I’ve been told, ad nauseum, that there is no evidence that God exists. Over the past few years, I’ve considered quite a few concepts of evidence, and asked a great many atheists, only to be left wondering what this statement actually means.
It’s actually fairly easy to summarize the matter. The definitions are as follows.
1. Evidence as any factual support
If the term “evidence” is to be applied to something non-physical, like God, I’d assume that we are using a broad definition. Such as “any fact counted in favor of a claim being true”.
The problem with that definition is that, by it, there is evidence for God’s existence. In fact, there is evidence for nearly anything. Certainly, the fact that science turned out a success after western monotheism’s prediction that the universe followed regular patterns is, on this view, evidence in its favor. The question wouldn’t be “is there evidence?”, but “is there sufficient evidence to accept the claim?”.
2. Scientific Evidence
I then considered the idea that the term “evidence” was being used in a stricter way. Such as is applicable to the physical sciences.
The trouble with this is that it is so obvious to most that this is simply bad reasoning. To claim that there is no physical evidence for the non-physical is hardly earth-shattering. And, in fact, it may not even be true. The evidence of the origin of the universe definitely counts in favor of the idea of the non-physical, even if it doesn’t in any way prove it conclusively.
3. Experience as Evidence
Trying to get back onto the topic of the non-physical, I briefly considered the idea that direct experience was being demanded. Of course, the prevalence of spiritual experiences made the claim of a lack of evidence untrue under this definition.
4. Evidence must be “Sharable”
Some have, in contrast, emphasized that experiences needed to be “sharable”. That is, testable by other people, in order to be considered evidence.
That struck me as simply pushing the problem back a step. If one demands that “testable by other people” means that a thing must be testable via the senses, then this is simply another claim that there is no physical evidence for the non-physical. If, however, one simply means that it must be experienced by others, the theists need only point out that it has been.
5. “Evidence” is for the theist to define
Mostly, the answer I get when I ask those who make this claim what is meant by “evidence” is even less helpful. The reply is generally a simple “you tell me”, followed by a rant about how theists can’t give an answer that they would accept.
Of course, it seems perfectly obvious why this might be: any answer that comes to mind undermines the claim being made. I wouldn’t expect someone making such a claim to be eager to accept any of them.
As such, I honestly have no idea what is meant by the claim that there is no evidence for God’s existence. And, to be perfectly honest, I doubt that most of the people making the claim have a terribly precise idea what it means. At least, that is what they’ve told me when I’ve asked.
As such, I don’t find the claim nearly so compelling as its proponents seem to expect. To me, “there is no (undefined term here) for God” doesn’t strike me as a reason to abandon my position.