Say doctrine A claims premise X to be true, and Y to be false.

Say doctrine B claims premises X and Y to be true.

There is some sense (I believe; you might want to confirm), in which the "burden of proof" is tilted to the side of B. This is, there is no "responsibility" for individuals in A to justify "why Y is not true" (or at least lower than that of individuals in B in justifying Y).

Now, let us add a temporal dimension.

Let us say that first, it was doctrine B. Then, a rupture appeared, whereas a group of individuals denied Y. Thus appeared doctrine A.

Given this temporal structure, is it now the "burden of proof" tilted towards the side of A? In a sense, they rejected Y, thereby giving origin to the second doctrine. Is this the case if we focus only on the individuals belonging to A and B (i.e. those who believe in X), without requiring them to prove to the rest of the world that actually, X is true?

Is this analysis of a philosophical school? Does this analysis has a name? How can I approach this question from a philosophical point of view? Any reference is more than welcomed.

PS: Behind this abstract question, lays an analysis of the history of Christianty, whereby Reformation emerged primarily as a negation of many Catholic doctrines. I think the question itself is independent of this background, but it might be informative to give it anyway.

PS2: I hope tags are well selected. Please change if not the case.

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    There is a difference between X only, and X and not Y. The situation between "X and Y" (faith) and "X and not Y" (atheism) is symmetric, both have equal burden of proof. Those for "X only" have it reduced, but they do not either accept or reject Y, they are agnostic about it. The temporal succession of events does not matter, other things being equal. But typically other things are not equal. Tradition usually has "tried and true" evidentiary support and so is taken as the default. To displace it one has to meet the burden of undermining it, even for doubting rather than rejecting.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 23:58
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    "...both have equal burden of proof." -- it's good reading that. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 7:34
  • @Conifold Good distinction. I actually meant X and not Y (because of my example). Also, is that an answer? Please make it so if positive.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 10:26
  • You are confused that only one side has a burden. In proper deductive reasoning all sides have the burden of proof for any proposition true or false. So if you are one who claims y is false then you have the burden to show y is actually false. The same rules apply if you say y is true. Perhaps science gives the idea only one side has a burden because allegedly you can't prove a negative. Proof is not 100 percent in science so this is odd to believe. I can't prove there are not tiny nomes on the edge of my fork when eating. I can show reasonable doubt not certainty. No certainty in science.
    – Logikal
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


The question posted here has two sets of assumptions.

In general, the question under debate is stated in the affirmative, and its advocate has the burden of proof.

As the posted question opens, there is no status quo, no overriding doctrine. There are only two competing belief systems. Here, Doctrine B has the burden of proving "X and Y". Doctrine A does not have the burden of proving the negative not-Y. As a practical matter, advocates of A might offer proof showing that not-Y is true, but this a political burden and not a matter of logic.

The temporal dimension

Let us say that first, it was doctrine B. Then, a rupture appeared, whereas a group of individuals denied Y. Thus appeared doctrine A.

When the passage of time becomes a factor, Doctrine A accepts the task of showing that "X and not Y" is true. Doctrine B (X and Y) is the status quo. The advocate for Doctrine A is saying that the status quo should change. The advocate for change has the burden: why should people believe something different from what they believe now? In the absence of some burden, no doctrine is more justified than any other.

As a practical matter, given the popularity of A's new idea, or the effectiveness of A as an orator or writer, B might have to act sooner than B wants to. But this practical burden is different from the logical burden.

  • Your answer and that in the comments (Conifold) seem to be contradictory. The relationship between first and second paragraph in yours is also unclear. Can you please elaborate? Also, what strand of philosophy/logic is this? Where can I find out more?
    – luchonacho
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 10:21
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    See "Does a negative claimant have a burden of proof?" which is here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/678/… The question attracted 13 answers. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 19:35
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    @luchonacho There is no contradiction as far as I can tell. The case of taking no position on Y is simply not discussed in this answer. The accepted answer under the above link also says "the burden of proof falls on whomever is making a claim, regardless of the positive or negative nature of that claim." This is studied in Argumentation theory.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 21:45
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    @MarkAndrews Assuming that the first sentence is true, the burden of proof of the first sentence falls on you; unfortunately, however, this answer has so far failed to prove that the advocate has the burden of proof, and hence one cannot assume the first sentence, a contradiction. This answer could be improved if it were logically consistent. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:55

The "Burden of Proof" is a popular concept, but if you really look at it, it's just a cheeky way to end arguments that people don't want to hear.

That being said, I think the burden of proof would go on the individual who is seeking to convince someone else of something. If group B is actively trying to convert group A, then the burden of proof would generally sit on B, no matter the order in which these things occurred. Same would go for group A if they were actively trying to convert the group.

But in practical reality, the burden of proof is always on others, so whatever we believe in is the unassailable truth. It's the other side that must do the assailing.

Perhaps that last paragraph is overstepping a bit, but it does seem to be quite accurate. The heretics always believe they are the ones with the legitimate truth!

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