Evil And The Burden of Proof

Who has the burden of proof when it comes to evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There’s often a debate about who has the burden of proof in a discussion. Many atheists will automatically assume that a theist has a burden of proof. This is really begging the question to argue that the theist has something additional to add to reality since it assumes reality is atheistic. My rule is much simpler. If anyone makes a claim, they have a burden to show it.

Thus, if I get into a debate about the existence of God and I say “God exists”, then I have the burden. If we are talking and you say “God doesn’t exist”, you have the burden. Note also it won’t work to say “Well demonstrate otherwise.” Even if I could not demonstrate the existence of God, it does not mean His non-existence has been demonstrated.

So when it comes to evil, evil is a claim that God does not exist. Some atheists will be more lenient and say it is probable that God doesn’t exist. Most internet atheists haven’t got the memo yet that the logical problem of evil isn’t used by academic philosophers anymore.

This will often come down to what is called gratuitous evil. This is evil that it is thought that no greater good can come out of this or no greater evil is prevented by this. I hope observant readers will notice that this is a very bold claim. How could someone know this? The problem for the claimant is that they need to back this.

Now you as at the person not supporting this argument, theist or not, do not have the burden here. I think you should answer, but never lose sight of the fact that you don’t have the burden. Let’s suppose that you don’t have a reason why God allowed a particular evil to occur. So what? Are you obligated to have personal insight into God and know why He does everything He does?

Now some might say that you need to show that God exists if you’re going to assert it’s possible for God to bring about a greater good or prevent a greater evil. This is false. Note that this is an argument against Christian theism or at least general theism. With that, you take God as He is in the system, which would include the omni qualities. The argument is meant to show if the existing of evil is compatible with the reality of God. If you want to say that God might not be powerful enough or know enough, then you’re dealing with a different concept of God.

This is one reason I really don’t find evil convincing. There is a huge burden of proof. One could go with an argument that says that it is improbable that God exists, but then if you’re a theist, you could have several arguments in waiting, like the Thomistic arguments I prefer. If you do, then you have prior justification for your theistic position.

For the arguments I have, they are deductive and lead to the conclusion with certainty. I also think the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is powerful enough. I will grant that evil is certainly emotionally appealing. When I am suffering, my head tells me the truth of Christian theism, but my heart says otherwise. It is not really the temptation of atheism that I face. It’s more what Lewis described. God is real and this is what He’s really like.

Remember again that you do not have to provide a reason why a particular evil has occurred. Your lack of such a reason does not mean that there is no reason. That is the claim your opponent must meet and you are not obligated to demonstrate his argument for him, which you can’t anyway. If he can’t meet it, then you have no obligation to be persuaded. In reality, neither does he.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do You Have To Answer A Claim?

Is it always wise to answer a claim? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve been dialoguing with someone the past few days who has encountered someone asking about what day Jesus died on. I do hold to the traditional date of Friday, but it’s not something I have looked much at. I just know that if practically every scholar across the board says this of all persuasions, it’s probably for good reason.

This person told me about the claims made and asked how to answer them. I asked why he should answer. i was told that it’s because this person he’s dialoguing with, who is not a Christian, is in error. What I then asked was for the person to think about my question again.

Let’s use another claim as an example of what I think should be done.

You are in a group on Facebook as an example and see someone make a claim. Dionysus, Mithras, Osiris, and Horus were all born on December 25th to virgins. All of them had twelve disciples and performed miracles. They were all crucified and they all rose from the dead.

Now many an apologist is chomping at the bit and thinking they are ready to go and show that this is all nonsense. However, there could be a better way. My suggestion is to not answer the claim. Instead, just ask the person to provide some scholarly resources. Don’t accept just a link from someone on the internet who either isn’t a scholar or is not interacting with scholars. Get some real serious sources.

The problem with thinking you have to refute it is that it gives the impression that if the claim goes unanswered, then the claim is true. If the other person is arguing for the claim, then via the burden of proof, the other person has the burden to give the answer. If they don’t give the evidence, then there’s no reason to take the claim seriously. If you go first, then the impression could be that unless you can refute their claim, then their claim is true.

This is also helpful because it can show a weakness in your opponent. If your opponent makes a claim about Mithras being crucified and rising again, then all you need to do is ask for sources. If he does not give any good ones, then you have undermined his credibility in the eyes of all watching. It will not only show that there’s no good reason to believe the claim, but also that the person you are talking with does not do real research and quite likely is just googling something and going with the first thing that agrees with them.

In the same way, be careful with the claims that you make. If you are making one, make sure you have the evidence behind you to back it. This could just as well be used on you if you don’t know what you’re talking about and if you don’t, it really should be used. Just consider it a rule. Because your ideological opponent throws out a piece of meat doesn’t mean you have to jump on it immediately. Let them show they’ve done their homework.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can You Prove A Negative?

Is it possible to prove a negative? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve found myself in a few discussions lately where the idea of the inability to prove a negative has come up. It’s always an intriguing claim when it’s made and usually it’s a way of trying to give the other person the burden of proof. An atheist will claim that he “lacks God belief”, which is a whole separate post, and then says that he doesn’t have to prove God doesn’t exist because it’s the responsibility of the Christian or any other theist to prove that He does exist.

Of course, this is fallacious right from the start. Let’s suppose said theist cannot demonstrate his claim. That doesn’t do anything for atheism really. It could be that God still does exist and that the theist just has really poor reasons for thinking that he does. That still doesn’t answer the claim about proving the negative.

For one thing, is this an absolute idea that you can’t prove a negative? If so, then has this been proven? If it has been proven, then a negative has been proven, and that is that a negative cannot be proven. If it has not been proven, then there is no reason to take it as an automatic truth.

