I recently had an online discussion with a young atheist who was under the impression that as a theist, the burden of proof is upon me to prove his accusations against the Bible are false. Many atheists say this, that the burden of proof is on the Christian to prove our case. But I don’t think this is right. While we should offer proofs as part of our apologetic, and we should offer counter-arguments against the atheist’s claims. The real burden of proof lies with the atheist. Here’s why.
The Bible is the first to make a claim about Jesus, it provides eyewitness testimony that anyone can examine. Because the Bible makes the first claim, it is then the atheist’s role to issue a rebuttal of that claim. In other words, the atheist must demonstrate why the eyewitness testimony is false. Usually, the atheist will make counterclaims about the biblical text, apparent (but not actual) difficulties in scripture, and a general apologetic about why a god is not possible. But there’s one thing an atheist avoids whenever he can. I’ll get to that in a moment.
The atheist claims that we must not shift the burden of proof to them. “Yours is the burden of proof,” they say. But we must not forget that we have already offered the evidence. Just like a case in court, the atheist must offer rebuttal to the evidence already provided.
To make things simple and to keep the atheist on track, we should be focused on the resurrection of Jesus. That is the one thing the atheist avoids addressing. I Corinthians 15:17 tells us that the entire case for Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
So there it is, the ultimate offer to the atheist to make his case: If the resurrection can be falsified, then Jesus is not the Son of God and our faith is in vain.
Now, let me switch audiences.
Atheist, can you demonstrate the eyewitness testimony of the resurrection to be false? If you cannot, then the biblical testimony is left standing as valid evidence that Christianity is true. It is not enough to say that resurrection is impossible. Such a statement is a claim, but not a form of evidence. You must be able to demonstrate why the specific historical testimony is false. For if Jesus is raised from the dead then what he said about himself is true and this requires our assent.
Atheist, the burden of proof is not on the Christian. The Christian’s claims about Jesus are already on record to be examined. The historical testimony is a matter of public record, and has been so for 2,000 years. Therefore, the burden of proof is upon you. Did Jesus rise from the dead or not? Is the specific eyewitness testimony a mistake or a deliberate lie? If you are to make a reasonable case that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then you must be able to demonstrate that the specific written testimony of the eyewitnesses is false. If you cannot do that, then you must consider the possibility that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be.
To help you along in your efforts, I’ll provide you with the references where you can find the eyewitness testimony about Jesus’ resurrection.
John 20 & 21
Acts 1:1-11, 9:1-9, 22:-10
I Corinthians 15:3-7