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The Burden of Proof

Jon Pool
I am very concerned at the current path our debates with the various religious communities seem to always go down. We always seem (and I am very guilty of this myself) to allow ourselves to be put on the defensive. It seems as though we are always defending atheism and "proving" it. Admittedly, this is not impossible, but it places us in the position of having to bear the burden of proof. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the burden of proof is not on us at all. It is on anyone who wishes us to accept or acknowledge their beliefs as being factual. To aid in this I would like to draw on a few examples to help illustrate my point. If any two (or more) of us were to walk into an empty room and I said "Hmm...empty," and someone (or everyone) else replied "No it's not. A big, purple, hairy, fanged whosawhatsit from dimension X is in the room. Only it coexists on both its home plane and ours so it's invisible to anyone who isn't trained to recognize the presence of this creature." I'm quite certain that almost everyone would agree that the person making this statement would actually have to produce such a creature before being taken seriously. Remember, there is a remote chance that such a creature really could exist and be present in the room. True, the chance is so small as to be laughable but the chance does exist. It would not matter how many people testified they had seen the creature, until it was produced it would not be taken for a fact. When we apply the same to the likelihood of the existence of a being who is all knowing, all seeing, and all powerful the chance that such a being exists becomes even more remote.

This brings me to my next point. How in the world can we have an intelligent discussion on any religious belief when not one piece of definitive evidence exists to support the existence of any deity? It would be the same as trying to have an intelligent discussion about the physiological differences between an iguana and Puff the Magic Dragon. It simply doesn't work. And any attempt to have a discussion or a debate is an exercise in futility. Even Christians would agree that trying to hold such a debate (iguana vs puff, which is the better lizard) is a ridiculous idea and yet we are constantly drawn into just such absurd situations. I must admit I see no way for us to win an argument of this sort except to demand that the same standards to which all people hold everything else is applied to religion.

Let's be a little more demanding. Our position is the strongest of all because ours is the only one which is supported by factual, verifiable, evidence. The moment we allow religion to lower that standard (ok, so all religions want all standards to be removed just for them) we have lost the battle and we all might as well go out and buy asbestos underwear and practice holding our breath because the inquisitions will start all over again.

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