Theists will apparently never understand the burden of proof?

Yeah, I’m harping on a bit. I’m stuck at home, it’s my son’s twelfth birthday and I can’t see him. I wrote a long post all about him and the issues we’ve had, then trashed it. So You’ll have to put up with yet another post on this instead.


Theo’s comment is spot on. I have little to add.

The major problem with Bob’s logic, other than a complete failure to understand the burden of proof and that atheism makes no claim, is by his own logic, he now has a problem: If I as an atheist need to prove that the Christian god doesn’t exist, then Bob has a lot of work on his hands too: He needs to prove that all the other gods that he doesn’t believe in don’t exist. Good luck with that, Bob.

The issue is that when you are indoctrinated to believe in a religion, you consider only your god. Your perception is tied to that god and that god alone. But other theists believe just as sincerely in other gods. As an atheist, we disbelieve in all of them. As a theist, you disbelieve in all but one of them. Unless of course, you jump through some motivational thinking hoops and assume that all gods are actually your god, “revealed to people in different ways”, but that isn’t really an argument because it projects your belief system onto others and conveniently disregards theirs as well as any contradictory dogma.

If I replied to Bob, I would then ask him to prove all those other gods don’t exist. He will never take such a request seriously because he doesn’t take those other gods seriously. Well guess what, Bob? We don’t take your god seriously either, and nor should we. Your god claim is not special and is not more significant than the one of any other religion currently practiced, or even one no longer practiced. You know those old gods of the Greeks and Romans and Norsemen, for example? They’re myths that people don’t believe in any more. You god is a myth that people still believe in, but a myth all the same, and not the only such myth.

Normally when faced with the existence of belief in other gods, the Bobs of this world will resort to arguments that amount to nothing more than, “Only Christianity is the true religion because Jesus (died for our sins and no other religion says so – you can leave this parenthesized part out actually)”, while Muslims (for example) can of course say “Only Islam is the true religion because Allah (did some Allah shit or whatever)”. In all cases, they refer to the claim as being proof of itself, but then ask atheists to somehow disprove their claim, even though the lack of evidence is against them. They only care about evidence when it comes to other things than their god. No evidence is required for belief but it is required (somehow) for disbelief. Sorry fuckers, it doesn’t work like that and I don’t need to disprove your claim. You claim is not valid.

OK then theists, let’s consider why you shouldn’t shift the burden of proof onto atheists.

In my last post, I mentioned that theists often ask us atheists to prove there is no god. I also mentioned I wasn’t interested in writing about that. But I do think it adds value to consider that now.

In my research for this post, I found this article which asserts that sometimes theists have the burden of proof, and sometimes atheists do. The gist of it seems to be that whoever makes the claim has the burden, so when atheists claim there is no god, the burden lies with us. Except that isn’t what atheism is about, so the article is wrong because atheists don’t make such a claim. Theists will say that we do, but the thing is, that opens up a can of worms that they certainly don’t really want opened… but since most don’t even seem to know what atheism is, they don’t realize this either. So let’s open up that can of worms, shall we?

First I’ll jot down a couple of notes that demonstrate why shifting the burden of proof onto atheists also introduces some worms into your clever little plan.

  1. Atheism makes no claim but rejects all claims that gods exist.
  2. Theism, in most cases, not only claims that a specific god exists, but also implicitly rejects all claims that other gods exist, just like atheism.
  3. Theists always forget about point two because when they say “Prove that god doesn’t exist”, they imagine their specific god.

I have dealt with many Christians who think it clever to shift the burden of proof with, “Prove god doesn’t exist”. And I always answer the same: Which god? (Crickets…) Seriously folks, Jesus/Yahweh/Allah is no more notable a claim than Odin/Zeus, or some older god you never even heard of.

So by all means, feel free to insist that we atheists must prove god doesn’t exist, as long as you are then willing to prove that every other god doesn’t exist, because if me being an atheist means that I claim your god doesn’t exist, then by your own poor logic that means you claim all gods but your own do not exist, and the burden of proof lies on you to prove that. Good luck!

