Philosophy of Religion
Section 8:Argument from Miracles
BURDEN OF PROOF
Most people as young children appear to have a “commonsense” understanding of the burden of proof. When young people hear a claim being made and it is, in their minds and experience, an extraordinary claim being made, quite often the response is one of asking for something to support the claim. The most common retorts are along the line of “Prove it”, “What makes you say that”, “Sow me” or something like “Oh, yeah?”. Somewhere along the way too many humans lose that sense and too often suspend their inclination to accept the principles underlying the “Burden of Proof”. Going a bit further it is to be noted that not all people care to be considered as being rational or reasonable or willing to use their intellect as best as possible but for any person who cares at all about being rational and using reason then operating with the "Burden of Proof" rule of reason:
You cannot claim that "miracles exist unless someone proves that they do not exist."
You cannot claim that "souls exist unless someone proves that they do not exist."
You cannot claim that "angels exist unless someone proves that they do not exist."
You cannot claim that "deities exist unless someone proves that they do not exist."
The Burden of Proof as presented below applies to claims that are cognitive and empirical. The principle applies to claims about what exists or does not exist.
The burden of proof is always on the claim that X exists rather than on the claim that X does not exist. It is a fallacy to claim that X exists unless you prove that there is no X. What is improper is for a person to claim that "X exists" and when asked to prove it, then the person who made the claim uses as a defense of "X exists" the next claim that no one has proven that X does not exist.
The instances of circumstances that provide nuanced exceptions (see below) to the rule are so few and misleading to let it appear they nullify the rule that it is far better to just state that the burden of proof is always on the claim that X exists rather than on the claim that X does not exist. It is a fallacy to claim that X exists unless you prove that there is no X. What is improper is for a person to claim that "X exists" and when asked to prove it, then the person who made the claim uses as a defense of "X exists" the next claim that no one has proven that X does not exist.
If a person claims that X exists and is real then the burden is on that person to supply some support for that claim, some evidence or proof that others can and should examine before accepting it. It is incorrect to think that X exists and is real until someone can prove that there is no X. It is also wrong to think that just because you can not prove that X exists that does not mean that X does not exist and therefore X does exist.
Why is it that the burden is on the person who makes the claim? Well think whether or not it is a better way to proceed through life to accept anything and everything that people claim to be so. Experience should instruct every thinking human that there is a high probability that not everything that people claim to be true is actually true. Some claims might be made with the claimant aware that the claim is not true and some claims might be made with the claimant thinking that they are true but being mistaken. As it is for most humans not a very good idea to proceed through life based on beliefs that are false and thinking things to be true when they are not, most humans and those who would use reason to guide them will want some evidence and reasoning to support a claim being asserted to be true. So the burden is on those who make claims to offer reason and evidence in support of those claims.
SHIFTING THE BURDEN OF PROOF
The burden of proof is always on the person making an
assertion or proposition. Shifting
the burden of proof, a special case of argumentum ad ignorantium, is the
fallacy of putting the burden of proof on the person who denies or
questions the assertion being made. The
source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless
The person making a negative claim cannot logically
prove nonexistence. And here's why: to know that a X does not exist would
require a perfect knowledge of all things (omniscience). To attain this
knowledge would require simultaneous access to all parts of the world and
beyond (omnipresence). Therefore, to be certain of
the claim that X does not exist one would have to possess abilities
that are non-existent. Obviously, mankind's limited nature precludes these
special abilities. The claim that X does not exist is therefore
unjustifiable. As logician Mortimer Adler has pointed out, the attempt to
prove a universal negative is a self- defeating proposition.
These claims are "worldwide existential negatives." They
are only a small class of all possible negatives. They cannot be
established by direct observation because no single human observer can
cover the whole earth at one time in order to declare by personal
authority that any “X” doesn't exist.
Burden of Proof
From X, which is the assertion, is not yet
disproved. Therefore, X.
This is a Fallacy.
X is unproven and remains unproven.
