The Most Straightforward of Evasive Arguments

1pokerbluffpageI think I need to revisit the fact that bold demands for evidence of God aren’t so much serious challenges to belief as refusals to think.

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.

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5 responses to “The Most Straightforward of Evasive Arguments

  • chicagoja

    Concerning evidence of/for God: the absence of evidence (however defined) is not necessarily evidence of absence.

  • McCulloch

    As an atheist I do not demand evidence for the existence of God from believers until or unless those believers try to convince me that there is a God or that I need to follow the dictates of a God. However, when they do start to assert to me that there is a God, I, most reasonably, ask for evidence. And rather than go down the endless rabbit hole of trying to define what convincing evidence looks like, I go with the well-what-have-you-got, tactic. I could go on and define evidence as it works in history, philosophy, mathematics or the various sciences, but that usually ends up at the same place. They don’t have it.
    You have faith; you believe stuff without sufficient evidence. OK. Go ahead. But don’t look down on those of us who are a bit more skeptical, who refuse to be tricked into acting by weird theologies.

    • Debilis

      Greetings, and best to you in general.

      To start, I have no personal issue with atheists who simply aren’t interested in discussing the topic (and therefore are simply asking in response to someone making a demand). That seems fair enough.

      However, I don’t think requesting a definition is a “rabbit hole”. If someone wanted to endlessly parse the definition, that is one thing. But it is perfectly reasonable to ask what definition one is using, for the reasons I’ve outlined above.

      When someone says “you believe stuff without sufficient evidence”, I think it is perfectly reasonable for me to ask that person to support that claim. Which includes briefly explaining what sort of evidence she is willing to accept.

      So far, everyone who has “supported” it has refused to offer even a one-sentence explanation of what sort of evidence is being referenced here. Usually, it takes me quite a bit of discussion to find out that it is empirical evidence (for the non-empirical). This is asking me to have a long discussion to clear up a basic point that I’ve seen often enough that I’m writing general posts about it.

      Really, if this is all such people mean, then the point is moot. They need to offer a definition just to explain why my refutation (that referencing a lack of off-topic evidence shows nothing) does not apply.

      “But don’t look down on those of us who are a bit more skeptical, who refuse to be tricked into acting by weird theologies.”

      If it came across as if I was looking down on atheists in general, I apologize. I definitely didn’t mean to imply that.

      However, this simply begs the question. I obviously don’t think the type of atheist I name is being more skeptical. I personally think that these people aren’t being skeptical at all of the materialism they embrace.

      Whether or not that is a “theology” it definitely strikes me as a weird position which has presented little, if any, evidence for itself.

      Okay, that is definitely long enough. Let’s end that here.

    • believeordoubt

      The complaint isn’t that atheists are asking for evidence. It’s that they aren’t clear about what they are asking for. It seems that way because nothing ever satisfies.

      Perhaps if I were an atheist I wouldn’t want to commit myself by saying “If you find such and such, then I’ll believe in God”. I’d rather be like a camera shopper and you the salesman. You keep bringing different models to me and I’ll tell you when I find one I like. But this tactic is more suitable for negotiations than finding truth.

      I think that at the bottom of the complaint is the suspicion that atheism is empirically unfalsifiable.

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