Burdens of Proof

Is there evidence of God?  If there is any evidence of God at all, does it make sense to nonetheless conclude there is no God, until it is proven that there is a God?

The Real Question

The question isn’t just whether there is a God.  The question is what comprises all of reality.  Is material stuff moving around all that there is?  Or is there more?  Theism is the idea that there’s more.  Atheism is the idea that matter in motion is the sum total of reality.

Mutually Exclusive Choices

Understanding the question this way, we can see why this is a binary situation. If you’re not a “1,” you’re a “0.”  If theism is true, then atheism is false.  If atheism is false, then theism is true.  If we simply examine the question in the light of these two mutually exclusive choices only, we could begin to make progress.

Unfortunately, however, we tend not to ask the question that way.  Instead we insert a presumption of validity, imposing a burden of proof.  And we don’t do it both ways.  We impose the burden of proof only on theism.  We tend to say that theism must be proven, and if we feel that it has not been, then atheism must be true.

But why would we suppose that theism must be proven? Or for that matter, that atheism must be?  The question is certainly which is true, but why would we superimpose a presumption that one or the other must be overcome with the available evidence?  Why would we say one is true unless the other is proven?

Approaching the problem with an artificial burden of proof only serves to divert us from the goal.  It gets in the way of following the evidence where it leads.  Worse, it can cause us to park indecisively in an imagined neutral zone.  This is a binary question.  There are only two possibilities.  And yet, we can fall into the trap of believing neither.  The notion that one view is presumptively correct until overcome with sufficient contrary evidence—imposing a burden of proof—only facilitates this kind of confused thinking.


On this site we have mentioned all kinds of evidence of theism.  For purposes of illustrating the principle of this post, consider just one: the fact that something exists rather than nothing.  The simplest explanation is that stuff was created.  We can imagine that stuff somehow spontaneously generated from nothing, but doesn’t that have less appeal to sound reason?

Whether we are persuaded to the truth of theism by this one example or not, clearly this example shows that there is at least some evidence of theism being true.  And there is much more to add to this, like reason itself.

We appeal to logic, in sorting out this question, but why?  It must be because there is an underlying orientation to truth that we all share.  That is evidence of God, because the alternative view of reality cannot have an orientation to truth.  The only atheist explanation for humans seeking and telling the truth would be that it confers some evolutionary advantage, but in that explanation, it is the evolutionary advantage that is the ordering principle, not truth in the abstract.  If evolutionary advantage is served by falsehood, then falsehood results.

As with truth, moral good and beauty are ordering principles to our lives that are explained by the presence of God, and not persuasively explainable without a God.

We could add the fact that we have a bone-deep desire for purpose and meaning.  Why do purpose and meaning constitute fundamental ordering principles for our existence, if there is no purpose nor meaning, as in the atheist paradigm?  Even if our only ordering principles were survival and reproduction, as atheism holds, why do even those ordering principles exist?  Where does the impetus to live instead of die come from?

Add to this the mystery of human consciousness.  Atheists dismiss this on the ground that, they say, the mind is only the brain, so that people are only biological machines.  Some people become more persuaded to that point of view as neuroscience advances, but brain function by itself cannot explain the subjectivities and intentionality of consciousness.

Misleading Burden of Proof

This is by no means all of the evidence of theism, but the point is that there is some evidence for it, and that evidence is substantial.  If there is at least reasonable, contestable evidence on both sides, why would atheism enjoy the presumption of validity?  Why would theism have to carry the burden of proof?  Why would anyone place himself in the position of atheism, until such time as this artificial burden is carried?  Or declare himself agnostic, awaiting satisfaction of this unreasonable burden of proof?

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