(1)Of course God exists. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?
(2)Of course pink elephants inhabit Mars. We don't see them because they blend in. Can you prove otherwise?
(3)Of course Santa Claus exists. No one has ever proved, to my knowledge, that Santa Claus does not exist. And if one were to fly to the North Pole and say: Well, look, there's no toy factory there. A believer could argue: Well, Santa Claus knew you were coming and moved his operations to the South Pole. So you fly down to the South Pole. No Santa Claus factory, toy factory there. So the believer would say: Oh, he moved it back up to the North Pole.
(4) Of course leprechauns exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?
(5) Of course ghosts exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?
(6) Of course yellow polka dotted aliens exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?
(7) Of course X
exist. Has anyone ever proven otherwise?
Proof of a Negative Claim
simply cannot prove general claims that are negative claims -- one cannot prove that ghosts do not exist; one
cannot prove that leprechauns too do not exist. One simply cannot prove a
negative and general claim.
The unprovability of non-existence.
Here's what the The Objectivist Newsletter (April 1963) had to say on the logical fallacy of proving a negative:
"Proving the non-existence of that for which no evidence of any kind exists. Proof, logic, reason, thinking, knowledge pertain to and deal only with that which exists. They cannot be applied to that which does not exist. Nothing can be relevant or applicable to the non-existent. The non-existent is nothing. A positive statement, based on facts that have been erroneously interpreted, can be refuted - by means of exposing the errors in the interpretation of the facts. Such refutation is the disproving of a positive, not the proving of a negative.... Rational demonstration is necessary to support even the claim that a thing is possible. It is a breach of logic to assert that that which has not been proven to be impossible is, therefore, possible. An absence does not constitute proof of anything. Nothing can be derived from nothing." If I say, "Anything is possible" I must admit the possibility that the statement I just made is false. (See Self Exclusion) Doubt must always be specific, and can only exist in contrast to things that cannot properly be doubted. “
It means that if we don't know that something exists and have no evidence that it exists then that is not a sufficient basis for thinking that we have proved that it does not exist at all. It only means we don't know one way or the other, we just haven't been made aware of it yet so it's not part of our knowledge. This is another variation on argumentum ad ignorantium, The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise or that it is false unless proven otherwise. From a lack of knowledge or any evidence to support a claim it is not appropriate and definitely not safe to reach any definite conclusion about the claim.
The case for evidence of absence depends upon whether or not evidence of any kind exists. If none exists, then absence of evidence is neither evidence of absence or of existence.
If someone claims that X exists and then there is a search for X but the more people look in places where X "ought to be" in ways and at times that X "should be likely to be there," and there is no evidence of X found, then the more confidence you can have that there is no "X".
Even if absence of evidence really is evidence of absence in some few well defined cases of very finite extension (e.g., there is no elephant in this desk drawer because there is an absence of evidence of an elephant being in the desk drawer), ignorance of evidence is neither one of those things and shouldn't be mistaken to imply either one. Ignorance of evidence is evidence of ignorance and that is all that it is.
Rejecting the Burden of Proof
There are those who will refuse to accept that the burden of proof rests with those making positive claims. They do want to claim that:
Those who behave in this manner are rejecting the use of reason. They want to believe that X is true or that X exists and to believe it without evidence or even against evidence to the contrary. They want to have their beliefs remain intact and not subject to refutation or to reexamination for fear of needing to alter their beliefs. They rest their beliefs in X existing or in X being true not on evidence and reason but on FAITH and even on BLIND FAITH and when against reason and counterevidence on willfully BLIND FAITH. Such behavior is within the realm of Religion and not at all acceptable amongst those who would pursue Philosophical discourse or who would ask that reason and evidence support claims.
Additional readings concerning the difficulty of proving a general negative claim.
