I’ve noticed that atheists on twitter have been confusing and conflating the burden of proof, a convention for debates, with a more general principle of epistemic hygiene. By epistemic hygiene, I mean taking care to believe true things and disbelieve in false things.
The argument goes something like this: If you don’t follow the burden of proof, you’ll be obligated to believe EVERYTHING, even absurd things without evidence. Now, this is two distinct ideas that have been conflated and tangled. One is whether someone is obligated in general to prove their claims (he is not). The other is what claims should you believe?
Following the right policies and judgments with what you believe is proper epistemic hygiene. Now this is where it gets interesting. Many important things are believed not on the basis of someone explaining the evidence for their existence, but by a direct ‘grasping’ or ‘seeing’ of them with the intellect. However, this ability can be broken, either in general or in certain circumstances. So the question is then, what can we grasp with certainty?
We can grasp things with certainty if we can ‘see’ the truth of them with the mind and have a web of beliefs that support that grasping. This web of beliefs can indeed be inspected by discourse, and the broad discourse of the wise is the standard of which it should be tested.
We cannot affirm all of our beliefs as individuals, but must look at the total work of all of humanity through time to come to reasonable certainty on anything.
The real history of Halloween and plus general Non-Atheist hijinx!
“There’s no such thing as truth, epistemologically speaking.”
This is the response I got in response to mentioning that discourse is one of the best ways we have to find truth. From context, it seems to me that this means that we cannot know truth, or more generously, that we can’t know if we can know truth.
If first is the case, then everything reduces to language games and wisps of thought and beliefs without ground. We can’t know truth, so why believe in anything? Selecting belief systems for taste, or power, or arbitrarily is just as good.
If second is the case, that doesn’t free us of our moral obligation to know the truth to the best of our abilities. It may be the case that we can’t know truth, but it is a better life to live as though we can know what truth is.
Evidence is what gives a belief justification. There are many types of evidence, and the quality of evidence will depend both on the belief in question and what other beliefs you have. Physical evidence is only one kind of evidence. Not all evidence is repeatably verifiable, either. Some examples of non-physical evidence include the testimony of experts, direct experience and memory. All of our experience isn’t repeatable, and experience is one of the best justifications we have for our beliefs.
A proof or argument is what connects specific pieces of evidence to some claim. Arguments and proofs aren’t evidence, but they connect evidence to the claim being supported.
The “burden of proof” is merely a convention of how certain discussions happen. It is not a rule of logic or a general obligation. I much prefer the Socratic standard: When you’re in a conversation, do your best to speak truth and help find errors of the people you’re speaking with.
If you don’t accept that the person making the claim has to prove their claim, you are under no obligation to belief anything without evidence. There are many types of evidence, some of which you already have at hand that you can use to test their claim using your own reasoning.
When someone makes a claim, you can also simply withhold judgment. There is no reason that you are obligated to believe or disbelieve. However, if they are making an error, it is helpful and respectful to point out how they are making an error and why you believe that it is indeed an error.
Max and Jack, both non-Atheists, used to be part of the Men’s Rights Movement. We still talk about it on occasion because the issues are real and matter–and toxic Atheism pollutes that entire movement.