Category Archives: “No Evidence” Argument

Actually, There Is Evidence that God Exists

640x392_68652_210262Many atheists are fond of saying that there is no evidence that God exists. In fact, a great many seem to have no other argument for atheism than variations on that.

Of course, when one presents evidence, one is promptly told that whatever one presented isn’t evidence. This being the case, I’ve made a point of asking such people what standard of evidence is being used to make that judgment.

After more than fifty requests across dozens of conversations, no one yet has even attempted to answer that question.

I think this is key. Really, it is a decisive failure of the argument if it turns out that no standard other than “I don’t agree that this is evidence” is being used. As such, I think it is worthwhile to point out why the “there’s no evidence” meme is nothing more than a meme.

Let’s start with dictionary.com’s understanding of evidence:

1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.

This can’t possibly be what the atheist is thinking of when he insists that “there is no evidence for God”. This would include logical and philosophical arguments–so long as they were based in facts that the atheist accepts. After all, logical argumentation is how things are proved or disproved, perhaps most obviously in mathematics, but the method is used in every field.

But those repeating the “no evidence” meme have made it very clear to me that such things are not evidence.

2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible evidence of his fever.

I don’t see how this definition will be any better for the “no evidence” claim.

There are many indications and signs that God exists. This is precisely what the arguments for God’s existence point to. To say otherwise would require demonstrating that they all fail completely–that they have absolutely no weight at all.

And that would actually be much harder than establishing atheism–it isn’t an argument for atheism.

So, while many might be willing to claim that these arguments do completely fail, no one has come anywhere near showing that they do.

Of course, someone will almost certainly insist in the comments that, even though it is the atheist making the claim in this case, that the burden of proof is on the theist. This is false, but I’ll get to that elsewhere. One meme at a time.

3. Law. data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.

I certainly hope that this isn’t the definition that is being used–and I doubt that the New Atheists would approve of witnesses, records, or documents as evidence.

These really don’t support the claim that there is no evidence for God. But the New Atheist might have a better time with Merriam-Webster. Not with two of the three definitions there, they have similar problems as those above. But this really seems to help his case:

a visible sign of something

One can’t see a logical principle, so the New Atheist doesn’t have to bother disproving the arguments for God in order to insist that there is no evidence. They aren’t visible, so that’s that.

Of course, many theists point to facts about the universe which are visible as evidence for God. While the New Atheist would have to show that this is untrue in order to make the claim that there is no evidence that God exists, there is a much bigger problem here.

That is, “there is no visible evidence for God” doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

Even the New Atheist is willing to admit that not everything that exists is visible. To grab the simplest example, we can know what a thing sounds like even with our eyes closed precisely because not all evidence is visible.

But, let’s help Merriam-Webster out a bit. What about this?

an empirical sign of something

This would allow for the non-visible parts of the universe to be considered evidence. That’s getting closer. But, there are two new problems:

First, it’s getting harder to dismiss they theist who denies the claim that there is no evidence for God. There are empirical facts which have been cited as evidence for God’s existence. It is not enough for the atheist to simply dismiss them or say that they are insufficient. To support the “no evidence” meme, he would have to show (not merely claim) that they don’t offer even the slightest support.

But the second issue is much more serious.

This still isn’t a concept of evidence that’s really inclusive. Yes, if one starts from the assumption that all evidence is empirical, it isn’t too surprising that one will only find the empirical. But there is no reason to start from that assumption, and good reason not to.

For instance, it’s a well-established fact that, even if one believes the human mind were purely physical (it isn’t), there isn’t any physical evidence for it. That is, neurobiology doesn’t prove that minds exist, it starts from that assumption.

Nor is it enough to say that we don’t “yet” have such proof, but that we should give science time. That would mean that we should remain agnostic about whether or not our own thoughts exist until neurologists get back to us on that.

No, we accept that there are minds because we experience minds–we experience being minds–every day.

But what about this?:

an experienced reality or known fact that supports something

This is the definition I tend to use. It is inclusive, and is right to the point about what evidence actually is: information given in support of something.

But far too many people claim experience with God for this to be of much use to the atheist. Far too many people have shown, via logic and reason, that there are things in our daily experience which give us reason to believe that God exists.

The atheist is free to question the validity of those experiences, and debate with the arguments, but the point is that he won’t be getting any help from the “no evidence” meme if we’re using this definition.

