Sep 252007
 

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.

  7 Responses to “Its All About the Evidence…Evidently!”

  1. A couple of quick comments, when the atheists assert “no evidence” for God they are in essence locking themselves in a form of positivism, which is ultimately self-defeating.

    I think you also made a key point in your OP, and that is, what would that evidence for God look like. We all know that ID does not go that far to make that inference to a designer. However, as a Christian, I obviously think that there are more evidences for the existence of God than the non-existence of God. I would submit those evidence would fall under the proverbial Christian apologetics of archaeological, manuscript, prophetic and statistical evidences. In addition I would add philosophical as another category in support of the existence of God. Obviously, scientific evidences with rationality are always the basis for many of these evidences.

  2. There was a recent thread at ARN on that key point, entitled What would count as evidence that God exists?.
    http://www.arn.org/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=30336751&an=0&page=0

  3. Pixie

    There was a recent thread at ARN on that key point, entitled What would count as evidence that God exists?.
    http://www.arn.org/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=30336751&an=0&page=0

    Thanks for the link. I began to read through some it.

    What’s your take on it?

  4. DonaldM: So, what do the atheists or non-thiests mean by the claim of “no evidence” ?

    Evidence“, in this context, usually means “scientific evidence“, referring to specific and distinguishing predictions of empirical phenomena that follow directly from the claim. (Revelation may be convincing to the individual, but does not represent scientific evidence.) Nevertheless, it would seem reasonable to expect that those making the positive claim to provide that evidence; and that lacking such provision, it would be reasonable for naysayers to point out that lack.

  5. Donald

    I had forgotten this thread. Some of this is reposted from my comments at ARN.

    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.

    As Zachriel points out, the onus is really on the theist is say what evidence he finds convincing. When the theist is forced to ask the atheist for what might count as evidence, he is already admiiting that his evidence is slight (perhaps he takes it on faith?).

    What do you mean by God? If you are talking generally about some god existing, it would be harder to say. On that issue I am only a weak atheist – for reasons not unrelated to what you say above.

    On the ARN thread Ilion was talking specifically about the Christian God. There are things that would count as evidence of “the Christian God”. These would involve indications that the universe was being run by someone who was all-loving and all-powerful. A world where “acts of God” do not cause misery, for example. The sad fact is that we live in a world where some people are born in luxury and others are born in abject poverty. Some are born healthy, some with terrible disabilities. How can a loving, merciful and just being allow that to happen if it is within his power to stop it?

    How can a loving, merciful and just being punish all women for Eve eating an apple 6000 years ago? How can a loving, merciful and just being murder babies in a flood (whether the supposed Global flood of the Boxing Day Tsunami)?

    How can a loving, merciful and just being allow his own son to be cruxified? To atone for own sins? This only works if God set up the system to require it to work that way. If God is all-powerful, he could have chosen to atone for our sins merely by thinking it. No death required. It is only God who decided that Jesus had to be cruxified to atone for our sins, rather than God saying our sins are atoned.

    What would count as evidence that God exists would be a Bible that makes its morality abundantly clear, for example, making it perfectly clear that slavery is wrong. If God’s own book had been clear on this one issue, how much human suffering would have been averted in the last 2000 years?

    What would count as evidence of the existance of an all-loving, all-power God, such as the one supposed by Christians? Living in a world that such a God might haved designed, rather than this one.

    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.

    I think “Don’t know” is a perfectly reasonable response to your question. It seems odd that you are saying that if I cannot think of anything that might provide evidence for the existence of X then that undermines my claim that X does not exist. Surely it should be the other way around?

    What would you accept as evidence for the existence of fairies or the Hindu gods?

  6. Zachriel

    Evidence”, in this context, usually means “scientific evidence”, referring to specific and distinguishing predictions of empirical phenomena that follow directly from the claim. (Revelation may be convincing to the individual, but does not represent scientific evidence.) Nevertheless, it would seem reasonable to expect that those making the positive claim to provide that evidence; and that lacking such provision, it would be reasonable for naysayers to point out that lack.

    Pixie

    As Zachriel points out, the onus is really on the theist is say what evidence he finds convincing. When the theist is forced to ask the atheist for what might count as evidence, he is already admiiting that his evidence is slight (perhaps he takes it on faith?).

    I disagree with that last sentence, Pixie. In fact, I think it means the exact opposite. I
    think that the evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming, and ubiquitous.
    The cosmos and everything in it is evidence for the existence of God. In denying that anything
    in the cosmos could actually be evidence for God, the atheist isn’t really making a claim about
    evidence. This is true because the atheist surely isn’t denying the existence of the cosmos,
    or the existence of certain phenomenon within the cosmos that everyone can see and experience.
    Rather, the atheist is saying there isn’t anything to connect those observations to the
    conclusion that God exists…which is a very different thing. Likewise, the theist, in claim-
    ing, as I just did, that evidence for God is pervasive throughout the cosmos, isn’t claiming
    that she sees additional phenomenon that the atheists doesn’t or that certain aspects of
    the cosmos might be observed by the atheist but not the theist…that would be absurd.
    Everyone sees the same cosmos, the same earth, the same raw data of nature. In denying that
    there can be any connection between those observations and the existence of God, the atheists
    is denying that there are any background principles that justify that connection. How does
    the atheist know that to be true? Surely not scientifically…what scientific experiment would
    confirm that hypothesis? (to speak to Zachriel’s point about scientific evidence).

