While I’m criticizing Austin Cline, I also want to say something about his article on burden of proof in the context of the atheism vs theism debate. Again, I have nothing against Cline, and in fact he brings up several points that I agree with:
A more accurate label would be a “burden of support” — the key is that a person must support what they are saying. This can involve empirical evidence, logical arguments, and even positive proof.
The “burden of proof” is not something static which one party must always carry; rather, it is something which legitimately shifts during the course of a debate as arguments and counter-arguments are made.
The part I disagree with Cline’s assertion that the (initial) burden of proof “always lies with the person who is making a claim, not the person who is hearing the claim and who may not initially believe it.”
This leaves open the question of who has the initial burden of proof when both people are making claims. For example, what if the theist claims there is a god, and I claim there is no god? According to Cline, atheism refers to people who make no claims about gods, and thus atheists don’t have the initial burden of proof. However, I am part of the subset of atheists who positively claims there are no gods, so where does that leave me?
In my analysis, burden of proof is the answer to three different questions:
- Who wins if no further arguments are made?
- Who should win if no further arguments are made?
- Whose turn is it to advance the argument?