I’ve noticed that atheists on twitter have been confusing and conflating the burden of proof, a convention for debates, with a more general principle of epistemic hygiene. By epistemic hygiene, I mean taking care to believe true things and disbelieve in false things.
The argument goes something like this: If you don’t follow the burden of proof, you’ll be obligated to believe EVERYTHING, even absurd things without evidence. Now, this is two distinct ideas that have been conflated and tangled. One is whether someone is obligated in general to prove their claims (he is not). The other is what claims should you believe?
Following the right policies and judgments with what you believe is proper epistemic hygiene. Now this is where it gets interesting. Many important things are believed not on the basis of someone explaining the evidence for their existence, but by a direct ‘grasping’ or ‘seeing’ of them with the intellect. However, this ability can be broken, either in general or in certain circumstances. So the question is then, what can we grasp with certainty?
We can grasp things with certainty if we can ‘see’ the truth of them with the mind and have a web of beliefs that support that grasping. This web of beliefs can indeed be inspected by discourse, and the broad discourse of the wise is the standard of which it should be tested.
We cannot affirm all of our beliefs as individuals, but must look at the total work of all of humanity through time to come to reasonable certainty on anything.