Many 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.