(This post assumes the reader has a general understanding of what the Burden of Proof is so no explanation is provided)
I have noticed a problematic trend occurring in many debates where one or both sides will claim that the “Burden of Proof” is on their opponent’s position and accuse them of having not met that threshold.
The concept of the Burden of Proof is valid of course, but I think it is often being misapplied or used in ways that are not effective.
What I have been seeing is that people will assert that the Burden of Proof rests upon their opponents as a way of avoiding the responsibility of themselves providing reasons for their own position. A person A may simply claim that the Burden of Proof rests on their opponent, person B, although person A has not provided a sufficient explanation for why the Burden of Proof rests there.
This hinders discussion because usually both sides think that their side has met the Burden of Proof. In fact, that is why people are debating in the first place: both sides already think they know which ideas are most supported by the evidence and which are not.
I think that is something most people do not understand: Determining where to assign the Burden of Proof rests itself requires one’s complete arguments and evidence that are pertinent to the issue. In effect, the actual goal of any debate is to argue where the Burden of Proof rests. Once you establish where the Burden of Proof rests then the argument is concluded because then it is clear which position is the most reasonable belief. The Burden of Proof itself must be established.
In other words, determining where the Burden of Proof lies and where it does not is synonymous with determining the least and most rational conclusions. It really must be understood as the goal of many debates, not a starting point.
So in most debates, everyone must present their reasons, not assume only the other side bears that burden. Remember that the Burden of Proof only applies when a thing is not yet evidenced. But when disagreement exists over evidence itself – such as what evidence even exists and what its implications are – then no Burden of Proof can be established and all parties must present their case for comparison.
Another problem with using the term “Burden of Proof” is that it may have the implication to some people that the discussion is about absolute certainty – literal proof- rather than providing sufficient evidence to indicate whether one view is more likely correct than another. This can cause confusion and result in a lot of fallacious reasoning because some people will focus on a lack of absolute knowledge as justification for them to use Arguments from Ignorance.
If you debate with someone who believes that faith, in the sense of “belief without evidence”, is a logically way to determine true beliefs, then evidence – and by extension the Burden of Proof – clearly does not matter to them so even bringing it up is useless. What you must do in these cases is explain why faith is unreliable as a means of discerning truth and falsehood.