Remember evil Professor Radisson, the philosophy professor in the 2014 Christian persecution-porn movie God’s Not Dead? On the first day of class, he insisted that his students write “God is dead” on a piece of paper and sign it. When plucky Christian student Josh refused to play along, Radisson demanded a public debate between them, with a large fraction of Josh’s grade dependent on the outcome. (My review of that movie is here.)
What should’ve happened, of course, was that Josh, with a Jedi hand gesture, says, “That challenge didn’t happen . . . or else I go to the dean.” I’d have reported the professor to the administration myself if I’d been in that class. That was a blatant violation of any conceivable faculty code of conduct.
The Christian burden of proof is such a . . . burden
Christian apologist Greg Koukl seems not to have figured out that that was just Hollywood when he introduced a similar situation Christians encounter when evangelizing Christianity.
I call it the Professor’s Ploy because professors like to use this. You go to class, and you have a professor that is bent on destroying your own convictions, and so they’re going to go after Christianity as often as they can in the class.
Sure, that sounds plausible. Professors have nothing better to do than be mean to Christians, right? The subject they’re actually teaching—French Literature, Intro to Quantum Mechanics, or Tudor England—is subservient to Academia’s primary goal of making baby Jesus cry.
Koukl’s “Professor’s Ploy” imagines the student protesting the Christianity-bashing, and he sketches out a brief hypothetical discussion between the plucky Christian student and the wicked atheist professor and then imagines that the professor is impressed by the kid’s determination. He offers the student a few minutes in front of the class to explain whatever aspect of Christian apologetics they were discussing.
Uh, no, apparently not. You’d think that this would be the goal. It might be enough time to plant the seeds in a few souls that would eventually grow into Christian conviction. In the same way that God gave Moses the words to speak to Pharaoh, you’d think that he would guide the evangelist. But no, in the topsy-turvy world of Christian persecution, the student has been ensnared by the Professor’s Ploy, which now places the burden of proof on the student. Apparently, speaking the Good News to a captive audience (yet more of what would never actually happen in a regular, non-Christian university) isn’t a good thing. One wonders when the Christian is supposed to take a stand and defend it. But more on that later.
Another shirking of the burden of proof
Jim Wallace of the Cold-Case Christianity ministry gives a murder scene as his example. One detective thinks the coworker did it and another thinks it was the girlfriend. Wallace imagines himself as one of those detectives and says:
We both have the same burden of proof to explain why it is our proposed cause can explain the evidence in this scene. Both of us share the same burden of proof.
I agree. Given the fact that someone was murdered, it’s plausible that it was someone known to the victim. There’s symmetry here—each detective is proposing a hypothesis, each of which must be defended. There is no default hypothesis that must be overturned.
But things go off the rails when he moves on to imagine two people arguing about the origin of the universe. One says it’s natural, and the other says it was caused by a divine being. He cheerfully admits that the divine being arguer has a burden of proof. But then he says,
Do you see that both of us have an equal burden?
Nope. One person is on the side of the default explanation, and the other is making the most incredible explanation possible. The burden is not equal. We know coworkers and girlfriends exist, not so gods and the supernatural.
The symmetry we had before—two people each arguing their plausible hypothesis—is gone. Now we have one person arguing for a natural explanation for a phenomenon in nature and another making the grandest, most incredible claim possible, that a supernatural being created everything. In this case, there is a default. We know countless examples of natural explanations, many of which overturned pre-scientific supernatural explanations (no, lightning doesn’t come from heaven, God doesn’t cause famine, etc.). That’s the default. We can keep an open mind about the supernatural, but that explanation is the upstart, and it has the burden of proof.
We’ll look at two different definitions of “burden of proof” in part 2.
why aren’t we all, like . . . invisible?
— Father Guido Sarducci
Image from Gabriela Fab, CC license