“Barefoot Bum” may hold the record for the most casual nom-de-blog of any commenter here on Thinking Christian. Nevertheless he asked some great questions in a comment here not long ago:
I am still quite curious precisely how theists would a) define evidence, b) define how conclusions are drawn from evidence and c) put forth an evidentiary case for the existence of the Christian God and c) put forth an evidentiary case for the non-existence of Allah or Krishna.
I’m going to use these questions to kick off a new series of blog posts, starting (naturally enough) with the first question: how would theists define evidence? I will of course be speaking from the standpoint of Christian theism as I understand it, and not from other versions of theism.
I would define evidence broadly (and simply) as any information that would tend to lead a person toward a conclusion. Evidences are not always proofs—a court will consider circumstantial evidence, and rarely does a case turn on one piece of evidence alone. Evidences may qualify as such even if there is contradictory evidence. If she smiles at you, that’s evidence that she might like you; if she smiles even brighter at another man, that doesn’t mean her first smile wasn’t evidence, it just means that it needs to be interpreted in a broader context. Evidences can be misleading and still be evidences; otherwise the whole genre of mystery fiction would collapse overnight.
Evidences specifically for Christianity would include any information that would tend to lead someone toward any or all of what we might call a packaged set of conclusions, including ideas such as that there is an infinite, personal creator God, that he has spoken through the Bible, that he has personally revealed himself through Jesus Christ, that we humans were created for relationship with him, that we are being called from a state of alienation and rebellion from God, back into relationship with him through Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is the king of creation, and so on.
As I think about this I can’t help thinking of what Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith (p. 23):
“In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable.”
He must have been thinking of some different definition for evidence. I find it hard to come up with any charitable interpretation; I think he was thinking of evidence along the lines of “something that a committed atheist like me would accept as proof for God, which of course I know in advance doesn’t exist, so since I can’t conceive of it, it must not be conceivable, even though millions of people throughout history have thought it was.” Actually there are mountains of evidence for Christianity’s claims. As one of the Gang of Four “New Atheists” he doesn’t find it convincing, to say the least, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
I think, though, that Barefoot Bum was looking for something more than just some general definition for evidence. What kinds of information do theists have in mind when we speak of evidences for Christianity? I’ll list some of them in bare outline form. You might view this as a sort of table of contents for future blog entries, in addition to being part of the answer to Barefoot Bum’s question.
- The historical, documentary testimony of the Bible
- Historiographical and bibliographical indicators that the biblical documents are what they present themselves to be
- Prophecies made and fulfilled in history
- The existence of the Christian church as an historical movement
- Changed lives of Christians
- Miracles, signs, wonders, visions, etc., both historical and contemporary
- The self-authenticating wisdom of Biblical teaching; its close fit with the realities of human experience
- A long list of philosophical evidences
- The internal testimony of God in one’s life