The first instance took place here on this very blog, when I posted an email my father had sent me, and my response to it. His initial email described Planned Parenthood as "a financial behemoth -- one engaged in an activity most Americans find troubling". In my response, along with many many other things, I questioned whether or not one could reasonably say that "most Americans" find abortion troubling, and asked if he had proof of that claim. His response was to ask me if I had any proof that most Americans don't find it troubling. He took my request that he provide some kind of reasonable poll data, and quoted it right back at me, then saying: "Works both ways, and until either side can "prove" otherwise both sides are entitled to their opinions."
Um, no. That's not how this works. I don't have to have proof against it in order to question your assertion. If you make (or promote) an assertion, it is incumbent upon you to prove that your assertion is true. Not upon me to prove that it is false. If I say something ridiculous - like, for example, "There are no Republicans with a working sense of empathy" - it would be entirely appropriate for my father to request that I prove my assertion. It would, then, be entirely inappropriate for me to shoot back "well, why don't you prove me wrong, first?" Ve who makes the assertion must carry the burden of proof. People are, of course, entitled to continue having their opinions even in a complete absence of proof - witness the continuing popularity of most dogmatic religions - but they are not entitled to have those around them treat those opinions as fact in the absence of proof. This attitude is not conducive to productive debate and discussion.
The second incidence was a discussion on Twitter, which can function in this case as a demonstration of how not to attempt to prove your point.
After a friend made a crack about 24 being a tool of the right-wing so that they can make people believe that torture works, which I retweeted because I found it hilarious, my brother proceeded to argue with me that torture does, in fact, work. I asked what proof he had of that, and for perhaps a half-dozen tweets in a row, no proof was offered, only variations on the assertion "You can't deny it works" over and over again.
Me: [RT's joke about 24 making people believe torture works]
Him: Can you deny that it works? Doesn't make it right, but it works.
Me: Frankly, until *proven* otherwise, I'll err on the side of not torturing people. Got *proof*? I'll reconsider.
Him: Proof it works? There's plenty. I'm still not saying its right, but there's no denying that it does in fact work.
Me: I've heard plenty of denying that it works, actually. So where's the proof of which you speak? I'm genuinely curious.
Him: So you're saying that people won't give up information under duress? Because even though it may be wrong, it DOES pay off.
Me: What I'm saying is, I have neither seen nor heard actual *proof* that such is the case, and until I have, I cannot support it.
Him: I don't support it either, but I'll admit it definitely results in information being given up.
I wanted to *headdesk* x1000. Because that? Was a totally unproven assertion - "Torture works" - simply being repeated over and over in lieu of actually being proven to be true. Which is also not conducive to productive debate and discussion.
So let it be known, People Who Debate Things:
1. Simply saying something is so does not make it true.
2. If you say something you believe to be true, it is upon you to prove the truth of your assertion, not upon your opponent to prove your assertion wrong.
3: Since simply saying something does not make it true, repeating the same assertion over and over does not suffice as proof either.