been observed in nature. Therefore, in fact, it would be much more rational to presume—sans evidence—one has cancer (and act accordingly) than to presume—sans evidence—a god exists (and act accordingly).

An evidence-deficient god claim actually is more comparable to an evidence-deficient claim for unicorns, leprechauns, banshees or zombies. Much like in the case of a god, testable nature never has laid its eyes upon any of those colorful creatures.

Extraordinary claims necessitate extraordinary evidence. By believers’ own accounts, gods are accepted by faith rather than by scientific evidence. Faith does not meet the high standard of extraordinary evidence; on the contrary, faith is what one uses to prop up beliefs for which no evidence exists.

The burden of proof is on you, theists. Present extraordinary evidence for a god – hard evidence that is testable in the scientific sense. Presuming a god, in all seriousness, absolutely is no different from presuming invisible goblins creeping through my backyard.

Forget about “Where’s the beef?” Where’s the evidence?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am an atheist so I agree with you in substance. But there is a legitimate argument for placing the burden of proof on atheists.

The rule in debate is that the burden of proof is on the person seeking to change the status quo. The status qo on the issue of god since the dawn of human history is to believe in one or some. To request that mankind go from a ubiquitous belief in the existance of a divine being non-belief is to request a change in a very well established status quo. Therefore, the burden is on the side demanding the change.

8:40 AM EDT  
Blogger tichius said...

Do you only subscribe to what you comprehensively understand?

If so, then please explain how the earth was formed, how life was thereafter created and sustained. I'm also curious about what life exists on other planets (does any?). Why are humans the only creatures on the earth that entertain proposition?

If you posit that there is no God, the burden of proof is on you because you have to explain existance and purpose apart from Him. If He did not exist, shouldn't this be fairly easy?

1:09 AM EDT  
Blogger Lui said...

No, I disagree. I think the burden is on those who make the claim in the affirmative. That theism has been the predominant belief system throughout history is just that: an historical fact with historical significance. An idea doesn't gain exemption from scrutiny just because a lot of people have believed in it. Most people are very ignorant about science. If people have good, logical reasons for believing what they do, then those reasons should be presented.
If religion is making claims that, on closer inspection turn out to be scientific ones, then it is up to the theists to present their evidence so that it may be analysed and either accepted or rejected as evidence warrants.

As to the questions about how the earth was created and why we're the only intelligent life-forms on this planet: there are models - being refined and improved as scientists gain better data and come up with more insightful and original concepts to better account for them - that give us an idea of how these sorts of things probably played out, and a foothold from which to inquire further. Science is hard; it doesn't get easier just by looking the other way and falling back on the easy answer of "God did it".

As to the question about whether there is life elsewhere in the universe: we just don't yet know because we haven't any, which is not to say that there ISN'T; it only justifies our saying that there is no evidence that there IS. Your guess is as good as mine. I for one would love there to be extraterrestrial life, but if there isn't, then that's another good reason for us to look after ourselves on this lonely planet.

6:31 AM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

Tichius, you create a false choice, either there is no god or the god of the Bible exists. It is possible there are one or more creator entities and the god of the Bible is still no more real than Zeus.

If you want to claim that God created the universe and all of us, you have to define what this entity is and have some evidence to back up your assertion. Merely arguing that the complexity of the universe is evidence for a creator tells us nothing about this creator, what it's essence is, what it thinks about us, if it thinks about us at all, does it intervene in human history etcetera.

9:44 PM EDT  
Blogger Fr. Ben Hawley, SJ said...

dear jollynihilist,

you raise many good points in the debate about God. i offer you one additional possibility: finding God in our daily experience. this requires a certain amount of practice, but i have found the results beyond question in my own belief. in fact my blogspot is dedicated to explaining how i do this in my own life. i invite you to visit:

my best to you.

fr. ben hawley, sj

4:39 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should YOU (singular) presume. That 'should' be the question.

1:18 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know there is a God, because My wife was attacked by a demon, and also tried to attack, the demon spoke to me many times, and the a people to back my story up, I would like to say something, about this great GOD who sees everything, its the meaning of God, do you know? No Being an atheist you tend to only believe in what you see, the meaning is God Offers Deliverance.
I say to you do not say there is no GOD because you leave yourself open to attack from Satan.
So look for GOD, ask questions, who could have built the world, ,its no accident, even the sientists are starting to agree on that.
BUT there is a downside if we ever prove that there is a GOD we will all DIE, that's how it works I KNOW.

4:10 AM EST  
Blogger Kabot Riken said...

What Is the Origin of Life?

Millions of people of all educational levels believe that an intelligent Creator, the original Designer, produced life on earth. In contrast, many scientists say that life arose from nonliving matter, one chemical step after another, merely by chance. Is it one, or is it the other?

