We don’t need no steenkin evidence.August 15, 2007 — Deacon Duncan
“The God Fearin’ Fiddler” has posted a few attempts to rebut an atheist’s arguments against God, and I thought it might be fun to take a look at them.
[The atheist] made a statement that extraordinary claims require extra evidence to believe. He used an illustration (can’t remember his exact one but I’ll make up a similar one). If someone said ‘hey my brother got his tooth pulled last week’ … oh ok I’ll believe that… But if someone told me “hey my brother got his tooth knocked out by a unicorn who kicked him in the mouth.” well then I’d require some pretty hefty evidence to validate such a claim.
Sounds reasonable enough on the surface. I’m sure we all would need some extra evidence to believe in such things. The atheist used this line of logic to reject the resurrection of Christ. Let me note a few problems here.
Consider a remote African tribe many years ago in which a young boy while out in the wilderness by himself catches a glimpse of an airplane – something no one from the village had ever seen. The plane flies low enough for him to describe it in detail when he returns to the village – a wooden house that flew like a bird and roared like a 100 hornet nests. Inside it rode a man whose skin was pale and wore strange clothing. The tribe may have mocked him and asked to produce substantial evidence. Surely such a wild and ridiculous claim would require an extraordinary amount of support. Yet, he couldn’t produce even the slightest. Is his story true or not?
This is a mere half-truth. It’s true that absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. For example, science does not currently have a fully fleshed-out model for abiogenesis, nor does it have a specific fossil for each and every evolutionary transition that has occurred since life began. This does not mean that abiogenesis and evolution have not happened, however. Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.
On the other hand, it is far from true that a proposition’s validity is entirely unrelated to the presence or absence of supporting evidence. Granted, we may be able to think up anecdotes like the above in which a story is lacking in evidence but is nevertheless true. We must not forget, however, that stories which are not true will consistently come up short in the supporting evidence department. Lack of evidence does not make a story untrue, necessarily, but untruth does necessarily make for a lack of verifiable evidence. And if certain evidence is needed in order for a proposition to be consistent with itself or with reality, then the absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence, because truth must always be consistent with itself.
There is no such evidence that God doesn’t exist… We disbelieve in Santa Claus not because we lack evidence for his existence, but because we have significant evidence that such a person could not exist. Likewise for evolution, we don’t propose Intelligent Design because of a lack of scientific ability to explain certain processes of evolutionary theory (which is freely admitted even by the likes of Ken Miller), but because of significant evidence that such a thing could not happen (the argument rests on the strength of Intelligent Design’s arguments which have as of yet been largely unaddressed and rather ignored as ‘unscientific’).
Not surprisingly, the Fiddler carefully omits any reference to what would constitute “substantial evidence” that Santa Claus could not exist. If you grant Santa the same appeals to the supernatural that God exploits, there’s not really much that could constitute evidence against him. Spy satellites show only ice and snow at the north pole? That just goes to show that Santa’s workshop is magical. Not enough time to deliver all the toys in one night? Sure, Santa’s magical too. It’s simply amazing what you can accomplish given enough supernatural power, and never mind what the nay-sayers say.
Meanwhile, the evidence against God is pretty much the same as the evidence against Santa: neither one ever shows up in real life outside the stories, superstitions, and subjective feelings of men. Like God, Santa has people who do his work on his behalf, but the fellow himself only shows up in stories and imagination.
The appeal to Intelligent Design and creationism is a bit ironic in this regard. If God did show up in the real world, in the modern day, would anyone think it necessary or profitable to go all the way back to the poorly-documented events of ancient prehistory in order to find some tidbit ambiguous enough to serve as possible evidence that God might actually have interacted with the real world at some point? The only reason that creationists and ID’ers find it necessary to resort to the misty depths of time is because if you look for God to do anything in today’s world, you come up empty handed, apart from subjective and superstitious wishful thinking. God does not show up in the real world, and therefore believers have to invent creationism to try and create Him.
See debates from William Lane Craig vs (insert loser here) or NT Wright’s book “Jesus and the Victory of God” (not apologetic in nature yet carries more apologetic weight that most apologetic books). Then go read the professors of fraudulent history: James Tabor, April DeConick, Dominic Crossan, James Crossley etc… The history of the matter is so one-sided in favor of Christianity it’s really surprising. God didn’t have to give us so much evidence – but because of our weak faith He did.