    Here’s an analogy that might make this a bit clearer. Suppose its around 1900 or a bit before
    and we’re scientists studying the properties of molecules and atoms. One morning, after
    pouring my first cup of coffee I say “you know guys, I’ve been thinking, and I think that
    atoms are mutable. They can be split apart or mashed together.” After telling me that
    I need more coffee one of you would say “Interesting concept, Donald, but you have no evidence
    for that!!” And, in a way you’d be right because before 1900 no one had yet discovered
    the necessary background prinicples that would justify the connection between my coffee
    inspired notion of mutable atoms and any actual data to comfirm it. On the other hand,
    there was evidence for it. Evidence that everyone saw practically everyday…bright
    shining evidence that rose every morning and set every night. If not for the mutability
    of atoms, there would be no sunshine!! However, before 1900, no one knew that. The relevent
    background principles that would connect the data — sunshine — with the conclusion that
    atoms are mutable. In this analogy, the claim of “no evidence” didn’t mean there wasn’t
    any actual evidence, because clearly there was (and is). Rather, it meant there was nothing
    to connect that evidence to the claim…or at least nothing known at the time.

    So when an atheist makes a claim of “no evidence”, it is just like the analogy. The evidence
    might just be staring her in the face, but she denies that there is any background principles…any at
    all that rationally justifies connecting that data with the conclusion that God exists.
    Further, many atheists seem to think that no one will know of any such background principles..
    ever!! (and where is their evidence for such a claim?).

    What do you mean by God? If you are talking generally about some god existing, it would be harder to say.

    In my case I’m thinking specifically of God as understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
    But that’s really secondary to the main point.

    It seems odd that you are saying that if I cannot think of anything that might provide evidence for the existence of X then that undermines my claim that X does not exist. Surely it should be the other way around?

    Well, no I don’t think so…at least not when it comes to the existence of God. I say this
    because if the theist is saying there is overwhelming evidence for the existence of GOd
    and the atheist is denying that any of that actually is evidence for God, then the implication
    is that the atheist must have some idea of what actual evidence for God would have to look
    like, otherwise, what’s the basis for denying that what the theist takes to be evidence for
    God isn’t? Essentially the atheist is saying that she knows, somehow, that what the theist
    takes as evidence for God doesn’t meet the actual “evidence for God” standard and therefore
    can’t be taken as such.

    You’ve said as much yourself in your comment, Pixie:

    What would count as evidence that God exists would be a Bible that makes its morality abundantly clear, for example, making it perfectly clear that slavery is wrong. If God’s own book had been clear on this one issue, how much human suffering would have been averted in the last 2000 years?

    What would count as evidence of the existance of an all-loving, all-power God, such as the one supposed by Christians? Living in a world that such a God might haved designed, rather than this one.What would count as evidence that God exists would be a Bible that makes its morality abundantly clear, for example, making it perfectly clear that slavery is wrong. If God’s own book had been clear on this one issue, how much human suffering would have been averted in the last 2000 years?

    In other words, you’re arguing for what you would take to be evidence for God’s existence,
    and implying that other things claimed by theists as evidence for God’s existence fail to
    meet this evidentiary standard. (I’m not denying the problem of evil here, BTW)
    The question is how do you confirm that your evidentiary standard is the right one?

  7. Donald

    In denying that there can be any connection between those observations and the existence of God, the atheists is denying that there are any background principles that justify that connection.

    That is putting it a bit strongly. The atheist (this one, anyway) is not saying there can be connection, but is saying there is no reason to suppose any connection.

    In this analogy, the claim of “no evidence” didn’t mean there wasn’t any actual evidence, because clearly there was (and is). Rather, it meant there was nothing to connect that evidence to the claim”or at least nothing known at the time.

    I disagree, but I must admit this is a semantic quibble. I would say they had an observation (the sun shines), but with no knowledge what that observation meant, it was not evidence.

    So when an atheist makes a claim of “no evidence” , it is just like the analogy. The evidence might just be staring her in the face, but she denies that there is any background principles”any at all that rationally justifies connecting that data with the conclusion that God exists.

    We have the observations, but to make that evidence, you need to connect the observations to God.

    I say this because if the theist is saying there is overwhelming evidence for the existence of GOd and the atheist is denying that any of that actually is evidence for God, then the implication is that the atheist must have some idea of what actual evidence for God would have to look
    like, otherwise, what’s the basis for denying that what the theist takes to be evidence for God isn’t? Essentially the atheist is saying that she knows, somehow, that what the theist takes as evidence for God doesn’t meet the actual “evidence for God” standard and therefore
    can’t be taken as such.

    Hmm, I was going to counter your first sentence there with pretty much what you put in the second sentence. No, I do not have to know what would count as evidence. All I need to know is that everything I have seen up to now is not evidence.

    In other words, you’re arguing for what you would take to be evidence for God’s existence, and implying that other things claimed by theists as evidence for God’s existence fail to meet this evidentiary standard.

    Yes.

    The question is how do you confirm that your evidentiary standard is the right one?

    I think everyone has to decide that for themselves based on life experience and what works for them. What do you do?

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