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What Really does "Burden of Proof" Mean?

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@Blackyblue ;ZeusAres42
Whoever is making a claim has the burden of proof.

That may well be a convenient cliched throw-away line to use, however it does not entirely make sense.

For example, if I were to say "there is no God" there can be no burden of proof since one cannot prove the existence of nothing.

Similarly, if I were to say "there is a God", I would have the burden of proof of explaining something that exists over and above the default position of there being nothing. If something is claimed to exist then surely, there must be proof of it.

I think perhaps you have conflated "Whoever is making a claim has the burden of proof"  with the old debating standard "Whoever is making a positive assertion has the burden of proof"....which is more logical and makes sense since, "There is a God" ,is a positive assertion and "There is no God" is a refutation of the positive assertion.

We need look no further than modern justice systems whereby a person is deemed innocent unless proven guilty. If you were say, charged with murder ("You murdered that person") the burden of proof is entirely 100% upon the prosecution to prove the charge . As the defendant ("I did not murder that person") you have made a refutation of the positive assertion and you have absolutely no burden to prove such. Indeed, many people have been found not guilty without providing a single piece of evidence in defense. 

It would indeed be a world of utter chaos if there were to be a requirement to disprove something that hasn't even been proven in the first place since it would give rise to all sorts of absurd claims that anyone can think of. "Giant green elephants with wings go prove that there are no giant green elephants with wings". Or "Donald Trump keeps a boiled egg in his go prove that there is no boiled egg in his underpants". 

And of course, the all-time classic absurdity: "God go prove he doesn't exist".


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  • MayCaesarMayCaesar 4800 Pts   -  
    If you make a claim that cannot be proven to be true, then your claim is unfounded. The fact that it cannot be proven to be true precisely means that you cannot fulfill your burden of proof; it does not free you from this burden. To avoid such pitfalls, be careful with your claims and do not claim something that cannot be proven to be true.

    As far as "positive assertion" goes, it is a pretty arbitrary concept, as every assertion is a statement of fact and is positive in this sense. If I say that I am not an alcoholic, I am making a positive assertion - that I am a particular type a person, one who does not have the drinking problem. Similarly, when you claim that god does not exist, you are making a positive assertion that you are living in the Universe having this particular "godless" property. 
    Similarly, whenever you make a positive assertion, you simultaneously make a negative assertion: negation of negation of the positive assertion. If I say that I like apples, then I make a negative assertion: I am not a person who does not like apples. Every logical statement has the counter-statement, and they are in a perfectly symmetric opposition to each other.

    As far as "innocent until proven guilty" goes, it is the way the system of justice classifies individuals. It is not the way the reality works: if I have murdered someone and the court failed to prove that I did so, then I am not innocent at all - however, from the system of justice's perspective, I am considered innocent given the limited information it has on me. It does not mean that everyone who claims that I am innocent is free from the burden of justifying their claim, but it does mean that if someone wants to put me in jail for murder, they have to prove that the murder has taken place, otherwise I walk away free.

    What you are under no obligation to do is to refute someone's claim, "positive" or "negative". If someone claims that god exists and tells you to prove otherwise, you can confidently tell them, "I do not need to prove anything, for I am not the one making a claim". But if you respond with, "I do not need to prove anything. But you are clearly wrong" - then sorry, but you have made a counterclaim, and you are under as much obligation to prove it than your opponent is to prove the original claim.
  • SwolliwSwolliw 1477 Pts   -  
    To avoid such pitfalls, be careful with your claims and do not claim something that cannot be proven to be true.

    Thanks for those excerpts taken from the publication "Absurd Reasoning for Dummies". It certainly is an eye-opener finding out what goes on in the lunatic fringe......that bit about the court system was a real, did they ever get their Calvins in an utter twist on that one. But seriously though, I think most people can see books like that are merely tongue-in-cheek fiction.

    I a prime example of what I pointed out as evidence to back up my claim before imagine this right.......I just casually say to someone at the pub, "There is no such thing as black cauliflowers with wings that fly". Then some d***head (you know, one of those skinny, pimple-faced nerds with broken spectacles who have to prove themselves by being a smart-ace) comes up to me and says "Like der well and la de da, you just said a positive assertion so you have to prove,na,na,na,na." And I would think...."What the??" the same time that his already broken spectacles accidentally connect with my knuckles and shatter into a thousand pieces. 

    But then, I jest because if everyone thought like that it would be one hell of a crazy world we live in. But then, every village has its village id-iot who comes up with crazy, twisted ideas that completely defy reason, just like in that book.

