Encore: Is it wrong to say there is no evidence of God?

[Originally published as “Pharyngula: Another round in the Kleiman/Myers skirmish” on July 17, 2007.]

PZ Myers has another go at those who claim that it’s wrong to criticize someone else’s belief in God. In so doing, he voices a frequently-expressed opinion that, in my view, does a bad job of (should I say it?) “framing” the debate.

I am saying precisely that belief in god is wrong because there is no empirical or theoretical support for it; there is a concatenation of myths leavened with post-hoc justifications for them, which is not the same thing.

There’s something unsatisfactory about saying that there is no evidence for God. After all, we learn new things all the time. Just because we say “there is no evidence for God” doesn’t mean that evidence might not exist somewhere. It just means we haven’t seen any (yet).

To me, that argument comes up short. Science is based on truth, and if there’s one thing we know about truth, it’s that truth is self-consistent. More than that, the self-consistency of truth is the way–the only way–we tell the difference between what’s correct and what’s false. To be consistent with the truth is to be true. To be inconsistent with the truth is to be false.

The problem with God, as conceived of by Christians, is not just that there’s no evidence for Him, it’s that He’s inconsistent with the evidence we do have. If there were an all-loving, all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful God who wanted a personal relationship with each of us, badly enough to literally die for it, then the most fundamental and obvious consequence would be God showing up, on a regular basis, in the real world, to actually participate in that relationship. What we see in real life, believer or not, is that this does not happen. The things we see in the real world are blatantly inconsistent with the consequences which would result if the Gospel were telling the truth about God.

The godlessness that believers so often complain about is just that: “God-less-ness.” Hairlessness is the absence of hair, purposelessness is the absence of purpose, and godlessness is the absence of God. The Gospel says that God ought to be present, but the world is, as everyone admits, essentially godless. That’s not just an absence of evidence, that’s evidence which is inconsistent with the Gospel being true.

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Posted in Encore, Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Encore: Is it wrong to say there is no evidence of God?”

  1. mikespeir Says:

    Science is based on truth? I see science as an endeavor in search of what’s true about the world and the universe. Naturally, once we arrive at a conclusion that such and such a thing is true that “truth” becomes a steppingstone toward further searching for things that are true. It’s not an unassailable protocol, but it has a remarkably successful track record.

    Evidence? Well, the fact that billions of people believe in a higher power is evidence. Is it good evidence? No, I don’t think so. Because I see no good evidence I am one of those atheists “who doesn’t believe there is,” rather than one “who believes there is not.”

  2. Brian Utterback Says:

    The point is that lack of evidence may or may not constitute negative evidence. Lack of evidence for the existence of God may be negative evidence depending on the attributes of God. The God that you and P.Z. and most Christians are talking about is an active one, and the lack of evidence is evidence of the lack of God. P.Z. goes further and takes the scientific point of view that evidence guides the hypothesis. But the God Hypothesis already exists outside of the scientific method. P.Z. rejects it because it fails to have even that beginning germ of evidence. Other fall back on a God of the Gaps approach. But some (like you, I believe) have a more complete formulation of God that more elegantly fails to overlap with observable reality, and so can co-exist with science and evidence.

  3. EdW Says:

    On the face of it, I would say you were spot on. Once theists define specific qualities of God, there can be empirical evidence against these qualities, and often is. But the argument goes beyond just the Gospel God — There is similarly no evidence for Vishnu, or Enki, or Zeus, or a deist Creator, so PZ’s refutation is perhaps simply more broad. I do not think there even *can* be any evidence against something like a deist Creator, except perhaps heuristics such as Occam’s Razor. I think the “lack of evidence” statement is fine as it stands — only when you’re talking specifics can you bring in evidence against.

  4. EdW Says:

    sheeot! I didn’t even notice this was a repost… I’m sure all this was hashed out before. My bad.

  5. jim Says:

    Depends how the word ‘evidence’ is being used, I reckon. Under most circumstances, people saying ‘There’s no evidence’ mean there’s nothing they find particularly credible. But apologists who lean on epistemological games would argue for anything that supports their position, from questionable anecdotes to faces of saints in potato chips. In that sense, maybe there’s evidence for anything, including the things that contradict the other things.

  6. MLee Says:

    I would think P.Z. Myers would be referring to to a standard Jewish/christian god.
    Suppose “god” was unintelligent or only as aware as a paramecium, wouldn’t that have strange implications..

  7. Bacopa Says:

    Absence of evidence quite often is evidence of absence. It’s not always this: We have no evidence of extraterrestrial intelligent life. Well, there are the UFO folk, but they haven’t given us much. Even so, the lack of evidence for ETIs should not discourage the effort to find them. Our means of finding them are severely limited.

    It’s different with God. He wants us to know Him but has given us nothing, or at most, very little.

    Some try to explain this lack of evidence as God trying to preserve our free will. I think that’s nonsense. Leaving aside debates about what “free will” means, how could having LESS information make us MORE free? Let us simply define “the will” as the capacity to act according to our beliefs and desires and leave aside whether this action is mechanically determined or not. I cannot see how knowing more makes me less free. Knowing more may make some options seem less viable, but in general my desires are more likely to be fulfilled by knowing more.

  8. Swimmy Says:

    Bacopa: Right you are that the free will argument is bunk. As our good blog proprietor has pointed out numerous times, apart from this post but in a similar argumentative line, the Christian claim is that God DID give people evidence of his presence, indeed his very presence itself, in the form of Jesus. Did God not care about people’s free will 2000 years ago? No, the Christian must believe that God’s own presence made no difference to the hard-hearted, indeed they even rejected him in the worst way. It’s nonsense to say that we can’t see him now for the sake of free will. Why wouldn’t the hard-hearted just reject him again?