Thursday, July 14, 2011

The "burden of proof" argument

A recurring theme I've seen in the whole evolution-creationism debate, and was reminded of yesterday in a sermon, is the whole "burden of proof" argument. Creationists and skeptics alike both use it, arguing that their position is a sensible starting point and the "burden of proof" lies on the other party to prove their point from there. The breaking point was the sermon. Hearing my pastor, whom I appreciate, greatly respect, and generally agree 100% with, use the argument in a sermon on God as creator. Aspiring Christian apologists: I hope this post helps inform your conversations with skeptic friends. This'll be just like the "analyze an argument" section on the GRE I took today! And remember, I have the spiritual gifts of knowledge and wisdom, so I'm right.

As I've argued in my "Belief and Assumptions" series a while back, every worldview requires that you make some assumptions to get there. Some are common--like the existence of objective reality--and others aren't--that the God of the Bible is who He says He is. Making these assumptions is a crucial part of having faith and is the biggest part of conversion to a different religion, a change in your thinking. Christians believe that we can remove obstacles to belief through apologetics and argue persuasively for God's existence, but ultimately only God can change peoples' hearts to see Him clearly enough to believe. Now look at the "burden of proof" argument: it says that some position, creationism or evolution, should be the starting place and the other must be argued. So it says that one position should be assumed. Well, that's the whole issue, isn't it? You're just restating the obvious--"I would like you to hold my views and assumptions"--in a different way! If you've really made the assumption that the God of the Bible is who He says He is and created everything, you aren't going to be trying to prove atheistic evolution anymore. No wonder this argument never seems to get anyone anywhere! It's a miniature version of the whole debate! It even requires the same kind of evidence--reasons that creationism is true become reasons it is sensible and the right starting point and such.

And, of course, the other problem with the argument is that is presupposes that not only can the other position be proven, but from a position that is fundamentally contradictory to it. If I seriously expect skeptics to be able to rise to the challenge of starting from Christianity and proving Darwinian evolution, I would have no choice but to believe it myself straightaway, because it would have to be rock solid! And of course, as I've asserted, worldviews can't be "proven" but require steps of faith of some kind to believe. We can try to lessen these steps, but we can't eliminate them, particularly in the case of Christianity, which believes in such an incredible (unbelievable) God. Holding your position or the opposing one to the standard of needing to be proven is futile.

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