In many discussions across the blogoshere about the existence of God or supernatural entities, the claim is often made that there’s no reason to think that such things exist because there simply is “no evidence”. Those who do think such entities exist are either “delusional” a la Richard Dawkins, or holding such beliefs “without evidence”. In either case, the theist has somehow failed in his or her epistemic duties to retain such beliefs, especially in our modern, scientific world.
But what precisely is the problem? Is it really a case of “no evidence”, meaning that no observation or phenomenon has ever or could ever provide evidence for the existence of God?
If that is what is meant, it would seem to be reasonable to ask for evidence that such a claim is true. But what that evidence would even look like isn’t at all clear. Or maybe what is meant is that there may be some observations that could be seen by some as evidence for the existence of God, but that there are no known principles that can connect that evidence to the conclusion. In its stronger forms, it is added that no one has ever or will ever know of such principles. What evidence there is for such a claim isn’t clear either.
So, what do the atheists or non-thiests mean by the claim of “no evidence”? It is certainly the case that many theists believe that they do have evidence for their belief. It could be certain experiences they’ve had, or the way they view certain features of the physical world that lead to the conclusion of there being a God. Are the atheists denying that those experiences or physical features of nature didn’t happen or don’t exist? That would seem absurd, especially if both the theist and the non-thiest had the same experience or observed the same phenonemon.
So, in claiming there is “no evidence”, it seems to me what is really meant is that there isn’t anything that the atheist or the non-thiest takes to be evidence for the existence of God, which is a very different thing. The question that naturally arises from that is what would an atheist take to be evidence for the existence of God? Surely they must have some idea of what such evidence would have to be since they are quite sure that neither they nor anyone else has ever observed it. The only other alternative is to simply assert (without evidence), that there can be no evidence for the existence of God, even in principle. But that position would put their claim in the same boat as they claim the theist is in: the “no evidence” boat.
There really seems to be only two options here for the athiest. Either admit that there isn’t anything that they would ever take to be evidence for the existence of God, which only betrays prior prejudice; or hold the claim that nothing could ever be evidence for it, such claim itself having no evidence. Either way, the atheist’s claim of “no evidence” loses an awful lot its intended starch.
Of course none of this proves or demonstrates that God does exist. But it does greatly reduce if not totally eliminate the impact of any claim of “no evidence” for such belief. And if the claim of “no evidence” is suspect with respect to the existence of God, it is also suspect with respect to whether or not certain features of the natural world are the result of intelligent design.