Thinking Christian

Thinking Christianity for church, home, and community

No Evidence for Christianity?

Posted on Sep 4, 2012 by Tom Gilson

“There’s absolutely no evidence for Christianity!” A Google search for that phrase returns almost 100,000 pages. Many (not all, but many) of them are categorical: there is no evidence for Christianity. (I’ve listed a few of these below.) It’s a sad commentary on our times that anyone could think that. Last night at Discussion Grounds I posted eight categories of evidences for the truth of Christianity:

  1. There is sound historical evidence supporting the most crucial claims of Christianity, having to do with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  2. There are sound philosophical reasons to believe in the necessary existence of the God of theism
  3. Theism proposes a God who can communicate successfully with humans on his own terms (he is not incapable of correcting errors!)
  4. Miracles happen in answer to prayer, frequently, still in the 21st century
  5. Non-theistic (especially materialistic) explanations for human experience are completely inadequate
  6. Materialistic protestations that science has disproved theism are entirely question-begging
  7. Other major rebuttals offered to Christian theism, including for example the problem of evil, are weakly supported and/or fail to overwhelm the positive evidence for Christianity
  8. Although not fully packaged with a bow around it, the Christian explanation for all of human experience is existentially and intellectually satisfying

All of these are answers to Phil’s question, how do we know we’re not being fooled? What error-correction methods does Christianity have at its service to protect believers from religious delusion?

Any one of these categories could fill several shelves worth of books.

I need to explain number 3 which isn’t really evidence for Christianity, but which was relevant in context of our debate. It is a reminder that theism could still be true, and could be known to be true, even if the only evidence for it were God’s revelation and confirmation in the mind and heart of each individual believer. But that’s an “even if” kind of statement. The fact is there are at least seven other categories of evidence supporting knowledge of the truth of Christianity.

A few representative pages claiming there really is no evidence for Christianity:

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16 Responses to “ No Evidence for Christianity? ”

  1. Patrick says:

    As for evidence for Christianity I pointed to some of it in the following thread under the name “patrick.sele”:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/09/is-there-any-evidence-for-christianity.html

  2. Patrick says:

    “4. Miracles happen in answer to prayer, frequently, still in the 21st century”

    There is plenty of evidence concerning Christian miracles from recent times. Well-documented miracle accounts can be found in the following biography of the Lutheran pastor and theologian Johann Christoph Blumhardt:

    Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: Life and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.

    In the following excerpt from another biography of Blumhardt, written by his friend Friedrich Zündel (1827-1891), we find a description of the miraculous events surrounding Blumhardt’s work:

    http://data.plough.com/ebooks/Awakening.pdf

    Another good source for Christian miracles from more recent times is the following work:

    Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 vols., Grand Rapids 2011.

    To these books can be added the following book containing a testimony of a healing miracle that happened about ten years ago:

    Don and Jill Vanderhoof, From Strength to Strength: Our Testimony of God’s Healing, Greenville, SC 2002.

    From the back cover:

    “Don and Jill Vanderhoof and their two children, Ben and April, are church-planting missionaries in the country of Germany. In August 2000, Don was the human version of Mad Cow Disease. The diagnosis was made based on characteristic patterns of brain degeneration indicated on MRI brain scans and Don’s unmistakable symptoms. The Vanderhoofs were told that this disease is always fatal. This story is their testimony of God’s healing.”

    Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer. nat. Harald Hefter, Assistant Medical Director of the Neurological Teaching Hospital in Düsseldorf (Germany):

    “Nach klinischem Erscheinungsbild, Verlauf und Zusatzdiagnostik (…) war das Vorliegen der neuen Variante der Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Erkranung sehr wahrscheinlich, so dass (…) angesichts der aussichtslosen Prognose der zügige Rücktransport in die USA organisiert wurde.(…)

    Als Herr Don Vanderhoof sich nach 1 1/2 Jahren gesund in unserer Klinik vorstellte, verbreitete sich die Nachricht von seiner Rückkehr wie ein Lauffeuer unter denen, die ihn zuvor betreut hatten. Alle waren über die nicht für möglich gehaltene Genesung sehr erstaunt.“

    Translation:

    “According to clinical manifestation, progress and additional diagnostics (…) there was a high probability that we had the new variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease before us, so that in view of this hopeless diagnosis a speedy return journey to the USA was organized. (…)

    When after one and a half years Mr Don Vanderhoof introduced himself again in our hospital while being in good healt, the news about his return spread like wildfire among those who had taken care of him. Everybody was surprised at such a seemingly impossible recovery.”

