Copied from: The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager
The definition of atheism in its broadest form as the absence of belief in God has important implications with respect to who holds the burden of proof. If one makes a positive assertion, then the obligation is on that person to present the evidence for his case. Some theists, hoping to cover the weakness of the positive case for God’s existence try to shift the burden of proof onto the atheist. By defining atheism as a rival belief to theism-i.e. the belief that there is no God or gods-they then argue that if the atheist cannot provide positive proof that God (or any type of supernatural first cause) does not exist then they are in no better position than the theist. Indeed it is even claimed that being an atheist requires even more faith than a theist since the former has to believe he knows everything before he can know for certain that God does not exist.
Note however that by properly defining atheism as “without belief in theism”, this problem does not arise. As George H. Smith explained:
|When the atheist is seen as a person who lacks belief in a god, it becomes clear that he is not obligated to “prove” anything. The atheist qua atheist does not believe anything requiring demonstration; the designation “atheist” tells us , not what he believes to be true, but what he does not believe to be true. If others wish for him to accept the existence of a god, it is their responsibility to argue for the truth of theism-but the atheist is not similarly required to argue for the truth of atheism. 
Perhaps an analogy may help here. Suppose someone comes up to you and say “I believe there are three headed flying snakes in Jupiter. If you cannot prove me wrong, then my belief is as valid as yours.” You may perhaps point out to this person that what we know of reptilian biology and of the Jovian atmosphere, makes it very unlikely that snakes – regardless of how many heads they have – could survive in such an environment. However one could easily imagine the retort from the believer in the Jovian triune reptile, “Ha! You are simply asserting your non-belief without any proof. Until you can build a spacecraft which can scan every cubic inch of the Jovian planet, I consider your position to be irrational.” Furthermore he could argue that these snakes are such that they are simply undetectable by any known instrument made by man.
Thus even if you did send a spacecraft to Jupiter and manage to (impossibly) scan the whole volume of the planet, he could still assert that that does not prove the three headed, invisible, undetectable-by-any-instrument, flying snakes do not exist. You will finally reach a position of telling him, “How do you know that such an invisible, undetectable animal exists on Jupiter, if it is indeed invisible and undetectable?” In other words, he has to provide proof before you would even consider the case any further.
Removed from any emotional attachment to the argument one can easily see that in this specific case the believer’s position is absurd. The underlying reason is simple: anyone could make an absurd or extraordinary claim. It’s easy, all they have to do is to say it. To prove these claims wrong would take a great amount of effort and often times (as in the claims of an undetectable, invisible snake on Jupiter above) impossible. Clearly then, the burden of proof has to fall on the party making the positive claim.
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