  • MayCaesarMayCaesar 4800 Pts   -  

    Well, I suppose it depends on what your goal is. If it is to impress a bunch of drunks and punch people in glasses in the face, then yes, your approach works well. On the other hand, if you want to apply logic and reason to further your understanding of the world and avoid blunders, including through having intellectual conversations with others, then you are out of luck.

    There are ways to convey what you really wanted to convey about the flying black cauliflowers without making indefensible claims. The problem is that human language is sloppy and contextual, and people often say something different from what they really mean, with the expectation that others will be able to infer the meaning from the context. This works in a pub full o' drunks, but you do not want to do this in a serious debate, an academic text, a legal document, et cetera.
  • SwolliwSwolliw 1477 Pts   -  
    The problem is that human language is sloppy and contextual, and people often say something different from what they really mean.

    That's quite right. But, being an experienced and highly skilled debater I make my posts and OPs concise and accurate through thoroughly researched, high quality resources and, every word is in carefully placed in the correct context. 

    For example, you would have read the properly qualified and backed-up argument about having to (not) justify absurd claims. I even reiterated that argument with a carefully chosen argument. So, I'm afraid that offering a rambling, vague criticism of the argument does not constitute a rebuttal, let alone one that is qualified. So, my argument stands and your convenient diversion from the argument is dismissed.

    As for your convoluted counter of "innocent unless proven guilty"....."It is not the way reality works......". If justice is not reality, then what the heck is it? In other words, you did not offer a reasonable refutation of my argument which stands.

    I think maybe you were trying to say that "just because someone is found to be not guilty, that doesn't necessarily mean he didn't do it in fact". Because then, I have the right to ask "how do you know that anyway? Unless you are God, you wouldn't. So, it goes back to "reasonable doubt" as dictated by academic text, a legal document, et cetera.

    And that is the whole crux of the argument....we have to be reasonable and use reason. It is not reasonable to expect someone to disprove something that is not proven in the first place (second reiteration of the argument now) apart from the fact that there is nothing to offer any evidence to which would be nothing anyway.

    Therefore, I and anybody else are perfectly well within our rights to state "There is no God" since there nothing to disprove....and in this case it is very clear cut since there has never ever been one single shred of evidence tendered as anything anywhere near proving such an absurd and outlandish concept.

    In any case, (and wait for the next intellectually challenging topic) so bleeding what if one cannot disprove or should or should not disprove God. I've got nothing to lose. The point is why don't air-headed, nit-witted theists prove God? If God exists, there has to be proof otherwise, back to the neutral God. 

    See how easy it is to win an argument? The secret is to pick the winning side.

  • MayCaesarMayCaesar 4800 Pts   -  

    Experience does not translate to anything if you do not properly learn from it. Your first paragraph clearly shows that you have not learned the basics of human communication. One of the first things anyone who has interacted with successful communicators and cared to learn something from them is that you do not talk about your greatness: you show it - which, in the context of these debates, means making compelling arguments. Talking about it conveys the exact opposite message: that you actually are a pretty lousy debater, since, instead of making one of the thousands of arguments you could if you were not, you chose to give empty praises to yourself.
    You like talking about pub fights and the like, right? You probably are very experienced in those. You must have noticed that the more proficient at fights someone is, the less they talk about how proficient they are. The drunks that puff up their chests are the ones that cannot actually fight and can only talk - a martial artist can stare them down without moving an inch, and they will crawl back into their little hole with the tails behind their back.

    The irony of your second paragraph is that you did not actually address my argument, only accusing me of "offering a rambling, vague criticism" of yours. Projection is strong here, mister Swolliw.

    "Justice" is a human concept according to which actions that upset natural balance in some interpretation of thereof require counter-actions that restore that balance. For instance, someone mistreated someone else, and, to restore the balance, they are expected to apologize or make up for it to the mistreated party in some other way. "Justice" is not an intrinsic property of nature. There is no such thing as "justice" in the animal kingdom: a lion will kill a gazelle and not have to pay restitution for it; a black hole will swallow a stellar system and go on with its way, and the Universe will not retaliate against it.

    Exactly, the "reasonable doubt" is the criterion courts use in the real world given the limitations of human knowledge. This is not a criterion for establishing the truth; this is a criterion for making practical decision in a way that is biased towards the "not guilty" verdict, for solid reasons.
    In natural sciences we do something similar: we develop models that approximate the reality as much as possible, meaning that their predictions align with the observations made in the real world as much as possible. Whenever we make a jump from the claims about this alignment to the claims about what the truth is, we have to be very careful and choose our words wisely. You do not want to confuse, for example, a result confirmed with the confidence of 5 sigma with a proof of some truth claim.

