Continuing the conversation from before:
“Atheists have no obligation to prove or disprove anything. Otherwise—if you demand belief in all Beings for which there is no absolute disproof—then you are forced by your own twisted “logic” to believe in mile-long pink elephants on Pluto, since, at present, we haven’t explored Pluto and shown them to be nonexistent. The idea of the Christian god only seems more rational than the pink elephants or the Greek gods because we’ve been brainwashed into accepting the Christian god by repetitive parental and societal propaganda.” – David Mills on the burden of proof from his book Atheist Universe.
A friend on facebook said something similar about the burden of proof – that because theists are claiming something and atheists are claiming nothing, the burden of proof rests entirely on the theists/believers/Christians/etc. to prove their case.
Two thoughts on this. Number one, I think everyone can calm down about proving anything. I don’t see why we can’t agree to disagree on this. This could get me in trouble with some evangelical and other more literal friends, but I don’t think “proclaiming the gospel” means getting everyone to recite the Nicene Creed. “Proclaiming the gospel” is about loving people. Love broken people, protect vulnerable people, seek justice for the oppressed, the imprisoned, the sex-trafficked, the violated, heal the abused, comfort the mourning, minister to the sick, invite the outcasts, remember forgotten people, love the difficult-to-love people, love your enemies, love scandalously, show that it’s possible to die to your own ego because Christ already died for you.
It’ s like that verse where Jesus says, “You shall know my disciples by their correct theology.”
Oh, wait. Nevermind, He said, “You shall know my disciples by their well-defined eschatology.”
Oh, no, I was thinking of that part where Paul says “And these are the fruits of the spirit – superior Bible knowledge, better proof-texting, knowing who’s in and who’s out, and getting a 100% on G-d’s Great Multiple-Choice Test in the Sky (extra harp if you answer the bonus question correctly!)”
We’re supposed to love one another. And if we love one another, the importance of winning conversations diminishes, because, by its nature, competitive conversation divides us, rather than helping us to know and appreciate one another. I ask my atheist (and Jewish and Muslim and Ba’hai and other) friends about their beliefs because I’m interested in who they are, how they orient themselves to the world, where they are on their journey, what influences speak most strongly to them. When I disagree with them on something, I don’t hide it, but competitive conversation is not my goal (not that I don’t slip into it now and again – old habits die hard).
I suspect that if fewer Christians were intent on controlling other people’s beliefs and making their faith look just-like-mine, it’s possible that atheists and other people of different faiths would be less intent on arguing with us, and more interested in collaborating with us on, oh, say, feeding the poor.
So in my heart of hearts, I want us to be able to agree to disagree, without needing to necessarily “prove” anything.
Secondly. If we are going to try proving things anyway, I don’t think that atheists should be able to lay the entire burden of proof at the feet of believers.
My philosopher friend made the point that it is the person asserting something who then carries the burden of proof. If you assert the existence of alien monkeys, it is your job to provide proof. You have to show me the monkey. ( 😛 )
Or, because a christian is asserting the existence of G-d, the burden rests on the christian, not the atheist, to provide evidence. The atheist is free to rest on their assumption of absence and wait for the proof because the atheist position of the absence of G-d is taken to be the default position.
Let’s look at this from a different vantage-point though. The burden of proof argument comes from the vantage-point that the absence of space monkeys is self-evident. Absence in this case is the default position.
But what about the existence of the sun? In this case, because the sun is self-evident, if I were to claim that the sun did not exist, I would be the one required to provide evidence of my belief, and rightfully so. In this case, existence is self-evident, so existence, not absence, is the default position.
When Copernicus insisted that the sun did not revolve around the earth, this is precisely what happened. It appeared self-evident to most people that the sun revolved around the earth, not the other way around. Copernicus was required to provide evidence to the contrary if anyone was to believe him. And he was correct. The truth is always more complicated than it first seems.
So the atheist argument (that the burden of proof rests entirely on believers) rests itself on the assumption that G-d is not self-evident.
