The Demand for Evidence

A while back I came across a rather annoying discussion between an atheist and a Christian on YouTube.  Though I did not contribute to the discussion, I thought I would respond to the exchange here in case there are people out there who find such arguments genuinely upsetting.  The outspoken atheists on the internet seem to be ignorant fifteen year-olds who live in their parents house and think they know everything, but their arguments are extremely prevalent and people seem to have a hard time thinking their way through them.  The exchange went something like this:

Atheist:  “We atheists never believe anything without evidence, but you ignorant Christians believe in lots of things without evidence.  I am perfectly willing to believe in God if there is any evidence.  Where is that evidence?”

Christian presents some evidence

Atheist:  “That is not evidence.  You are a creatard.  Evidence please?”

Christian presents some evidence

Atheist:  “An argument is not evidence.  You are a creatard.  Evidence please?”

Now when I read such an exchange, it is difficult to believe that anyone could be so ignorant.  Surely this person is a psychotic “internet troll” who fakes such ignorance in order to get a rise out of Christians inexperienced enough to “feed the trolls”?  But then I have a conversation with a highly educated and intelligent coworker who tells me that he would like to be an agnostic, but he has to be an atheist because there is “too much evidence” for atheism.  How would this man argue that atheism is superior to agnosticism on the basis of evidence?  Can this atheist not see that his thought process is similar to that of the internet troll?  Can things really be this bad?

Evidence and Argument

Now the idea that atheists are superior to Christians because atheists never believe anything without evidence is obviously fatuous.  If I introduce myself to an atheist, he believes that I exist and that my name is Robert without any evidence except for my declaration.  When an atheist boards a plane, he assumes that it is safe without demanding any evidence other than the fact that the airline is telling him it is safe.  This is a very low standard of evidence, but it is impractical to live in any other way.  I have discussed how the burden of proof for accepting various claims varies from situation to situation in my previous post, “Atheistm, Axiomatic Truths and the Burden of Proof”.  The idea that “arguments are not evidence” is a more serious issue that needs to be discussed.

If I was to give a prosecutor investigating a murder a log of phone calls made from a cellular tower, he doesn’t know if this log of phone calls constitutes evidence or not.  He has to dig through the log and check it against other records before he can be sure.  If, after having investigated, he finds that the cellular tower has a record of a phone call made from the defendant that was placed within a few minutes of the crime, then the log is evidence in the investigation.  If the cell tower is far from the murders, the log might demonstrate that the defendant could not have committed the crime.  If the cell tower is near the murders, it might invalidate the defendants alibi.  Only after the investigation is conducted is the status of the phone log as evidence known.  Evidence is only evidence in the context of an argument.

We can see this truth if we consider the physical sciences as well.  If I give you a set of temperature measurements or a series of infrared photographs, does the “evidence” interpret itself?  Or can you only understand the results of the experiment if the data is presented as part of an argument in support of a model?

The problem with this generation of fifteen year-old atheists is that they know nothing about how science actually works.  Grasping at the simplistic arguments of atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins without any real understanding, they delude themselves into thinking they are intellectually honest and scientific when in fact they are simpletons with a high school understanding of argumentation and logic.  That the internet swells the power of their voices is a modern societal problem that must have horrific consequences.  The fact is that there is very powerful evidence for the existence of God if only you will go through the trouble of understanding the arguments.

The Success of the Scientific Enterprise

The most powerful evidence for the existence of God is the fact that scientists have used elegant mathematical equations to explain a large variety of natural phenomena with great precision.  This is an astonishing accomplishment firstly in that the universe itself obeys mathematical laws and secondly in the fact that these laws are comprehensible by human beings using the few pounds of biological jello between our ears.   The Christian explanation for these two remarkable facts is that human beings are made in the image of the God who created the laws of physics.  The atheist explanation is that apes adapting to life on the African Savanna happened to evolve the ability to understand quantum electrodynamics and that mathematics “just happens” to control the universe around us.  Which makes more sense to you?

**SEE NOTE 1

(See “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” by Eugene Wigner for an excellent discussion of this idea from a non-Christian Nobel prize winning scientist.)

The Fine Tuning Argument

As elucidated by Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, recent advances in cosmology, biology, planetary ecology and other sciences demonstrate that the constants of physics and the characteristics of our planet, solar system, galaxy and universe are “fine-tuned” to allow advanced life to survive on earth for long periods of time.  Without this fine-tuning, advanced life would be impossible.  The Christian explanation for this this fact is that human life requires the input of a superhuman creator.  Atheists get away from the implications of these studies by turning to a multitude of universes each of which has slightly different constants of physics.  What do you have faith in?  A single loving creator or an infinite number of unknowable universes?

