Posted by: rohlfsen1 | February 10, 2009

The Burden of Proof is Correctly Placed on Christians

gavelIn The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins proclaims himself to be a de facto atheist, meaning that while he is not 100% sure of God’s non-existence, he is certain enough to confidently live his life as an atheist. As he explains, the only thing holding him back from absolute certainty in his beliefs is the fact that it is literally impossible to prove that God does not exist, just as one cannot prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Mother Goose does not exist (76). His atheism is therefore the result of a careful weighing of the evidence for the existence of God against the evidence to the contrary. And in the end, science and reason so outweigh any evidence for God that atheism is the only logical conclusion for him.

Interestingly, though Dawkins admits that he cannot prove God’s non-existence, he expects (and even demands) that Christians on the other side of the debate prove God’s existence. He offers Bertrand Russell’s paradox of the celestial teapot to show that the burden of proof in cases of these un-disprovable superstitions rests completely on the side of the believers. Though I disagree that Christians must prove the existence of God (and to be honest, I do not know if it is even possible to prove the existence of God), I think that Dawkins has a very good point here. We do live in country where Christianity is the norm, and consequently, we expect that Christianity be given special treatment in the form of the benefit of the doubt. Atheists really are shunned as outsiders, the Bible is held as sacred (and therefore left unquestioned) by most, and doubts/questions are not raised enough concerning God. But to be fair, if we as Christians differ from atheists only in our belief in God, then technically they live the simpler life and we the more complicated. From our common foundation as humans, atheists believe in science and reason while Christians believe in science, reason, and God (faith). In a one on one comparison, why wouldn’t a Christian be expected to defend his “extra” faith to an atheist?

I am not claiming that each Christian must defend his or her faith for it to be valid, as faith is a personal conviction that requires no approval from others. And most certainly, there are aspects of faith, such as personal revelation from God, that cannot be defended or even understood by those who did not share in the experience. Yet at the same time, we as Christians are called by God to share our faith with the world. We are commanded to spread the Gospel, and this in turns means that we must share our faith with those who do not know of or believe in God’s existence. Obviously we cannot approach such a task through simply proclaiming that the Bible is truth and then handing out the sacred book. What person in their right mind would simply abandon all previous beliefs concerning the world to adopt a belief in God on the spot? (Though there is something to be said about the power of the Holy Spirit in such circumstances…)

Just as Dawkins weighed the evidence and found himself on the side of the atheists, Christians have likewise weighed evidence and found themselves on the side of the theists. I for one would not be a Christian if I did not believe that there is evidence pointing to the existence of God in my own life and in the world. Thus, when Dawkins says that the burden of proof concerning God rests with us, he has a decent point. Christians do have the responsibility of gathering evidence in support of God’s existence, both for the defense of personal faith and for evangelistic purposes. No, we cannot prove God’s existence, and no, we do not have to defend our personal faiths, but why not tell others why we believe in God?



  1. Rae, I’m curious as to what you mean when you say that you find evidence in the world pointing to the existence of God. I can fully understand there being “evidence” in one’s own life. And by evidence, I mean experience which convinces them, rather than empirically verifiable which would be valid to anybody but the one who experiences it. But, assuming you mean this as well, I am a little in the dark as to what evidence exists outside of one’s experience.

  2. Hey Gabe – to be honest, I am not completely certain what I even mean by evidence…. yes, part of this evidence definitely stems from personal experience and God’s working in our own lives, and yes I realize that most of this “evidence” will not really mean that much to someone outside of the experience. But, I still believe that there is external evidence that points to the existence of God in the world or at the very least I think that some people’s experiences with God are understandable by those who may not know God. I am specifically thinking right now of our morality discussion yesterday and how even reason concerning morality does not get far without some sort of objective measurer of goodness and truth. I mentioned it in class, but in Is Religion Dangerous? Keith Ward writes that he could see no point in the concept of “truth” without a God who shows what truth is (138). I would consider this a “piece of evidence” towards God’s existence. I am also thinking of all of those things that “supposedly” point towards the existence of God mentioned in The God Delusion, such as the incredible beauty of the earth, Bayesian arguments, arguments from Christian scientists, etc. Even though Dawkins tries to systematically disprove all of these, I do not think that he succeeds, and I think that each of these could in fact serve as evidence for different people… Other than that, perhaps I am just hoping that God has in fact left His indistinguishable mark on creation, so that there is, in fact, evidence pointing towards His existence.

  3. It sounds like Ward’s truth argument is just a repackaging of the ontological argument, don’t you think?

    I’m all for person conviction in God & “evidence” in that manner, but you last sentence really puts me half in the coffin. The idea that there is evidence which would be enough to convince anyone looking rationally at the question of God’s existence is absolutely contrary to my understanding of the virtue of faith.

    I hope this is a good example of what I mean: Say there was a truly rational proof of God’s existence found on the basis that an adorable little 8 year-old girl was murdered the other day; I would say that there is something horribly wrong about this situation. In fact, this would probably turn me into a polytheist because, the existence of one god proven, I would hope with all my heart that there was another god out there who didn’t need a girl’s death to be proven.

    This situation is kind of an image of one reason why I’m so opposed to proofs of God – they disqualify faith. If I am right and God shouldn’t be proven by the immorality of murder, then I would also think that God shouldn’t be proven by the immorality of faithlessness.

    I realise that this isn’t a logically invincible argument, but that’s what I feel is correct.

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