Philosophy of Religion

The Burden of Proof

BURDEN OF PROOF

Why is it that few people seem to have problems with the burden of proof when it comes to the innocence or guilt of a murder suspect, but then cannot apply the same exact logic to more esoteric issues, such as the existence of ghosts, gods, and the like?---Massimo Pigliucci, 2010

Most people as young children appear to have a “commonsense” understanding of the burden of proof. When young people hear a claim being made and it is, in their minds and experience, an extraordinary claim being made, quite often the response is one of asking for something to support the claim. The most common retorts are along the line of “Prove it”, “What makes you say that”, “Sow me” or something like “Oh, yeah?”. Somewhere along the way too many humans lose that sense and too often suspend their inclination to accept the principles underlying the “Burden of Proof”.  Going a bit further it is to be noted that not all people care to be considered as being rational or reasonable or willing to use their intellect as best as possible but for any person who cares at all about being rational and using reason then operating with the "Burden of Proof" rule of reason:

You cannot claim that "miracles exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

You cannot claim that "souls exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

You cannot claim that "angels exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

You cannot claim that "deities exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

The instances of circumstances that provide nuanced exceptions (see below) to the rule are so few and misleading to let it appear they nullify the rule that it is far better to just state that the burden of proof is always on the claim that X exists rather than on the claim that X does not exist. It is a fallacy to claim that X exists unless you prove that there is no X.  What is improper is for a person to claim that "X exists" and when asked to prove it, then the person who made the claim uses as a defense of "X exists" the next claim that no one has proven that X does not exist.

If a person claims that X exists and is real then the burden is on that person to supply some support for that claim, some evidence or proof that others can and should examine before accepting it. It is incorrect to think that X exists and is real until someone can prove that there is no X. It is also wrong to think that just because you can not prove that X exists that does not mean that X does not exist and therefore X does exist.

Why is it that the burden is on the person who makes the claim?  Well think whether or not it is a better way to proceed through life to accept anything and everything that people claim to be so.  Experience should instruct every thinking human that there is a high probability that not everything that people claim to be true is actually true.  Some claims might be made with the claimant aware that the claim is not true and some claims might be made with the claimant thinking that they are true but being mistaken.  As it is for most humans not a very good idea to proceed through life based on beliefs that are false and thinking beliefs and claims to be true when they are not, most humans and those who would use reason to guide them will want some evidence and reasoning to support a claim being asserted to be true.  So the burden is on those who make claims to offer reason and evidence in support of those claims.

SHIFTING THE BURDEN OF PROOF 

The burden of proof is always on the person making an assertion or proposition.  Shifting the burden of proof, a special case of argumentum ad ignorantium, is the fallacy of putting the burden of proof on the person who denies or questions the assertion being made.  The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise. 

The person making a negative claim cannot logically prove nonexistence. And here's why: to know that a X does not exist would require a perfect knowledge of all things (omniscience). To attain this knowledge would require simultaneous access to all parts of the world and beyond (omnipresence). Therefore, to be certain of  the claim that X does not exist one would have to possess abilities that are non-existent. Obviously, mankind's limited nature precludes these special abilities. The claim that X does not exist is therefore unjustifiable. As logician Mortimer Adler has pointed out, the attempt to prove a universal negative is a self- defeating proposition.  These claims are "worldwide existential negatives." They are only a small class of all possible negatives. They cannot be established by direct observation because no single human observer can cover the whole earth at one time in order to declare by personal authority that any “X” doesn't exist. 

see also: The reversed responsibility response – switching the burden of proof, Science or Not December 4, 2012

Burden of Proof

From  X, which is the assertion, is not yet disproved. Therefore, X. 

This is a Fallacy.  If X is unproven, then it is unproven and remains unproven until reason and evidence is provided or secured to establish the proof or high probability of the claim being true.. 

 Examples:

(1)Of course God exists. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?

(2)Of course pink elephants inhabit Mars. We don't see them because they blend in. Can you prove otherwise?

(3) Of course Santa Claus exists. No one has ever proved, to my knowledge, that Santa Claus does not exist. And if one were to fly to the North Pole and say: Well, look, there's no toy factory there. A believer could argue: Well, Santa Claus knew you were coming and moved his operations to the South Pole. So you fly down to the South Pole. No Santa Claus factory, toy factory there. So the believer would say: Oh, he moved it back up to the North Pole.

(4) Of course  leprechauns exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?

(5) Of course  ghosts exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?

(6) Of course yellow polka dotted aliens exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?

(7) Of course  X  exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise? 

