Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On the Existence of God - How Much Evidence Do We Need?

I listened to a debate between an atheist and a theist recently. Can't think of the atheist's name at the moment - it was the guy who's always suing someone to take the pledge out of schools and what not...

He 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. Sounds very reasonable. I'll accept it just by the testimony of whoever told me. 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.

First - in the search for truth, ability to produce sufficient evidence is completely unrelated to a proposition's validity.

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?

Second - in the above example (and the ones he cited), we don't disbelieve in the story of the man's brother merely because of a lack of evidence, but because of substantial evidence that such a thing could not be true.

There is no such evidence that God doesn't exist. Many Darwinists and (some popular Christians who mock Intelligent Design such as Ken Miller) would also do well to grasp this point. 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').

Third - in spite of the two facts listed already, there IS substantial evidence to validate the claims of Christ's resurrection. So much so, in fact, it's uncanny.

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.

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. (Dr. Stephen Unwin in his book "The Probability of God" makes the same point and ties it in to his greater conclusion of God's probability using the Bayesian theorem). In fact, calling such a delusional mindset blind faith is being generous. Blind faith is when you have no evidence to support your claim yet you believe it for reasons unrelated to the evidence.

Let's suppose a rescue team of thousands and thousands of people are digging and digging to rescue trapped survivors of an earthquake and they finally reach a point where it's possible to continue but only at great cost. At this time, they are very certain that they've rescued anyone who is able to be rescued. One by one each rescuer tests a certain area which they believe may contain a survivor by knocking on the partially buried room. Each one walks away disappointed as no one responds. Late in the evening, one man claims he heard a voice from within the room and it said distinctly "help me" and proceeded to carry on a conversation with the trapped individual. This one experience completely invalidates all the others.

Maybe the man was crazy. But then look at theists, are all theists crazy? Such a belief is surely a stretch of credibility beyond breaking point. For those of us who have had an experience with God (or multiple), it's not a guessing game for us. We know God is real. Could we be wrong? Sure we could. But only in the same way that I could be wrong about the concept that I'm actually typing this blog right now. Maybe there really is no computer in front of me. It could be a complete illusion. But all my senses are telling me that this computer is real and so is the fact that I'm blogging right now. It's the same with God, I might be wrong about His existence but every sense that I trust to tell me truth about other things tells me that God is very real.

I'd be a complete fool to doubt these senses on this issue and trust them on any other. And if I'm wrong about God 1. No one will ever find out 2. It doesn't matter anyway.

With the facts of reality stacked so strongly in favor of theism and in particular Christianity, it's not hard to see why most people are theists and the largest group of theists (by far) is Christian. (Likewise) With the facts of Christianity stacked so far in favor of Catholicism, it's not hard to see why most Christians are Catholics. Mere popularity doesn't prove correctness of course... but hey - unpopularity sure doesn't either.


Rich said...

"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?"

Sorry, but you have concocted a classic strawman and your example does not invalidate the assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Your tribesman lacks the requisite tools to prove his assertions. Where for example is his video camera, his tape recorder, his interview with the pilot. I refer you to the following web page for information regarding the philosophy of logic.


No one has ever witnessed a dead body arising from a grave, nor have Christians ever offered any sort of plausible explanation of how this could occur except by a supernatural mechanism that has to be taken on faith from a description in an ancient text.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Rich - thanks for the comments.

Unfortunately you're completely wrong about this being a 'straw man' argument. I'm fully aware of what a straw man argument is and this isn't even close. Thanks for starting my day off with a good laugh though.

I said: "in the search for truth, ability to produce sufficient evidence is completely unrelated to a proposition's validity."

To disprove that you said "Your tribesman lacks the requisite tools to prove his assertions"

So let's boil this down and make it simple enough for everyone to understand the arguments on the table.

I said [the tribesman not being able to prove something is not related to whether it's true or not]

You said [thats not true because the tribesman can't prove it]

Let's break it down even further. I'll make this easy on you.

I said [A is not related to B]

You disagreed because of your reasoning: [A]

You didn't even attempt to disprove my logic. It might be wrong, but if so, you're going to have to prove that A IS related to B. You can't simply restate A in different words. We have already accepted proposition A (non-ability to produce evidence) in fact, it's the key part of my proposition!

Come on Rich - you can do better than that. Give it another shot.

"No one has ever witnessed a dead body arising from a grave,"

Besides the fact that this is an impossible statement to prove, the original point. --Whether or not someone has ever witnessed a certain occurrence happening is entirely unrelated to whether the thing really can/does happen or not.

Or maybe we could disprove this by your logic:

"Whether or not someone has ever witnessed a certain occurrence happening is entirely unrelated to whether the thing really can/does happen or not."

"Nuh Uhhhh. No one has ever witnessed it"

Besides, many people have claimed to have witnessed such a thing (resurrection).

Rich, I invite you to re-read the post. I think you'll be a little embarrassed by how far off your reasoning is. My logic may be wrong, but certainly not for the reasons you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Rich would have saved time had he just typed "Nuh uhhh".

Rich said...

Logic is the branch of philosophy we use to search for truth. According to the rules of logic you do need evidence to prove an assertion. This is where your argument like most apologists arguments leaves the rails.

You are making the assertion here. Please supply some evidence that dead bodies can rise from the grave (after three days, but that is a matter of dispute is it not) or for that matter, just choose any biblical miracle. The reason you guys insist that evidence is not required is because you have no way of providing it anymore than a primative native has of proving he witnessed an airplane. If I were standing with him equipped with my video camera or even a still camera then you must agree that the evidence we gather would have to sway some tribesmen.

The point is that without evidence you can just make stuff up and then insist your detractors prove you are wrong. The reason this will not fly is that scientists and philosophers and all thinking people cannot be burdened with all the fantasies, myths and ghost stories the human mind is capable of concocting. This is why if you want anyone to take you seriously you will spend more time searching for evidence and less time concocting arguments that have been refuted over and over.

For a far more sophisticated line of reasoning check out this web site:


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Rich - Why dont you respond to what I said instead of going off on a rant?
If you want to see what that might look like (responding to my points)
see this guy's post. He does a great job of it. I answered his objections in my subsequent post here.

Oh and regarding this sort of thing not flying with scientists and philosophers, that's funny considering roughly 50% of scientists are theists and I'm sure the number is much higher for philosophers.

No one ever said you don't need evidence or you shouldn't have any.
I look forward to your comments once you have re-read the post and understand what I said. Thanks!