I have often heard the following obligatory and rather futile complaint from believers when asked to supply proof for their claims about God and the universe: “I can’t prove that God exists, but neither can you prove that he does not exist.” Usually at that point in making their case for God, they say something about personal testimony and their own experiences with the Holy Spirit. Apologists in this way attempt to encase themselves in what they think is a win-win situation for them: 1) non-believers can’t prove me wrong and 2) I know how I feel and what I have experienced in my heart, and this stands above the scrutiny of logic; in fact, given what I have experienced, it’s even reasonable for me to believe as I do.
The first point is obviously true. One day, we may perhaps be able to disprove God scientifically because as Richard Dawkins has said, a universe in which a being intervenes in peoples’ lives, reads their thoughts and micromanages the weather, etc., has to be a vastly different universe than one in which this is not the case. Even if the God of Abraham and Isaac resides is in some “spiritual” realm, he still supposedly acts in the physical world and upon living organisms, and so in this way, may be, in some future technological era, within the scope of scientific discovery. This would only not be the case if we are to assume a deistic god, that is, one who only created the world but does not intervene in it. This god, perhaps, may be outside of the boundaries of science, no matter how advanced. But the theistic god … quite a different matter.
The troubling point is the second one and gives a person license to say they believe anything, and we must, according to them, then except it and respect it outright without question just because they have a personal testimony or have received some kind of revelation. Of course, we can see how well that has worked out for the legacies of Joseph Smith, Marshall Applewhite, Tom Cruise and many other deluded figures. Further, and as I stated elsewhere, it is not the freethinker’s job to stand up for or support her non-belief because non-belief is, indeed, the default position and actually not a belief at all. People are born with zero beliefs; it is only after being inculcated by whatever culture we happen to be born into that the cloak of religion is cruelly and forcefully draped over us before we have time to make up our own minds. The believers alone have to say 1) why they feel compelled to introduce elements like gods, angels and demons into the world when none were solicited and 2) how they explain their belief in the existence of such things. The onus, in short, is on believers to supply the proof because they are the ones making the claims. For the non-believer, no claims have been made; the world is the same as it was when we entered it.
This blogger over at Squidoo has made the point as well as anyone:
I get asked all the time to prove there is no God, and although I believe the evidence weighs heavily in my favor, I can’t prove a negative. I also do not have to because the burden of proof in this lies with the one making the claim, the theist. Someone could not claim to be an atheist had there not been a theist first, so it stands to reason the theist made the claim and has the burden of proof in this matter.
If I were to make the claim that I have little green men living under my bed, and at night they come out and talk to me, most people would assume that the burden of proof lies with me to substantiate this claim. It would not be up to others to prove I do not have little green men hiding under my bed, because it would be impossible for them to do so, you can’t prove a negative. I might say they only talk to me or that only I can see them making it impossible for anyone to prove that I am wrong. But since I am not able to prove my statement, most sane and rational people would discount my claim as the ramblings of a mad man.