Proof of a Negative Claim

So you simply cannot prove general claims that are negative claims -- one cannot prove that ghosts do not exist; one cannot prove that leprechauns too do not exist. One simply cannot prove a negative and general claim. 

"Negative statements often make claims that are hard to prove because they make predictions about things we are in practice unable to observe in a finite time. For instance, "there are no big green Martians" means "there are no big green Martians in this or any universe," and unlike your bathtub, it is not possible to look in every corner of every universe, thus we cannot completely test this proposition--we can just look around within the limits of our ability and our desire to expend time and resources on looking, and prove that, where we have looked so far, and within the limits of our knowing anything at all, there are no big green Martians. In such a case we have proved a negative, just not the negative of the sweeping proposition in question."-Richard Carrier, "Proving a Negative "(1999) by Richard Carrier  at  http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/theory.html

It is possible to prove rather specific negative claims that are made with rather well defined limits.  If the area to be searched is well defined and of a reasonable size that permits searching then a negative claim might be capable of being proven.  For example, if one claims that there is no apple in the top desk drawer of a desk then all one needs to do is to open the top desk drawer indicated in the claim and examine it for its contents.  Finding no apple therein would provide sufficient evidence under ordinary circumstances to verify or confirm the negative claim that there is no apple in the top desk drawer. 

In this regard Irving Marmer Copi writes:
"In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence." - Introduction to Logic, Copi, 1953, Page 95

You can prove a specific negative claim by providing contradictory evidence. An example of a proof of a rather specific negative claim by contradictory evidence would be if someone were to claim that the one and only watch that you own is in the top drawer of the desk.  You make the negative claim that it is not in the drawer and you see it clearly on your wrist.  There is no need to look in the drawer.   

You can also prove specific negative claims when they involve known impossibilities.  For example is someone were to claim that the one and only moon that normally orbits the planet earth was in the top desk drawer.  You claim that the moon is not in the desk drawer.  There would be no need to look inside because the mass of the moon would not fit inside such a space and were its mass to be condensed its mass would be far greater than the desk could support were the desk made of ordinary earth substances. 

You can also prove specific negative claims that can be rephrased as a positive claim.  If someone claims that the lights are not on in room 442 that claim can be rephrased as claiming that the lights are off in room 442.

The claim that you can not prove a negative claim is itself a negative claim and would be a self defeating statement or a retortion were it not generally understood to be a limited claim.  What is usually meant by the assertion that "One can not prove a negative claim" is that it is not logical to insist on proof of claims or statements of the sort: " There is no such thing as X that exists anywhere at all and at any time at all."

Negative claims in the context of religion are very commonly of this form:

  • "You can not prove that there is no deity"

  • "You can not prove that there are no miracles"

These claims are asserted by those holding belief in the existence of such phenomena.  They do not usually assert such criticisms against those who claim that there are no phenomena such as those not believed in by the defenders of the existence of a deity or miracles.  For example believers in deity or miracles do not criticize those who claim that there are no tooth fairies or that there are no leprechauns.  The theists appears to think that the critic of theism is claiming that there are no deities and that such a claim can be proven or has been proven.  What is actually being claimed by most critics of the claims that there are deities or miracles is that "There is not sufficient evidence to establish the existence of a deity or a miracle."  or that "It has not been proven that there are deities or miracles."  The burden of proof is on the claimant of the positive claim that an entity X does exist.  The critic of the person making the positive claim that an entity X does exist is asking for evidence in support of that claim and that the evidence be relevant and sufficient to warrant or support the claim.

The unprovability of non-existence.

Here's what the The Objectivist Newsletter (April 1963) had to say on the logical fallacy of proving a negative:

"Proving the non-existence of that for which no evidence of any kind exists. Proof, logic, reason, thinking, knowledge pertain to and deal only with that which exists. They cannot be applied to that which does not exist. Nothing can be relevant or applicable to the non-existent. The non-existent is nothing. A positive statement, based on facts that have been erroneously interpreted, can be refuted - by means of exposing  the errors in the interpretation of the facts. Such refutation is the disproving of a positive, not the proving of a negative.... Rational demonstration is necessary to support even the claim that a thing is possible. It is a breach of logic to assert that that which has not been proven to be impossible is, therefore, possible. An absence does not constitute proof of anything. Nothing can be derived from nothing." If I say, "Anything is possible" I must admit the possibility that the statement I just made is false. (See Self Exclusion) Doubt must always be specific, and can only exist in contrast to things that cannot properly be doubted. “

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!"     --
Carl Sagan criticized such "impatience with ambiguity" in cosmologist Martin Rees' maxim, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

It means that if we don't know that something exists and have no evidence that it exists then that is not a sufficient basis for thinking that we have proved that it does not exist at all.  It only means we don't know one way or the other, we just haven't been made aware of it yet so it's not part of our knowledge. This is another variation on  argumentum ad ignorantium,   The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise or that it is false unless proven otherwise.  From a lack of knowledge or any evidence to support a claim it is not appropriate and definitely not safe to reach any definite conclusion about the claim.

