“BOP Goes The Weasel” – Why The Burden of Proof Fails

In terms of really being able to debate someone about anything, you have to be able to understand what their axiom is. If you don’t know what an axioms are, they are the groundings of beliefs, or things that are self-evidently true. You know, like “Leonardo DiCaprio is the peanut butter to my jelly”, or “Quinoa is abhorrent”. Okay, okay, I’ll give you a real example: “Murder is wrong.” It’s important to note at this point that axioms are not technically beliefs. They are what are under or inside of beliefs, whatever metaphor suits your fancy. Beliefs are the things that arise from axioms.

You know, like “Leonardo DiCaprio is the peanut butter to my jelly”, or “Quinoa is abhorrent”.

For example, having a conversation about whether someone should get first degree, second degree, or manslaughter for killing someone with a baseball bat is a conversation based on the axiom “Murder is wrong.” Asking what punishment they deserve is impossible when the other participant in the conversation has not conceded that they deserve any type of punishment at all, not to mention you’ve thrown in the extra axiom that “Wrong deeds require punishment.” Another grand example of axiomatic differences is the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, where we can debate until the cows come home about the color or fabric of his clothes, but the truth is that he’s not wearing any.

The Burden of Proof

Here’s where I want to present one of the most basic claims of skepticism and of atheism: The burden of proof. BOP is levied against Christians all the time, in an effort to properly orient them to the ways of logic and skeptical reasoning. However, if we take what we know about axioms and apply it, it should be pretty easy to show why BOP falls flat.

BOP goes something like this: “There’s a infinite ‘mount o’ thangs we dunno, an’ we can’t just go ‘round essepting erry claim that comes along! Whenever sumun makes a positive claim, the burden of proof is on THEM to provide evidence, not the person that don’t believe ‘em. Ya can’t prove a negative. Can’t nobody prove the non-eegsistence of the Flyin’ Spaghetti Monster, but it ain’t up t’us to disprove it. It’s up to y’all to PROVE it.”

I know you may have thought this post was going a different way, but the truth is that this is a pretty sound argument. How else do we protect ourselves and conserve our energy? How else do we respond to a world that is clearly much bigger than ourselves, with a possibly infinite amount of things that we don’t know about it? Answer: By not trying to definitively disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. By not really testing the veracity of claims and instead testing the likelihood of them, and reserving our research and thorough testing for claims that seem more likely.

Ya can’t prove a negative. Can’t nobody prove the non-eegsistence of the Flyin’ Spaghetti Monster!

The Achilles heel of BOP is that it’s a logical argument, but it’s applied to people, who behave much differently than logic. One thing I’ll always see floating around the Internet is sentiments like this: “I don’t believe in evolution, I accept the overwhelming scientific fact of evolution.”

I also see many atheists talking about the “claims of Christianity” or the “claims of God and His divine nature” and other things of that sort. But what these don’t take into account is that Christians do not truly believe that they are claiming anything. In essence, Christians and atheists are talking past each other because they have not agreed on a fundamental axiom.

Christians do not truly believe that they are claiming anything.

In much the same way as someone might feel that they are not “believing in evolution”, as pictured above, Christians do not particularly feel that they are “believing in God.” They believe that they are only accepting something that is already self-evident. Even the holy book says so: “For since the beginning of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20) This is the axiomatic difference between the atheist and the Christian: God is self-evident.

BOP, while a fantastic argument, does not resolve this axiomatic tension, and in many cases, as seen by atheists all over, ultimately fails. Maybe it would’ve worked with the very first person that ever claimed that there was a god, but by now, it’s something that people are born with, and something that they’re taught. It’s not to say that people are brainless automatons, but it is to say that your basic assumptions about the world affect and color how you debate these topics. This is crucial to understanding what belief is. The burden of proof argument, while valid, only works on someone who understands themselves to be making a claim that requires evidence, not on a person that believes themselves to be accepting evident fact. Understanding axioms is the first step to understanding belief, and the first step to being able to convince someone that maybe the emperor doesn’t have on any clothes at all.

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