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June 15, 2012

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It fascinates me that Christians so often seem more interested in debate tactics than actually meeting their burden. Here Brett acknowledges that yes, Christians do have a burden of proof. But what is his focus? He wants to try to get the atheist to make positive claims in order to get him to inherit his own burden of proof. I wonder, is this really the defense of the faith that the author of 1 Pet 3:15 had in mind? Why aren't most Christians as enthusiastic about presenting evidence for their faith as they are about developing successful debate tactics?

Ben -

Are the two mutually exclusive? Does STR focus on one over the other, or is STR characterized by a compelling history of developing both 1) evidences for a belief in Jesus's teachings, and 2) excellent methods for presenting Truth ("defense of the faith") in a winsome fashion?

Best,

SoA

Ben,

I believe what is presented above is part and parcel of tearing down strong-holds and shutting the mouth of the unbeliever (i.e. there is more to apologetics than 1 Peter. 3:15). e.g.:

Proverbs 25:4-5 "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. 5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes."

2 Cor. 10:4-5 "for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but [a]divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ"

This is where various tactics are helpful.

Atheists may say that they have a lack of belief in a god, but there really is no neutral ground:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Matthew 12:30 ESV)

Here Jesus states that idea and also at the crucifixion scene there was one criminal that did not believe and one that did. Clearly there are only two sides to the debate. We as Christians are separated from our sin as far as the east is from the west. Those are not locations but directions. To repent is to turn away from unbelief. No neutrality exists in this debate.

The burden of proof assumes that there are things more epistemically certain than the existence of God that can be used in neutral terms to work up to an understanding where we then acknowledge God as Lord.

The Christian’s final standard, the inspired Word of God, teaches us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). If the apologist treats the starting point of knowledge as something other than reverence for God, then unconditional submission to the unsurpassed greatness of God’s wisdom at the end of his argumentation does not really make sense. There would always be something greater than God’s wisdom-namely, the supposed wisdom of one’s own chosen, intellectual starting point. The Word of God would necessarily (logically, if not personally) remain subordinate to that autonomous, final standard.
Ludwig Wittgenstein confessed that a devastating incongruity lay at the heart of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. If he was correct in his eventual conclusion, then the premises used to reach that conclusion were actually meaningless: “anyone who understands me eventually recognizes [my propositions] as nonsensical, when he has used them-as steps-to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up by it)” (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961 [1921], section 6.54, p. 151).
In similar fashion, evangelicals sometimes utilize an autonomous apologetic method which does not assume the authority of Christ, treating it like a ladder to climb up to acceptance of Christ’s claims, only then to “throw the ladder away,” since Christ is now seen as having an ultimate authority, which conflicts with that autonomous method. Their method is used to reach a conclusion which is incompatible with what their method assumed-the self-sufficient authority of man’s reasoning.

That last section is by Greg Bahnsen.

Ben,

It fascinates me that a hyper-skeptic such as yourself hangs around Christian sites, constantly demanding evidence, dismissing anything given by saying "it's not apparent to me how X counts as evidence" and then demanding that Christians shoulder their burden and give real evidence (which of course, you would never accept because of your presuppositions). Having heard you say multiple times that even affirmed supernatural miracles, or verification of the bodily resurrection of Jesus would not convince you of the truth of the Christian faith, I don't know why you even bother to dialogue with Christians. To me this is no different than the oft-criticized position of some Christians who say that even if the bones of Jesus were dug up, they would still have faith.

Ben, I think you misunderstand the purpose of the video. The question being asked is simply "who has the burden of proof, Christians or non-Christians?" and the answer is "both". The question being raised in the video is not "how do we defend our faith?" but simply "who has the burden of proof?"

Son of Adam,

I have no idea if STR focuses more on debate tactics than presenting evidence for the faith. The vast majority of blog posts I have read here have focused on other issues, e.g. homosexuality, the relationship between God and morality, announcing radio shows, theodicy, etc. I can only recall one recent blog post which mentioned arguments for the truth of Christianity. On the other hand, I only know this one blog post on addressing the burden of proof. So without more information, I could not say what exactly STR's focus is when it comes to defending the faith.

However I can say that I personally have encountered many Christians who seem more concerned with debate tactics such as described in this video than actually justifying their religious beliefs with arguments and evidence. And so, for better or worse, I cannot help but wince when I encounter discussion of such debate tactics. It seems to me that we have more important things to discuss. And we only have to worry about debate tactics if our aims in such discussions go well beyond seeking the truth with an open mind.

Jeff Downs,

I don't think "shutting the mouth of the unbeliever" is a laudable goal. Quite the contrary.

