Burden Of Proof
Concerning the statement below taken from your column, I would like to assert my opinion. If the editor of this column claims there is no afterlife then surely the burden of proof also lies on him/her. To say the burden of proof is with the person who believes there is an afterlife would be unfair since you are also making a claim that there is no afterlife.
One might ask if the same holds true for those who assert that there is no such thing as an afterlife. No. The person who makes a claim (or holds a theory or says that something exists) is the one responsible for providing proof (or a valid argument) to back up his or her position. If the one making such a claim cannot do this, it is perfectly reasonable for the rest of us to doubt the claim.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Gems from the Mailbag: Life would certainly be depressing ...
Date: Monday, October 23, 2000 2:52 PM
We are not making the claim that there is no afterlife. But even if we did, to do this would be a negative existential claim (a claim that a thing does not exist) and would not be subject to the same burden of proof as the positive existential claim (a claim that a thing does exist). This is because it is logically impossible to prove a negative existential claim or to disprove a positive existential claim; however, to disprove a negative existential claim or to prove a positive existential claim, one need merely cough up the evidence.
This is not the two-way street that you suggest it is. The best our side can do is to poke holes in the theories of your side, since it is your side that is making the existential claims, not ours.
You are claiming that something exists, we are not. Thus, it is you who must bring forth evidence that such thing exists. If you fail to do so, we are perfectly right in, at minimum, rejecting your claim. We are also right in going so far as to call your claim falsehood, though we at Positive Atheism usually refrain from going that far. Even if we did call your claim falsehood, we could easily update our understanding should you provide sufficient evidence for believing your claim.
This situation is far from fair: we doubters cannot bring forth any evidence. Those making the claims are the only ones who can offer evidence (if it exists). The case of the doubters rests entirely in the doubters' responses to the claims of the believers. Usually this takes the form of the believers' inability to bring forth evidence that justifies belief. Without the claims of the believers, we are not doubters but are simply humans. We can only doubt when someone makes a claim that something exists, and we only will doubt if that claim cannot be proven.
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.