If we take this approach, there is evidence. The only debate is over whether or not the evidence is sufficient to warrant the conclusion that God exists.

I’m still looking, and open to suggestions. But can’t seem to find any way of understanding the claim “there is no evidence that God exists” that makes it both true and anything like a reason to reject belief in God.

It’s a clever-sounding meme, but I don’t see any real content in it at all.


Miracles Aren’t Evidence for a Deist God (and Other Non-News)

watchComplicI’m sure I’ll get back to Nagel in the future, but, for the time being, I’d like to start another series of responses that is more directly relevant to the question of God’s existence. This time, to J. L. Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism”. This has been called the best philosophical discussion of theism from an atheistic perspective, and is a much more serious and well-reasoned book than any of the popular-level atheist tomes. As such, I find it easy to respect Mackie, even as I disagree with him.

Still, I do disagree, and want to get to the reasons why:

Mackie, after a very reasonable introduction that shows a charitable attitude toward the theist position, begins with a discussion of David Hume’s famous argument against belief in miracles.

For those that don’t already know, the basic thrust of Hume’s argument is this: Since miracles are occurrences that (by definition) are astronomically improbable, our reason for doubting that a miracle happened is always stronger than the weight of any person’s testimony saying that it did happen. This would mean that we should never believe that a miracle actually happened.

Though he isn’t without criticisms, Mackie finds this a good objection to miracles as evidence for God. He basically agrees with Hume and, I think, fails to raise the two most potent responses to the argument.

The first is less a disagreement than a point about what this actually proves. If successful, this argument would block any attempt to prove God’s existence on the grounds of testimonial evidence of a miracle, but I know of no theist philosopher who argues for God’s existence on those grounds.

Some have, after granting theism, looked at evidence for a miracle in order to determine which form of theism is most likely to be correct. But this is a far cry from using claims of the miraculous to argue for God’s existence. Of course, one can try to say that it is still a mistake, but even this is untrue in light of the second response.

That is, Hume’s argument only succeeds if one presumes either atheism or deism. The only reason why Hume can say that a miracle is astronomically improbable is because he’s assuming that the regular patterns of the universe are never interrupted (and that it is astronomically improbable according to those laws). That is, he’s assuming that there is no God which intervenes in history–or, at least that it is astronomically improbable that such a God exists.

Under that assumption, a thing like a resurrection is indeed astronomically improbable, but this assumption is true only if classical theism is false. Thus, Hume is simply begging the question against classical theism.

And I find that this is a common mistake, owing in part to a misconception of the concept of a miracle. At least, many who press this argument seem to think (as Mackie seems to think) that a miracle is “a violation of the laws of nature”. In fact, a miracle is the introduction (or removal) of matter or energy into the universe through divine means. The laws of nature are not changed or “violated”, they are simply acting on altered conditions.

To put it another way, the theist claims that the universe is not a closed system. The atheist is free to reject this view, but is not free to assume a closed system in making an argument about the worthlessness of miracle testimony–which is precisely what Hume’s argument does.

As fair-minded as he strikes me, none of this seems to occur to Mackie, who fails to mention any of it in his discussion of Hume’s argument.

That being the case, I’m left with the conclusion that we need to find a balance between blind trust and absolute incredulity. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to every claim of the miraculous, and no reason to simply dismiss a claim simply because it entails that something more than the physical was present in an event.

That would be to assume the atheism that one is trying to prove, meaning that the argument is simply worthless with respect to miraculous claims–let alone the other arguments for God’s existence.

But, if I completely disagree with Mackie here, I largely agree with him in the next sections. I’ll get to those soon.


Whoa There!

article-2384742-1B270BCC000005DC-977_964x632

In arguing against materialism, one of the more common objections I’ve encountered has been a demand that I offer undeniable proof (to someone intent on denying) of my exact position before anything I say should be taken seriously.

This has come from enough people that I think it is worth mentioning the three main reasons why this is wrong-headed.

First is the simple fact that this is shifting the burden of proof.

The type to attempt this maneuver, of course, is likely to balk at that. Many see the burden of proof as something the theist alone has. But this is only when we are considering theism. When we’re looking at materialism, it is the materialist who has it.

Part of me suspects that there are many materialists so used to defaulting to the “give me evidence” response, that they literally don’t know what else to do. This is fine, so long as one is willing to learn. It is only with those that dig in their heels and demand that there is never a time when they need to support their position that it is a serious problem.

