Tag Archives: evidence

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”.

Russell XVI: Evidence has Left the Building


Before getting into some complaints about Christ’s teachings, Russell pauses to question the reliability of the New Testament documents themselves:

Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him

In fairness to Russell, this was cutting-edge (if biased) scholarship in his day. But, if that (somewhat) excuses him, it does not excuse those who, almost a century later, seem completely unaware of what has happened in scholarship since.

This is probably the place at which the New Atheists most blatantly refuse to submit to their own demand that we “follow the evidence where it leads”. I’ve encountered many people who, in the name of reason, quickly accept demonstrably false deconstruction theories about the Bible (such as references to Mithras) while rejecting the good scholarship in defense of it.

The fact that these kinds of conspiracy theories are still being presented on the internet (and television) as powerful evidence against Christianity, when even atheist historians agree that the basic facts of Christ’s life are historically reliable, shows that many are refusing to “follow the evidence where it leads”.

Less obviously false, but no less a contradiction of the aforementioned maxim, is the position that, in reaction to the fact that every non-Christian explanation of the New Testament has been thoroughly discredited, we should simply avoid answering the question “what explanation of the data is most reasonable?”. It is hard not to wonder whether this has anything to do with the fact that the answer would lead one to accept Christianity as true.

There are, in fact, some formidable arguments for Christianity based on the accepted facts of scholarship. These have yet to be answered, even by much more thoughtful people than the New Atheist writers; it is not at all likely that their position would be able to deal with being open-minded here.

The complexities of historical research are far too great for a single post, and there is no absolute proof of anything in this life. Still, as things stand with regard to New Testament scholarship, evidence has definitely left the atheist building where it was once assumed to dwell. Following the evidence where it leads means accepting that the resurrection of Christ is the most coherent explanation of the known facts.

Richard Dawkins vs. the Scientific Method


I was glad to see someone finally ask Professor Dawkins for some scientifically gathered information for his claim that raising a child Catholic is worse than sexual abuse. In my view, he needs to be asked to provide evidence far more often.

In fact, I was disappointed that the interviewer in the video asked for a show of hands. I would much rather him have asked Dawkins if he would have accepted “it seems intuitively entirely reasonable” from a religious person after requesting scientifically gathered evidence.

Dawkins has made long lists of accusations about the harmfulness of theism for years, while simultaneously insisting that one must base one’s conclusions on the findings of science. Having sifted through quite a few anthropological and sociological studies on the effects of religious belief, I can say with confidence that Richard Dawkins is not taking his own advice (or, I suppose, is simply dishonest – but I doubt that).

In fact, I’ve listened to quite a bit of what Professor Dawkins has to say, and have no memory of him ever quoting a study on the effects of religion – even in the vague sense of “studies have shown…”. It doesn’t surprise me, then, that his claims are so consistently contradicted by actual studies.

That being the case, it’s hard to see how he can claim to have a “scientific mind”, as he puts it, on this subject. The person who genuinely insists on evidence should, as a matter of fact, be completely uninterested in anything he has to say.

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.