Theism and Atheism: Where the Burden of Proof Really Lies



Do we really need much of a reason to believe in God at all? Reformed epistemology is the idea that God is a “properly basic belief.” God does not need to be inferred from other truths to be reasonable. The most notable advocate for this field is Alvin Plantinga. This particularly has to do with the burden of proof. Where does it lie? Many people will assert that theists have the burden of proof because they have to prove the existence of something, not the other way around. This, of course, is under the assumption that God is a physical being that can produce empirical evidence for Himself, and if He can’t, there is no good reason to believe in Him at all.


I will first bring up the old watchmaker analogy. I know, it’s old and overused, but I think it definitely applies to this situation in many ways. Firstly, if you were to find a watch, it would be proper to assume that someone created the watch. This is a properly basic belief. There is no physical evidence that a watchmaker exists. The watchmaker cannot be be sensed by any of the five senses and there is no empirical data. However, it would be absolutely absurd to assume that the watch did not have a creator. This is a good example of how the burden of proof is not on the one who assumes that a watchmaker exists, but on the person who assumes that there is no watchmaker.


Plantinga first proposed his version of the idea in his 1967 book God and Other Minds. In this book, he gives the idea that believing in other minds is completely unsupported by argument, yet we still see reason to believe in them; likewise believing in God is unsupported by argument, yet it may still be rational to do so. The argument against this claim goes like this:


1.  It is irrational or unacceptable to accept theistic belief without sufficient or appropriate evidence or reason.

2.  There is not sufficient/appropriate evidence or reason for theistic belief.

3.  Belief in God is irrational.


Many Christian apologists deny the second premise. I agree, I don’t think the second premise holds any weight at all. However, reformed epistemologists will deny the first premise. What we have to figure out is if anything can exist at all without the existence of a supreme being. There are a few things we know that we do not have evidence for:

1.  The external world exists.

2.  The past exists.

3.  Other minds exist.


These are all properly basic beliefs. Essentially there becomes a point where we have to trust our own cognitive faculties to create a basis for belief; otherwise it would not be reasonable on any level to believe that the external world exists. We all have to realize that reasoning starts somewhere. So, the question is: Does God fall into this category?


Here’s the kind of knowledge that I’m getting at. Belief in God is a lot like belief in other persons, and not belief in scientific properties. Scientific method and properties, which seems to be the only source of knowledge for the naturalist, is incredibly deficient when it comes to personal relations with other people. In this sense, it is absurd to assume that the scientific method is essential for ALL parts of human behavior and knowledge. If this were the case, we’d all be sitting in labs doing experiments, cut off from society and unable to have proper relationships. This is the sense that we know God. Not in an empirical sense, but in a relational one. Can this be counted as “knowledge.” It certainly does with other people. Why not something greater? This is why God counts as a properly basic belief, and the burden of proof is not on the theist.


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