Bronchitis and the Burden of Proof

So, I have been sick for the past few days, but I am on the mend. Bronchitis is a bitch & takes a lot out of you. Apparently, breathing is important.

Who knew?

While I was sick and laid up, I was watching a few shows and I found a Youtube series by Matt Dillahunty called “The Atheist Debates”; however they are not debates but a webseries on different topics and discussions. The one (Well, one of the ones)  that caught my attention was on the subject of the burden of proof.

Now, I don’t get into a lot of debates with people, but when I do I like to be on my toes. I never studied debate in school, but I am pretty quick witted so I just usually rely on that. After listening to this lesson though, I am now amazed at what I have learned.

Basically, the video goes over the burden of proof and establishing a default position. The biggest thing that I learned is that the burden of proof is not a decision making tool, but the framework that the default position is established on a claim between two or more propositions. Every claim has a burden of proof and the default position should be disbelief; however disbelief doesn’t mean that you believe the opposite of the claim.

Basically think of it like this:

Claim: Red is the most awesome color ever

Default Position: Disbelief – You may think a different color is better, you may hate all colors or you may just not have a favorite, but you want to hear this guy out first.

(Just remember, the more complicated the proposition, the higher the burden of proof.)

One thing that struck me as odd was that to find a default position you have to find a True Dichotomy.  This means the whole true/false statement is out. It’s wrong. Instead of true/false, a better way of thinking is True/Not True.

Example: I do believe in Santa Claus / I do not believe in Santa Claus

To me this just clarifies things much more and creates a stronger personal position that the true/false binaries that I have always used. Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The other thing that he goes into was rejecting both propositions. He uses an example of a jar of gumballs and that the 2 propositions are:

1: the number of gumballs is even

2: the number of gumballs is odd

Well, both can be true and neither can be a default position. So, both propositions can (and probably should) be rejected because it would be impossible to know without more information. He gives another example about this with a cop hiding around a corner, and again, because burden of proof is not a decision making tool,  both propositions of the cop being there and not being there are plausible and can be rejected. At this point you would just be guessing without further information.

What has to be established is a Null Hypothesis. This is a default position between propositions because it usually accepted as the most rational and true. To be considered a Null Hypothesis the hypothesis:

  • cannot proven or be confirmed
  • can be proven false by another competing hypothesis that is more reasonably true.
  • Generally accepted as true.

Example (one of the ones he gives): Null Hypothesis: Chipmunks Do Not Come From Another Dimension.

Accepted as Null Hypothesis because of the evidence of the chipmunk in the evolutionary model. Cannot be confirmed that another chipmunk dimension exists, but the evidence supports this as the default position due to competing hypothesis based on the theory of evolution.

The Null Hypothesis is a default position because we do not have evidence or any good reason to believe otherwise as of yet.

What I took away from this is something that I have always held as true and I now have a more knowledgeable way of seeing it and using it on the occasion that I do find myself talking religion with someone. The burden of proof is not on the disbeliever, it is on the believer. G-d could present himself at anytime and prove themselves as real, it would require exhaustive knowledge to provide a competing hypothesis to prove false, and there is not a good reason to believe in it, yet (if ever). Therefore, theism cannot be a null hypothesis or a default position. So, if someone asks you why don’t you believe in g-d? Reject that argument as illogical, because the burden of proof is not on you but on them.

I will end this with a helpful quote:

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, “F—ing fly then you lunatic.”

Ricky Gervais







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