Fun with fallacies 9: Are you being shifty?

burden of proofShifting the burden of proof, is a fallacy so common that pointing it out is exhausting. The accepted decorum in debates and arguments is that the burden of proof is on the person making a claim. So, if I claim that there is a hobbit living in my television, I have to prove that claim, I cannot demand that it be treated as true until proven false.

This is also a very common argument that Atheists run into when debating believers, where they will run into a variant on

You are making the claim that God does not exist, therefore you have to prove that he does not

The reason why this is burden of proof shifting is that without a claim to there being a god, the Atheist position would not exist. The cause and effect cannot be:

There is no God! – > There is a God.

Where the negative claim comes before the positive claim. The positive claim always comes first and thus has the burden of proof. This is one of the funnier things to see in popular news programs or debate shows, where the people claiming that “X does not exist” are the ones that have to provide evidence.

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10 comments on “Fun with fallacies 9: Are you being shifty?

  1. I dunno. I think if there is a case for saying that the burden of proof can’t fall on a negative, it’s when the negative is at least possibly metalinguistic. There is no God looks to me on par with an affirmative claim.

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    • “There is no god” can be seen as an affirmative claim, but it’s not, it’s a negative claim about a conclusion that someone else has presented.

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      • My point isn’t that it is an affirmative claim, but that not all negations are equally entitled to the default truth evaluation. Predicate term negation, for example, asserts as much as any affirmative statement, so there is no clear reason to give such statements extra slack. “There is no God” asserts about as much as “There is a God” Whereas simply rejecting “There is a God” creates an uneven marking relationships and arguably establishes a burden of proof. It’s not just a question of affirmative versus negative.

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    • I agree with Daniel. I’ve put some tonight into burden of proof as well, here’s my understanding: https://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/owiraa-b-burden-of-proof/

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      • From my perspective you treat the null hypothesis as a positive hypothesis. From a research perspective, if lets say I wanted to do a research project looking at the correlation between Social Justice Warriors and weird hair colors. I would make 2 hypotheses:
        H0 – There is no correlation
        H1 – There is a correlation

        In the same way if I were to design a research project I would formulate hypotheses as follows:
        H0 – There is no God
        H1 – There is a God
        In absence of proving H1 true, H0 is considered true. That’s the way it works. From my perspective, the creation of a difference between “I reject all claims of there being a god” vs “There is no god” is an ad hoc exception. The form of the null hypothesis is merely rephrased into a scientifically testable one. It becomes a case of rhetoric and ad hoc in order to manipulate the burden of proof, and thus sophism.

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      • H0 – There is not a an even number of coins in the jar (There is no God)
        H1 – There is an even number of coins in the jar (There is a God)

        In the absence of proving H1 true, H0 is considered true, meaning that the jar contains an odd number of coins until we can prove it’s even. Something’s amiss…

        This is informative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTMDjyG5u_A

        Regards,
        Jaco

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      • That would be a wrongly constructed hypothesis. In this case you would have:
        H0 – There are no coins in the jar.
        H1 – There is an odd number of coins in the jar.
        H2 – There is an even number of coins in the jar.

        Your hypotheses create a false dichotomy.

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      • Right, stuff to think about for me.

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      • I think we are asking the wrong question tbh. If we start from:
        Define what a god is.
        Then we construct:
        H0 – There are no gods
        H1 – There are some gods
        H2 – There is 1 god

        Belief in gods is a case of Kettle logic.
        Belief in a single god but not the 99.9% of other gods is a case of ad hoc.

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  2. Thank you for that comment. I think it’s probably the most mind-bending one so far. In my mind, stating “There is no god” is a rejection of the “God hypothesis” not a claim in itself.

    I would say that the “god hypothesis” mathematically would be +1 as it asserts the existence of something. Whereas the “No god hypothesis” mathematically would be 0 as it does not make an assertion that adds anything to a system.

    In this case, rejecting the statement “There is a god” is the equivalent of asserting there is no god.

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