Burden tennis

Burden tennis is an intellectual parlor game, wherein the players “hit” the “burden of proof” across the net from one side to the other.  We see this expressed as “the burden is in your court” or “the burden of proof is yours”, with often both sides making similar statements.

Burden tennis can be a fun game to watch, but it is sometimes wiser to avoid being a participant.

Note:  I did not invent the term “burden tennis”.  I saw that being used on the net somewhere many years ago.  But it seems like a good term.

This post is really a reply to Patrick’s post in the moderation thread.  I’ve started a new thread, because the discussion really doesn’t belong there.

As far as I know, the expression “burden of proof” comes from law.  With the assumption that the defendent is innocent until the charges are proved, the burden of proof is initially with the prosecution.

Even in courts, the standard of evidence is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” for criminal trials, and “the preponderance of evidence” for civil trials.  Both of those standards fall short of “demonstrated fact”.  And both are ambiguous in meaning and ultimately up to the subjective judgment of the jurors.

I largely agree with hotshoe_ about this.  The frequent demand for facts sometimes gets out of hand.

If I had required factual evidence for everything that my school teachers said, I would never have graduated out of kindergarten.  The demand for evidence seems to come from the idea that “knowledge is justified true belief.”  I see that as an absurd definition of knowledge.  Children do learn from stories such as “Little Red Riding Hood” even though they know it is fiction.  They aren’t learning facts.  They are learning ways of interacting with other people and with the external world.

If I open a newspaper (either print or online), I may come across a sudoku puzzle and a crossword puzzle.  Solving the sudoku puzzle is completely a matter of facts and logical reasoning.  But solving a crossword puzzle has very little to do with facts.  The clues are often ambiguous, and deliberately so.  We never know if we have the correct answer to a specific clue, where “correct” means “intended by the puzzle author.”  But, when we are done, we see that all of the answers fit together in such a way that it is highly likely that we have the correct solution.

In what follows, I’ll use the terms “sudoku evidence” and “crossword evidence”.

Sudoku evidence: demonstrated facts that lead to a logical conclusion.

Crossword evidence: things all fit together in such a way that the conclusion seems highly likely (or “consilience”).

When I deny that “knowledge = justified true belief”, I’m really suggesting that the bulk of our knowledge is in the form of a wealth of causal connections into the world such as would allow us to make good decisions based on crossword evidence.

Most of what we do and learn in life depends on crossword evidence, rather than sudoku evidence.  At this forum, we sometimes see Frankie/JoeG asserting that there is no evidence for evolution.  Presumably he is talking about sudoku evidence, and he might be right about that.  But there’s a wealth of crossword evidence.

So, back to the burden of proof.

My own view is that the burden of proof lies with the one who wants to persuade others.  When hotshoe_ says “Now I accept that as a consequence you may choose not to believe that I have stated a fact” she is saying that she is not particularly concerned whether others are persuaded.  So, on my view, there is no burden of proof.  And if others do not accept what she said, there is no burden of proof on them either.  There can be a lot of useful and informative discussion without playing burden tennis.  And most of our decision making in ordinary life is based on crossword evidence.  Likewise, science is very much dependent on crossword evidence.  Mathematics mostly depends on sudoku evidence.  However, setting up a new and useful axiom system can depend on crossword evidence.

Open for discussion.

802 thoughts on “Burden tennis

  1. petrushka: If you seriously wish to reduce the frequency of ill mannered posting, don’t respond to it.

    But that requires discipline and self-control.

  2. Mung,

    But that requires discipline and self-control.

    Only lapses come to your attention … d’oh!

  3. I’ve done a lot of blabbing on this thread, but I haven’t commented specifically on the (interesting) OP, I don’t think. I generally agree with it, except for the criticism of justified true belief as the basic criterion for knowledge. (Rough only, because of Gettier counter-examples.) I don’t see why the fact that children can learn things from (fictional) nursery stories should suggest that it is an incorrect standard.

    But that’s largely a quibble. I think the important point that Neil makes is that one has to start somewhere. keiths has made the point–which I agree with–that knowledge does not require certainty. But on both sides of this issue we can find (a sort of “religious”) sentiment that there is some rock-solid resting point from which no additional questions may be raised.