Ben

what is it you believe?

Mrs. P,

It sounded to me like Brett was talking about situations where religious skeptics demand evidence from believers. A regrettably popular chorus is that "believers have the burden of proof." I understand Brett to be suggesting a response to such challenges.

Personally, I think it's a bad idea for skeptics to say things like "you have the burden of proof," precisely because it invites tangential discussions like Brett's. But alas! they do, and Christians often seem to think that the best response is to point out that the skeptic may have a different burden of proof, instead of bothering to try to meet their own burden.

Billy,

I think I answered that question in another thread. Of course there are lots of things I believe. But with regard to the existence of God, I don't believe one way or the other---I am an agnostic.

Austin,

You're trying to justify why you have chosen not to present evidence rather than actually presenting evidence. Again, this seems to me a very strange apologetic approach. If you have evidence and I reject it for some reason, then we can discuss that as it occurs. But until you actually put some evidence on the table, there's nothing for me to reject!

By the way, if it turns out as I have argued that in fact there can be no evidence for (or against) Christianity in principle, then that's the apologist's problem, not mine.

For a long time, I've been saying that these debates over who has the burden of proof are silly except the context of a formal debate. In real life, the burden of proof is on he who wants to persuade. If you want somebody to adopt your belief, it's up to you to convince them, so the burden is on you. If you have no desire to persuade somebody to adopt you point of view, then you have no burden of proof. So the burden of proof in every day conversation is on he who wants to persuade.

But I have just now--right this minute--changed my mind. I think showing somebody that they have the burden of proof can be fruitful in showing that their point of view is not justified, or showing what it would take for it to be justified.

Take agnosticism for example. Agnosticism isn't a belief, so agnostics sometimes claim to have no burden of proof. But if it can be shown that agnostics DO have a burden of proof, that would show that one cannot be rationally justified in being agnostic unless they have met that burden of proof. So if you can successfully demonstrate that somebody bears a burden of proof, then that is relevant to whether their point of view (or even lack of a point of view) is justified or not.

Of course somebody can be justified in holding a belief without bothering to prove it to somebody else, so they don't bear the burden of proof in the sense of being obliged to prove it to somebody else, but they do bear the burden of proof in the sense of needing some rational justification for holding the belief.

It's an interesting question, though, about whether a lack of belief ever requires justification. In most cases, I would say no, you don't need a justification for your lack of belief in something. But I would say you do need justification for a lack of belief in something when it seems prima facie true. For example, it at least appears that there's an external world, so somebody who lacks a belief in an external world needs to justify that lack of belief in light of the fact that there at least seems to be an external world.

In the case of God, it seems obvious to a lot of people that there's a God, so they think anybody who lacks a belief in God is rationally obliged to have some justification for their lack of belief. But for somebody who lacks a belief in God, it's usually because God's existence is not as obvious as it might be to other people, so they don't see any need to justify their lack of belief.

A person might say that in light of the arguments for God's existence, a person who is privy to those arguments but nevertheless lacks belief in God is rationally obliged to have some reason for thinking those arguments for God are fallacious. If he can't refute the arguments, then he's not rationally justified in his lack of belief.

But it's not hard to carry the burden of proof in that situation. You don't have to refute the arguments to justify a lack of belief. You can be justified in your lack of belief by merely being aware that there are also counter-arguments that you are also unable to refute. Suppose, for example, that you're not very educated or not very smart. There are both theists and atheists who are more intelligent and educated than you whose arguments you can't refute. If there are atheist arguments you can't refute and theist arguments you can't refute, then you inability to refute one side's argument doesn't leave you with any obligation to concede their point.

It seems like this same subject came up on this blog here: Skepticism needs evidence, too.

Ben

You did tell me in another thread. I wasn't sure if your views had changed or not.

I was wondering, since you have no belief either way, would you argue against "evidence" presented by an atheist for the nonexistence of God? Also, does your "neutrality" in itself contain a religious aspect to it (believing you don't believe)?

Why aren't most Christians as enthusiastic about presenting evidence for their faith as they are about developing successful debate tactics?
They are. The first thing Brett did was mention a handful of evidences that are taken for granted in this short segment.

Daron,

You must be looking at a different clip than the one in this blog post.

Billy,

Yes, I do occasionally criticize arguments against the existence of God. For example, earlier this week I tackled this fellow's argument against the existence of God (I'm "hatsoff" in that thread).

However I tend to be more interested in criticizing arguments for the existence of God, and I'm far more sympathetic to the positive atheist position than the theist position, even though I disagree with both.

As for my agnosticism having a religious aspect, no it does not---at least, not without seriously stretching the notion of the "religious."