Billions upon billions of people throughout history and from radically different cultures disagree. The vast majority of the human race has experienced, perceived, and/or interacted with a “world behind the world,” so to speak, even if they classify it and name it in very different ways. The existence of a spiritual realm has been self-evident to practically all cultures throughout time. As C.S. Lewis put it, in his particular christian context, “I believe in Christ the way I believe in the sun; not only can I see it, but by its light I see all other things.” (I totally did that from memory, so it’s most likely paraphrased and might not even be C.S. Lewis). For millennia, spiritual experiences have not only been believed, but have provided the lens through which we see the world.
Certainly, atheism is not new. Newton was an atheist, and many others, and these are just the ones we know about in recorded history. So the existence of G-d has never been self-evident to everyone. But never, and nowhere, has atheism been a majority cultural stance until the past century.
This is an interesting historical point. Spirituality is about meaning, and in the Abrahamic traditions especially, spirituality is about relationship. “Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is how the law and the prophets were summed up in the New Testament. Love the Lord your G-d. That’s a relational statement.
So it’s interesting to me that atheism has gained more and more prominence beginning with the industrial revolution, when relationships began to disintegrate. People no longer lived on their family land for generations upon generations. Traveling used to be so expensive, so laborious, and so exhausting that the vast majority of people died within a few miles of where they were born. Or, they developed nomadic cultures, but even here – families moved together. People stayed with their groups, and there were very strict rituals in place to help people through changes in group loyalty, like marriage. Relationships were a primary part of life, and communities were so dependent on one another that violent disruptions in relationships could easily put the whole community at survival risk.
I’m not saying life was ideal, or that all the rules put in place to keep group cohesion were healthy, but relationships themselves were unavoidable, deep, immediate, daily, and often life-long.
Today, we can avoid relationships in all kinds of ways. We have relationships with our tv’s, with our playstations, with our phone apps, with our stuff, with our work. We change friends when we change circumstances, and the corporate structures that dictate our cultural norms move us around when it suits them (how many people do you know who have moved for a job? vs. – how many people do you know who have moved because they wanted to be part of a community?). Family structures have been radically re-drawn at unprecedented levels in the past century (50 years?), and we could have a whole different conversation about the reasons for that, but the point is that we do not have relationships in recent centuries the way that people had relationships in previous centuries. I heard Mother Theresa credited with the quote, “The tragedy of the East is its great poverty, but the tragedy of the West is its great loneliness.”
The reason I’m bringing all this up is because christians and others of the abrahamic faiths believe in a relational G-d. We are often accused of clinging to archaic cultural contructs and superstitions, but what if atheism is the cultural construct, born of a culture in which relationships are so fragmented, belief in a relational G-d appears to have no grounding in reality? What if it’s the broken relationships making it appear that the sun revolves around the earth? (Actually, I think it’s worth exploring how this same fragmentation also helps fundamentalism along – the misconception that following G-d has to do with getting the right answers rather than having good relationships. That’s a gross oversimplification and the rest of that thought will have to wait for a future post). Broken relationships make a relational G-d seem far-fetched.
And so atheists think that the absence of G-d is self-evident, and believers think that the presence of G-d is self-evident, and we end up arguing about who’s right and who has proof, and who needs proof, and what kind of proof is acceptable.
Which brings me to one last point. I’ve spent a lot of time and blog space recently laying out my reasons for believing that a lack of scientific evidence does not disprove G-d, and saying that I will not attempt to prove the existence of G-d to you using scientific means.
But I absolutely believe that G-d wants to be known by you. G-d wants you to find Him/Her. G-d admires your commitment to seeking the truth. Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened up to you. It’s a promise. There’s an incredible adventure through that door.
The thing is that if you want to know a relational G-d, you have to seek your evidence relationally.
What I mean is – if you want to know if G-d exists,
not believers. (or not only believers).
Ask. Seek. Knock.
And be prepared for answers that might surprise you.