How the Burden of Proof Works
The charts below are made to map out the various positions that a person may or may not have when it comes to the existence of God.
The first chart shows us the default positions for a given person. It is not correct to debate as though Atheism or Theism is the default. Some Atheists do try this, and probably some Theists too (but I’ve never seen anyone do this).
As you can see, Apathy (I don’t care) is the default. Once there is enough reason to care can we move onto Agnostic. It is “I don’t know” because no “knowledge” about the supposed God has been used so far. As soon as you use knowledge, you start pushing either left or right.
Interestingly, both the strongest Theist and the strongest Atheist will have the same position at some point in the argument — to argue someone out of apathy. This may be “the crazy religious people mean to kill us all, we must prove them wrong to stop them" or "your view on this matter will determine your eternal existence beyond this current life”.
(This can be used for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Pink Invisible Unicorns, fairies as well as Yaweh, Allah, Krishna etc. I am in the case of FSM, apathetic. No one has ever given me reason to care.)
The second chart is a slightly more detailed version to show the various gradients of Theism and Atheism as well as showing the role of the burden of proof to move about this diagram.
If all of Theism is destroyed by critical analysis and evidence, we are only reduced to Agnosticism. There must be further evidence and proof to draw us left towards Atheism. For this reason, Atheists do have the burden of proof. The same is obviously in reverse.
Small note: the positions of “reason”, “evidence”, and “skepticism” are arbitrary — not in order or particular positioning due to importance or timing or anything.
The grades of Theism and Atheism are from Professor Richard Dawkins, although I added “Atheism” and “Theism”. As Dawkins deftly points out, strong Atheists and Theists do not have a reasonable position, (as in, a position from reason). The same can be said for all of existence; we cannot be utterly certain other people exist and so on.
- “Weak …" means "leaning towards".
- “De facto …" means we act as though it is true.
- I would say “Atheist" and "Theist" means "certain within reason". Just as we are certain we exist or that the world exists.
- “Strong …" means 100% certainty, beyond the certainty from reasonable means.
Interestingly, Dawkin’s current stance that he “does not care” about Theism (as quoted from his response to William Lane Craig’s invitation to debate) seems to be very destructive to a positive Atheist cause.
Finally, I couldn’t think of any way you could reason or argue someone into apathy… as the very act of giving reasons is providing some kind of interest. But perhaps Professor Dawkins will enlighten us and explaining how he managed to slip back to apathy.