No evidence? Hardly.

I may have blogged about this before, but Vox Day’s recent question got me thinking about it again. What should an atheist say when a Christian asks why they don’t believe in God? My response, of course, is that I do believe in God, and in fact I’ve got a better God (or Goddess) than they do. But for the truly die-hard atheist, probably the most common answer is “Because there is no evidence. Show me the evidence for God, and then I’ll believe He exists.”

I gotta tell you, and apologies if this offends anyone, but that’s just about the worst answer you could give.

The problem with the “no evidence for God” argument is twofold: First, as many a “former atheist” will testify, telling someone you don’t know of any evidence for God merely opens the door for a number of targeted, well-oiled evangelistic techniques designed to convince you that the Christian knows something you don’t. Sure, you are too intelligent and well-educated to fall for that stuff, but a lot of people aren’t. The “no evidence for God” argument functions much the same as an appeal to ignorance: all it takes to refute it (or to create the appearance of having refuted it) is to cite some fact (or something that sounds like a fact) that fills in the knowledge gap. And Christians have 19+ centuries of experience in appealing to people’s superstitions, foibles, and psychological weaknesses in order to create that impression.

But the second and more significant reason why the “no evidence” argument is a bad idea is because it is untrue, or at least incomplete. It’s not true that there is no evidence. There’s tons of evidence, and it’s uniformly and universally inconsistent with the Christian idea of God. Christianity thrives on ignorance, and by saying “there is no evidence,” you create an assumption that there’s no evidence against God either. Or to put it another way, if your best argument against God is that you have no argument for Him, you’re simply creating a context in which the believer can assume that they do have the evidence you lack. The atheistic argument can and should be stronger: not that the evidence is lacking, but that it is abundantly present, and consistently contrary to Christian claims.

For example, take the fact that God does not show up in real life. This is not just a lack of evidence for God’s existence, it’s a piece of evidence which is inconsistent with the Gospel. If you say, “I do not see God in real life,” the Christian can assume you’re just not looking in the right place, that you haven’t found evidence of God because you didn’t want to find it. But the evidence against the Gospel is that God does not show up in real life for anybody, believer or skeptic, even though He ought to be both willing and able to show up all the time if the Gospel were true and self-consistent.

Or take miraculous healings and rescues: it’s not just that we have no evidence that God played any tangible role in the outcome, it’s that giving God credit for saving someone creates an inconsistency. If He can save a few, He could save more. More importantly, if He were able to work a genuine, supernatural miracle, that would prove there was no compelling reason why He could not provide us with other tangible manifestations. He need not merely do a magic trick that some might attribute to the wrong idea of God. He could actually show up and tell us what the correct interpretation of the Gospel was. Would a loving heavenly Father really care more about our brief mortal existence than about the eternal salvation of our souls? If saving a few shows that God loves those few, then His failure to save the many (from Hell!) shows at least a corresponding lack of love for them. Yet the Gospel claims God has a self-sacrificial love for all men—another contradiction.

Real life gives us almost unlimited opportunities to examine the real-world evidence, to see if it is consistent with the Gospel claims men make about God. Once you filter out the superstitions, the fantasies, the autosuggestion and subjective intuitions, you are left with a body of objective evidence which does not merely fail to show God’s existence, but which is frankly inconsistent with the possibility. The real God, if God there is, must be a God more like Alethea than Jehovah. And that’s how we can reasonably and reliably conclude that the Christian Gospel is not the truth.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “No evidence? Hardly.”

  1. Paul C Says:

    One thing that should also worry Christians is the evidential problem of suffering, which actually acts as evidence against their specific god (although it’s pretty fine evidence for the evil god hypothesis).

  2. pablo Says:

    The answer i like to give is: “Because god is extraneous.” It usually ends the pestering, mostly because i think some of the proselytizers don’t know the meaning of the word “extraneous” and don’t want to embarrass themselves. Occasionally i’m asked to elaborate that invoking god really doesn’t explain anything that cannot be explained by more rational means.

  3. Don’t say there is no evidence for God « Unreasonable Faith Says:

    […] 13, 2008 by Daniel Florien Deacon Duncan explains why claiming there is no evidence for God isn’t the best tactic when debating the existence […]

  4. ktayloraz Says:

    Actually, I have found recently the best way to deal with this.

    When the believe asks, “do you believe in god?” my reply is simple:

    I do not believe you.

    Since they are the messenger, they need to be convincing.

  5. Rob Says:

    Saying there is no evidence is not in any way analogous to an appeal to ignorance. An appeal to ignorance is when you conclude something positive from a lack of disproving evidence. The atheist does not conclude anything positive.

    Further, it is not any old god that believers are interested in; they are interested in a very specific kind of god, one that cares about humans, rewards believers in the afterlife, is good, is powerful, etc. And there is no, even remotely convincing, evidence for that kind of god whatsoever.

    You should read David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, you might find it helpful.

