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Who Has the Burden of Proof?

Prove-itIf the God of the Bible exists then this God is the certain thing, we are the added thing, right?

"In the beginning" there was this God and we've come along later.

What's more, according to the Bible, this God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, creates not out of need but out of generosity - not from emptiness but from fullness. Make sense?

If that's the case then we are entirely unnecessary, a profligate extravagance, a superfluous addendum, an embellishment, a flourish. We are not needed at all. We are wanted, which is nice, but it all puts us soundly in our place.

So that's the position if the God of the Bible actually exists. But... if such a God doesn't exist then, of course, we are the certain thing. The natural world (as Enlightenment people are wont to call it) is what's really real. The super-natural? Well that's, by definition, the extra thing isn't it? What we can see, hear, touch, taste and feel is rock solid. Anything beyond that is sinking sand, wouldn't you say?

Now... in a discussion between a Christian and an atheist, who has the burden of proof? Who must justify their position by bringing evidence that overwhelms the assumed 'default position' (the null hypothesis)?

If we were talking about the existence of Big Foot, we can probably all agree that those who believe in Big Foot's existence have the burden of proof. They need to bring convincing proofs or else we'll continue to hold our null hypothesis. Our null hypothesis is: Big Foot's existence is unproved and in serious doubt until further, convincing evidence is produced.

So then, why not say exactly the same about the Christian God? Why not say "The existence of God is in doubt until extraordinary evidence is produced"? Why not put the burden of proof on the Christians?

A couple of reasons off the top of my head:

1) God is not in any way like Big Foot. Big Foot (if he exists) is an extraordinary being within the created order. But God - despite how both atheists and some theists want to paint Him - is not just a super-being. The God of the Bible is the Source of Being. And the difference between a super-being and a source-of-being is not one of mere quantity. We're talking about a qualitative difference of infinite proportions.

According to Acts 17: "In Him we live and move and have our being." If Big Foot actually existed it would have no implications except for a small number of enthusiasts. God's existence changes everything for everyone. Who He is, fundamentally changes the universe we inhabit. It changes who we are - suddenly we are unnecessary-but-loved creatures of the living God. Therefore God's existence cannot be held at arm's length and discussed at a distance. When we talk about God we're talking about a reality-defining being. He defines us. And He also defines - must define - Himself.

That's the second reason why the burden of proof is not obviously with the Christian...

2) Anyone who claims that God must justify His existence is clearly not dealing with the Christian God. The great I AM is. Actually God must justify our existence! If that doesn't sound right it can only be because we're not considering the actual God of the Bible. To think of God as a potential addendum to reality is not to think of the living God.

If a person claims that God's existence is possible but requires additional proofs, they show that they are refusing to consider the reality of God. If the triune God exists then God is not the 'added thing' whose reality may or may not be granted. If the Christian God exists, we are the added thing. If the Christian God exists, He must be taken for granted as the certain reality or else we're just not talking about God, only a Big Foot in the Sky.

Who has the burden of proof? It all depends on whether God exists! If the triune God lives then of course it's our existence that must be justified, not His. The good news is that God the Son does justify our existence - He enters it, redeems it and binds it to His own existence forevermore. Jesus is not simply proof of God's existence - He's the guarantee that we exist - really and truly connected to the eternal life of Father, Son and Spirit.

But if the triune God of Scripture doesn't exist - if 'God' is merely a super-being somewhere or there is no god - then the burden of proof would lie with the theist. Because then our existence would be most fundamental and the extra thing - 'God' - would have to show itself.

So then, if someone insists that the burden of proof is with the believer, they may claim to be open-minded about the possibility of God but they have, in fact, decided the issue in advance. By setting things up in this way they have determined not to deal with the great I AM, only with a potential super-being (and only if that super-being passes the tests they set).

In other words:

No-one seeks God... Faith comes through hearing (Romans 3:10; 10:17)


11 thoughts on “Who Has the Burden of Proof?

  1. the Old Adam


    We can't prove it. And there's no need to prove it.

    Just announce it. Declare it. Preach it. Hand it over.

    And the Spirit of God will do what He will do with it.

    It's actually quite liberating…that it doesn't depend on us finally.

  2. Howard Nowlan

    Everything that happens in this universe of ours which is of value is a miracle - it doesn't happen in a fashion we can readily qualify or observe - hence, the work of God - from "proclaiming' the good creation to be, to bringing the new creation to alienated humanity... it's all His work.

  3. Joseph S.

    The problem as I see it, as a former atheist, is proving that the Bible represents the word of the First Cause. Defending a theistic universe is not hard. Defending the claim that the First Cause is the author or necessary inspiration for the Bible is much more complicated, and I don't think your post addressed this.

  4. Glen

    Hi Joseph S, welcome to the blog. I think this post relies on more than simply a theistic universe but that God has created us from *fullness* and not from need. In other words, that God is a Father, brimful of life - not simply a superbeing with power within the universe. At that point, it's *Jesus* who I'd speak of as the Word of this God. He has revealed not merely a God who is powerful within the world but a Father who has brought it forth out of love. Or perhaps I should have put it the other way around. Jesus reveals a God who is Father, therefore to consider *this* God you cannot imagine Him as the added thing.

    Either way I'd say that Jesus is our way in, both to God and to Scripture.

  5. Glen

    Hi Michael,

    Welcome to the blog. You really do have the burden of proof after that assertion.

  6. Duane D

    Eloquently argued Glen!
    So that takes a burden off of our shoulders.
    By the very same token, the problem addressed by Joseph S. is the same category.
    Scripture reveals Christ, who IS The Truth. He reveals God. He is the bearer of truth to all who believe Him.
    It is as simple (although not necessarily always easy)as Scripture puts it:
    One plants, another waters, but it is God who gives the increase.
    The Bereans received Paul as the oracles of God, and then tested his word.
    We preach the Word; it is the Spirit of God Who moves the heart.
    Certain proofs are in there: "over 500 saw Him after He rose from the dead".
    If they will not believe that, they will not believe "even those one rose from the dead".

  7. Joseph S.

    An anonymously written, ancient document is not "proof" of anything, Duane. Whatever claims that document make are all contingent upon the reliability of the document. Hence, back to my original point. Simply because a text says the God authored it, does not make it so.

    Again, the burden on proof is upon believers who argue their text is from the Source of All, whether those believers are Xian, Muslim, etc.

  8. Glen

    Hi Joseph,

    Once again I'd point you to *Jesus* as the Word of God - that is the distinctive Christian claim. Plus, we don't say the bible is God's word simply because it says so. We say it because in it God actually speaks.

  9. Joseph S.

    Once again I'd point you to the *Quran* as the Word of God -- That is the distinctive Muslim claim. Plus, we don't say the Quran is God's word simply because it says so. We say it because in it God actually speaks.

    Convinced, Glen? Just as you remain unconvinced about Islam, so too anyone who's not already a Xian will remain unconvinced with these apologetics.

  10. Glen

    Ah but God does not speak in the Quran.

    Neither am I convinced about naturalism - and if you pointed out that naturalism was natural I wouldn't be particularly persuaded either. All of these belief-systems must be entered in order to be understood.

    What I'm saying is that there is no neutral ground from *outside* these positions from which to assess them. And that means if you want to consider Christianity I suggest join a worshipping church, start praying and read the bible.

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