Shifting the Burden of Proof

In my last post, I tried to show how effective questions are. They enable us to buy time, gather information, understand the other person’s opinion, and help them understand what they’re saying. In today’s post I want to try show you another way that Koukl uses questions when engaging skepticism. It’s simply called, “reversing the burden of proof.”

The “burden of proof” is simply the responsibility a person has to defend the truthfulness of their claim. Imagine a friend of yours sitting across the table and calmly stating, “there’s no evidence for the existence of God. There just isn’t any.” How would you respond? (That’s going to become a common question in these posts…) You could begin by asking him what exactly he means by “God.” And you could go on to clarify what he means by “proof.” But after you understand his opinion, what’s next? The burden of proof.

Anybody who makes any claim bears the responsibility of showing the rationality of that claim. Its really not asking that much (if you think about it). “That’s a pretty big claim. That’s there’s no evidence for the existence of God,” you say. After a moment of thought you ask, “how did you come to that conclusion?”

That’s all you need to do. The ball is in his court now – the burden of proof is on his shoulders.

Shifting the burden of proof is as simple as asking, “how did you come to that conclusion?” It’s a fair question. Asking someone to explain how they came to a conclusion tests the rationality of their claim. Do they (or do they not) have reason to believe their claim? Are there supporting pieces of evidence that provide the basis for their claim? What lies underneath their assertion? Is there anything? Or is there simply a faulty foundation (i.e., bad reasoning)?

“In any dispute, the person who advances an opinion, claim, or point of view has the job of defending it. It’s not your duty to prove him wrong. It’s his duty to prove himself right.” Page 70, Tactics.

Conclusion

Defend what you claim – and call others to do the same. If someone claims that all religions are basically the same, they bear the burden of proof. Is someone claims that all religions are not the same, they too bear the burden of proof. The responsibility to show the reasonableness of a claim is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. Why are Christianity’s critics the only ones picking up this weapon? When swung skillfully, it can expose (sometimes sincere) misconceptions and cut a path to the truth – for both parties. For both!

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2 comments

  1. This is a load of garbage, there is no burden of proof for atheism. Atheists don’t claim that there is no god, but there’s certainly no reason to think that there is.

    1. Powell, appreciate the interaction. From what I understand, the term “theism” implies belief in a god (or God). The prefix “a” means “not, without.” If we agree to defer to the same authority, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, then the term “atheism” means “the doctrine that there is no deity.”

      Since none of us live in a historical vacuum, and a host of people have believed in the existence of a God, it seems to me that the reasonable way an atheist engages the discussion is by showing why he believes what he does. That’s all I mean by the burden of proof.

      Let me know if I misunderstood your point.

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