The case for evidence of absence depends upon whether or not evidence of any kind exists. If none exists, then absence of evidence is neither evidence of absence or of existence.

If someone claims  that X exists and then there is a search for X but the  more people look in places where X "ought to be" in ways and at times that X "should be likely to be there," and there is no evidence of X found, then the more confidence you can have that there is no "X".

Even if absence of evidence really is evidence of absence in some few well defined cases of very finite extension (e.g., there is no elephant in this desk drawer because there is an absence of evidence of an elephant being in the desk drawer), ignorance of evidence is neither one of those things and shouldn't be mistaken to imply either one. Ignorance of evidence is evidence of ignorance and that is all that it is. 

Rejecting the Burden of Proof

There are those who will refuse to accept that the burden of proof rests with those making positive claims.  They do want to claim that:

  • "miracles exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

  • "souls exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

  • "angels exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

  • "deities exist unless someone proves that they do not exist." 

Those who behave in this manner are rejecting the use of reason.  They want to believe that X is true or that X exists and to believe it without evidence or even against evidence to the contrary.  They want to have their beliefs remain intact and not subject to refutation or to reexamination for fear of needing to alter their beliefs.  They rest their beliefs  in X existing or in X being true not on evidence and reason but on FAITH and even on BLIND FAITH and when against reason and counterevidence on willfully BLIND FAITH.  Such behavior is within the realm of Religion and not at all acceptable amongst those who would pursue Philosophical discourse or who would ask that reason and evidence support claims.

Additional readings concerning the difficulty of proving a general negative claim.

"Things that Probably don't Exist" by Nick Barrowman    My point is that when it comes to using observational evidence to argue for existence (a positive claim) or non-existence (a negative claim), you can't prove a negative, whereas you can prove a positive.   http://logbase2.blogspot.com/2007/12/things-that-probably-dont-exist.html

"Proving a Negative "(1999) by Richard Carrier  at  http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/theory.html

See Evidence of Absence

Argument from Ignorance

See VIDEO: 

The Logic of Disproof

The following is a perfectly reasonable way to reach a conclusion, in fact the pattern is known as VALID, meaning that if the premises are true the conclusion must be true:

  1. Premise:  P>Q
  2. Premise: not Q
  3. Conclusion:  therefore not P

This pattern of reasoning is known as denying the consequent or modus tollens

Here it is with some meaningful statements in the place of the P and Q.

  1. Premise: If there is a fire burning in room 442, then you have Oxygen present in room 442.
  2. Premise: There is no oxygen in room 442
  3. Conclusion: Therefore, there is no fire burning in room 442

If Premises 1 and 2 are true the conclusion must be true.  Are they true?  If so, then the conclusion is true.  As a fire is rapid oxidation the absence of oxygen makes a fire impossible. 

Premise:  F then O  is making the claim that the O is necessary for the F.   It claims the F is sufficient to know there is the O.

It is a mistake to confuse a necessary for a sufficient condition and to argue this way.

  1. Premise:  P>Q
  2. Premise: Q
  3. Conclusion:  therefore  P

This mistake is called a fallacy and has the name of affirming the consequent.

Nevertheless a good deal of thinking preceded with this pattern in science.

If the Hypothesis is correct then we will observe what the hypothesis would predict.  We do observe what was predicted and the conclusion is at least partially supported that the hypothesis is correct.

  • Permise: If H, then O
  • Premise: O
  • Conclusion: H

Science moves forward with greater degree of probability of the conclusion being true through the use of modus tollens which disproves an hypothesis or refutes a claim:

  • Permise: If H, then O
  • Premise: not O
  • Conclusion: not H

But even then there might have been something not quite correct in the hypothesis or some auxiliary hypothesis or assumption being made that is being disproven and nto the hypothesis. Perhaps there was the assumption that the measuring being done would be accurate or the devices being used would all function properly and so on.  More testing of the hypothesis is generally in order to rule out the other explanations for not detecting the predicted result.

The logic of proving a negative or non-existence of some X.

  • Premise: If X exists, then you would observe O
  • Premise: We do not observe O
  • Conclusion: X does not exist.