Of course there’s a bigger issue at stake here, an issue that theist debaters do not want to face… In religious apologetics, their arguments are often interchangeable. For example, a Muslim or a Christian might argue variations of Pascal’s Wager or the Argument from First Cause. This is common, and inexperienced debaters bring them up without even knowing they are common arguments. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It implies they came to those arguments by themselves. One should not fault anyone for that any more than one would fault somebody for not knowing how to pronounce a word they learned by reading.)

But their arguments are generic arguments for a “creator”, often filled with flawed logic. That logic aside, none of their arguments ever lead to a logical conclusion that their specific god exists. Debating theists is thus always an extended visit to Non Sequitur Land, a place where theists of different religions all make the same nonsensical arguments and all of them come to different conclusions. (This is an expected side-effect of starting with your conclusion and then fabricating pseudo-logic that you think leads to it.) Of course the lazy way to avoid this problem is not make an argument at all, and instead shift the burden of proof onto your opponent, which in this case makes no claim at all. (Sigh.) And you wonder why so many of us just end up calling them idiots?

Edit… I was looking for a post I saw on Facebook this morning, where a theist posted to a debate group that atheism is a “proposition that no god exists” in his attempt to shift the burden of proof. Can’t find it, but I do see that I have shared on this subject before…


Another edit… Not the original one I was thinking of, but check out this bullshit. It’s from that guy again, and this time he posts his oddball false dichotomy and successfully suckers people into answering with the second option. (It’s a trick. Answer with option 2 and he will use it to mean something else.) Obviously the correct answer is “I identify as an atheist and thus I lack the belief there is a god.” I’m still on my ban so I had to save this to a collection to reply if I get the chance.

Other than the obvious errors in his logic with trying to turn a rejection of claims into a claim itself, asking a question that can have many answers and limiting those you accept to a simple binary is not terribly smart. But then John is not a smart man. See? This is why you shouldn’t debate.


By the way, even if you do believe there is no god, that means something different to what he thinks it does. In his mind it means you reject his god because his one is the one true god.

I’m kind of surprised nobody has commented to this post with “But Christianity is the only true religion because Jesus [insert did something specific to the claims of Christianity here]”, which essentially comes down to “my magical thinking is correct because the magic I believe in is real”. But hey… it’s still early.

OK, last edit… I promise. Here, from the same group by another Johnny, is another fine example of pseudo-logic that jumps through some hoops to arrive at the predetermined conclusion that doesn’t follow.

This isn’t relevant to the burden of proof, but is relevant to my last point about arguments that “lead” to a creator being more than a little flawed and all of them being non sequiturs.


On attempted reversal of the burden of proof

Recently my brother stated that “every time you and Megan get together, you relapse”. To believe this, he must ignore the last time in 2013, which happened to be the time I stopped using drugs on the day she arrived with Aishah who was then a baby, and he must ignore that she stayed for two years, the first two years of my time clean, which incidentally is the one and only time that I cleaned up and stayed clean. (“One and only” is OK. This is something I will never need do again because sobriety is for life for me.)

While it is true that there is a higher probability for addicts to relapse if they used to use together, in our case we firstly are not together, and secondly you can’t ignore those last two years, when I initially cleaned up with her there. So clearly “every time we get together” is not true. She may not be staying for much longer anyway, thanks to him and other things. I want to write about that, but I’m holding back for now. (Barely.)

He also implied that someone might make false accusations against me. Ironic because someone did in those first two years. It could only have been either him or his ex wife, both of whom deny doing so.

I blame religious thinking for their kind of logic. The burden of proof lies with the one making the claim. I could go ahead and claim my neighbour is a paedophile, just because I don’t like him. But I expect (and hope) nobody would believe me. When you accuse someone, it is not up to them to prove they are innocent, it is up to you to prove they are guilty. Likewise, if you accuse me of using drugs, it isn’t up to me to clear my name. It’s up to you to prove your claim. In any case, if that happened, the first thing I’d do is go to a rehab, one whose tests are recognized by court, and get myself tested. I’d do so at my expense. But what I’d do is not the point and I really wouldn’t have to.