  6. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Rob,

    Thanks for the interesting comments. I suppose by “appeal to ignorance,” I was alluding to the idea that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Which would probably have been a better way to put it, now that I think about it. Saying “there is no evidence for God” automatically assumes “there is no evidence that I know of for His existence.” The believer will naturally then assume that he possesses knowledge which you do not.

    My point is that the atheist is not in the position of simply lacking information about God, but is in possession of abundant, verifiable information that is inconsistent with the idea that the “specific kind of god” you mention is objectively real. In that sense, then, it’s probably more effective to argue what you have than to argue what you lack.

  7. Rob Says:

    Deacon,

    I agree with what you say in the second paragraph, there is loads of evidence that points toward the non-existence of that special kind of god.

    In your first paragraph you are touching upon an epistemological issue and we should keep in mind that it is not just _me_ who doesn’t see the evidence for god, but something much more sinister—the world being what it is, _any_ rational agent should reach the same conclusion given the evidence available: There is no god. Of course, we might be wrong, but that’s not really the point.

    So, I still think “there is no evidence” is a perfectly good response to the question, “why don’t you believe in God”? It is not just that _I_ don’t see the evidence, it’s much bigger than all that—any rational agent won’t see the evidence.

  8. Oli Says:

    The only rational answer an atheist can give is that no evidence has been presented which warrants the belief that god exists. It’s not up to the atheist to present evidence that contradicts the notion of god. It’s up to the believer to adduce evidence in favour of the existence of one. If this ‘no evidence’ argument isn’t convincing to the believer, you’re dealing with someone who is fundamentally irrational and not really worth getting into a discussion with.

  9. B8ovin Says:

    Oddly enough, I am working on a series of essays with the theme: Why I don’t believe in God. Briefly: I reject the authority of the holy books; God does not appear to be useful in any natural way; the history of belief in god(s) suggests psychological need to invent them; an understanding of science and the potential of science readily explains nature without an appeal to the supernatural.

    Obviously these are summaries and there is a great deal more to them, and they represent my personal view only. I have, however, found in working on them, that I am confident I can defend myself simply when asked why I don’t believe in god. I simply answer, “Why should I?” and force them to make arguments I can then answer.

  10. gbusch Says:

    When asked “do you believe” I often state “I do not subscribe to superstition”. The believers are placed immediately on the defensive having to justify why their belief is not superstition. While they fumble around trying to formulate a coherent arguement for a question they did not expect, I have plenty of time to selectively choose my next question. Their politeness works against them here since they are compelled to answer all your questions. Before long they come up with answers that inevitably contradict another. Shaking one’s head and pointing out the inconsistency (especially to the student following the teacher around) is a recipe that puts you on their ‘do not call’ list. The JW’s don’t come a’callin anymore.

  11. bipolar2 Says:

    ** who decides what is empirically true? — it’s not God **

    With respect to science vs. the current big-3 monotheisms, the relationship is strongly asymmetrical in favor of science. Science is the arbiter of which statements about the world, empirical statements, are or are not “known” — that is, are given the always provisional metalinguistic accolade, ‘is true.’

    Such statements are ‘methodologically fit’ according to the *relevant testing procedures within science itself.* This is the meaning of the scientific revolution — who certifies empirical knowledge?, who shall decide what statements are true?, and by what criteria?

    Neither ‘ethical fitness’ as in Heraclitus and his Stoic followers, nor ‘theological fitness’ as in Plato and his xian followers, is any longer considered a viable principle for assessing the truth of an empirical statement. (Not, of course, for 20% of the US population that claims the Sun revolves about the Earth because a jewish myth implies it!)

    Methodologically, whenever so-called sacred writings make claims about the natural world, they are subject to exactly the same forces of potential refutation as any other empirical claim.

    There is no “executive privilege” for God.

    bipolar2
    © 2008

  12. chris Says:

    I guess the time has come that we must actually defend ourselves against christian proselytizing. I frankly don’t care how many fundy christians there are, and would never try to spread my world view over theirs. But they vote terribly. They would start WWIII just to prevent gay marriage. The death of their sons means nothing to them.

  13. RationalOkie Says:

    gbusch – I love your response:
    “I do not subscribe to superstition”

    In fact, I personally think it’s the best response that I’ve ever heard. On soooo many levels that one is cleverly subversive and straight to the point.

    I don’t want to argue for 20 minutes just to get to the part where I say, “Are you saying that you believe in talking donkeys and snakes? You believe that a man lived 900 years? The earths 6,000 years old? Have you SEEEEN the Grand Canyon? etc…..”

    Nope, your one line sentence say’s it all. Well done my good and faithless servant.

    RationalOkie –
    Ya…there is actually a guy in Oklahoma that’s rational.

  14. jim666 Says:

    I ask them to disprove the existence of the thousands of other gods human kind has dreamt up, when they can’t I just tell them that I lump theirs with the rest.