Shifting the burden of proof

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Shifting the burden of proof is an effort to free a hypothesis or persuasive argument in debate from the burden of proof by shifting that burden onto an opponent. The critic is deliberately placed in the position of trying to prove a negative, or to prove a null hypothesis, with respect to the original assertive statement. Often it is associated with the blurring of the issue and hiding the true speculative character of the hypothesis in order to confuse opponents and/or audiences untrained in logical argumentation. According to sound science, the theorist making a historically important claim must assume the responsibility of proof, not the critic.[1] Serious scientists publish their evidence in scientific papers, and these include central argument, together with the data that supports it. These requirements are a matter of principle at scientific journals.[2]
In other words, especially in a lawsuit, shifting the burden of proof is the transfer of the obligation to prove particular facts from one party to the other.[3]

Notable Examples


Shifting the burden of proof onto their critics is a common approach among partisans of evolutionism, for example, Darwin stated in 1837: “…why to be sure there were a thousand intermediate forms. — Opponent will say. Show them me. I will answer yes, if you will show me every step between bulldog and greyhound.”[1][4] Another evolutionist, A.R. Wallace, after reading Darwin's statement asserting that useful variations may “occur in the course of thousands of generations”, warned him that such expression may give his opponents the advantage to consider the favorable variations a rare accidents or even never occurring at all.[note 1] Thus, Wallace advises Darwin to overcome the scientific weakness of his argument by putting the burden of proof to his opponents.[6]


  1. cf. Professor Spetner states that the beneficial mutations required by the theory of evolution have never been observed.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Randal Hedtke (2010). Secrets of the Sixth Edition. Master Books, 26–27, 111. ISBN 978-0-89051-597-6. 
  2. David Berlinski (2009). "Denying Darwin: David Berlinski & Critics", The Deniable Darwin. Seattle, USA: Discovery Institute Press, 414–415. ISBN 978-0-9790141-2-3. 
  3. Law dictionary: shifting the burden of proof.
  4. Darwin, C. R.. Notebook B: [Transmutation of species (1837-1838)]. Darwin Online. Retrieved on 12 March 2015.
  5. Spetner, Lee (1997). Not by chance. The Judaica press, Inc., 159–160. ISBN 978-1-880582-24-4. 
  6. James Marchant (1916). Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences (Complete). Library of Alexandria, 142–143. ISBN 978-1465528643. “Such expression gives your opponent the advantage of assuming that favorable variations are rare accidents, or even for long periods may never occur at all and thus [the] argument would appear to many to have great force. I would put the burden of proof on my opponent to show that any one organ, structure, or faculty, does not vary, even during one generation…”