The burden of proof is on atheists

Many... maybe most... people think that it is the job of religious believers to prove God exists. George Carlin used to have a bit in his act where he said something along the lines of, 'if you tell someone a bench has just been painted, they reach out to check. But if you tell them that a big invisible being is watching everything you do, they trust you.'

Every atheist takes this line of reasoning. Christians are making a big claim. They claim that some being created everything, watches everyone, and has infinate power. That is a big claim so there should be some real proof.

'Prove it Christians.'

But is that a good argument? Do we really need to prove everything that is important in life? The truth is that some of the most important things in life are unprovable. For example, there is no non-circular proof that our brains are rational. Things like the rationality of our brains or the reliability of our senses need to just be accepted as basic facts. Attempting to prove, for example, that we are not a butterfly dreaming we are a human is impossible. So we just accept that we are really humans not butterflies.

And we also do not attempt to prove things that appear obviously true. Let me give you an example with the following hypothetical phone conversation:

Lewis: I am sitting at my desk right now.

Richard: Desk? How do you know you have a desk? Prove it is there.

Lewis: Uh. Ok. I know I have a desk because I can feel it. See it. Put books on it.

Richard: That could just be your over-active imagination. Maybe your senses are deceiving you. Maybe you are on drugs.

Lewis: Ok, well my wife is standing right by me and she can see the desk too.

Richard: Wife? Obviously, that has all the same problems as the desk. Prove you have a wife.

Lewis: What? That is ridiculous. Why would I lie about that? I am not going to prove it. I have a wife, I know I have a wife, and if you want to attempt to prove otherwise feel free.

Richard: Me prove it? You are the one making a positive claim. If you want me to believe in your wife you need to prove it.


In this example, the wife and the desk are what philosophers would call basic. There are some things that we accept as basic (without need of defense). These things can be challenged (as everything can) but if they are they burden lies on the challenger not the one that accepts it. If you think I don't have a desk or a wife, it is conceivable that you could disprove them (maybe show somehow I am in a simulation or on heavy drugs) but that would be up to you to show, not me.

And as we saw in the above conversation, not having basic elements in life makes meaningful conversation almost impossible. You cannot get past even the smallest thing without providing elaborate (sometimes impossible) proofs.

So... what about God? Can we call God basic? Something that we should just accept (unless atheists can prove he doesn't exist). I think we can and should.

The experience of God is so common. It is amazingly universal. Almost everyone (including many self proclaimed atheists) will admit that at some point in their life they experienced something supernatural (whether through a sensation of God or through some experience of the divine). Large majorities of the population say that they have seen prayers answered. Many attest to seeing miracles. Many attest to experiencing angels. In other words, God (or the heavenly realm) is something that has been experienced by more people than many other things that we would call basic.

Now, every religion might explain these experiences differently. And I, of course, would argue that only the Christian religion explains them adequately. But the fact that people are having the experiences with the non-natural realm seems obviously true to me.

God is known in this world. And if you think that these billions of people are mistaken, the burden of proof is on you to show that what all these people are experiencing is actually false or illusory.

To answer Carlin, the reason we reach out our hand to check the paint but not with the Divine is that most of us have experienced the Divine already. We are bathed in the paint. 

God is philosophically basic.The burden is on you.

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