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.