It seems that religious thinkers get so used to reversing the burden of proof every time they discuss their religion with non-believers, they forget that outside of that subject (where the majority of people have religious beliefs and thus get it wrong), this is simply not how it works.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve perused Facebook atheist vs theist debate groups, reading posts where someone with a pea-sized brain demands that we prove their god doesn’t exist, or asks, “How do you know God doesn’t exist?”. Again… Not how it works.

I’m not going to explain why that isn’t how it works, because frankly if you don’t get it, you still won’t even if I write a ten thousand word argumentative essay that explains every facet of why.

Please stop trying to shift the burden of proof

I’ve written about this before so I’ll keep this one short and as simple as I can.

Yesterday someone replying to a comment I made on a debate group (and I do know how to push their buttons these days!) stated explicitly that the Bible is evidence of his god’s existence.

It doesn’t work like that. The Bible is the source of the claim. When you make a claim, the onus is on you to prove that the claim is true.

I can fly.

There. That shit is written. Not only is it written, but it is written by me, the guy who can fly, so you know it’s true. It is evidence that I can fly. See what I did there?

Maybe some people will find it to their advantage to believe this claim… Then they can teach their children to believe it too before they are old enough to think critically. Fast forward to two thousand years later and… that guy, that Jerome guy born in South Africa on 22nd October 1971, he could fucking fly! You should have seen him, souring through the clouds and swooping down. How do I know? Because it is written in the holy post of flight (and some other shit about “burden of proof” that we don’t understand.)! Not only that, but it is corroborated by other holy writings of flight from around the same century, by his first Disciples of Featherless Flight.

Seriously, having your claim written down doesn’t automatically make your claim true. Even having it written in other places doesn’t make it true. If your god were real, it wouldn’t need to be written, because we’d need only to look for it and see this god.

The most common counterargument I’m presented with is that god “reveals himself in various ways”. This is even used to assert that a particular god existed before the claim of the particular religion was made. Here’s the problem with that stupid argument: If claims of other religions made thousands of years before your one are also “evidence” of your god, you admit that you don’t have to follow your religion. It’s not the one true religion any more, so stop telling people they have to accept Christ or Allah or Tinkerbell or whichever one you think isn’t totally made up. You can’t have it both ways.

Asking me to prove there is no god is like asking the child to prove that the emperor isn’t wearing clothes

The Emperor’s New clothes is a story I loved and hated as a child. I loved that the child could see through the bullshit and prove everybody else wrong, but I hated it because I could not understand how everybody could believe something that was so obviously false.

But I understand now. Sure, the story is about pretence rather than faith, but that doesn’t matter. The fact is, being an atheist nowadays is like being that child, crying out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. The difference is, nobody joins in the chant. Nobody starts singing, “The King is in the all together, But all together the all together”… Nobody.

That’s what it’s like… That’s the reality of being an atheist, when some idiot asks me to prove that there isn’t a god. That’s what it’s like when you dismiss my criticism of your Bible… That verse over there – is allegory. The pseudo-scientific explanations you give for the curses of the old testament… You don’t realize that by choosing to provide “explanations” for impossible events, which reveals that you disbelieve in the separate impossible events, yet continue to believe in your god, you don’t prove my criticism wrong. No, you dismiss the Bible itself. You dismiss the very claim, but continue to believe anyway, despite having no evidence for that belief. You’re like someone in the parade, watching the naked emperor go by, giving me explanations for why his dick is hanging free… Maybe the clothes are allegory in that instance? In every instance, you have an explanation, and you rationalize away why you can see every bit of his skin from every angle, yet the rationalization somehow does not conclude the obvious solution… that there are no clothes. There is almost certainly no god.

The other day someone asked what we, as atheists, would accept as evidence of god.

That’s a very good question, but one that is of course, impossible to answer. Ask any believer what god is. Go ahead, try it… There is no single definition of god, not even among believers who belong to the same denomination of the same church. Yet I am asked not only to prove that this thing, this thing which clearly is not real, does not exist! Further, I am asked by someone who doesn’t even have a fucking clue what their own god is, what I would accept as evidence. What the fuck? I would accept God Himself, revealing Himself in some way that was clear and unambiguous. I can’t define how that would happen, but I can say that no words, nothing any person says or does, would ever convince me. The only thing that would convince me is God Himself. And I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.