This pattern is VALID and now what a person would need to check is whether or not the premises are true.

If the X is the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny or Santa Claus then there are certain observations that should be made.  Not ever making those observations despite numerous attempts would lead most humans to conclude that there is no  Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny or Santa Claus , only persons posing as such.

However, if the X is some supernatural being or spirit such as a deity or a ghost or even an event claimed to have a supernatural source those who wish to hold for the existence of such beings are not so willing to accept that the existence of the being in reality is disproven and that the being does not exist in reality. What happens?

  • Premise:  If deity D exists, then observe the events O
  • Premise: No observation of O
  • Conclusion : There is no deity.

This would be a VALID argument pattern so if the premises are true the conclusion would be proven to be true. HOWEVER, those who want to hold to the existence of D will introduce auxiliary claims so that the failure to obverse O does not disprove the existence of D.

Example:

  • Premise:  If yellow monkeys in the jungle J exist, then you will observe the yellow monkeys in jungle J
  • Premise: No observation of yellow monkeys in the jungle J occurs
  • Conclusion : There are no yellow monkeys in the jungle J

This would be a VALID argument pattern so if the premises are true the conclusion would be proven to be true.  HOWEVER, those who want to hold to the existence of yellow monkeys in the jungle J will introduce auxiliary claims so that the failure to obverse O does not disprove the existence of yellow monkeys in the jungle J..

  • Premise:  If yellow monkeys in the jungle J exist and it is a rainy Tuesday, then you will observe the yellow monkeys in jungle J
  • Premise: No observation of yellow monkeys in the jungle J occurs on rainy Tuesdays when observations are carried out.
  • Conclusion : There are no yellow monkeys in the jungle J

That would appear to disprove the existence of the yellow monkeys in the jungle J except that the believer in the yellow monkeys in jungle J can offer another auxiliary hypothesis or claim.

  • Premise:  If yellow monkeys in the jungle J exist and it is a rainy Tuesday and they want you to see them, then you will observe the yellow monkeys in jungle J
  • Premise: No observation of yellow monkeys in the jungle J occurs
  • Conclusion : There are no yellow monkeys in the jungle J and it is a rainy Tuesday that want you to see them.

So the person who wants to believe in  yellow monkeys in the jungle J exist  can continue to believe in them and claim that they do exist even with no evidence to support the claim.  The person who wants to believe in  yellow monkeys in the jungle J exist will claim that you did not prove that there were no yellow monkeys in the jungle J and so the person can go on believing that there are yellow monkeys in the jungle.

Now substitute a supernatural being of any kind into the position held by the yellow monkeys in jungle J in the arguments above and you should be able to understand why it is so difficult to prove a negative claim.

Person B claims that deity D exists.  Person B does not offer any convincing arguments or evidence or proof that D exists but shifts the burden of proof and claims that D exists unless it can be proven that D does not exist. An attempt to prove that D does not exist might take this form. Let O be the observation of the deity itself.

  • Premise:  If deity D exists, then observe the events O
  • Premise: No observation of O
  • Conclusion : There is no deity.

 Now the person who claims that D does exist can alter the position in this manner:

  • Premise:  If deity D exists and wants to be observed, then we observe the events O
  • Premise: No observation of O
  • Conclusion : There is no deity that wants to be observed..

So by introducing features into the initial premise the attempt to disprove the existence of D is thwarted. All manner of post hoc explanations can be offered to explain what was observed.  For example the claim could be made that deity D wants people to accept the existence of D as an act of faith in D and so does not make the existence of D obvious or observable.  This process can be repeated in many different ways. This makes the attempt to disprove the existence of D very difficult if not impossible.  Thus it is that the claim is made that it is difficult if not impossible to prove a negative claim or the non-existence of something.  The Burden of Proof is on the positive claim. This stands to reason.  This makes sense. This placement of the Burden of Proof makes reasoned discourse possible.

Or now let D be a deity that is claimed to be All Good and All Knowledgeable and All Powerful..  The argument to disprove the existence of D might take this form:

  • Premise 1:  If deity D exists, then observe the events O=absence of what is not good
  • Premise 2: No observation of O and instead there is observation of things that are not good or evil
  • Conclusion : There is no deity D.

Well this would not prove that there is no deity only that D, a deity that is claimed to be All Good and All Knowledgeable and All Powerful, does not exist .  Now the person who claims that there is a deity can now remove on of the three properties and the disproof would no longer be applicable or deny the truth of premise 1. Or the person claiming that there is a deity could deny that what was observed to be evil was evil=denying the truth of premise 2.