(See atheist Paul Davies wrestle with what he calls the “bio-friendly” universe because he cannot bring himself to use the words “fine-tuned” in this video.)

Evidence from the Bible

Some of the most powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity comes from the Bible itself.  In his book, The Coming Prince, Sir Robert Anderson demonstrates that the amazing prophecy of 70 weeks in Daniel was fulfilled more than four hundred years after it was given on the exact day predicted in Daniel when Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem as described in the New Testament.  This is an astonishing fact and is sufficient evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible in and of itself.  Those who would dismiss the book of Daniel as having been written afterwards have to account for some inconvenient facts.   The book of Daniel is in Jewish texts despite the fact that Jews don’t believe in Jesus, was originally translated as part of the Septuagint and is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Given these facts, you must either believe in a spectacular coincidence, a vast Judeo-Christian conspiracy or the divine inspiration of the Bible.

Another category of evidence from the Bible is the astonishing claims made in the Bible concerning the physical universe.  As I have discussed previously, the chronology of creation events in Genesis aligns with the findings of modern science both in initial conditions and sequence if one takes an Old Earth view and corrects for reference frame.  The Bible also talks about how God is “stretching the heavens” on more than a dozen different occasions and this is astonishing when you consider that modern science believes that the fabric of space time is expanding.

A third category of evidence comes when you consider what the Bible has to say about the “Last Days” or the “End Times”.  Putting the fragments found in different areas of the Bible together, the picture of the “Last Days” that emerges looks disturbingly like our present time.  According to Ezekiel, God will reform the nation of Israel from a valley of dry bones and bring them back into the promised land.  According to Daniel, “people will travel to and fro” and “knowledge will greatly increase”.  According to other prophets, Jerusalem will become a “burdensome stone” for all nations and a coalition of hostile nations will surround Israel and attempt to “divide the land” and destroy Israel as a nation.  There are even descriptions that sound like modern weaponry including nuclear weapons and smart bombs.

Of course, the most powerful evidence of the divine origin of the Bible is the teaching and person of Jesus Christ.  His teachings, sacrifice and appeal to those of us who fall short is unique in all of human history.  The fact that the words and actions of Jesus and his disciples are attested to by the blood of those who died in the early persecution of the Christian church is powerful evidence of the truth of Christianity.

Evidence for Divine Design in Biology

In a draft post, I am reviewing the problems that I have with Darwin’s naturalistic explanation for the obvious design in the biological world.  For the sake of brevity, I skip this category of evidence in this discussion.

Conclusion

When I consider all of this evidence, the behaviour of those who claim there is no evidence is astonishing to me.  How is it possible for an otherwise intelligent individual to look at the various evidence for the truth of Christianity and claim not merely that the evidence is unpersuasive but that there is no evidence?  This can only be the result of what the Bible calls spiritual darkness and is, therefore, additional evidence for the truth of the Bible.

** NOTE 1

In the comment section, an atheist preferred this formulation of the argument from the success of science:

The Bible tells me that human beings are made in the image of God and that God created the universe from nothing. Because God is an intelligent law giver, this suggests that when we study the universe we should find that the underlying principles are physical laws understandable by intelligent agents. When Isaac Newton investigated the universe mathematically in the most important work ever published in the history of science, he stated this belief as the basis for why we should expect mathematical law in nature. Centuries later, this prediction has been borne out to 20 places of the decimal for a vast amount of physical phenomena.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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5 Responses to The Demand for Evidence

  1. Hello there! There’s a couple comments I wanted to make.

    (1) “If I introduce myself to an atheist, he believes that I exist and that my name is Robert without any evidence except for my declaration.”

    The reason why anyone could accept your name being Robert at face value is that the name is common to the English language which you are typing in, it is a familiar name, and there is no significance to that thought other than what you wish to be called. Some things we analyze quickly because we compare them to knowledge we already have. If you walk someone through the process of reasoning out why it’s okay to call people Robert instead of Glaxnu from the planet Xixnalb, you’ll get this information brought out in the open.

    I say all this to note that the declaration of a deity existing isn’t fundamentally the same thing to a person who doesn’t believe. Opposing declarations of this kind are always treated with skepticism. It is no different than you demanding if I provide support for the statement, “There is absolutely no God.” If I asserted that on your blog or in discussion, you would be within your rights to ask me for that support.

    (2) “The most powerful evidence for the existence of God is the fact that scientists have used elegant mathematical equations to explain a large variety of natural phenomena with great precision.”