"Things that Probably don't Exist" by Nick Barrowman My point is that when it comes to using observational evidence to argue for existence (a positive claim) or non-existence (a negative claim), you can't prove a negative, whereas you can prove a positive. http://logbase2.blogspot.com/2007/12/things-that-probably-dont-exist.html
"Proving a Negative "(1999) by Richard Carrier at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/theory.html
The Logic of Disproof
The following is a perfectly reasonable way to reach a conclusion, in fact the pattern is known as VALID, meaning that if the premises are true the conclusion must be true:
This pattern of reasoning is known as denying the consequent or modus tollens
Here it is with some meaningful statements in the place of the P and Q.
If Premises 1 and 2 are true the conclusion must be true. Are they true? If so, then the conclusion is true. As a fire is rapid oxidation the absence of oxygen makes a fire impossible.
Premise: F then O is making the claim that the O is necessary for the F. It claims the F is sufficient to know there is the O.
It is a mistake to confuse a necessary for a sufficient condition and to argue this way.
This mistake is called a fallacy and has the name of affirming the consequent.
Nevertheless a good deal of thinking preceded with this pattern in science.
If the Hypothesis is correct then we will observe what the hypothesis would predict. We do observe what was predicted and the conclusion is at least partially supported that the hypothesis is correct.
Science moves forward with greater degree of probability of the conclusion being true through the use of modus tollens which disproves an hypothesis or refutes a claim:
But even then there might have been something not quite correct in the hypothesis or some auxiliary hypothesis or assumption being made that is being disproven and nto the hypothesis. Perhaps there was the assumption that the measuring being done would be accurate or the devices being used would all function properly and so on. More testing of the hypothesis is generally in order to rule out the other explanations for not detecting the predicted result.
The logic of proving a negative or non-existence of some X.
This pattern is VALID and now what a person would need to check is whether or not the premises are true.
If the X is the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny or Santa Claus then there are certain observations that should be made. Not ever making those observations despite numerous attempts would lead most humans to conclude that there is no Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny or Santa Claus , only persons posing as such.
However, if the X is some supernatural being or spirit such as a deity or a ghost or even an event claimed to have a supernatural source those who wish to hold for the existence of such beings are not so willing to accept that the existence of the being in reality is disproven and that the being does not exist in reality. What happens?
This would be a VALID argument pattern so if the premises are true the conclusion would be proven to be true. HOWEVER, those who want to hold to the existence of D will introduce auxiliary claims so that the failure to obverse O does not disprove the existence of D.
This would be a VALID argument pattern so if the premises are true the conclusion would be proven to be true. HOWEVER, those who want to hold to the existence of yellow monkeys in the jungle J will introduce auxiliary claims so that the failure to obverse O does not disprove the existence of yellow monkeys in the jungle J..
That would appear to disprove the existence of the yellow monkeys in the jungle J except that the believer in the yellow monkeys in jungle J can offer another auxiliary hypothesis or claim.
So the person who wants to believe in yellow monkeys in the jungle J exist can continue to believe in them and claim that they do exist even with no evidence to support the claim. The person who wants to believe in yellow monkeys in the jungle J exist will claim that you did not prove that there were no yellow monkeys in the jungle J and so the person can go on believing that there are yellow monkeys in the jungle.
Now substitute a supernatural being of any kind into the position held by the yellow monkeys in jungle J in the arguments above and you should be able to understand why it is so difficult to prove a negative claim.
Person B claims that deity D exists. Person B does not offer any convincing arguments or evidence or proof that D exists but shifts the burden of proof and claims that D exists unless it can be proven that D does not exist. An attempt to prove that D does not exist might take this form. Let O be the observation of the deity itself.
Now the person who claims that D does exist can alter the position in this manner:
So by introducing features into the initial premise the attempt to disprove the existence of D is thwarted. All manner of post hoc explanations can be offered to explain what was observed. For example the claim could be made that deity D wants people to accept the existence of D as an act of faith in D and so does not make the existence of D obvious or observable. This process can be repeated in many different ways. This makes the attempt to disprove the existence of D very difficult if not impossible. Thus it is that the claim is made that it is difficult if not impossible to prove a negative claim or the non-existence of something. The Burden of Proof is on the positive claim. This stands to reason. This makes sense. This placement of the Burden of Proof makes reasoned discourse possible.
