It seems to have gotten to the point that insisting on evidence for God is a telltale sign that one isn’t interested in considering the subject, but simply looking to score rhetorical points in debate. More thoughtful atheists never seem to press this “argument”.
As a case in point, just over three weeks ago, I wrote a post pointing out that those who demand evidence for God are consistently unable to provide a standard of evidence when asked for one. This is a key problem, as the entire point of insisting that there is no evidence for God hangs on knowing what evidence is.
Since then, I’ve received at least forty demands for evidence (I may have missed a few in counting) and, in spite of asking quite a few times, have never actually been given a definition of “evidence”.
But this is not to say that such people aren’t confident that they know what the term means. They are quick to tell me that the things I present are not evidence, and nearly as quick to tell me that my own definition is wrong. But this leaves me wondering why such people won’t simply state their definition. It seems they’d rather keep it secret, and simply inform me when I’ve said something that doesn’t fit.
This goes beyond the “he who defines unchallenged wins the debate” tactic. Indeed, opponents aren’t even allowed to know how terms are being defined. Thus, it is hard to see how this is anything but an attempt to stack the deck in favor of the materialist.
At the very least, this feels like trying to bluff one’s way through a debate. One wonders, for instance, if all this has something to do with the fact that any reasonable definition of evidence would fail to support the claim of “no evidence”.
But, if one’s position isn’t meant to be a sort of mystery religion, in which people are allowed to know what is actually being claimed only after they’ve demonstrated loyalty to the cause, then we need to know how one is defining terms. (Is it me, or are there quite a few parallels between the New Atheism and Scientology?)
But, even as a non-initiate, I’ve managed to get one key piece of information out of these individuals: evidence is strictly empirical (some prefer the word “tangible” or the phrase “sharable through the senses”).
And the glaring problem with this is the fact that Christians have never claimed that an empirical God exists. We have specifically claimed the opposite (that God is not empirical). To demand empirical evidence for the non-empirical is simply a category error; treating it as if it has blown the lid off of metaphysics is like thinking the “chicken or the egg” question is a devastating refutation of biology.
A slightly less glaring (but equally significant) problem is the fact that, by this standard, there is no evidence for materialism. This demand, if it had any weight at all (which it doesn’t), would do as much damage to the speaker’s own position as any religious claim. This is doubly true given that there are, in fact, physical events which are better explained by theism than materialism. But that is an altogether different point.
In the end, I see nothing in this at all, and the thoughtless way that it is parroted on the internet strikes me as every bit as dogmatic as its proponents accuse theism of being.
For far too many, this terrible argument is the only reason at all to reject the much better arguments supporting Christianity. Whether one finally does that, of course, is as much a personal as an intellectual matter. But a real engagement with the issue would preclude an approach as intellectually shallow as demanding empirical evidence.