3 AM Philosophy

Atheists and the Burden of Proof

For people who haven’t seen my video from long ago on burden of proof, scientific consensus and why the burden of proof for science is not the same as an epistemic burden of justification (or burden of proof).

My video is based upon Social Epistemology by Steve Fuller

“A typical case would involve proponents of one theory needing only to assert “O” as evidence for O because the truth of O is so well entrenched that mere assertion commands assent, while advocates of an opposing theory need to go through a great many arguments and experiments in order to persuade the scientific community that ~O is really the case: the mere assertion of “~O” may command little more than incredulous looks.”

This should not be confused with an epistemic burden of proof (synonymous for this purposes of this argument w/burden of justification), however, this often what I see some atheist doing…confusing evidential or empirical burden of proof with an epistemic burden of proof. An evidential burden of proof is a combination of the burden of production (what is the minimum evidence require to challenge a claim or dispute it) and the burden of persuasion (the evidence to convince that the claim being made is true). There is then a burden of response (rejoinder/refutation) to address a persons reasons for their justification or argument. An epistemic burden however is merely a burden to yourself to justify holding a belief. The term burden of proof is a misnomer as nothing is required to be proved, much like “big bang” wasn’t actually a bang. Generally speaking, in most cases in epistemology the “burden of proof” simply means “burden of justification”.

There are multiple types of burden of proofs going on in a discussion at any given time. There are evidential burden of proofs (evidence which can be shown to substantiate one’s beliefs), epistemic burden of proofs (reasons to justify you beliefs), and discursory burden of proof (what onus one has or not has for having a discussion or what burdens are related by entering into an argument). You even have a burden of proof to yourself if no one else is around to justify why you personally hold a particular belief, or why you have withheld affirmation or rejection of a given proposition. In most typical arguments, it is a very complex dynamic in conversations of multiple burden of proofs existing at one type. In a broad understanding, the intent of the term to “prove”, viz burden of proof, was to more to convey the concept of being tested by argumentation, rather to actually prove or even demonstration a particular claim.

As I note in my video the evidential burden for someone promoting a claim against the scientific consensus requires a much higher degree of evidence than merely just asserting that the consensus is wrong. However, an epistemic justification is required for ANY belief that a person holds and that justification is not just to meet a burden of persuasion, and it is a burden one must meet to themselves to it considered to be a justified belief.

Atheist are often said not to have a “burden of justification”, or “onus probandi”, if they merely “lack a belief” (which is as we know by now, is not philosophical atheism), and epistemically that is true if they are not trying to convince someone as “lacking a belief” doesn’t have a burden of justification, nor does it produce a burden of persuasion as one is not making a claim if they are merely just “lacking a belief”…however, I argue that doesn’t completely absolve them from having absolutely no “burden of justification” to themselves.

Logically, as has been noted before “soft atheism” (“lack of belief”) ostensibly has the same logical predicate structure as agnosticism: Both are ~Bp & ~B~p. However, as it also has been noted before, both have different epistemic reasons for being held as a position. While “soft atheism” is not a direct doxastic position towards the proposition of p=”some god exists” as philosophical atheism is (which would maintain p is false), it is still a position and to me still requires a burden of justification just as agnosticism requires a burden of justification as to why we believe those labels apply to us and why we failed to find the proposition true and failed to find it false.

This to me seems self evident as if one is going to say they are an atheist (soft) over agnostic (given they are ostensibly logically the same syntactically) then they have to have a reason make that epistemic distinction…and that has to be justified. So I am arguing that even atheists who merely “lack a belief” still have some type of burden of justification, even if just a trivial second-order one as “I don’t believe you” implies you believe that person has not made a convincing enough argument for you to believe them. That, in and of itself, means they believe the person has not made a convincing argument and thus have a burden of justification to explain why they hold that belief. (not a belief on the proposition, but a second order justification on why they belief the person did not make a convincing argument).

Original post: https://plus.google.com/+SteveMcRae/posts/5mGByrXnY5K

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