Second, this is off topic.

Whether or not I’m right about other matters has nothing to do with the current topic. I think we all grasp this on issues where we are more neutral. Someone who believes there are twenty provinces in Canada might still be right to say that hydrogen bonding is vital to life. It takes the fervor of controversy and passion to blind us into a kind of tribalism, where anyone who believes “those things” can’t possibly be right about anything.

Many of the people making this objection don’t even know my actual position, and actually have to ask me what it is in order to mock it. (Others simply start mocking what they think my position is–and are nearly always wrong.)

Third would be the fact that I am offering exactly what is requested: reasons to believe my claims.

I’ve now encountered quite a few people who, out of impatience, start demanding that I get from pure materialism to belief in a very specific understanding of Christianity in the span of a blog post. They often say things like “just give me your proof of Christianity, then we’ll talk about my view”.

I’ve tried explaining that there are quite a few steps, and, more pertinently, that the reasons to reject materialism is one of those steps. As such, these people are actually claiming “I reject the first part of your argument because you haven’t already proven to me that the whole thing is true in the space of a paragraph”.

But it doesn’t do any good to ask for reasons to believe something if one doesn’t understand logic any better than this. It’s always easy to reject the final steps if one hasn’t bothered to look at the opening which supports them.

Those who are willing to consider that opening will find that there are reasons posted here. They may agree or disagree with those reasons, but realize that they are there and need to be understood in order to disagree rationally.


The Reason to End all Reason?

ignorance-facts-do-not-cease-to-exist-because-ignoredSince Smalley offered a bonus reason in his “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Athiest”, I thought I’d follow suit. Really, I want to address the reason he didn’t give, and that other atheists have suggested in place of his entire list.

That is, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard “There’s only one reason to be an atheist: there’s no evidence that God exists”.

If this were true, it would make things very simple. All we’d need to do is point out moral truth, the existence of non-physical properties of the human mind, the fact that the universe needs an explanation for both its existence and structure, or any of the other evidences for God to wipe away this solitary reason why anyone should ever be an atheist.

Of course, I don’t honestly think there is only one reason an intelligent person might be an atheist, but those that do seem to have wagered quite a bit on its turning out to be true.

But I doubt that those who promote the “no evidence” argument will accept anything I’ve listed as proper evidence. In fact, I’ve had put to me many reasons why they are not. Some of these reasons are thoughtful, most of them are glib, but none of them are valid.

And, so far, all of them are based on the assumption that evidence is always physical.

In trying to figure out what the modern atheist’s problem with these things are, it always seems to come back to that. Whether its “There’s a physical explanation as to why you’d think that”, “Whatever affects ‘our reality’ can be weighed scientifically”, or something else, the bottom line is this idea that we shouldn’t believe something unless there’s physical evidence for it.

Of course, much of the evidence I named was physical, but that’s beside the point.

Put simply, this presumes scientism. We can’t simply insist, without evidence, that all evidence is physical then make proud declarations about what evidence does or doesn’t exist. This is assuming materialism in order to “prove” atheism, making it a circular argument. Rather, we first need to give a reason why all evidence is physical.

But this leads the materialist into a very difficult corner, because there’s absolutely no physical evidence to support the idea that all evidence is physical.

Generally, the response I get is further insistence that I “show” some non-physical things–as if the person asking doesn’t believe a mind, free will, moral truth, or even logical principles exist. What I never get is a bona fide reason to believe that all evidence is physical.

So, summing this up, along with Smalley’s points, we haven’t seen any reason at all to be a materialist. The reasons for belief in God, if they have any weight at all, will be the stronger case.

Of course, I’ve argued (and will continue to argue) that such reasons have substantial weight.


Claim Knowledge and Run

look_a_distraction_design_by_eecomicsNext from Smalley’s “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Athiest”, we have this:

4. Demeter, Jesus, Apollo, Horus, Zeus, Mithra, Yahweh, Tammuz, Ganesha, and Allah are only 10 of the thousands of gods recorded in history. An Atheist is not one that refuses to read religious doctrine; it is often one who reads too many. 

As before, it is very unclear what the argument actually is here. But I suppose that it is something like this:

Belief in any particular religion (presumably, Christianity) is as unreasonable as belief in these other deities.

