Burden of proof

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Burden of proof is the position, in argumentation theory, that the individual making a claim is required to support that claim with evidence and/or sound argument sufficient to warrant acceptance of the claim. While each individual is free to set their own standards of evidence, there are rules and accepted conventions which determine the evidenciary standards in courts of law, formal debates and other settings.


When asked to support the claim that a God exists, it's not unusual for apologists to respond with "you can't prove God doesn't exist", or similar statements. Essentially, this is an attempt to shift the burden of proof.

Statements like this are based on the premise that:

  • belief in God is justified until sufficient evidence is presented to refute such existence

While the response is sound under a world view which accepts that premise, this is simply a form of compartmentalization. If we were to apply that premise to all claims, we'd be unable to develop any useful picture of reality and every supernatural claim would be accepted as true.

Every sane human being recognizes this problem, which is why the apologists only apply this premise to questions that address their particular religion - and nothing else. This compartmentalization is a form of special pleading.

One wonders how an apologist who enjoys shifting the burden of proof would feel if a judge said, "You can't prove that you aren't a murderer. Guilty!"

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