Atheists and “Evidence”

Mike Gene got me thinking about atheists and evidence with a post today at Shadow to Light. (If you’re not following his blog, you really ought to be.) I comment there with the following thoughts, which I think are worth sharing more publicly. His post provides some necessary context, although if you’ve been involved in some of these conversations before you’ll be able to pick this up right from here.

 

Atheists frequently say “evidence” when they mean “proof.” For them (as Mike Gene pointed out) it isn’t “evidence” unless it’s “evidence strong enough to convince me.”

But that’s not what the word means. Evidence properly understood is any true information I or valid line of reasoning L such that knowing I or L increases one’s confidence in the truth of some conclusion C.

Fingerprints are evidence because they increase confidence in the truth that some person could have committed the crime in question. What if the fingerprints you’re looking aren’t proof? Nothing could be more common: Fingerprints on their own are probably never the whole evidence needed to convict. They’re still evidence.

What if there are ten other sets of fingerprints there, and any one of the ten could have been the perp? The first set of fingerprints still count as evidence, according to any normal understanding of the word.

Evidence comes in varying degrees of quality. An eyewitness who can testify to someone’s general height, weight, and body frame can deliver evidence, but not like an eyewitness who can testify that the person involved is definitely his brother-in-law. The latter may serve as proof, where the former couldn’t. Either way it’s still evidence.

The Bible itself is evidence of Christianity: Is Christianity more likely to be true, given the existence of the Bible? Of course! Obviously the existence of the Bible, on its own and without close inspection of its contents, doesn’t come anywhere near providing proof. It’s still evidence, on any normal understanding of the term. And of course there is much more and much stronger evidence than the mere existence of the Bible.

Atheists and Evidence: Why?

Atheists say they want evidence and that it doesn’t exist. Why? I think it’s probably because “Christianity has no evidence going for it” makes Christianity look really stupid. It serves their purposes a whole lot better than, “Christianity hasn’t been proved to my satisfaction.” And that gives them what they want: making Christianity look stupid. Even if their use of the word “evidence” looks stupider than they would ever dare own up to.

Image Credit(s): Public Domain Files.

Comments

  1. Jenna Black

    The essential question that an atheist who demands evidence must answer before a Christian can offer a response to his/her demand is this: Evidence of what? To refer again to the courtroom analogy, no evidence is presented for consideration to a jury unless and until there is an indictment. The indictment must spell out the particulars of the crime the defendant is accused of and all evidence that is presented in the trial must be relevant to proving or disproving the charges. Evidence is not some free-floating set of facts. The same is true in science. As Mike Gene points out, evidence is considered, accepted or rejected in relationship with a scientific hypothesis.

    The atheist cannot claim that there is no evidence of God’s existence without a stated hypothesis about what God is and based on their concept of what God is, what does it means for God to NOT exist. Having to state his/her definition of God immediately places the atheist in a conundrum, since to demand evidence of non-existence is tautology, since obviously, non-existence leaves not a trace of evidence. At this point, the Christian can point out that a theology of God as Creator means that all of creation is evidence of God since a creation is evidence of the agency of a creator.

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  3. John D

    Atheists don’t want to see the evidence which exists as the article demonstrates. It is their wills that are the problem not that there is no evidence. They are also blind to the immaterial necessary eternal laws of logic on which they use in order to reason , think, evaluate, understand, know ( scientia) . These laws are a reflection of the Logos , the eternal Godhead who is the basis of logic , epistemology, uniformity in nature and objective morality. Without God there is no basis for reality itself

  4. scbrown (lhrm)

    The definition of evidence seems to vary with one’s willingness to tolerate reductions to absurdity, or even “degrees” of said reductio(s) (…a case in point are discussions amid the trio of Physics, Eternalism, and Presentism…).

    More generally, physics-full-stop, rationally followed, leads one beyond physics-full-stop, which is fine, as both the Theist and the Non-Theist agree that neither Cosmology nor Physics are convertible with Ontology. Well, most of our Non-Theist friends seem to “get” “that”.

    But then that too loops us back to those many and varied “points” which our Non-Theist friends seem to never get around to, busy as they are dealing with the intellect’s richer patterns over inside of various stocks, bonds, and pesky bugs within Windows.

    That loop also seems to inexplicably employ several slow drive-through-passes via “God-Of-Gaps” as if it were of some utility for their polemic (…hence we simply → GRANT http://disq.us/p/1njdjp5 ← our Non-Theist friends all knowledge of all physical systems…). Sure, traversing said points is often attempted by the Theist but what typically follows from our Non-Theist friends is a. various sorts of category errors related to some flavor of the fallacy of composition which then births some sort of fallacious god-of-the-gaps conflation for those pesky “points” being ignored, and then some flavor of b. the pains of brute fact, and, then, c. at some ontological seam somewhere, the end of reason itself is finally conceded which lands the entire affair not in the convertibility of the necessary transcendentals with respect to its own being but, rather, in the illusory shadows of non-being.

    But then that concession is quickly dropped by our Non-Theist friends as some new complaint is raised in place of actually finishing one’s sentence. That is understandable given that “ontological seam” or “interface” and the need to avoid the absurdity of this or that “ontological cul-de-sac“. Obviously to affirm their Edge of Reason with respect to non-being just is to say that reason, rationally followed, leads one beyond one’s own unavoidably contingent reason and into the Necessary & Irreducible vis-à-vis Reason Itself. The Divine Mind presses in.

    From there, well, the nature of the entire discussion immediately hits a hard “Y” in the road, wherein on one arm the Non-Theist is eager to abort lucidity’s necessary means and ends, while the Theist refuses such reductions to absurdity. The soft hedges vis-à-vis various Bud-Lite versions of Solipsism just can’t do the necessary work once we put any weight upon them.

    ~

  5. scbrown (lhrm)

    To follow up on the last comment:

    Sean Carroll states, “….Our metaphysics must follow our physics. That’s what the word ‘metaphysics’ means….”

    But of course that is not only backwards, it is incomplete. As Feser notes “….metaphysical premises that any possible natural science must presuppose. For that reason, they are more certain than anything science itself could in principle ever either support or refute….” (…see https://strangenotions.com/cosmology-and-causation/ …)

    One’s T.O.E., or one’s Metaphysic, or one’s Explanatory Terminus, and so on, must both precede and outdistance descriptives of physical systems (physics). Else one has made the untenable claim that “Physics” (…or Cosmology…) is convertible with Ontology.

    The term “evidence” must satisfy all such contours. If it does not then one’s definition of “evidence” is either wrong or incomplete.

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