What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.-Hitchens’ Razor
The burden of proof is the idea that a person or party making any particular claim has to provide sufficient evidence that their claim is true. While this sounds a good idea conceptually, just how difficult is it to provide proof for simple, everyday actions. Lately, in an effort to find out, I have been disputing claims made by my friends in an effort to establish whether or not it is reasonable to put the burden of proof on the individual making the claim.
Imagine that you held the door for someone to get onto an elevator with you. You ask them what floor they are going to and push the button for them. You then quietly ride the elevator to your floor and wish the person a good day as you get off. Could you prove to someone else that you had actually done any of those things? There are no security cameras for you to show video evidence of your claim. Without the witness of the person you met on the elevator, how could you possibly offer meaningful proof that you didn’t ride the elevator by yourself?
Obviously, in this scenario not many people would doubt your claims. It is something that we have all done or seen done by others. In that way it isn’t remarkable and it isn’t life-altering to simply believe your claim. So what happens if we step up the scenario a little bit. Let’s imagine that the person you left in the elevator is found dead just a few minutes later. You are the last person that is known to been with the victim. Again, there are no security cameras. Everyone seems to believe that you held the door, will anyone believe that you didn’t kill the person that you were with? Aside from proving someone else is the murderer, what method could you use to prove your innocence?
Hopefully these two examples have shown how difficult it can be to prove that we did or didn’t do any particular thing in life. Without multiple witnesses or some kind of physical evidence, people have only your word and your character to influence their belief of your claims. In this way, the likelihood of society believing any particular claim decreases as the claim becomes more extravagant. If you claim someone was rude to you on the elevator, your claim will most likely be accepted. However, if you claim that someone must have murdered your elevator compatriot just a few moments after you left them and no one can corroborate your claim, it will likely be rejected.
Now imagine the following scenario. You get on an elevator by yourself and hit the button for your desired floor. No one else steps on the elevator with you the doors close. As soon as the elevator starts moving, God appears before you and commands you to spread His word and witness to unbelievers. Then, as soon as the elevator stops moving, you are alone again and the doors open to reveal the world just exactly how you would normally expect to see it. Could you prove what you just experienced? Would anyone that you know believe you?
It truly is quite a predicament that we Christians find ourselves in. We want to tell the world about a nice person we met on an elevator, but we don’t have any video evidence to prove our claims.
Perhaps it would be more realistic to put the burden of proof on the person disputing the original claim. This seems to solve the elevator problem. While you cannot offer proof that you rode the elevator with someone, no one can really offer evidence that you did not ride the elevator with someone. Unless your character is called into question based on historical evidence, the claim is assumed to be true or neutral (people acknowledge that they cannot disprove your claim and therefore it remains acceptable until evidence proves otherwise). This is supposed to be the way that our court system works in the United States and it seems like a good system to use if we intend to earnestly seek out the truth in any area of life, philosophy, justice, science, history, and so on. Perhaps these communities can learn to leverage a better way to find the truth. Or perhaps not.
Hi, I’m James Dusenbery, the Founder/Lead Editor at CanonOfReason.com. I have a deep passion for the Bible and am constantly studying one part or another. In addition to an interest in theology and Christian apologetics, I also love philosophy. My podcast and website merge these interests together to create a unique experience that you will not find anywhere else.