Apologetics Fail #4
The Burden of Proof

The thing about all these apologetics fails is that evangelising religious believers (especially Protestant Christianity and Islam) have heard all the explanations why they are in fact failures of logic. They don’t seem to care to improve their arguments, despite the best efforts of atheists to help them do so.

An apologetics fail I see constantly across the Internet (regardless of the religion or the person trying to promote it) is “shifting the burden of proof.”

In epistemology (the philosophical discussion of knowledge and how we arrive at it), the burden of proof is simply the requirement in a discussion or debate that a person who makes an assertion be able to provide evidence for it. In shorthand American slang, “put up or shut up.” Failure to meet a burden of proof (providing sufficient evidence for a claim) means the claim is not considered to be valid (though it might be true), and in an honest discussion or debate should be acknowledged, then either supported or withdrawn.

Religious apologists rarely argue from a position of good faith (that is, withdrawing unsupported assertions when called out). When shown their assertion is faulty or unsupported, they often double-down, or abandon the discussion (without acknowledging their assertion is unsupported or faulty) to look for lower-hanging fruit (a different target for conversion). Sometimes an apologist will become quite angry when his or her arguments are shown to be unsupported and the atheist won’t accept them.

More and more, religious apologists across the Internet (especially YouTube atheistic and religious videos) are becoming exasperated with being asked to provide evidence for a claim. There are a few Christian videos mocking atheists who call out a shifting of the burden of proof. As long as apologetics have been around, religious apologists have tried to shift the burden of proof of their claims (and not just in arguments with atheists, also in arguments with other religious people, sometimes even within the same religion but different sects).

Shifting the burden of proof is not the province of just religious apologists of course; groups like flat-Earthers, Moon landing hoaxers, or Jewish conspiracy theorists have done it for ages as well.

In a discussion (not a debate, because debate acknowledges you have a burden of proof for any assertion not already agreed upon) with an atheist, that shift will usually appear in some form of the sentence, “You haven’t provided evidence God doesn’t exist (therefore your claim is invalid, or your claim is equal to mine).”

It is both a dishonest redefinition of atheism and shifting the burden of proof. Atheists are not making a claim there is no god, just that they do not believe the claims of one (or more) by apologists for a religion. Religious apologists have no problem rejecting any claims by any other religion without evidence (or sects within their own religion). A tongue-in-cheek analogy to atheism not being a claim of no gods was given by Bill Maher at the 2012 Reason Rally in Washington, DC: “Abstinence is not a sex position.”

If an atheist claimed “There is no god” (the position of an anti-theist, a subset of atheists), then that atheist adopts a burden of proof for his or her claim. The majority of atheists do not claim “there is no god,” merely rejecting the claims of the apologist’s assertions, special pleading, a holy book, or secret revelation known only to him or her (or all of those together).

Examples of bald assertions (those without evidence) within Christianity against other sects are rife. Commonly heard from many Protestant sects is the refrain “Catholics and Mormons are not Christians.” (This ignores the fact Catholics and Mormons accept Jesus as presented in the Bible, therefore they are Christians.) Another, especially from Charismatic/Evangelical sects is “The Pope is the Antichrist.” (That short sentence has several unsupported assertions: There is an antichrist, that person is the Pope – despite many popes over thousands of years, &c.)

Today’s atheist inspirational quote:

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours
But I think that God's got a sick sense of humour
And when I die I expect to find Him laughing

Depeche Mode, “Blasphemous Rumours” from the 1984 LP Some Great Reward (the verses of this song are a particularly dark story about the results of religious belief by a teenage girl).


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