I really don't see the problem with developing successful debate tactics. Granted, you must first know WHAT you believe and WHY. But there is an art and science to rhetoric--"Rhetoric" in the traditional definition. Paul certainly knew how to do it and did it very well. Students used to be required to take logic and rhetoric classes, no matter what faith they were. We live in a culture where very few people, and especially young people, know how to logically lay out an arguments and give substantial evidence. We have to be careful that we don't relish in getting in debates/arguments for arguments sake. Our arguments have to have substance, and yes, the burden of proof is on the one persuading.

Ben,

You must be looking at a different clip than the one in this blog post.

I must not be.

Says Brett:

"Christians do have the burden of proof.
I certainly do think that we do share this burden.
And we make claims: God exists; Jesus is God incarnate; Jesus rose from the dead; the Bible is the Word of God ...
And so there is an onus on us to provide evidence and reasons for that."

Those evidences and reasons and are taken for granted in this clip, and are developed and presented by Christians all the time.

Daron,

WHAT evidences and reasons? Brett does not mention them here, and that is part of my point. Maybe he mentions them elsewhere, which would be good. But not here.

Ben,

men·tion/ˈmenCHən/
Verb:
Refer to something briefly and without going into detail.
Noun:
A reference to someone or something.

"In real life, the burden of proof is on he who wants to persuade."

Absolutely not true.

I lack belief in God. I am under no obligation to "prove" anything to you. You are the one making the unsupportable claim. That means the burden of proof is always and only on you. There is no burden of proof to tell people that they should soundly reject unprovable claims.

Roberto, you would need to offer reasons why we should believe that a naturalistic worldview can adequately explain what we experience in reality (the dignity of human beings, the existence of an objective moral standard, life, consciousness, rationality, the existence of the universe, etc.). You might not believe in God, but you have many positive beliefs about your naturalistic worldview that need to be defended.

Including the positive claim that the Christian claim is unprovable and unsupportable.

Ben

I was using religious in the sense that you are loyal to your indecision consistently.
Do you think your tendency toward criticizing arguments for the existence of God is just a recent statistical coincidence or an indication of waning neutrality in the direction of atheist? I am religious in that I adhere to my beliefs as you do (you choose not to choose, which is still a choice). Ultimately, if you and I were to compare world views we would have two different groups of presuppositions to compare. This wouldn't be the traditional comparison of atheist and theist (although it would be that, from my Christian angle). You have beliefs I'm sure about lots of things like, for instance, morals or human dignity. Would it be wrong for someone to try and win a debate by incapacitating their opponent (I would never do anything like that- this is purely hypothetical) through violent force? If so, what makes it wrong?

Amy,

Not believing your explanations does not obligate Roberto to finish every project of science and philosophy.

His inability to finish these projects is not evidence that your explanations are right. It's not even evidence that your questions are well posed.

RonH

RonH,
His inability would weaken his ability to persuade and his statement that he never, ever, shoulders any burden is shown false.

Ron, my only point was that his belief doesn't merely entail a lack of belief in God. It also entails positive beliefs about reality. If he wants to assert that view, then he does bear some burden of proof.

"In real life, the burden of proof is on he who wants to persuade."

Absolutely not true.

I lack belief in God. I am under no obligation to "prove" anything to you.

You are if you want to persuade me of anything. You quoted me, then denied what I said, but nothing that followed seem to have much to do with what I said. What I said should be uncontroversial. Let me paraphrase it in case I wasn't clear. If you want to persuade me of something, then it's up to you to demonstrate for me that it's true.

Ben,

You said: "I don't think "shutting the mouth of the unbeliever" is a laudable goal. Quite the contrary."

Whether you think it is a laudable goal or not, is not the point is it? The point I made was that there is more to apologetics then 1 Peter 3:15 (i.e. see what I quoted above). To be intellectually honest, you must agree. Conclusion, your original criticism was not necessary.

Shutting the mouth of the unbeliever would be the same as showing that the unbeliever does not live according to his own presuppositions.

Speaking of apologetics. And remembering Chuck Colson ...
http://joshmcdowellmedia.org/FreeBooks/SkepticsWhoDemandedaVerdict.pdf

Amy and Daron,

Suppose, I say I don't believe in fairies.

They sound like fantasies, I say.

Implausible, low prior probability, I say.

Never, I say, have I seen a fairy or heard a convincing account of one.

So you offer some evidence for fairies - some reason to believe in them.

I say I still disbelieve in fairies.

Perhaps I show your evidence isn't relevant.

Or, I point out that your evidence has some problems, which I list.*

And, I show why these problems are such that your evidence doesn't overcome the low prior probability of fairies.

