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The Double-Edged Burden of Proof

Arguments for and against the Existence of God often hinge upon the burden of proof. Before even entering into the argument, one side can immediately put the other on the defensive.  William Lane Craig, hired gun for theism, often begins debates by asserting the burden of proof upon the atheist.  These kinds of debating tactics detract from the argument and prevent the debaters and the audience from truly examining the truth.  My argument arises from Dr. Craig's debates, so the reader would benefit by reexamining one of Craig's debates.  The argument intends to place the Atheist and Theist at a logically equal starting point.

The Theist position properly presented states, "I am sure that God exists, and I am sure that it is not the case that He does not exist." This statement requires proof of the following two premises:

1) There are good reasons to believe that God exists, and
2) There are no good reasons to believe that God does not exist.

The corresponding Atheist position states, "I am sure that God does not exist, and I am sure that it is not the case that he does exist."  The corresponding premises are,

1) There are no good reasons to believe that God exists, and
2) There are good reasons to believe that God does not exist.

The Agnostic position would be one that does not hold convincing belief about either the existence of God or the non-existence of God, or about neither.  If one can not conclusively and consistently prove the arguments for or against God, then the position is technically agnosticism.  Applying this method of assessment to all Existence thinkers would imply that nearly everyone is an agnostic, including Dr. Craig.  Because he did not disprove all arguments against the existence of God, by his own rule, he is an agnostic.

It would be absurd in any practical sense to say that a man with Dr. Craig's beliefs is an agnostic, so one might conclude that the strict positions and premises above dilute the terms ‘atheism’ and ‘theism’ to uselessnes. The alternative is to water-down each position to require that they prove only the positive side of their arguments, a sort of weak atheism or weak theism. The arguments would reduce to:

Atheist: There are good reasons to believe that God does not exist.
Theist: There are good reasons to believe that God exists.

One might ask, "Where is the debate? The arguments aren’t mutually exclusive."  I would reply that that is exactly why Dr. Craig is so successful. He starts a debate, places the burden of proof on the opposition, and then spends the rest of the time asking the atheist to disprove his position. His own attacks are only a fašade he uses; when, in reality, his real power comes from drawing the Atheist away from his own arguments.  It’s a win by misdirection.

For a moment, I’ll digress back to Craig’s argument. He directs the debate to the following alternatives:

Theist: There are good reasons to believe that God does exist.
Atheist: There are no good reasons to believe that God does exist.

Dr. Craig’s success is understandable from this one-sided position.  The outcome would certainly be in question were he to debate from the following positions:

Atheist: There are good reasons to believe that God does not exist.
Theist: There are no good reasons to believe that God does exist.

The atheist side would have the clear advantage in this situation.  The analogy would be a sports competition where only one side plays offense.  A debate under one-sideed circumstances is inadequate to good skeptical inquiry.  For honest debate, it is necessary to accept the burden of proof equally.  Each side must have a chance to present its side as well as refute the opposition.   I would expect this not only in formal debates, but informal meetings and books, and in all other forums for inquiry.

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