Tag Archives: evidence for God

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.

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.

Science is Theistic

HandOfGodThe earliest proposers of the “laws” of science meant the term more literally than most today realize. Contemporary people, when we think about the issue at all, tend to think of them simply as the way that nature happens to behave (with no more explanation than that–no wonder Hume was baffled). The developers of science, however, literally considered these laws to be something like divine fiat–God telling the world how it was to behave.

This is one of several reasons why, until very recently in history, the success of science was taken to be a point in favor of theism, rather than opposed to it.

Materialists (like many theists, for reasons I’lll get to) tend to scoff at this idea of divine fiat. But the trouble with this (for materialists) is twofold:

First, that materialism offers no alternative explanation. The regularity of the universe is simply a brute fact, according to this view–”brute fact” here being, as in most instances, something of a euphemism for “magic”.

Second, and more significantly, this perspective is not required by theism. In fact, it is not the traditional view. Rather, many theists have long held that God created the universe with a particular nature, it’s contents having specific tendencies that, under similar conditions, will behave similarly.

But, if this explanation works, why can’t the non-theist simply borrow it from the theist, strip it of any reference to God or the non-physical, and use it as a materialist explanation? Because it is the reference to the non-physical in general, and God in particular, that make this explanation work.

To claim that the contents of the universe have specific tendencies is to embrace teleology (aka final causation). It is a rejection of David Hume’s critique of causation (so beloved of materialists), and is the key premise in one of the traditional arguments for God’s existence. We’ll get to this last at some point in the future.

Beyond that, it is simply another “brute fact” in the hands of the materialists, as opposed to being based on a necessary being, argued for on independent grounds, as the theist’s position would have it.

I tend to be suspicious of views that dismiss vast parts of perceived reality as illusory. It generally seems like an ad hoc way of ridding one’s self of anything for which the view in question cannot account. That is, it is the provence of inadequate views trying to maintain respectability.

The telltale sign, however, is the need to postulate brute facts. Contingent things (that is, things that logically could not have existed, but do) that apparently exist for no reason at all.

Anything that simply pops into our view of reality (such as the patterns of the universe, or even the universe itself), without any explanation, is a sign that we’ve dismissed the actual explanation as illusory.

All this is to say that the only explanation materialism, or naturalism, or empiricism, or positivism has advanced for the fact that science works is, essentially, the old Apple Jacks argument that “it just does”. The moment one suggests that a complete philosophy needs to take the fact that science works into account, these secular philosophies are in mortal danger.

Theism, on the other hand, lives quite comfortably with the idea that the universe has such regularities. All the talk of secular philosophies being, in some unspecified sense, the “scientific” ones is excellent PR. But the reality turns out to be quite the opposite.

When Exploring New Territory, Stick to the Places You Know

thThe entire concept of non-empirical evidence seems to be off the intellectual maps of many. If there is an argument that this kind of evidence isn’t valid, or doesn’t exist, I haven’t heard it.

What I have heard is that this idea (that all beliefs should be based on empirical evidence) has been completely abandoned by philosophers. The concept was called Logical Positivism, and it was pushed by A.J. Ayer about a century ago before being rejected (even, eventually, by Ayer himself) due to a very simple question:

“Regarding this concept that we should only believe things based on empirical evidence–what is the empirical evidence for that?”

Everyone willing to think open-mindedly on that question realized that there was no empirical evidence for it at all, and that it consequently fails its own test.

But this idea is no less self-contradictory now than it was when Ayer was pushing it. Demanding empirical evidence simply assumes that Positivism is true. It neither deals with the contradiction at its core nor gives us any other reason to accept it.

And this last brings us to the arbitrariness of the position. Insistence upon empirical evidence is simply demanding a preference for the senses over thoughts. But there is no more reason to reject the reality of mental life (consciousness, free will, qualia, moral sense) than to reject the physical.

The modern materialist would scoff at the cartesian skeptic who demanded mental evidence that the physical world exists, who claimed that no evidence which assumes the physical can be considered evidence, and who explained away everything that seems so obviously physical as “really” a mental phenomenon (presumably, an illusion of some sort).

But that position is no less defensible, if far less popular, than the materialist’s own position that we should only acknowledge the physical and explain away the mental as if it were “really” physical.

A more reasonable approach would be to reject both of these positions as arbitrary and self-contradictory demands. But this would mean accepting our mental, as well as our physical, experience as a valid source of information.

To insist that we simply reject the non-empirical until it is empirically established is to replace vast swaths of our intellectual maps with nothing more profound, or less demonstrably false, than the hollow threat: “here there be dragons”.

Evidence for God


Part of me would say that I’m not sure what people mean when they assert that there is no evidence that God exists. A more blunt part of me feels that most of the people making the assertion don’t themselves know what they mean.

In fact, this is not so much a suspicion as what more than a dozen proponents of the claim have personally told me. The overwhelming response to “what standard (or definition) of evidence is attached to that claim?” is “I don’t know; you tell me”.

This makes the assertion literally nonsense. That is, a statement doesn’t have content if its key terms simply aren’t defined. They may as well be meaningless strings of letters, and stating “there is no [undefined term here] for God” shouldn’t strike anyone as much of an argument.

But I think the theist can do even better here. I think she can show that the statement is either irrelevantly true or demonstrably false.

When the statement is made, it would seem to mean that there is no scientific evidence that God exists. Whether or not that is true, the idea that there is no physical evidence for the non-physical is hardly mind-blowing. Rather, it is a simple category error. It has no more weight than saying that there is no mathematical proof that Winston Churchill was the Prime minister of Great Britain, or that there is no grammatical evidence of cosmic expansion.

But, taken more broadly, the claim is simply false. That is, if the claim is taken broadly enough to be relevant to metaphysical issues such as God’s existence, then the metaphysical arguments for God’s existence is such evidence.

We can debate whether or not the evidence is sufficient, but the bold declaration that there is no evidence for God’s existence is simply out of touch with the facts.

What is Evidence?

Scientific_Evidence_God is real(1)

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.