Maybe I even give reasons why your evidence is as likely in a world without fairies as it is in a world with them. In other words: maybe I show that what you offer as evidence doesn't help your case at all.

At this point, I've completely discharged the burden I took up when I said I still disbelieved after you offered your evidence.

(Need I say that I don't need to present evidence that fairies don't exist?)

By the way, this applies to any kind of evidence that you might offer - including the kind of thing you allude to above.

My rejection of your mere claim that consciousness is evidence for fairies does not obligate me to explain consciousness in a fairyless world.

To give me a burden with respect to fairies and consciousness you have to say why fairies are needed for consciousness. Just asking, out of the blue, how I explain consciousness without fairies is an argument from ignorance.

Finally, I have a suggestion for y'all. I think this will raise the quality of discussion. And I have reason to believe you will agree.

If someone says he lacks belief in God, or that he is an agnostic atheist, etc, then ask him: What do you mean by that?

Ask real questions and keep asking rather than trying to lay traps.

Try asking: What do you think the probability of God's existence is?

Ask: What probability do you think others might reasonably give?

If he thinks some odds are unreasonably high or low (for others to give), then ask Why?

RonH

*Depending on what you offer as evidence, I might even write a 350-page book. Just on the problems with your evidence.

Jeff Downs,

There may well be more to your apologetic than just defending the faith with evidence and reason. But my earlier point (not precisely a "criticism" by the way) concerns what should be your apologetic method, and not merely what is your method. It seems to me that to emphasize debate tactics over evidence and argument is a bad idea. In fact, even if evidence and arguments really are your priority, nevertheless to spend any time at all on debate tactics surely indicates that you have more at stake than just learning the truth. To acknowledge that yes, you do care about more than just learning the truth---that just concedes that part of my point. The question is, should you? And if so, what is an appropriate emphasis?

But I think Brett at least means well, even if I wish he would avoid tangential issues such as the "burden of proof." In your case on the other hand, you openly acknowledge that your (presumably primary) aim is simply "shutting the mouth of the unbeliever." But this, as I mentioned before, is far from a laudable goal! It suggests to me that you're not at all interested in hearing different points of view, and weighing them against your own. So in that sense, you're not interested in learning the truth. Perhaps that's because you're convinced absolutely that you already have a firm grasp the truth. If so, then that's very sad, because it means you're going to have a very tough time figuring out what might be wrong with your view.

You also quote Psalms that one ought "not answer a fool according to his folly." I wonder, what do you mean to suggest by this? Are you saying that a Christian shouldn't even bother to try to meet the demands of skeptics for evidence and reason? I sure hope that's not what you mean. But if not that, then what?

RonH,

None of that helps if you turn out to be wrong.

It's like global warming. You can rail agaist it all you want and poke at every inconsistency, but once your home is in 5' of water it really doesn't matter how reliable you think the warning was.

There are cases where "You didn't provide convincing enough proof" isn't going to help you.

Roberto

"I lack belief in God. I am under no obligation to "prove" anything to you. "

Based on your above statement, you are under no obligation to prove that God exists. That's all. That logically follows from your statement, not that you are under no obligation to prove anything to us. However, your lack of belief in God, entails the rejection of his existence. Thus you are obliged to prove to us that your position is sitting on a solid foundation of evidence to support it. If you do not provide the reason why you hold that view, there is really no reason for anyone to take your view seriously since you don't appear to.

There is never a burden of proof to try to convince people to to reject unproven claims.

The Christian attempt to shift the burden shows how weak their arguent actually is.

Ben,

There may well be more to your apologetic than just defending the faith with evidence and reason. But my earlier point (not precisely a "criticism" by the way) concerns what should be your apologetic method, and not merely what is your method.

Ben, first, my apologetic methodology comes from the text of scripture, not what I think is the best method, or what an atheist thinks should be my method. You can certainly understand that Christians do not live their lives by the suggestions of atheists.

Secondly, It seems to me that to emphasize debate tactics over evidence and argument is a bad idea. In fact, even if evidence and arguments really are your priority, nevertheless to spend any time at all on debate tactics surely indicates that you have more at stake than just learning the truth.

Who is emphasizing debate tactics over argument and evidence? No one. I'm not, and STR does not...we do both. One reason I stay out of these discussion (although I joined this one) is that one constantly has to correct the other person for putting words in ones mouth.

I would simply disagree with your last statement, there is no reason to believe that just because one is interested in learning to use language in certain ways that one is not interested in the truth. That's like saying because I want to learn logic and how to use logic, I'm not really interested in knowing the truth. This is simply false.

