The Burden of Truth

A large part of my personal philosophy is bound up in the recognition of moral absolutes, Truth, Justice, and Mercy, with Truth at the top of the list. I seem not to be alone in the search for Truth -- the quest is older than Diogenes -- but many people put up unnecessary roadblocks to their own search. Dialog with one of them (Cary Cook) -- initially direct, but now only indirectly -- stimulated my thinking on the burden of proof in the case of the allegation of lies.

Cook has spent a lot of time and effort carefully defining his concepts. He acknowledges that for "a statement [that] is verifiable but not falsifiable, [the] burden of proof rests on him who says it is true." He makes no complementary concession for the reverse. I consider the asymmetry significant. I came to this conclusion before looking to see what he had said about it, and was gratified to find him in agreement.

Imagine some statement P, which person A claims is true, and B claims it is false. Apart from any individual facts of the matter, if the burden of proof is on the claim of truth, then any additional data brought to bear on the topic can be dismissed without further effort by asserting it too is a lie. To show that P is true may require examining all the facts of the universe, to demonstrate that there is no inconsistency between any of them and P; whereas to show P is false requires only examination of any single accepted fact that contradicts it.

Therefore, when the naturalists want to argue (as Cook did in our brief direct dialog) from "a prejudice against unnecessary miracles that would have been as easily explained by human ignorance or lying," the burden of proof is on them to show that the alleged miracle report is a lie. This they normally cannot do apart from a presupposition of naturalism (what I called "Axiom 3x" in my essay), which invalidly asserts that miracles can be precluded because they cannot happen.


We still have the problem of determining if statement P is true or false. I have found a couple of fairly robust ways to make an educated guess (see also my BS detector).

People tend to project their own values on others. Therefore, if they think everybody is lying, they are more likely to not be telling the truth themselves. Honest people tend to assume others are honest.

Much more reliable than that, people are more likely to lie for personal gain than if it brings themselves only harm. But because Truth is a moral absolute, people will be motivated to tell the truth even at personal cost. Chuck Colson, one of Nixon's Watergate insiders, points out that a handful of men in the most powerful office in the world, who had everything to lose and nothing to gain by confessing to the truth about the "cover-up", these guys could not contain the secret for two weeks. This is a powerful discriminant.

Tom Pittman
2008 January 8

Related Essays:

What Really Matters
Living in Crete
On Truth and Honesty
Open Source Truth
On Persuasion

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