Today is kind of a big news day. An anonymous hacktivist is claiming to have released the names of prominent politicians involved in the KKK, who is not affiliated with the hacktivist group Anonymous. Donald Trump is claiming that John Oliver has asked him on his show more than once. And theists are still claiming that god exists. The common denominator for all three is a problem meeting the burden of proof.
What is this burden of proof? It’s pretty simple. If you’re making any claim, you always need to offer evidence in support of your claim. This is not to say that a negative claim doesn’t have the same burden of proof. Negative claims do, too.
For an anonymous hacktivist (not affiliated with Anonymous), their list of names on Twitter lacks any evidence other than their claim that the names were gathered by a hack of a KKK-affiliated Twitter account. We have no way of knowing the origin of the information that they are releasing, or that the names that they are releasing are truly affiliated with the KKK. The origin and veracity of the evidence is very important in meeting the burden of proof. If the evidence is questionable for any reason, we need to take that into account when evaluating those claims. The KKK, for its part, is denying that any hacktivist, the anonymous one, or Anonymous, is releasing the true membership rolls. And all of the accused are denying that they’re affiliated with the KKK in any way.
On the other hand, there’s Donald Trump, who is stating that he refused an offer for an appearance on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Full disclosure: John Oliver is my pretend husband. I love him. (No. Really. Pretend marry me John Oliver!) This is how things have gone so far. Trump makes the claim that he was invited onto Last Week Tonight. John Oliver denies that claim. Trump denies Oliver’s denial.
This is not how to refute a denial. The only way for Trump to refute Oliver’s denial would be to provide evidence to the contrary. Why? Because if Oliver’s denial is true, then there wouldn’t be any evidence of an invitation, because no such invitation was made. So, if Trump really wants to persuade people he’s telling the truth, he’s going to have to give us more than his denial of a denial. He’s going to have to meet his burden of proof.
The same thing goes for theists. I wrote about how theists tend to fall into a completely different epistemological paradigm from atheists, one where evidence is based on deductive argument from deeply believed axioms. Well, cross-paradigm reasoning is required for theists to convince atheists of the existence of god. In other words, theists need to meet their burden of proof for the existence of God.
If one says God exists, they need to provide evidence that God exists. When asked to provide evidence, usually theists will provide evidence from a set of axioms they hold true. The fact that those axioms themselves, are in question, never enters the mind of most theists. So when asking a theist to offer evidence in terms of the deeply believed axioms, they often cannot make sense of the question, even though it is a perfectly sensible question.
So until the anonymous hacktivist, Trump and theists meet their burden of proof, I’m not buying what they’re selling. It’s important to evaluate the evidence in support of any claim, whether or not that claim fits into your weltanschaaung.