There is something that lurks within every debate about The Controversy between evolution and creationism, but which is sometimes overlooked — the question of who has the burden of proof.
You have all heard of the burden of proof. Basically, it means that whoever makes a claim has the burden of supporting that claim. Literal proof isn’t required (except for something like mathematics), but at minimum the claimant must offer credible (i.e., verifiable) evidence that supports his position. Without that, there is nothing to talk about.
So what’s the situation when one is confronted by a creationist who sneers: Evolution? Oh yeah? Prove it!
Do you have the burden of proof? And if you fail to respond with a complete, college-level course in the theory of evolution, fully supported by abundant evidence, does the creationist challenger win by default? If those were the rules of engagement in science, then any ignoramus could win any debate with anyone about anything.
We suggest that when the subject is a long-accepted scientific theory, it’s a perversion of the burden of proof to challenge the theory with nothing other than “Oh yeah?” Why do we say that? Because for something (like evolution) to have achieved the universally-recognized status of a scientific theory, it has already met that burden. The original hypothesis has been challenged and tested again and again, and it has survived such challenges. That’s why it is regarded as a theory. It also makes predictions that can be demonstrated to be true (see, e.g.: The Lessons of Tiktaalik).
We aren’t living in the years before Darwin, when evolution was nothing but a vague idea, unsupported by an organized body of evidence and a testable mechanism. We’re now living 150 years later, and the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Thus it is the creationist who is making the claim. Specifically, his claim is that evolution is false — and it is therefore the creationist who has the burden of proof.
We’ve previously posted about the kind of evidence a creationist needs to produce. See: Where Are The Anachronistic Fossils? If such evidence is found and a better scientific explanation is provided (see Advice for Creationists), then evolution will join the list of superseded scientific theories. But not until then.
Therefore, when confronted by a creationist, don’t imagine that you are the one who must provide the evidence. That’s already been done by hundreds of thousands of scientists who have labored for generations. Library shelves groan with the weight of peer-reviewed journals describing their research, and the museums are bursting with evidence. The creationist may be unaware of this — or he may simply dismiss it — but that is his problem, not yours.
Just respond to such a challenge by saying: “If you have evidence that contradicts the theory, let’s see it. Then we’ll talk.”
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