Besides, I'm not sure what you believe truth to be, but we would hold Jesus is the Truth - truth is thinking God's thoughts after Him on every issue.

In your case on the other hand, you openly acknowledge that your (presumably primary) aim is simply "shutting the mouth of the unbeliever." But this, as I mentioned before, is far from a laudable goal!

Once again, you put word into my mouth. All I've said so far, with reference to the video and your criticism, is that there is more to apologetics than 1 Peter 3:15. Besides, part of the reason for the hope....is know that the atheistic worldview is bankrupt and being able to show this...thereby shutting the mouth of the unbeliever. Part of this is presenting evidence, etc. It is not an either or.

If so, then that's very sad, because it means you're going to have a very tough time figuring out what might be wrong with your view.

This simply doesn't follow. One can hold to a position as being true (I'm assuming what you are stating, you believe to be true), and still be open to correction. Although, it does seem that since this is your viewpoint, I can see what you want to continue to argue with me over this. I've made a very simply point in response to your initial reaction to this post: there is more to apologetics that simply laying the evidence on the table. You simply don't want to accept this, I presume, because you are so convinced your are correct therefore, you are going to have a hard time (according to your view), seeing where you are wrong.

I'll give you the last word, but once again, I was simply responding to your criticism (which is what it was) to the video posted here. And my response is that apologetics (from a Christian point-of-view) is more than presenting evidence. When I say "more than", this obviously includes presenting evidences. No one at STR nor, my myself, is against presenting evidence. So once again your criticism is invalid. Secondly, our apologetic method is (or at least should be) grounded in scripture, not what an atheist thinks our method should be.

Louis,

By your reasoning, you are 'obliged to prove' that your rejection of...

astrology
dowsing
facilitated communication
feng shui
hypnosis
numerology
and
repressed memory therapy

... are all on solid ground. In fact, by your reasoning, you are obligated to justify your rejection of anything anyone makes up.

RonH

Trent,

Offering an unfounded penalty for not believing an unfounded claim is not an argument for the claim.

RonH

Ben

"In your case on the other hand, you openly acknowledge that your (presumably primary) aim is simply "shutting the mouth of the unbeliever."

Wouldn't being confronted with the truth that is contrary to the view of the unbeliever result in "shutting their mouth"? On my view, there is more involved here than just that. It is a matter of persuasion when one is fairly sure that he is not mistaken regarding something. This is especially true if that something involves serious consequences for the unbeliever that we are morally obligated to warn them about. Just like any of us would feel an obligation to warn someone to get out of the way of a speeding car running a red light while they are in a crosswalk. In such a circumstances you really don't want them to argue with you, you want them to get out of the way so they don't get hurt or killed.

Ben,
Your heartfelt advice is all mixed up.
The tactics are not for winning arguments, but for helping skeptics to see the truth.
The burden of truth argument is about truth.
It is true that the skeptic, like the believer, needs reasons for his beliefs. It is true that he needs to account for certain elements of reality.
And it is true that his answers are inferior to the Christian answers.
He should be helped in this regard.

Jeff,

Read Greg emphasizing debate tactics over argument and evidence.

Listen to Greg emphasizing debate tactics over argument and evidence on the show from May 13. The call is from Garret at 1:22:39 or chapter 6, What is the definition of atheism and belief?

And listen to the show from April 15. The call is from Joshua at 2:13:48 or chapter 9, Do atheists lack a belief in God or have a positive rejection of belief in God? Joshua is giddy when he anticipates laying what Greg presents as an airtight Twitter trap.

RonH

I didn't claim it was.

Merely pointing out that simply because one convinces themselves that their reasoning is sound does not mean that reality always has to agree.

Trent,

You didn't? Then what do you mean by

There are cases where "You didn't provide convincing enough proof" isn't going to help you.

RonH

Once again, showing the true state of affairs - that a man entering a debate is advancing a claim and shoulders a burden - is argument and evidence.

Jeff Downs,

I appreciate the response, and I'm glad to hear that by "shutting the mouth of the unbeliever" you didn't really mean what it sounded like. But you do not have my position at all correct, and so your criticisms are way off the mark. For instance you apparently think I take the view

"that just because one is interested in learning to use language in certain ways that one is not interested in the truth."

But I said nothing of the sort. Pretty much all your criticisms are similarly inapplicable to my actual view.

Thankfully, you seem not to want to continue the discussion, which is good for me since my interest in the topic is waning fast. This is not to say I haven't enjoyed the conversation so far, but it's not the sort of topic I would like to hash out for a long time.

Daron,

Are you referring to me with your last?

RonH

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