    If we view evidence as something that makes a proposition more or less likely to occur, we can evaluate whether this fact supports a conclusion that God exists. We can ask how does it tend to make the proposition more likely that a deity exists, that this deity is one that is described in the Bible, and that this deity is known as God? If you are ascribing human learning to some deity, it would need to exclude natural modes of learning. Other animals can learn behaviors; why can’t humanity’s evolved brains learn more complex behaviors?

    Based on this evaluation, the fact you assert is neutral. It needs some other facts in order to actually carry your proposition forward. Indeed, this is a huge sticking point between atheists and Christians.

    • Robert V says:

      siriusbizinus,

      1) The claim made by this internet atheist that he never accepts anything without evidence was fatuous. Everyone accepts claims with varying degrees of evidence and I have talked about how rational people adjust the burden of proof that they apply to various claims in a previous essay. I did not mean to imply that he should accept that God exists as easily as he accepts my name is Robert. I meant only to say that his preamble about atheists being uniquely skeptical was self-congratulatory fluff. I have yet to meet an online atheist who was skeptical in any significant degree of his own beliefs.

      2) “You cannot explain a mystery in terms of another mystery” is one of the things I hear atheists say all the time. Do you use this argument? If so, then how can you explain the awesome capabilities of human beings to understand mathematics in terms of the awesome capabilities of other animals? Yes if I granted you that it was easy to understand how naturalistic mechanisms could create an animal mind capable of learning, then it might be simple for some atheists to argue that human capacities are not that much different, but I don’t think that purely naturalistic processes can explain the animal mind either.

      The fact is that the human capacity to understand the underlying mechanics of the universe is an astonishing fact and it has astonished some of the greatest minds in science. Christianity offers a very powerful explanation for this fact and all atheism can offer us is that it just happens to be true.

      3) Your definition of evidence as “something that makes a proposition more or less likely to occur” makes no sense at all. In what sense does evidence in a murder case make anything more or less “likely to occur”?

      Thanks for your comment,

      rob

      • Thank you for your reply! I’ve only got a couple points in response, and I’ll number them to the items in your comment.

        2) Your demand for a countervailing explanation is essentially asking that I provide some sort of alternative mystery to your own. “I don’t know” is a perfectly valid response when asked a question that I do not know the answer to. Competing explanations are not necessary to refute an existing explanation.

        3) My definition is a simplified version of Federal Rule of Evidence 401, which defines relevant evidence in Federal proceedings. There are similar rules in most other U.S. jurisdictions. In pertinent part, the rule states, “‘Relevant evidence’ means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”

        I use a simpler definition which also can work for informal discussion. A proposition is either an element of what one is trying to prove or the ultimate conclusion one is trying to establish. Making something more or less likely to occur means that this fact could make a person more likely to accept or deny that a proposition is true.

        To use the murder case as an example, relevant evidence is anything which would satisfy the elements of the murder charge. However, suppose the defendant’s grandmother doesn’t like the way he smells. That would not be relevant evidence.

        Similarly, your evidence of humanity’s capacity to learn complicated things makes it more likely to be believed. However, there needs to be an additional link to provide support that there is a deity causing the intelligence to happen.

      • Robert V says:

        siriusbizinus,

        Thank you for clarifying your definition of evidence. The word “occur” in your original definition threw me for a bit of a loop. Let’s say I test positive for cancer using a test that correctly demonstrates a universally fatal cancer 90% of the time. The test has not made my death by cancer more or less likely to actually occur. How could it? I either have the cancer or I don’t. Likewise, evidence in a murder trial doesn’t make anything more or less likely to occur in physical reality. The person either murdered the person or they didn’t regardless of the evidence. So evidence is really something that makes a given belief (postulate) about reality more or less likely to be accurate.

        2) I am not demanding a countervailing explanation. An atheist has demanded evidence. “You believe in God, what is your evidence?” My answer is, “The Bible tells me that human beings are made in the image of God and that God created the universe from nothing. Because God is an intelligent law giver, this suggests that when we study the universe we should find that the underlying principles are physical laws understandable by intelligent agents. When Isaac Newton investigated the universe mathematically in the most important work ever published in the history of science, he stated this belief as the basis for why we should expect mathematical law in nature. Centuries later, this prediction has been borne out to 20 places of the decimal for a vast amount of physical phenomena.” This may not seem like evidence for the reliability of the Bible and the existence of an intelligent creator to you, but it does seem like it to me.

        Thanks again for your comment,

        rob

  2. Pingback: Reasons to Disbelieve | A Thoughtful Christian

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