So the Burden of Proof rests with the person making the claim and a positive claim.  It is shifting the Burden of Proof for the person making the positive claim to insist that those who deny the positive claim have the burden to prove that the positive claim is false. It is the Fallacy or mistake of appealing to ignorance to reach a conclusion based on alck of knowledge such as with taking the position that :

If you can not prove that X does not exists, then X does exist.

If you can not prove that X is false, then X is true.

Absence of evidence is not Evidence of absence .

FALSE DILEMMA or non-exhaustive alternatives

There is the mistake of thinking that there are only two alternatives of a false dilemma:

  • Premise 1:Either X exists or X does not Exist
  • Premise 2:You cannot prove that X does not exist
  • Conclusion: X does exist.

OR

  • Premise 1:Either X exists or X does not Exist
  • Premise 2:You cannot prove that X does exist
  • Conclusion: X does not exist.

There is a valid pattern:

  • Premise 1:Either A or B
  • Premise 2:You prove it is not A
  • Conclusion: It must be B.

The mistake is making it appear that the valid pattern is being used when it is not because the first premise of the valid pattern is NOT TRUE.

  • Premise 1:Either X exists or X does not Exist
  • Premise 2:You cannot prove that X does exist
  • Conclusion: X does not exist.

Should be

  • Premise 1:Either (A) X exists and we know it or (B) X exists but we do not know it or (C) X does not exist and we know it or (D) X does not exist and we do not know it
  • Premise 2:You cannot prove that X does exist.

What conclusion would follow from this? either B or D

CONCLUSION:

We do not know what we do not know and it is a mistake to conclude that we do know something when we do not know it.  With a lack of knowledge we can not reach a definite conclusion.

Humans need to proceed carefully in reaching conclusions.  There should be evidence to support conclusions.  Humans need to be patient and accept ignorance and hope it is temporary and work to acquire more evidence and knowledge. There is the continuing process of careful and critical inquiry that has moved humans to the acquisition of reliable claims of knowledge. Humans who hope to retain their rationality and the value it has proved to the species would do well to observe the principle of the Burden of Proof.

 

SUGGESTED READINGS Burden of Proof

Evidence of Absence  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_absence

Legal Burden of Proof  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_burden_of_proof

Philosophical Burden of Proof  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophic_burden_of_proof

Science and the Burden of Proof  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_burden_of_evidence

Burden of Proof  http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof

Argument from Ignorance  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

Whose Burden of Proof? by Massimo Pigliucci, Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 37, issue 3,2013, pp. 20-21

SUGGESTED VIEWING: Burden of Proof

A. On the Burden of Proof  http://www.sciencedump.com/content/burden-proof

or same video here http://youtu.be/KayBys8gaJY

SUGGESTED READINGS  MIRACLES

A.  INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA of PHILOSOPHY: http://www.iep.utm.edu/miracles/

B.  WIKIPEDIA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles

C.  STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA of PHILOSOPHY http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/

D.  Joe Nickell, Examining Miracle Claims:  http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/joe_nickell/miracles.html

E. Spontaneous Remissions in Medicine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_remission

OTHER:

Weeping Statues http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weeping_statue

Weeping Paintings http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weeping_statue#Weeping_paintings

Perceptions http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perceptions_of_religious_imagery_in_natural_phenomena

Simulacrum  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacrum

Pareidolia  chttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

SUGGESTED  IMAGES: MIRACLES

Miracle pictures in Islam http://www.islamcan.com/miracles/index.shtml

Virgin Mary on Wall  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4468275.stm

Virgin Mary on Toast $28,000 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4034787.stm

Nun Bun or Mother Theresa Bun stolen http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4562170.stm

Pareidolia  http://www.yoism.org/?q=node/129

Miracle Tortilla http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/10166

 SUGGESTED VIDEOS: MIRACLES

Solving Mysteries - Exploring the Science of Miracles

Luigi Garlaschelli  Liquifying Blood –Stigmata-Shroud of Turin   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTy0lKylQRY

PENN and TELLER: Signs from Heaven https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOJ7Pi1XJPE

DERREN BROWN: Miracles for Sale Faith Healing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYjgeayfYPI

Miracle Detectives - Mysterious Oils: Skeptic Meets a Believer

1.      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iv4guojV6w

2.      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xUyRIJmgpg&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Miracle Detectives - Holy Dirt of Chimayo: Healing Testimony http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=s_0K6JKoD10

FALSE PROPHET-PETER POPOFF- MIRACLES SCAMS EXPOSED-James Randi  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXV3eZXu0R8

Quranic miracles debunked. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAhKJX2vlvE

 

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