The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fallacy: Burden of Proof

Includes: Appeal to Ignorance ("Ad Ignorantiam")

Description of Burden of Proof

Burden of Proof is a fallacy in which the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side. Another version occurs when a lack of evidence for side A is taken to be evidence for side B in cases in which the burden of proof actually rests on side B. A common name for this is an Appeal to Ignorance. This sort of reasoning typically has the following form:

  1. Claim X is presented by side A and the burden of proof actually rests on side B.
  2. Side B claims that X is false because there is no proof for X.

In many situations, one side has the burden of proof resting on it. This side is obligated to provide evidence for its position. The claim of the other side, the one that does not bear the burden of proof, is assumed to be true unless proven otherwise. The difficulty in such cases is determining which side, if any, the burden of proof rests on. In many cases, settling this issue can be a matter of significant debate. In some cases the burden of proof is set by the situation. For example, in American law a person is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty (hence the burden of proof is on the prosecution). As another example, in debate the burden of proof is placed on the affirmative team. As a final example, in most cases the burden of proof rests on those who claim something exists (such as Bigfoot, psychic powers, universals, and sense data).

Examples of Burden of Proof

  1. Bill: "I think that we should invest more money in expanding the interstate system."
    Jill: "I think that would be a bad idea, considering the state of the treasury."
    Bill: "How can anyone be against highway improvements?"

  2. Bill: "I think that some people have psychic powers."
    Jill: "What is your proof?"
    Bill: "No one has been able to prove that people do not have psychic powers."

  3. "You cannot prove that God does not exist, so He does."

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