As someone who regularly has conversations with people who don’t believe in God, I have encountered the following objection time and time again:
“I don’t believe there is a God. You do. Therefore, the burden of proof is on you.”
That’s true…to a certain point. We all hold a worldview. Whether we spend a lot of time contemplating it, is another story. But, the point is that questions like where the universe came from, whether there is a God, what our purpose in life is, do right and wrong really exist, and what happens when we die, when answered, actually form the way we see the world and treat other people.
So yes. All of us have a world view. One might not have given it a whole lot of thought, but we all have one. For example, I have some dear friends that simply don’t believe in God. They say there’s not enough proof. They believe that when we die, we rot in the ground, even though they live everyday as though that isn’t true. At this point though, in no way am I out of line to ask them “how did we get here?”. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask, “If there is no purpose in life, and we’re just bags of biological goo as a result of time and chance randomly acting on matter, then why do you live your life everyday as if tomorrow will be the same as it was today?”.
What we should not do is expect them to prove to us that God doesn’t exist!
Think about a court of law. In a criminal case the prosecutor is arguing one view: the guilt of the defendant. The defense is arguing another view: the defendant is innocent. Both views cannot be true at the same time. Same thing with someone who believes in God and someone who doesn’t. Both cannot be true at the same time. So, who has the burden of proof?
We all know that in a criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. They are the ones making the assertion of the guilt of another human being that if found to be true could possibly lead to life in prison or death. All the defense must do is defend their client and make sure they are legally protected.
The prosecution goes first in presenting the case. After all, they are the ones making the claim. After the prosecution rests their case, the defense presents theirs.
So, in order to determine who has the burden of proof, we must ask who is making the assertion. If I am the one who asserts there is a God, then of course the burden of proof is on me to present compelling reasons as to why I think that’s true. However, the moment someone objects, you have the right to ask questions such as, “Where did the universe come from? Is there a difference between right and wrong and if so, how do you know?”.
We’ve presented our case. We’ve “rested”.
Now it’s their turn.
Again, at this point the burden on the atheist is not to prove God doesn’t exist. It’s to prove an alternative theory that if true, would prove or at least cast heavy doubt that God does not exist.
In criminal cases the burden of proof actually shifts to the defendant in certain circumstances. One such circumstance could be regarding an insanity plea to a murder charge. In these cases, it is up to the defense to offer and prove reasons that justify or explain the act that was committed. This is what’s known as an affirmative defense.
Other defenses that are used are known as negating defenses. “In contrast to affirmative defenses, negating defenses are used to scrutinize or question an indispensable element of the criminal charge brought forth by the prosecution.”
The point is that when you are having a conversation with someone who doesn’t believe in God, ask them what they do believe. At this point, they have three choices:
- Offer refutation to the points you’ve made for God’s existence.
- Give alternative explanations and evidence that doesn’t include God.
- Remain silent.
So, yes, when we as Christians assert God exists, we have the burden of proof to make a case for why we believe what we believe. However, the moment someone says, “That’s not true” or “I think the universe is eternal” or “I just don’t know” the burden shifts to them to either explain why we’re wrong, convince us of better evidence that proves we’re wrong, or decide not to have the conversation.
It’s clear that neither an atheist nor a theist could make a case that would prove to the skeptic on either side that their position is true beyond any doubt. I think that’s fair. So does the U.S. justice system, for to determine if a man is suitable for the gas chamber, we only require proof of his guilt by a reasonable doubt, not beyond any doubt.
So, don’t let anyone make you feel like you need to 100% convince them of God’s existence. Jesus didn’t expect anyone to be convinced beyond any doubt either. In fact, He knew a time would come when His followers would have plenty of doubt—even while He was still with them.
Look at what He said in response to John the Baptist’s doubt!“So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’”—Luke 7:22-23
Jesus offered evidence as proof of His deity. That’s what He calls us to do. But once the claim is made against that evidence, the burden of proof is on them.
If you are reading this and you don’t believe in God, what do you believe? Where did the universe come from? Is there a difference between right and wrong? What happens when you die? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!