Or now let D be a deity that is claimed to be All Good and All Knowledgeable and All Powerful.. The argument to disprove the existence of D might take this form:
Well this would not prove that there is no deity only that D, a deity that is claimed to be All Good and All Knowledgeable and All Powerful, does not exist . Now the person who claims that there is a deity can now remove on of the three properties and the disproof would no longer be applicable or deny the truth of premise 1. Or the person claiming that there is a deity could deny that what was observed to be evil was evil=denying the truth of premise 2.
So the Burden of Proof rests with the person making the claim and a positive claim. It is shifting the Burden of Proof for the person making the positive claim to insist that those who deny the positive claim have the burden to prove that the positive claim is false. It is the Fallacy or mistake of appealing to ignorance to reach a conclusion based on alck of knowledge such as with taking the position that :
If you can not prove that X does not exists, then X does exist.
If you can not prove that X is false, then X is true.
Absence of evidence is not Evidence of absence .
FALSE DILEMMA or non-exhaustive alternatives
There is the mistake of thinking that there are only two alternatives of a false dilemma:
There is a valid pattern:
The mistake is making it appear that the valid pattern is being used when it is not because the first premise of the valid pattern is NOT TRUE.
What conclusion would follow from this? either B or D
We do not know what we do not know and it is a mistake to conclude that we do know something when we do not know it. With a lack of knowledge we can not reach a definite conclusion.
Evidence of Absence http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_absence
Legal Burden of Proof http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_burden_of_proof
Burden of Proof (Law) Louis Kaplow http://www.utexas.edu/law/wp/wp-content/uploads/centers/clbe/kaplow_burden_of_proof.pdf
Philosophical Burden of Proof http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophic_burden_of_proof
Science and the Burden of Proof http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_burden_of_evidence
Burden of Proof http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof
Argument from Ignorance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance
SUGGESTED VIEWING: Burden of Proof
A. On the Burden of Proof http://www.sciencedump.com/content/burden-proof
or same video here http://youtu.be/KayBys8gaJY
SUGGESTED READINGS MIRACLES
A. INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA of PHILOSOPHY: http://www.iep.utm.edu/miracles/
B. WIKIPEDIA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles
C. STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA of PHILOSOPHY http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/
D. Joe Nickell, Examining Miracle Claims: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/joe_nickell/miracles.html
E. Spontaneous Remissions in Medicine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_remission
Weeping Statues http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weeping_statue
Weeping Paintings http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weeping_statue#Weeping_paintings
SUGGESTED IMAGES: MIRACLES
Miracle pictures in Islam http://www.islamcan.com/miracles/index.shtml
Virgin Mary on Wall http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4468275.stm
Virgin Mary on Toast $28,000 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4034787.stm
Nun Bun or Mother Theresa Bun stolen http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4562170.stm
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: MIRACLES
Solving Mysteries - Exploring the Science of Miracles
Luigi Garlaschelli Liquifying Blood –Stigmata-Shroud of Turin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTy0lKylQRY
DERREN BROWN: Miracles for Sale Faith Healing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuP5uOI7Xwc
Miracle Detectives - Mysterious Oils: Skeptic Meets a Believer
Miracle Detectives - Holy Dirt of Chimayo: Healing Testimony http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=s_0K6JKoD10
FALSE PROPHET-PETER POPOFF- MIRACLES SCAMS EXPOSED-James Randi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXV3eZXu0R8
Humans need to proceed carefully in reaching conclusions. There should be evidence to support conclusions. Humans need to be patient and accept ignorance and hope it is temporary and work to acquire more evidence and knowledge.
|Please close this window and return to the previous section of the textbook and continue on.|
© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.
Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.
|Return to: Table of Contents for the Online Textbook|