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Common Fallacies: Shifting the Burden of Proof

As mentioned before, it is incumbent upon the writer to provide evidence or support for her position. To imply that a position is true merely because no one has disproved it is to shift the burden of proof to others.



Since no one has been able to prove God’s existence, there must not be a God.

There are two major weaknesses in this argument. First, the fact that God’s existence has yet to be proven does not preclude any future proof of existence. Second, if there is a God, one would expect that his existence is independent of any proof by man.


Reasoning by shifting the burden of proof is not always fallacious. In fact, our legal system is predicated on this method of thought. The defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty. This assumption shifts the onus of proof to the state. Science can also validly use this method of thought to better understand the world—so long as it is not used to claim “truth.” Consider the following argument: “The multitude of theories about our world have failed to codify and predict its behavior as well as Einstein’s theory of relativity. Therefore, our world is probably Einsteinian.” This argument is strong so long as it is qualified with “probably”—otherwise it is fallacious: someone may yet create a better theory of our world.

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