    “God,” FMM says. “It’s God on which we must depend for all that we know. God is the basis of logic, of reasoning, etc. Even to deny Him is to assert His existence.”

    “Objective empirical evidence,” Patrick counters. “It’s only that on which we may depend. That’s the fundament of all knowledge. It must be or science couldn’t be depended upon. Oho.”

    Both of those views, the theistic and the positivistic, seem to me simplistic and religious. If there is no God’s-eye view, neither the preacher nor the physicist should insist on having the last word on the basis of claims. We cannot throw off our own glasses to see which categories are the correct ones. We test our worldviews using such notions as consistency, parsimony and fruitfulness, and, I hope it’s obvious, there are no objective scientific reasons for believing that only what is parsimonious or consistent can be true. (I suppose there could be claimed to be religious reasons, but they seem to me dubious.)

    We simply stop somewhere, just as we do when questioned about the external world or (as FMM points out) other minds. So the “far right” and “far left” positions here seem to me about equally confused and have much more in common than they may realize.

    Anyhow, that’s why I like Neil’s OP.

  4. walto,

    For some reason I always get this picture of a rotund fellow who often blurts out, ‘Oho!’ at inappropriate times.

    The closest thing to that at TSZ is TomMueller yelling “Basta!” at people.

  5. I think that yelling “I WANT THE TRUTH” would be more appropriate.

    Because that’s what this is all about right? Someone might way something that’s not true, and the best way to find out whether or not it is true is to demand that they support their claim or retract it?

    Or is it about licensed obnoxiousness.

  6. Mung,

    If you experience skepticism as “licensed obnoxiousness”, no wonder you are unhappy with TSZ.

    Perhaps you should give TFAZ (The False Accusation Zone) or TEFZ (The Evidence-Free Zone) a try. Those are much better venues for those lacking “that integrity thingy” and/or reasoned argumentation skills.

  7. So will you “skeptics” be asking if you can sign the Dissent From Darwinism? Perhaps we need to add a link from the Rules page.

    Encourage people to be skeptical! Unless they are students in a public school.

    LoL.

  8. Mung,

    So will you “skeptics” be asking if you can sign the Dissent From Darwinism?

    Why would we?

    Skepticism isn’t about disbelieving everything, Mung. It’s about withholding belief in cases where it isn’t warranted by the evidence. Modern evolutionary theory doesn’t fall into that category.

  9. Mung: So will you “skeptics” be asking if you can sign the Dissent From Darwinism?

    No way. I don’t have to dissent from Darwinism, since I never assented to it.

    That document is hosted by the dishonesty institute. If I sign it, they will count me as a wacko nutjob (i.e. an ID proponent).

  10. Mung,

    You have your religion and I have mine.

    Fixed that for you:

    You have your science and I have my religion.

  11. The Skeptical Fathers might ought to explain and defend their “skepticism” to the unwashed masses before declaring it to be the Official Sanctified Religion of the Land.

  12. walto: Four legs good. Two legs better!

    Animals came from miles around
    So tired of walking, so close to the ground
    They needed a change, that’s what they said
    Life is better walking on two legs
    But they were in for a big surprise

    (What is the law?)
    No spill blood
    What is the law?
    (No spill blood)

    (And who makes the rules?)
    Someone else
    Who makes the rules?
    (Someone else)

    Rules are now written in the stone
    Break the rules and you get no bones
    All you get is ridicule, laughter
    And a trip to the house of pain

    (What is the law?)
    No spill blood
    What is the law?
    (No spill blood)

    (Who makes the rules?)
    Someone else
    Who makes the rules?
    (Someone else)

    We walk on two legs not on four
    To walk on four legs breaks the law
    What happens when we break the law?

    What happens when the rules aren’t fair?
    We all know where we go from there
    To the house of pain, to the house of pain
    To the house of pain, to the house of pain
    To the house of pain

    Animals came from miles around
    So tired of walking, so close to the ground
    They needed a change, that’s what they said
    Life is better walking on two legs
    But they were in for a big surprise

    What is the law?
    (No spill blood)
    What is the law?
    (No spill blood)

    Who makes the rules?
    (Someone else)
    And who makes the rules?
    (Someone else)

    We walk on two legs not on four
    To walk on four legs breaks the law
    What happens when we break the law?

