TIP of the day (logic): Burden of proof - Scripture says vs. Scripture teaches

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Mon, Feb 29 2016 1:13 AM

On the concept of burden of proof as it applies in apologetics:

Wikipedia: Philosophical burden of proof:

In epistemology, the burden of proof (Latin: onus probandi) is the obligation on a party in a dispute to provide sufficient warrant for their position.

Holder of the burden

When two parties are in a discussion and one asserts a claim that the other disputes, the one who asserts has a burden of proof to justify or substantiate that claim. An argument from ignorance occurs when either a proposition is assumed to be true because it has not yet been proved false or a proposition is assumed to be false because it has not yet been proved true. This has the effect of shifting the burden of proof to the person criticizing the proposition.

. . .

In public discourse

Burden of proof is also an important concept in the public arena of ideas. Once participants in discourse establish common assumptions, the mechanism of burden of proof helps to ensure that all parties contribute productively, using relevant arguments.

Proving a negative

A negative claim is a colloquialism for an affirmative claim that asserts the non-existence or exclusion of something. . . .

A negative claim may or may not exist as a counterpoint to a previous claim. A proof of impossibility or an evidence of absence argument are typical methods to fulfill the burden of proof for a negative claim

1. If one asserts "the Bible says" you are only required to provide one example where the Bible says it in the plain meaning, what you assert that the Bible says.

  • If I assert that Elhanan killed Goliath, I need only to quote 2 Sam 21:19.
  • If I assert that David killed Goliath, I need only to quote 1 Sam 17

I can take either position and still have made a true statement. (See the Who Killed Goliath? interactive for an explanation.)

2. If one asserts "the Bible teaches" you are implying that the Bible consistently makes the statement. You need to look at all passages on the topic and show that they either support your assertion OR are not relevant to it OR any apparent contradiction is not truly a contradiction.

So if I were to make a statement such as "The Bible teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation", I would begin by running two items:

a) a Bible search on the word "baptize, baptism" or a Bible Word Study on the equivalent Greek words - here I am reasonable confident that anyplace speaking of baptism will use the word. On many topics, I would need to consider the Old Testament as well and as the study progresses, I might go off on a tangent of purification rites and expand by queries.

b) the salvation portion of the assertion, is less certain to use the term "salvation" so it is more effective to run a Topic Guide on the topic.

I need to go through all the Biblical references found by these means and be open to adding to the list and divide the references into three categories:

  • clearly not relevant to my assertion
  • clearly supports my assertion
  • needs closer evaluation ... which is where the hard work of proving the assertion / meeting the burden of proof actual begins.

Why is it important to understand the concept of "burden of proof" - because one unfair argument tactic (fallacy) is trying to shift the burden of proof onto the other side when one realizes that they can't back up their assertion - either because of lack of knowledge or because they see a flaw in it.

P.S. I'll admit to often using a shortcut. Instead of saying "the Scriptures teach", I'll say "the Gospels teach" or "Paul teaches" to narrow the scope of my burden of proof. If, in fact, there are exceptions in the fuller Scripture, I trust my opponent to bring it up.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Juan Gabriel | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 29 2016 3:21 AM


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