Conversations Gone Wrong – Who has the Burden of Proof?

English: Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane S...
English: Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins at its launch in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I regularly post on the facebook page of my school’s freethinkers group. I enjoy the conversation and look to them to say things that challenge me to think.

My last conversation didn’t go so well, sadly. The atheist, whom I will call JP, was talking about the ‘super natural’. Words like ‘supernatural’, ‘religion’ and ‘faith’ are red flags for me because they often connote something different depending on the person. So, I asked him to tell me more about the ‘supernatural’. The next part of the conversation went like this:

Note: For those who have difficulty getting the point of this article, I’ve color coded it.  (Red: red herring; Blue: irrationality on display; Green: Insults & interestingly inappropriate behavior)

JP: Does God exist?

Me: “If by ‘God’, you mean an extremely powerful immaterial being who created our universe, then yes. The idea is not inherently incoherent so it’s not a priori apart from the ‘phenomena’. Is that what you call ‘super natural’?”

JP: God is super natural because “He” is outside of the phenomena which you say he created. Unless he made himself this box to sleep in. But his creating it — as described by Bible — was as a thing apart from himself. He is “above it,” outside of it, and thus “super natural.” This is somewhat a misleading term applied to ghosts, aliens, or other non-creation-related, unknown to exist, supposed phenomena. A better term for those would be “extra normal.” But they all share a common trait: none has any credible evidence of existence.

When someone tells you that there is no gold on Mars, or no clean men or no good arguments for God’s existence, it should pique your interest. You should wonder how they came into that knowledge especially if they say it with as much confidence as this. So I responded:

Sign of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, ...
Sign of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Me: So, you define the created world as natural, and the uncreated world as supernatural. It’s an interesting set of definitions, but like I said, I’m not usually fussy so I don’t care.
About none of them having credible evidence for their existence, am I supposed to take that to mean you’ve gone through every theistic argument in the Blackwell Companion to Natural theology (and all the arguments not in it) and deemed them incredible?
If so, perhaps you can share your criticisms with me.

JP: Need I? No, I haven’t and no I needn’t. It is incumbent upon the person making the claim to offer evidence. So far, nothing but wishful thinking and word play have been presented to me. It’s not my job to seek it out either. If there is a piece of evidence that is convincing, then needs be only that piece of evidence. However, those of your ilk (believers) only seem to believe for personal reasons. It ranges from personal incredulity, delusions, misinterpreting evidence, or –if the person is honest at all — “because I feel like it.” Phenomena I can explain, another person’s psychological instability or paradolia, ignorance, and personal preferences don’t stand the test of convincing me they are anything but wrong, however earnestly they affirm their beliefs. So, why doncha pick out the best argument for believing in God and I’ll consider if I will convert based on that?

P.S. If there were such an argument, no one would use any other argument to convert non-believers. As it stands, the only counter argument, whatever form it may take, is only,”Oh, yeah? Fuckin’ prove it!” So far, no coherent rebuttal from the side of the faithful. Only droves of people de-converting.

I felt like I had stepped into a parallel universe. Here was a conversation that had been going so nicely. The dude made a claim (that there is no credible evidence for God’s existence), I asked him if he had read the arguments proposed before judging them incredible and he said he doesn’t need to. (so much for loving evidence and rationality, huh?) After that he resorted to insulting me citing everything from my delusion to psychological instability and ignorance. For a moment I thought something had gone wrong, but he was apparently serious. He reiterated that there is no coherent rebuttal from theists. How do you know someone who needs to do some more thinking? They claim that centuries of work by qualified philosophers are incoherent without studying those arguments.EcIhN

Me: Let me see if I get this.
You claim that there is no credible evidence or God’s existence.
When I ask whether you have good reason for believing this, you tell me that it is my job to show you evidence and not your job to show that there is no evidence.
Consider this spin-off courtesy of Ricky Gervais
Me: I can fly
You: Really? prove it!
Me: it’s not my job to prove it. It’s the person who’s saying I can’t fly who has to prove it.

According to you, ” It is incumbent upon the person making the claim to offer evidence.”
Yes. You *claimed* that there is no credible evidence for God’s existence. Now you have to offer evidence for that claim.