We should not think that this issue is rather remote from us and from our finding a more meaningful life. As already noted, one of the very fundamental questions humans have sought to answer is, Where did we as living humans come from?

Most science courses focus on the adaptation and survival of life-forms instead of on the more central question of the very origin of life. You may have noted that attempts to explain where life came from are usually presented in generalizations such as: ‘Over millions of years, molecules in collision somehow produced life.’ Yet, is that really satisfying? It would mean that in the presence of energy from the sun, lightning, or volcanoes, some lifeless matter moved, became organized, and eventually started living—all of this without directed assistance. What a huge leap that would have been! From nonliving matter to living! Could it have occurred that way?

Back in the Middle Ages, accepting such a concept might not have seemed a problem because spontaneous generation—the notion that life could arise spontaneously from nonliving matter—was a prevailing belief. Finally, in the 17th century, Italian physician Francesco Redi proved that maggots appeared in rotten meat only after flies had laid eggs on it. No maggots developed on meat that flies could not reach. If animals as big as flies did not just appear on their own, what about the microbes that kept appearing in food—covered or not? Although later experiments indicated that microbes did not arise spontaneously, the issue remained controversial. Then came the work of Louis Pasteur.

Many people recall Pasteur’s work in solving problems related to fermentation and to infectious disease. He also performed experiments to determine whether tiny life-forms could arise by themselves. As you may have read, Pasteur demonstrated that even minute bacteria did not form in sterilized water protected from contamination. In 1864 he announced: “Never will the doctrine of spontaneous generation recover from the mortal blow struck by this simple experiment.” That statement remains true. No experiment has ever produced life from nonliving matter.

How then could life come to be on earth? Modern efforts to answer that question might be dated to the 1920’s, to the work of Russian biochemist Alexander I. Oparin. He and other scientists since then have offered something like the script of a three-act drama that depicts what is claimed to have occurred on the stage of planet Earth. The first act portrays earth’s elements, or raw materials, being transformed into groups of molecules. Then comes the jump to large molecules. And the last act of this drama presents the leap to the first living cell. But did it really happen that way?

Fundamental to that drama is explaining that earth’s early atmosphere was much different from what it is today. One theory assumes that free oxygen was virtually absent and that the elements nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon formed ammonia and methane. The concept is that when lightning and ultraviolet light struck an atmosphere of these gases and water vapor, sugars and amino acids developed. Bear in mind, though, that this is theory.

According to this theoretical drama, such molecular forms washed into the oceans or other bodies of water. Over time, sugars, acids, and other compounds concentrated into a broth of “prebiotic soup” where amino acids, for instance, joined to become proteins. Extending this theoretical progression, other compounds called nucleotides formed chains and became a nucleic acid, such as DNA. All of this supposedly set the stage for the final act of the molecular drama.

One might depict this last act, which is undocumented, as a love story. Protein molecules and DNA molecules happen to meet, recognize each other, and embrace. Then, just before the curtain rings down, the first living cell is born. If you were following this drama, you might wonder, ‘Is this real life or fiction? Could life on earth really have originated in this way?’

(Creator,chap. 3 pp. 29-34)

If you assert that life on earth had a spontaneous beginning, what is the scientific evidence that supports it?
Please don't mention "god-of-gaps"
etc, ets. Just the evidence.


12:13 AM EDT  
Blogger pitcher12k said...

"When presented with something questionable, one always should assume non-existence, until presented with hard, scientific evidence supporting the contention of existence."

I agree with that, and by that logic, then dreams, thoughts, light, color, ideas, emotions, desires, and even possibly wind and cold do not exist, or we should not believe in them unless we find hard evidence. I am just going off of what I know, as I assume you are as well.

I will not say any more about why I believe God exists, or why anyone else does, but I would encourage you to actually do some research on this topic. In order to 'find' hard evidence for God, you must look for it. Just try searching in google, or if you prefer, go to the library and find a book or three. I have a couple of suggestions if you would like them.
But again, I will not say anything more, because it is not my job to tell you why God exists, I was just told to love you. So, I shall do that by repeating myself, do some research, think about why you do not believe in God, find out why others do, look at both sides of the issue.

You are right to say that we should not presume a god's existence, but I am fairly certain that the God of the Bible was not believed in until He acted.
haha I think I just gave a reason why God exists...but not really, I don't think. I hope you read this, and if you would like to talk more, feel free to e mail me:
I look forward to a discussion with you :)

ps: I probably won't be checking your blog again, so e mail is the best choice if you would like to communicate. I would be more than willing to look at both sides of 'this whole God thing' and see what we can come up with :)

4:35 PM EST  

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