The first thing to note here is that this is simply not true. Anyone who actually reads a lot of theology would understand that the gods of ancient temple religions are open to a host of objections that wouldn’t remotely address the God of modern monotheistic book religion.

Little, if any, of the case supporting the existence of a monotheist God would support polytheism. Even according to the ancient Greeks, Zeus isn’t the first cause of the universe. There is no sense in which Horus is supported by the moral argument. Nor did Quezacotl gain the slightest credibility from the discovery of fine tuning.

And so on it goes. The one who does not understand this simply does not know the basics of the subject. Referencing dead religions as if this were a point in itself is, therefore, a mistake of someone who has read very little theology.

This also seems to assume, implicitly, that secular views are immune to this sort of argument. Were it fair to say that religions should be wiped away on the grounds that there are so many, or so many that have been discredited, the counter that secular views have many discredited relatives wouldn’t be far behind.

There is almost nothing that mention of Zeus or Quetzalclatl will contribute to discussion over western monotheism. And most of that is to point out how different these views are. Really, this seems to be the act of gesturing in the general direction of something that vaguely looks like an argument. No rational point against theism has been made.

Thus, the act of putting this on a top ten list serves mostly to highlight how little real material exists for Smalley to post in support of his materialistic atheism.


How Do We Know Anything?

babyNearly every non-theist I’ve debated has insisted that the physical senses are the only valid source of information. The idea is that, if we can’t measure it, there’s no reason to think it exists.

Now, I completely agree with the materialist that, if that were true, theism would be “very unlikely” as Dawkins puts it. But that seems rather irrelevant to me. It is simply false, factually incorrect, to say that all evidence is physical–and demonstrably so.

But this is so far off the mental maps of most non-theists that it is difficult even to explain to them the concept that not all evidence is physical. They often respond with “Show it to me so that I can test it scientifically.” or “But without evidence, how can you know things?”. The point is completely missed.

But it is no less true for that. We each have a basic experience of reality: a sense of the truths of logic, a sense of one’s self as a thinking person, a sense of right and wrong, and, of course, a sense of the physical world around us. This experience is the basis for everything we know. It isn’t perfect, of course, but we accept it as valid until we have a reason to think otherwise.

When we think about it, this is the real reason why we believe what we do. No one believes in the mind because of what they saw in a brain scan (there’s no evidence for the mind to be found there, anyway). We believe in the mind because we experience our own thoughts. Nor do we believe in the moral, or even the physical, for any other reason than that we experience these things. This is almost tediously obvious.

That is, unless one has imbibed the materialist dogma that all evidence is physical. In that case, one doesn’t want to start with basic experience, but with that dogma. And this is entirely arbitrary. No one has ever been able to give a reason to believe it, and there is a rather long list of reasons why it is false.

And this is where the conversation always seems to return. I agree that we shouldn’t accept an idea without a reason to do so, but that would mean rejecting this arbitrary claim that all evidence is physical.

I’ve listed the reasons why this contradicts science, the mind, and itself, but the point for now is that it is also simply a bare assertion.


Applying Ockham’s Razor Correctly

imagesMost atheists I’ve debated have been fond of referencing Ockham’s Razor.

For those not already familiar with it, Ockham’s Razor (sometimes spelled “Occam’s”) is the position that we not “multiply entities unnecessarily”. That is, we shouldn’t propose two or three different things to explain something when one will do the trick.

It is often claimed that God is an “unnecessary entity”, and that Ockham’s Razor is, therefore a reason to reject belief in God. For this reason, and because it helps to undergird science, it is one of the few metaphysical principles that even the most anti-metaphysical materialist is loathe to abandon.

Which is why I think it is so significant that a real belief in the principle leads to theism.

This because the concept of God explains so many things: moral truth, the origin of the universe, the existence of contingent objects, the intelligibility of the universe, the existence of consciousness, etc. Materialism, on the other hand, has a great deal of trouble explaining any of them, and tends instead to refer to them as brute facts.

But what is a brute fact, if not another entity? There are, therefore, a great many more inexplicable things under materialist philosophy than under theism.

Nor do the responses to this help. Materialists often claim that God isn’t an explanation because it’s a simple appeal to “God did it”. This is only true, however, if one refuses to learn any more about the specific nature of God. Otherwise, it is very much an advance of knowledge.