Second, if the God of Christianity exists, it would be impossible to disprove His existence since, well, He exist. Yet hypothetically, one could disprove His existence. What would need to be shown is that there is a necessary contradiction in the essential nature of God. If someone can do this, then since contradictions can’t be true, God does not exist.

We can think of many statements like this. There are no triangles with four sides. There are no circles with six corners. There are no bachelors that are married. These kinds of ideas we know by the very nature of the object involved.

Are there any other disproofs that can be given? Certainly. There is no Jupiter-sized planet between Earth and Mars. I am writing this in my apartment office right now. There are no elephants in my office. I just took a look around. Nope. Still aren’t any.

Of course, there are some matters that are much harder to disprove. To say there are no elephants in my office is an easy one. To say there are no fleas in my office would take a whole lot more. There could be some technological way to demonstrate this right now that I don’t know about, but as it stands, I know of none so I would have no way of demonstrating the claim that there are no fleas in my office.

So when we come to these arguments, who has the burden of proof? I’m just going to make a bizarre suggestion, but maybe in a debate, if someone makes a claim, they have the burden of proving that claim. If someone claims to be an atheist, they need to give reasons for their claim. If someone claims to be a theist and/or a Christian, they also need to give reasons.

Might sound odd I admit. Having someone demonstrate their own claim? Yet maybe that is exactly what would work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


The Burden of Proof

Who has the burden of proof? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently I wrote a piece responding to Neil Carter and posted it on the blog of his that I was responding to. Carter responded by saying he stopped after I said that if you want to disprove Christianity, you have to disprove the resurrection. I was later told that I was someone who obviously did not understand what is meant by the term burden or proof.

Seeing as this is the kind of topic that comes up often, I figured I should write about it.

Too often in debates, one person assumes that the other side has the burden of proof. This also comes with claims like “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Unfortunately, a lot of internet skeptics I meet treat skepticism as if it is the default position and anyone else arguing otherwise has the burden to prove. It is said that the existence of God is an extraordinary claim, but why should this be so? Many theists would say that atheism is an extraordinary claim. Some would also say that macroevolution being true is an extraordinary claim. Hence the problem. This is entirely subjective.

Now when it comes to my response to Carter, my claim is that if you want to argue that Christianity is false, you have the burden to show that. Why is that the case? Because he was making the claim about an argument that was to show Christianity is false. It’s my contention that you could have an unexplained problem for Christianity, but that doesn’t disprove Christianity’s central claim.

Let’s use the problem of evil as an example. If there’s one question that can be hard to answer sometimes, it’s the problem of evil, especially when you get to the personal level. “Why did my son die in a car accident?” “Why did my loved one commit suicide?” “Why does God allow sex trafficking to go on?” Now note something interesting here. What the bringer of the objector must do in this case is not only say that these are hard questions and good questions, and they are, but that these are somehow a categorical disproof that God does not exist.

You could say this perhaps lowers in your eyes the probability that God exists, but to say that it is a disproof is something else altogether. Who has the burden to show that it is an absolute disproof? It is the person who is making the objection. Let’s suppose this person makes the objection as to why God allows XYZ to happen and the Christian just says “I don’t know.” Now sure, we could say the Christian should be more equipped perhaps, but we cannot say that the challenger has proven his point simply by raising the objection. Frankly, every worldview that anyone holds will have some unknown facets to it. If you have a worldview and you lack questions you just don’t know the answer to, you’re not taking your worldview seriously.

To be fair, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s suppose the Christian says “God raised Jesus from the dead.” The atheist responds “I don’t think so.” The Christian could say “Well unless you can tell me what really happened, then Christianity is true.” This is also not a good argument. It could be made about any position such as God revealed himself to Muhammad or Joseph Smith. The inability of the atheist to offer a good position does not mean the position of the Christian is true.

But let’s suppose that instead of just saying what was said above, the Christian makes a case using scholarly sources and then says “Therefore, Jesus was raised from the dead as this is the best explanation of the data.” The Christian has met his burden then. It does not mean everyone will find it convincing, but it means he has made his case. In this case, skepticism of the claim is not an argument. The skeptic cannot say “I am not persuaded, therefore your case is false.” If so, this would work for any position. “I am not persuaded by your case for evolution, therefore your case for it is false.”

Now let’s suppose a Christian and an atheist are debating the existence of God. The Christian makes his case and then the atheist shows that the argument has a logical fallacy in it and just does not work. Does this mean theism is false? No. Does this mean atheism is true? No. It means that the argument that was given is a poor reason. At best, we could end up with agnosticism. The only exception would be if there was no middle ground whatsoever. If it’s either A or non-A exclusively, then the disproof of one equals the proof of the other.

A simple rule to keep in mind then is that whoever makes a claim has the burden to back that claim. If you enter the debate and make any claim whatsoever, you have the burden to back that claim. If you are merely rebutting a claim, you have no burden to make your own case. In my above case that started this, I was under no obligation to make a full case for Christianity to show that an argument against it is false. I have frankly as a Christian said some arguments against atheism are bad arguments and should not be used. Rebutting a bad argument for Christianity does not mean that Christianity is false and atheism is true and rebutting a bad argument for atheism does not mean atheism is false and Christianity is true.

The avoiding of backing your own argument leads us too often to sit back and let the other person do all the work. If you are going to be a good debater, you have to hold your side up of the intellectual conversation. Unfortunately for many, that means you actually have to work and study and read books. That’s anathema to many people to be sure, but there are no easy wins in the world of serious debate. You must do your part.

In Christ,

Nick Peters