Friday, January 25, 2008

Fallacy Friday: Burden of Proof

Hey there! I said we'd make this week's Fallacy. This one is again one of the most basic and yet so prevalent fallacy among the dogmatists.

It's My Burden to Bear
Our first fallacy of '08 concerns proof. It should seem obvious that if you make an assertion, you must back it up with some kind of reason lest it be rejected as false. And yet time and again (I'm speaking mainly to theists here, but anyone making any assertion is subject to this "rule") I see religious followers committing this logical fallacy.

"Well, can you prove God doesn't exist?!"

The burden always rests on the shoulders of the person making the claim. ALWAYS. It's not anyone else's job to prove your case for you. Using this logic, one should suppose that since no one can prove that the Invisible Pink Unicorn doesn't exist, then we should entertain the possibility. (As an aside, just because you can neither prove or disprove the existence of God or the IPU, their possibility of existence and nonexistence is not 50/50.)

Innocent Until Proven
Even in our legal systems, we do not assume that something is true unless its proven otherwise. You may be wondering "why do we do this?" Just think about it:

Can you prove there are no tattooed, flying lizard people living in the core of Neptune? No? Then we must therefore believe that there are, in fact, tattooed, flying lizard people in the core of Neptune!

Can you prove I do not have a talking snake in my garden? Sure, look. Oh, he must be hiding under that rock. Not there? Hmm...he must have slithered elsewhere.

Can you prove there is no God? Sure can't! Therefore, God must be assumed to exist.

(See Knowledge and Belief)

The Cheese Stands Alone
Those that frequently use this fallacy also gain some sort of weird bolstering effect from it. At least, they think they do. Just because we cannot disprove something is NOT--in any way--proof FOR it. Your theories and claims must stand on their own two legs, and be proven themselves. There is no "default" winner in the he said/she said debates that some religious people engage in.

Suppose claim 'C' cannot be proven to be true, and it's counterpart, claim 'P' cannot be proven true either. Now, suppose we can show claim 'P' to be false. This does not automatically make claim 'C' true!

More simply, suppose that tomorrow, evolutionary theory is scientifically proven to be 100% false. This would not automatically make Creationism true; Creationism has to be proven for itself, and the burned for that proof lies with the Creationists.

It is for this reason that I am an atheist. Anything "godlike" has yet to be proven, and should therefore be reasoned out of existence.


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