    What happens when the rules aren’t fair?
    We all know where we go from there
    To the house of pain, to the house of pain
    To the house of pain, to the house of pain
    To the house of pain, to the house of pain

    Oingo Boingo – No Spill Blood Lyrics | MetroLyrics

  13. Mung:
    The Skeptical Fathers might ought to explain and defend their “skepticism” to the unwashed masses before declaring it to be the Official Sanctified Religion of the Land.

    Fair enough Mung. Here’s mine: I am skeptical of any and all claims regarding subjects/concepts/phenomena that have no repeatable, predictable, and consistent basis.

  14. Mung:
    So will you “skeptics” be asking if you can sign the Dissent From Darwinism? Perhaps we need to add a link from the Rules page.

    Encourage people to be skeptical! Unless they are students in a public school.

    LoL.

    First things first. I’m going to have to sign Dissent from Newtonism before I sign Dissent from Darwinism, and I haven’t been able to do so.

    Yes, because denial is what skepticism is all about, or at least that is how non-skeptics characterize it to be.

    Glen Davidson

  15. Did you know that the good Reverend lost a good chunk of change on Assange’s bail?
    I hope the UN beats the UK into submission and he gets his money back…

  16. Mung:
    I think that yelling “I WANT THE TRUTH” would be more appropriate.

    Because that’s what this is all about right? Someone might way something that’s not true, and the best way to find out whether or not it is true is to demand that they support their claim or retract it?

    You’re getting closer. The best way we’ve found to determine whether or not a claim is more or less likely to be more or less true is reason, logic, evidence, and the other tools of skepticism and the scientific method. The goals of this site are:

    But the idea here is to provide a venue where people with very different priors can come to discover what common ground we share; what misunderstandings of other views we hold; and, having cleared away the straw men, find out where our real differences lie. In my experience, when you reach that point, who is right becomes obvious to both parties

    Skepticism is essential to those goals, hence this quote of Reciprocating Bill on the Rules page:

    Participation at this site entails obligations similar to those that attend playing a game. While there is no objective moral obligation to answer questions, the site has aims, rules and informal stakeholders, just as football has same. When violations of those aims and rules are perceived and/or the enforcement of same is seen as arbitrary or inconsistent, differences and conflicts arise. No resort to objective morality, yet perfectly comprehensible and appropriate opprobrium.

    Do you object to those goals? To the idea of game rules?

    Or is it about licensed obnoxiousness.

    Do you think that asking someone to support their claims is inherently obnoxious?

  17. Is anyone working on drafting a Skeptical Catechism? You’ll want that, won’t you, for new converts?

  18. It is an historical fact that the aggressive man, being stronger, bolder, and nobler, has at all times had the better view, the clearer conscience on his side.

    – Nietzsche

  19. Patrick: Do you think that asking someone to support their claims is inherently obnoxious?

    I think that you and keiths are two of the most odious people here. I don’t see any good reason to encourage you to further heights of obnoxiousness.

  20. The great majority of men have no right to existence, but are a misfortune to higher men.

    – Nietzsche

    I think the problem here as that we just don’t know what it’s like to be you. Can’t you rather think of us as a cross you must bear?

  21. Patrick:

    Do you think that asking someone to support their claims is inherently obnoxious?

    Mung:

    I think that you and keiths are two of the most odious people here. I don’t see any good reason to encourage you to further heights of obnoxiousness.

    Like I said:

    Shorter Mung:

    But I don’t like skepticism! Make it go away!

  22. keiths:
    Alan,

    Don’t be shy.Tell us what your hypothesis is, how you evaluated the data, and what your conclusions are.

    You might also want to publish the raw data.

    Not sure where to post the screenshot. Moderation issues perhaps,

  23. Mung: I think that you and keiths are two of the most odious people here. I don’t see any good reason to encourage you to further heights of obnoxiousness.

    Realz before feelz.