    (source: http://www.amazon.de/Aber-einzigartige-Geschichte-einer-Heilung/dp/3417248922)

  3. banev says:

    “the Christian explanation for all of human experience is existentially and intellectually satisfying”

    The fact that this is ‘satisfying’ only to people who already accept Christianity as a matter of faith, who want it to be true, and virtually to no one else, should be a ‘minor’ clue that the whole project is little more than an exercise in wishful thinking and post-hoc rationalizations.
    Actuality, the first things that becomes obvious to anyone who doesn’t simply assume the conclusion, is precisely the vacuousness of Christianity–or for that matter any other of the major monotheistic religions–as an explanatory framework. Otherwise Christianity would stand revealed as a science and wouldn’t have about as much credibility and respectability in academia or the university as the belief that Elvis is still alive, if not less. And then the religious wonder why many people wouldn’t trust a faith-head even with a job as a janitor? What normal person would?

  4. JAD says:

    @banev

    How did you become such a superior intellect?

  5. Victoria says:

    @banev
    You made a broad assertion about Tom’s #8, rather than presenting a well-thought-out, reasoned argument. You did not address specifically those existential and intellectual areas where you think Christianity is lacking, nor did you present us with any arguments to show how your atheism offers anything better.
    In fact, you have just demonstrated that Paul really hit the nail on the head in Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.

    We could equally apply the same to your atheism – you want Theism to NOT be true, so you YOU engage in rationalization and wishful thinking.

    In any case, you have not addressed the actual basis for Christian Theism; rather you have merely caricatured it.

    You said

    And then the religious wonder why many people wouldn’t trust a faith-head even with a job as a janitor? What normal person would?

    Your anti-religious bigotry might have struck a nerve if it were actually true. I guess you didn’t take into account that there are Christians (and for that matter, people of all faiths) in all walks of life – doctors, nurses, scientists, lawyers, business-people, engineers, teachers, as well as farmers, construction workers, and yes, even cleaners and janitors (whom you seem to despise in your own arrogant way); In this blog, you will encounter people who are professional scientists and mathematicians (I myself have a PhD in experimental Physics) – I could ask what your professional qualifications are.

    If you have an actual argument to present, then present it.

  6. Victoria says:

    @JAD
    perhaps banev is a Sheldon Cooper wannabe :)

  7. BillT says:

    “Otherwise Christianity would stand revealed as a science…”

    More of this nonesense? Christianity is a religious belief. Science has next to nothing to tell us about Christianity or any other religious belief. History, archaeology and philosophy have lots to tell us. Isn’t this the same lack of understading that Phil Torres is struggleing with.

  8. SteveK says:

    I enjoyed reading the link Tom provided on the problems scientists face in using statistics to make their case. A few notable quotes caught my attention:.

    But in fact, there’s no logical basis for using a P value from a single study to draw any conclusion. If the chance of a fluke is less than 5 percent, two possible conclusions remain: There is a real effect, or the result is an improbable fluke. Fisher’s method offers no way to know which is which. On the other hand, if a study finds no statistically significant effect, that doesn’t prove anything, either. Perhaps the effect doesn’t exist, or maybe the statistical test wasn’t powerful enough to detect a small but real effect.

    This is what I, and others, would regularly argue with DoctorLogic about in the context of using Bayesian methods. As one example: the probability of winning the lottery is small and so is the probability of the winner forging a ticket and lying about the whole thing. Nowhere in these raw, cold statistics will it tell you if, in fact, the person actually won the lottery or if they are lying about it — and that is the very question we are trying to answer.