But, if the first response is untrue, the second is off-topic. It is also very common for materialist to claim that they have accepted not having answers to things. Whether or this is commendable as a personal trait, it is not a response to the argument. Rather, it is simply the admission that materialism has no unified explanation for these things, and is therefore less parsimonious.

And, therefore, it should be rejected by anyone who accepts Ockham’s Razor.

The only real alternative, I think, is to simply reject Ockham’s Razor. However, this would be to reject the materialist’s central argument against belief in God: that it is a an unnecessary add-on.

Of course, I don’t accept this last. But the point is that neither does the person who rejects Ockham’s Razor.


Making Sense of Things

thThere are quite a few things about our real-life experience that materialism cannot explain. In fact, there are many things which people tend to take for granted which flatly contradict materialism.

By drawing out the implications of materialism and theism together, it becomes more clear which makes better sense of the life we actually experience.

And that is how we should choose our position. It makes no sense start from a conclusion, constantly using the terms “illusion” and “brute fact” for what one can’t fit into our theory. Life should be considered the “data” that our position is meant to explain.

This being the case, I thought it might be good to put together a short list:

1. Free Will
Materialism entails determinism, and therefore denies that we act of our own free will.
Issues of free will have been raised under certain types of theism, of course, but most types live quite comfortably with it.

2. Moral Realism
Materialism is incompatible with moral realism. And therefore leads its adherents to claim that moral truth is illusory.
Theism, by contrast, is a good explanation of moral realism.

3. Purpose
Most claim to have a sense that there is a purpose to life. Materialism denies this.
And, of course, theism is an explanation of meaning in life.

4. Thought
Probably the most basic fact that each of us knows is “I have thoughts”. But materialism denies it. Thoughts, since they can’t be reduced to the physical–and certainly haven’t been supported by physical evidence–are seen as illusory.
Theism has no trouble with the idea that we have thoughts, and offers explanations of that fact.

5. Others’ Consciousness
Materialism offers no explanation of or reason to believe that others actually have consciousness (as opposed to simply behaving as if they do).
Under theism, however, consciousness is perfectly explicable.

6. Sensory Experience
Contrary to general impressions, materialism denies any part of sense experience that cannot be reduced to a mathematical model. It, therefore, denies the actual experience itself and believes only in mathematical abstractions.
Though it completely agrees that mathematical models can be very helpful in understanding the physical world, theism has no need to deny the reality of experience itself.

7. The Physical Universe
Again, this seems a thing that materialism would fervently support. But it cannot explain the existence of the physical universe (and simply calls it a brute fact). Nor, incidentally, does it explain why the other things it cannot explain are not equally “brute facts”.
Theism, on the other hand, offers explanation of the physical universe.

This actually seems to be everything. Really, I can’t seem to find anything at all about real-world experience that materialism explains. And certainly nothing that it explains better than theism. If one is of the position that theories should fit the data, then, the latter is clearly the more reasonable view.


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.


Logical Exemption Status

thI’ve run across quite a few people who seem to feel that materialism is the one philosophical position that doesn’t need defending.

This is not to say that such people think that it is such a strong position that there’s little point in repeating the arguments in its favor. Rather, it is to say that there are many who seem to think that, whereas other positions need to give us some reason to believe them, materialism represents some kind of “default” philosophy that can be accepted without a reason.

Of course, it is very hard for me to see why any position should claim this kind of status. Surely, those who seek to persuade others of it should be ready with an argument for it.

At the very least, might we give people some reason why this, and not agnosticism, represents a sort of base view?

And this is most of my difficulty in discussing philosophical issues with materialists. They seem to think I believe all the things they do, then add a few extras to that. Not only is this a warped view of my own position, it leaves many of them without any appreciation for what it takes to present a defense for a view–as most of them have never even attempted to do so.

In fact, I don’t know of any argument in favor of materialism that doesn’t reduce to something like asserting the verification principle (the idea that we should accept only those parts of reality that we can “verify” with our senses).

But this is no argument, it is simply a restatement of materialism. It gives us no reason to believe it. And, if you read on philosophy, you’ll already know that the verification principle utterly failed once it was pointed out that it’s self-defeating (it can’t itself be verified by the senses).

That being the case, I honestly don’t understand the confidence so many have in materialism, except in terms of zeitgeist and other pathos effects. I really don’t see any reason at all to believe it.

So, setting aside (for the moment) the reasons why many reject materialism, is there any reason at all to think it is true?