P.S. I don’t know where you’ve been, but people have been using other arguments for God’s existence – for examples, the arguments in ‘The Blackwell companion for natural theology’. Hell, I was using the ontological argument with a friend the other day. And I hear people use the moral argument all the time. Perhaps you should read about those arguments.

He responded

JP: Your response is an example of why some atheists call some theists idiots.

I amend my claim that there is no credible evidence. I will say that none has been presented to me that is any good. Ooooooh. Your rebuttal was petty and convoluted.

Your burden is to prove God, not mine to disprove him, which was Gervais damn point. Dammit, this is like I’m explaining it to a child. Do I need a crayon to draw it out for you? You’re taking the explanation of why stupid explanations like,”God did it,” are not credible and turning it so that the burden is upon the non-believer. However you may think it should be worded, you are still in need of remedial logic and English comprehension.

None of the arguments religious people use are any damn good. Ontological, TAG, Kalam, Pascal’s Wager… They all suck! Those are completely fallacious in logic, over-reaching in assumptions and some are internally contradictory. To be taken-in by those is the mark of a sucker. To use those to convert someone is the mark of a charlatan. Snake oil, palm reading, and religion are all devices perpetuated by the masses for the benefit of the salesman. It is complete and utter bullshit.

But I’m done speaking with you. I won’t argue any longer, you simply are not knowledgable[sic] enough to carry on intelligent discourse.

The conversation was pretty much over at that point, but I tried to breathe one last shred of sanity into the conversation by ignoring his denigration and focusing on his points. It was no good.

Me: I’m glad you changed your claim. That was all that was necessary.

“Your burden is to prove God, not mine to disprove him”

Not really. Like you so aptly said, anyone who makes a claim has to defend it. If I get in your face insisting that God exists, I have to defend that claim. On the other hand, if you claim that God does not exist or there is no credible evidence for his existence, you get to defend your claim. You don’t get to make claims and demand that I prove you wrong. I believe you see that and that’s why you changed your claim from ‘there is no credible evidence for God’s existence” (which has to be defended) to “I have not been presented with any good evidence” (which I can’t argue with).

Still, it is not my job to present you with evidence while you sit and ponder it. You don’t get to have someone else research the truth and feed it to you. It is your responsibility to find out the truth.

If I get into an argument with a man about whether a traffic light is green or red, it is his responsibility to decide the truth for himself. If he says “dammit, you’re not providing me with any evidence” refuses to check if there is evidence, and zooms off, if he then gets hit by an oncoming tanker, I won’t be the one whose innards are strewn all over the pavement.

If you want to not believe in God, it is your responsibility to come to the conclusion that he doesn’t exist by looking at the proposed evidence for his existence. I doubt any one has the time or patience to spoon feed you.

JP: It’s ok, you arguments are little bit too biased for me to weed through at the moment. But luckily two LDS missionaries knocked on my door and promised to return later, so perhaps they can “spoon feed me” some Christian mythology.

Still, we were thankfully able to end the conversation peacefully. He thinks I’m stupid and ignorant, but not evil. Yet. How do I explain this incident? It is not isolated. I’ve been in that facebook group for a while. Another participants ‘liked’ his comments, which mean he thought that JP made sense. Contrary to what I’ve been told, hearing ‘logic and evidence’ from Atheists has pushed me away from atheism, not the other way around. They might be more knowledgeable about these topics, but they’re not better thinkers. They need to demonstrate the ability to act in a civilized manner and think and respond to the actual arguments put forward by people if they want to be taken seriously. Talking about the stupidity of theists might be fine when you’re with like-minded people, but when they present you with the Kalam argument, that’s not the correct response.

Don’t get me wrong. There are intelligent atheists and those at my school are usually nice enough, but it seems that they spend more time being proud of their intellectual superiority than they do thinking, resulting in a lot less intellect on the page.


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I’m Tracy

One thought on “Conversations Gone Wrong – Who has the Burden of Proof?”

  1. I’ve had conversations like this before, too, where I’ll suggest to an atheist that they need to do more research, and they’ll say they don’t need to. It always makes me scratch my head, wondering how a person can consider themselves intellectually honest, but not want to research their opposition as much as possible. If one really wants to know how to debate against their opposition, they need to familiarize themselves with the other side’s arguments. Just reading Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens is not going to be sufficient in debate with a theist who actually knows their stuff.

    This is a good post, thank you for sharing it!

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