    Are you justified in believing one way or the other? Well, it depends on the information you have and some have more information than others. If you know the person to be a chronic liar and know this is the kind of thing they would do to garner public attention, then you are *more* justified in going against the odds than the person who is making his decision by staring at the raw, cold statistics. That person doesn’t know if a fluke just occured or if it followed the statistical pattern..

    Bayes methods attempt to improve upon this, but it still cannot avoid the same problem that haunts the hardened objectivist. That problem being some people have access to more information than others, information that cannot be transferred to others, verified or repeated..

    BTW, I do wonder what happened to DL. Hope he is doing well.

    But Bayesian methods introduce a confusion into the actual meaning of the mathematical concept of “probability” in the real world. Standard or “frequentist” statistics treat probabilities as objective realities; Bayesians treat probabilities as “degrees of belief” based in part on a personal assessment or subjective decision about what to include in the calculation. That’s a tough placebo to swallow for scientists wedded to the “objective” ideal of standard statistics. “Subjective prior beliefs are anathema to the frequentist, who relies instead on a series of ad hoc algorithms that maintain the facade of scientific objectivity,” Diamond and Kaul wrote.

    Uber-skeptics want to rule out everyone’s personal experiences, knowledge gained from other sources and solid philosophical arguments – and in doing so they skew the statistics in favor of an unrealisitic reality where God doesn’t exist. That’s not getting us any closer to the truth of the matter. That skewed view of reality ought to be revised and updated with the latest information.

    As mentioned above in the quote from the article, statistics alone can’t help you answer the main question, whatever it may be. If you, a priori, rule out all forms of knowledge that serves to inform and shape your answer – things I mentioned above – then are you justified in holding on to your skewed answer? No, because it’s admittedly a biased answer.

  9. SteveK says:

    As for me, I’m more curious about the fluke events. When 95% of all patients experience the same healing effect from a drug – that’s interesting. When 2% of the patients experience that same healing effect *without* taking the drug – now you’ve really got my attention. :)

  10. d says:

    Of course, the claim that there is no evidence for Christianity is, at best, hyperbole.

    The claim that there is only poor evidence for Christianity is more accurate.

  11. SteveK says:

    What evidence do you have for this claim, d?

  12. JAD says:

    What evidence does d have that naturalism is true?

    After all, naturalism claims that natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence.

    What proof or evidence is there that that claim is true?

  13. […] The arguments we made for revelation and for Christianity in general were based on historical evidence and on philosophical reasoning. Granted, he hadn’t read that far yet. Still I don’t know where he acquired this belief that Christian apologetics is mostly subjective. He didn’t get it from our book. He didn’t get it from most apologetics books. I have to wonder–there isn’t enough evidence there to be sure, but I have to wonder–whether there’s anything to his supposition here beyond old-fashioned stereotyping. It’s as if he expected a certain thing from Christian apologists, failing to see that what he expected isn’t there. Apologetics is typically an appeal to evidence—objective evidence. (Maybe he thinks it’s weak evidence, but even if so, “weak evidence” is not synonymous with “subjective evidence.” See further here.) […]

  14. PhiloOOO says:

    Very interesting article. I enjoyed some of the topics brought up by SteveK as well. The placebo effect is indeed very interesting, and is claimed by some to be responsible for up to 30% of the successful outcomes in clinical trials! I used to think this was evidence of dualism actually. Although I do not view it that way now, it sure is one of the more interesting topics in the materialism vs dualism debates. If you ask for casual mechanisms from either side, we see how open our current logical tendencies and scientific knowledge leaves the subject. I hope it remains unsolved for a while actually, I quite enjoy its current place in philosophy and religion and all the memorable analogies authors on the subject have produced.

  15. […] even if so, “weak evidence” is not synonymous with “subjective evidence.” See further here.)What if Mike D were to take an evidence-based approach to how apologists treat evidence? An […]

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