  24. Alan:

    PS

    Glancing at site statistics, from installing the statistics plugin, towards the end of last year, there was a gently rising trend from around 500 unique daily visits to 600 with a peak of 1400 one day in November. There’s been a gentle decline since then. Yesterday we were down to 210. Just for information.

    “Don’t know what you got till it’s gone!”

    keiths:

    Alan,

    Don’t be shy. Tell us what your hypothesis is, how you evaluated the data, and what your conclusions are.

    You might also want to publish the raw data.

    Alan has posted the data in the Moderation Issues thread, though we still await his hypothesis, methodology, and conclusions.

  25. Mung: So much, in that little word, better. Surely it implies an objective standard toward which something is moving.

    Are we going to be making TSZ into the bestest skeptical site on the net?

    It needs skeptics. People who accept evolutionism cannot be considered as skeptics

  26. Some statements are true, and some are lies, and truth is preferable to deception.

    Calling these “game rules” is a deception, but sadly that’s the best you can do.

  27. Mung,

    Some statements are true, and some are lies, and truth is preferable to deception.

    Tattoo that on the back of your hand, Mung.

  28. Frankie: People who accept evolutionism cannot be considered as skeptics

    People accept X only because X fits the data better than all proposed alternatives.

    Present Y where Y fits the evidence better and it shall be accepted. That is all.

  29. I’ve just seen this quoted Mung comment:

    Encourage people to be skeptical! Unless they are students in a public school.

    They really don’t get it do they? They really don’t understand why their agenda is abhorrent to most people. We all know what “encourage people to be skeptical” actually turns out to be. It means put religion in the classroom. I’m sure Mung would deny that’s his intent, but he knows that’s what happens in the end. And still encourages it.

    I say we sneak into their churches and hand out leaflets encouraging children to be skeptical that Jesus even existed. Fair’s fair right?

  30. OMagain: I’m sure Mung would deny that’s his intent, but he knows that’s what happens in the end.

    Such a reader of minds are you.

  31. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.

    – FrankenMung

  32. Mung,

    You will never be happy until skepticism is eradicated from The Skeptical Zone.

    Prepare for a long wait.

  33. Their beliefs or plans have no special claim to be true, or good, or beautiful, since none of these categories exist.

    – Richard Weikart

  34. I wonder if Patrick, DNA_Jock, and keiths all think that safe, effective moral enhancement ought to be compulsory.

  35. Mung:
    I wonder if Patrick, DNA_Jock, and keiths all think that safe, effective moral enhancement ought to be compulsory.

    You’re still thinking like an authoritarian, Mung.

    An it harm none, do what ye will.

  36. Your intent, Patrick, is to mold the expectations of others, presumable to make them into your own image. Because, you know, your way is better.

  37. Mung:
    Your intent, Patrick, is to mold the expectations of others, presumable to make them into your own image. Because, you know, your way is better.

    Nope. I’ve made my position quite clear in several comments. Please re-read them.

  38. Mung:
    Their beliefs or plans have no special claim to be true, or good, or beautiful, since none of these categories exist.

    – Richard Weikart

    Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.

    – Philip Johnson, American Family Radio (10 January 2003)

    All science and skepticism, huh Mung? You’re doing a fine job, you little Wedge soldier you!

  39. Robin: All science and skepticism, huh Mung? You’re doing a fine job, you little Wedge soldier you!

    But so underappreciated.

  40. Well Patrick, don’t you think you should get all your little “skeptics” straightened out before you try to go to work on the rest of us who don’t buy in to your agenda?

  41. Mung: But so underappreciated.

    Au contraire! I for one greatly appreciate the work you’re doing to discredit ID to help us skeptics see ID in a more accurate light. Really…don’t sell yourself short there Mung…

  42. Reason, says the sceptic, is the only judge of truth, and you ought to throw off every opinion and every belief that is not grounded on reason. Why, Sir, should I believe the faculty of reason more than that of perception; they came both out of the same shop, and were made by the same artist; and if he puts one piece of false ware into my hands, what should hinder him from putting another?

    – Thomas Reid

  43. The position of the sceptic who questions without denying is impregnable.

    – Bertrand Russell

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