Both parties sometimes try to put the burden of proof on the other.
At times, Christians claim that atheists have the burden of proof.
At times, atheists claim that Christians have the burden of proof.
Somewhat surprisingly, both parties are sometimes right . . . and sometimes wrong.
The Burden of Proof
The basic idea of the “burden of proof” is that a particular party has an obligation to provide proof of a claim that is being disputed.
This principle is applied in a variety of settings—in courtrooms, in science, in philosophical discussion, and in debates.
When used rightly, it can help keep discussions on track.
When used wrongly, it can cause discussions to descend into squabbles that cause the discussion to go off track.
So let’s look at the ways the burden of proof is assigned and see how it applies to the existence of God.
The Legal Burden of Proof
In legal settings, the burden of proof is linked to the presumption of innocence.
In a criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent until the prosecution shows otherwise. The prosecutor thus has the legal burden of proof.
The reasons for this are practical. History shows that if the defendant is not presumed innocent then, when the machinery of the state is pitted against an individual, tyranny results.
Many modern legal systems thus incorporate the presumption of innocence.
In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states:
Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
This does not apply on Cardassia, however, where they apparently like tyranny.
The Scientific Burden of Proof
In the sciences, the burden of proof falls to the one proposing a hypothesis.
It doesn’t matter what the hypothesis is:
- If you want to propose that Particle X exists, the burden of proof falls to you.
- If you want to propose that Particle X does not exist, the burden again falls to you.
Either way, in science the person proposing a hypothesis needs to provide evidence for it by using the scientific method (i.e., making a prediction based on the hypothesis and then seeing whether the prediction is fulfilled when a test is run).
Only by doing this can the hypothesis be scientifically established (to the extent that anything can ever be scientifically established).
Scientific Proof of God’s Existence/Non-Existence?
If someone wanted to claim that the existence of God is scientifically provable then he would need to formulate a testable prediction based on the hypothesis that God exists and then run the test and see if the prediction is fulfilled.
In the same way, if someone wanted to claim that the non-existence of God is scientifically provable then he would need to formulate the same kind of testable prediction, run the test, and see if the prediction is fulfilled.
Either way, the test would need to be well-designed, replicable, etc., etc., for the matter to be considered scientifically proved.
There are difficulties involved in running tests involving a Being who is not detectable by the senses and who may or may not choose to act in ways that are detectable by the senses.
These difficulties have convinced many that it is not easy to use the scientific method to either prove or disprove the existence of God. Some hold that it is simply impossible.
Our point, though, is that the burden of proof falls equally on the one wanting to assert and the one wanting to deny the existence of God.
In science, you shoulder the burden of proof to sustain your hypothesis, whatever it happens to be.