Truth, Proof, Evidence, Faith, and Belief

I keep getting flak from atheists. Granted, I am a Christian, and Christians have been known to antagonize atheists from time to time. But I’m not out to antagonize anyone. I don’t make it my business to change the hearts and minds of the atheists of the world. Typically my beliefs are challenged out of the blue, apropos of nothing other than the fact that I’ve stated them in one or another public forum. I find myself being condescended to and scolded because I hold a certain set of beliefs. As if my holding those beliefs somehow injured the party scolding me. I find this odd, because I don’t feel that atheism in any way injures me, nor would I single out atheists as targets of reprimand. There seems to be a double-standard here. It seems as if the deck is loaded in some way. And I think I’m beginning to understand how.

The oldest saw in the atheists’ book is that an alleged “burden of proof” is placed on me, the believer, in order to justify my belief in God. This might be true if I were trying to convince an atheist to share my beliefs. But that is never the case. No one should require me to “prove” to myself why I believe something.

The most recent example of this was stated as follows: “Most atheists will tell you, and I’m one of them, that we do not believe for lack of evidence. And the burden of proof is on the one making a claim. Not the one denying it. If I tell you there is an invisible big pink giraffe eating skittles in my back yard, it would be on me to prove it.” Let’s examine this assertion with a critical eye. Because I believe that there’s an hegemony at the heart of it which is intellectually disingenuous.

First, the above comments equate proof with evidence, despite the fact that they are hardly synonymous. Evidence may be stronger or weaker, but proof is undeniable. And proof — what we think of as absolute truth — is both highly elusive and paradoxical. The challenge I would put to any atheist who proffers the line of argument stated above is: “Prove anything. Anything at all. Beyond any shadow of a doubt. Prove that any thing — any supposition, statement, or purported fact — is absolutely and unambiguously true beyond any possibility of being called into question, once and for all time.” I would be willing to bet that this challenge alone would cause many an atheist to stumble.

Evidence, on the other hand, is subjective. What qualifies as sufficient evidence for one person to believe a given assertion may be insufficient for another person. And neither of them can discount the other’s acceptance or rejection of that supposition, since that would imply that evidence must achieve the level of proof. Which would make it proof, not merely evidence. To put it differently, proof is a special case of evidence, evidence which is undeniable. But, as stated above, proof is elusive, such that most evidence does not constitute proof. What, and how much, evidence is sufficient to cause any given individual to believe any arbitrary assertion, thus, depends upon the individual. I cannot dictate these terms for you, nor can you dictate them for me.

And what of truth, of which proof is supposed to stand in support? Can we really know absolute truths? If we claim that we cannot, is that not, in itself, a claim of absolute truth? The paradoxes are astounding. And confounding. For me, the truth is that chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream. For you, the truth is that strawberry is the best flavor. So which is really the best flavor? What is the real truth about ice cream?

Atheists frequently cite science (as opposed to faith — in an unspoken assumption that these are two mutually exclusive concepts) as a search for truth. I would liken science’s search for truth to an explorer seeking the horizon. One can identify a point on the horizon and move towards it until it is reached, identified, named, mapped, and cataloged. But there is still a horizon off in the distance. Identifying the “ultimate” truth is like reaching the “ultimate” horizon: a fascinating, valuable, and enlightening journey, but one which can never end.

When atheists try to place the “burden of proof” on believers, they frame their argument in gibberish, whether they do so deliberately or not. Because they are the ones who posit proof as the only valid justification for belief, it is they who must live up to its rigors. Believers do not claim to have proof. They do claim to have sufficient evidence for themselves to believe that, for example, God exists. No one has the right to deny that I have evidence before me which is sufficient for me to believe that God exists. To try to beat me down under some supposed “burden of proof” is nonsensical: I never claimed to have proof, only faith. And, from where I’m sitting, science, that great pillar of atheism, certainly seems steeped, not in faith in God, but in faith nonetheless in an assumed absolute truth which may never be obtainable.

The bottom line is that I believe what I believe based on evidence which is sufficient for me. (And, I should note, I’m hardly a denier of science!) Similarly, atheists believe what they believe based on evidence which is sufficient for them. For an atheist to insist that I carry some burden of proof is just as ludicrous as my insisting that they carry some burden of faith. But what really upsets me is that I don’t wander around, uninvited, without any provocation, as if I had been somehow deeply wronged and offended, not just challenging, but actually belittling atheists and their beliefs. The beliefs of the atheists of the world are their own concern, and I have no objection to their holding them. Why, then, can they not allow me to believe as I choose, and to live that way in peace?

This is not a rhetorical question. I leave it up to the reader to draw what conclusions there may be.

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