More precisely, all God needed to do was to actually show up in the real world, to participate in that loving, personal relationship with each of His children, which the Gospel claims He wanted badly enough to take on human form and die for.
The problem with evidence for the “resurrection” is that Christians tend to use the same sort of language whether they’re speaking of things that are literally, physically happening out in the real world, or whether they’re speaking of inner, “spiritual” experiences that are taking place inside their perceptions and feelings where nobody else can confirm them. It’s entirely possible that Jesus “rose” from the dead in the same way as he “dwells” inside a believer’s heart. Ask a believer to give you some instances of God actually showing up in the real world, and notice how much emphasis they put on making it sound like He really did show up, even though He did not literally, physically put in any kind of audible, visible, tangible appearance. Then ask yourself what it would mean for Christianity if Jesus “rose” in the same sense as God “shows up” in the real world today.
There’s one simple and obvious consequence which we would expect to be able to see if Jesus rose from the dead: he should still be here. There’s no reason for him to leave, nothing he can do in heaven that he couldn’t accomplish from Jerusalem. The whole point of his ministry is supposedly that he wanted to be with us. Why, then, would he immediately leave once he had done what was needed in order to make that possible? That’s the single most significant piece of evidence a genuine resurrection would have produced, and it is quite striking in its absence.
You can find lots of people who thought that the resurrection was “true” in some sense, but you can find just as many people today who think it is “true” that Jesus is living in their heart. Just because a Christian speaks of a thing as being true does not mean that it corresponds literally to what you find in physical reality. So the argument from testimony tells you only what people believe, and not what literal, physical events transpired in the Tomb.
Finally, one thing that no atheist could ever grasp which is the ultimate undeniable fact of life. Even one true experience of God would completely invalidate atheism. Out of all the billions of experiences / supernatural interventions / miracles that have been claimed from the beginning of the earth, it’s an incredible leap of blind faith to assume that they were all false.
It is not necessary, however, to reach this conclusion merely by making a blind assumption. If truth is consistent with itself, we can draw reliable conclusions based on how consistent a proposition is with itself and the real world. For example, if the Gospel were really telling the truth about a loving God who wants to save each of us, would it make any sense at all that only one person would have a true experience of Him? The Fiddler would like to argue that there are so many people who believe in God that surely one of them must be correct, just by the law of averages.
The problem is, first of all, that the law of averages applies to random phenomena. If God is real, His existence and interactions with mankind shouldn’t be the kind of mindless, random phenomenon that would lend itself to a discussion of probabilities. If He really loves us as much as the Gospel says, and He really did all the Gospel says He did to make it possible for us to relate to Him, then He ought to be showing up, like any responsible Father, to spend time in tangibly-real, personal, two-way interaction with us. But He doesn’t, and even among those who claim He interacts with them, there is no consistency. One says one thing, one says another, each claims that God speaks to him and (surprise, surprise) confirms that his faith is the correct one.
Suppose we say, “Ok, most self-identified Christians are fakes, but so what? That doesn’t mean that there aren’t at least a few genuine Christians somewhere.” Doesn’t it? We look at believers, and we find some that agree pretty well with whatever seems right in our own eyes, but of course each individual has a somewhat different idea of what “that which seems right” is. Overall, however, no one group has any advantage over any other: each attracts only those who have a natural affinity for their views, due to personality, culture, education, etc, and maybe those who have some kind of social attachment to other members. And that’s pretty much it.
Is that consistent with the idea that one small group has direct access to the full power, wisdom, and spirit of the True and Living God, and that the rest are all fakes? Is God’s influence over a person’s life so mild and insubstantial as to leave him or her indistinguishable from the fakes and wannabees? If God really were leading, filling, and illuminating a select few believers, would we be left with nothing but the law of averages as our basis for guessing that they might exist somewhere?
This is not at all a question of probabilities. There’s a very consistent and universal pattern to the evidence, a pattern that is not just predictable but is the inevitable consequence which would result from God being nothing more than a mythical character invented by men to satisfy their own religious cravings. More than that, it’s a pattern that is completely inconsistent with the things we ought to see showing up in the real world if there were a loving God who was willing, able, and eager to spend time personally interacting with each of us.
So thanks, Fiddler, for giving us a quick demo of the current state of Christian apologetics. It comes up a bit short, but that’s because you can’t get more out of it than God puts into it. And God doesn’t put anything into it. If He did, there wouldn’t be any atheists.