    You are right: it is not reasonable to expect someone to disprove something that has not been proven. Therefore, when you claim that god does not exist (which has not been proven), no one should be expected to prove you wrong. Same goes the other way around: when someone claims that god does exist, you are not expected to prove them wrong. There is perfect symmetry here: you make an unproven claim - you have to justify it, regardless of what that claim is.

    As for your pre-last question, theists' claims about god are based on one of the two things: confusing fantasy with reality (most Christians or Muslims), and abstract philosophizing containing unjustified logical jumps (deists and the like). Their approach is not logical, and the whole concept of formal proof or justification is somewhat alien to them.
    If you want to be better than them, then you should, at least, avoid the same fundamental pitfall.
  • SwolliwSwolliw 1477 Pts   -  
    So, okay, you have had plenty of opportunity to debate the topic rather than the person and failed miserably once again to win an argument. So, instead of having to resort to bi**ching on the sidelines about the player(s), here's an opportunity to actually get in and play the game. As you recall, the easiest debates to win are those where you are on the winning side to start with. So, I have made the ultimate challenge and created the ultimate topic to lose....."Does God Exist?". And guess what? I am taking the side of "Yes, God exists". So, here you can win this one easy peasy...I challenge you.

  • MayCaesarMayCaesar 4800 Pts   -  

    I think that you are the only one around here oblivious to my actual argument (well, you and, maybe, maxx; you guys are good contenders for the "worst reading comprehension" award). Until you address it, I see no reason to go to another thread and make the same argument, only for you to once again ignore it and whine about poor you being mistreated.

    There is no "winning" or "losing" here: nobody keeps the score, and the rules of the game are not fixed. There is, however, making a compelling argument, and... whatever it is you are doing.
  • SwolliwSwolliw 1477 Pts   -  
    @MayCaesar @Maxx
    I think that you are the only one around here oblivious to my actual argument 

    I'm truly regretful about that. I think it has something to do with the filtering they have on this site because I sometimes get that ironically, from Maxx also. So far as I can see, the site has a glitch that filters out arguments from your two accounts. Similarly, it seems to filter out properly backed-up arguments and reasonings from me (I can see them on my end) into yours and Maxx's accounts.

    So, now that you are both aware of the anomalies, you may want to get onto the administrators about it.

  • maxxmaxx 983 Pts   -  
    calling me out on a post i am not even on is , lacks morals and will be reported  @Swolliw
  • SwolliwSwolliw 1477 Pts   -  
    @maxx @MyCaeser
    calling me out on a post i am not even on is , lacks morals and will be reported 

    See, just what I was mentioning because on my computer it says in a post from MayCaeser above.... "(well, you and, maybe, maxx; you guys are good contenders for the "worst reading comprehension" award)"

    And that definitely lacks morals so you had better report it then the glitch might be fixed.

  • maxxmaxx 983 Pts   -   edited November 21
    perhaps. i dont know,  i have never listed an individual on a post that they are not engaged with. @Swolliw ; and May; as smart as you think you are, in many ways, you are dumber than a box of rocks. I used to have a lot of respect for you, but lately, due to the many relies i have seen, i have lost it.  Lay of the hooch while on this site
  • SwolliwSwolliw 1477 Pts   -  
    i dont know

    Well said. At last you are beginning to make at least some progress by facing up to your deficiency.

  • MayCaesarMayCaesar 4800 Pts   -   edited November 22
    maxx said:
    perhaps. i dont know,  i have never listed an individual on a post that they are not engaged with. @Swolliw ; and May; as smart as you think you are, in many ways, you are dumber than a box of rocks. I used to have a lot of respect for you, but lately, due to the many relies i have seen, i have lost it.  Lay of the hooch while on this site
    I certainly am dumber than a box of rocks in more ways than I know. That said, there are some pretty intelligent boxes of rocks out there! Ever played Mancala? Those damn rocks outsmart me all the time.

    As for your respect, it is irrelevant. In the context of a debate website, your arguments are everything, and your personal views on your opponents are nothing. You spend quite a bit of time talking about the latter, but I have seen little of the former from you.
    And, when it comes to it, as sad as it may be to hear for you, on the ranked list of people by how much their opinion of me affects me, you are not occupying the top position.
  • PepsiguyPepsiguy 26 Pts   -  
    Argument Topic: Meaning

    according to the dictionary: "the obligation to prove one's assertion."

    An example would be in a fair trial. The burden of proof is not on the defendant(the accused) but to the accuser. The defendant is presumed innocent, the burden of proof is on the accuser who was to prove him guilty.
  • maxxmaxx 983 Pts   -  
    yes i have played mancala. as for the rest of your statement, you flatter yourself. @MayCaesar
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