Evidence for God

“What Kind of Evidence Would You Accept?”

My post last Friday, Atheism Does Not Require Faith, led to a good discussion.  One of the commenters, Don, who is an atheist, asked the following question: “How do you respond to theists asking what kind of evidence are you looking for?”  That is a great question.  Rather than answer in a long comment, I thought it would be worth a short post.

First, let me state that the comments by Cephus and Hausdorff were excellent.  I agree that any evidence would need to be objective, as Cephus stated.  I also agree with Hausdorff, and normally act in just the way he describes when he writes, “I’ll consider anything.  What evidence do you have?”  In fact, perhaps I do not need to post at all, as those two answers generally sum up both my opinion on evidence and my likely action in that scenario.

The issue that I want to discuss is the nature of the question itself.  It is a question that really does not have a correct answer, at least in the minds of many theists who have proposed that question to me (yes I realize that is subjective).  In my experience, almost any answer I give, other than the one Hausdorff stated above, leads to problems.  (Which is why I use the same answer as he does).  Even Cephus’ answer leads to a discussion of “what is objective?”  I find that to be nothing more than an absurd distraction, as I think he would also agree (he has less patience for stupidity than I do I think).

I want to talk a bit about evidence in general.  Many of us, both theist and atheist are really good at sifting through evidence in our daily lives.  We demand some sort of evidence that we would define as “good” before condemning people in court.  We demand some sort of evidence that we would define as “good” before accepting something in history occurred…from the Battle of Gettysburg to the reign of a Roman Emperor.  We demand evidence that we would define as “good” that women were flying around on broomsticks and casting spells in 17th century Salem, MA before accepting that they really were witches.  It doesn’t exist, and most of us accept this.  We demand all sorts of evidence that many of us would consider “good” for many of the decisions we make in our daily lives.  We know what “good” evidence is.  Is it objective, verifiable, repeatable (in some cases), falsifiable, logical, etc?  These are the sorts of things we look for daily in so many areas.  We must also apply them to the god-concept.

In short, I don’t want to waste time debating with a theist over what kind of evidence I am willing to accept or is “good”.  As Hausdorff stated, “what evidence do you have?”

This is why I find the question to often be nothing more than a distraction.  The theist cannot simply claim victory by stating that I will not accept his/her evidence without actually presenting that evidence.  Their opinion on what kind of evidence I want or would accept is irrelevant.  They must make their case.  Period.  It is, in my limited experience, nothing more than a red herring fallacy.  This question is often used as an attempt to state, “well you won’t accept what I have to say, so I am not going to say it”.  This is just a waste of time.  Once again, as Hausdorff (more or less stated)—show me your evidence and we will go from there.

What do I want for evidence?  I want logical, verifiable, falsifiable, objective evidence that at some point does not “punt to faith”.  If the theist argument at some point requires faith, they are correct, I will not accept that.  At that point, there is no objective evidence.  There is no need to be any more specific than that.  It is now time to discuss.  Sooooo….let’s hear your evidence…

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

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12 thoughts on “Evidence for God

  1. Hausdorff from Oak Park, MI, United States

    I had a conversation like this somewhat recently with a theist on twitter. I forget some of the finer details, but the flavor of the interaction was that he was asking what I would accept as evidence. I asked what kind of evidence he has, and he said that no matter what he presented I would just dismiss it, and again asked for what I would accept. I figured I'd go down that road a little bit, and offered that if prayer could regrow some limbs for amputees that would be some evidence for God. He countered that I would probably just say it was aliens or something. I said yes, that is a possibility we should consider. He then seemed to have thought he won the argument, as I admitted I wouldn't believe in God even after such an event. I told him that the God concept is huge, and we shouldn't accept it after over single piece of evidence. From there the conversation veered into a different topic iirc.

    One thing I think this interaction highlighted for me, is that there is a difference between evidence for something and proof for something. It possible to accept that something is evidence for a thing without having to take that thing as true. In your average court case, I imagine there is evidence in favor of both sides, but obviously one is true while the other is false.
    My recent post Revelation 4: God Deserves Worship

    Reply
  2. Loren Miller from Bedford, OH, United States

    There's a major problem with asking for evidence for god. What you're REALLY asking for is evidence for something someone made up, something they would like to be real, and therefore grasp for ANYTHING that would substantiate it. Evidence for god amounts to evidence which would give material reality to a FANTASY.

    Indeed, the very act pushes the old saw about creationists having their illusory conclusion, then looking for evidence for it, rather than taking the evidence and seeing where it leads WITHOUT any form of presupposition.

    Just one more variation on the same old song and dance.

    Reply
  3. kafoodie from Apo, AE, United States

    The very first thing you need to get from the theist in this discussion of evidence is a clear definition of "god". He has to describe the attributes of this being and how it interacts with the world. Once he does that (which they never do) you can then easily describe tests that would prove their god. If they say he answer prayers, then an impossible, detail event for which they pray…i.e. at 0900 on this day so and so's amputated limb will reappear and function…would be pretty good evidence. You'll notice, however, that the only attributes they will ascribe their deity are those which would have the same effect on the world as those of a non-existent god.

    Reply
  4. Grundy from Dacula, GA, United States

    I feel like all atheists should have a concrete answer chambered, thats why I've asked most my interviewees this question. During your interview, you said "I would buy something as simple as a mass prayer actually working to heal someone." That's a decent example, but it would need to work consistently to be convincing. People can heal on their own or be misdiagnosed making the prayer coincidental.

    Here's some stuff that works for me.
    My recent post The Twofold Problem of Fairness

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    1. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      I agree, consistent would be nice. To clarify a bit more on my interview answer…if we took an amputee, stuck in a room with whatever "observers" would satisfy everyone from James Randi to the Pope, then held a mass prayer for his limb to be regrown. This actually happens and none of the people in the room could come up with anyone…I would reconsider my views….even on that one time occasion. The point here is that reconsidering is not theism. An event of that nature, would cause me to think and probably move me closer to the middle on Dawkins' scale…probably. However, that is a far cry from believing in any one specific god and even further from worshiping that god. I must admit, I was unprepared for your interview question, and really enjoyed it. I have spent a great deal more time thinking on this topic since you asked me that question. That is why I think that Cephus' point is excellent. I can't say exactly what kind of evidence it would take to convince, but it would need to be objective for sure. I would also add the additional terms that I did in the post–falsifiable, repeatable (if applicable), logically sound, verifiable, objective, and not reliant upon faith—while I can't give you an exact scenario, those things would need to be a part of any "evidence" that I would potentially accept. Which is where Hausdorff's point comes into play. "What evidence do you have?" (The theist, not you Grundy…lol).

      In short, I agree with you, my answer in your interview is not a very good one–it's decent at best. It is too general. My current answer, though also vague in details is pretty specific in things that would need to be a part of any convincing evidence.

      Reply
  5. Don from Singapore, Singapore (general), Singapore

    Thank you for this excellent post and for answering my question, John.

    It was worth the wait! Your effort is greatly appreciated.

    - Don

    Reply
  6. Don from Singapore, Singapore (general), Singapore

    I also would like to add that eversince that discussion with my theist friend, it became obvious that good evidences speak for themselves.

    A scientist will not have to go to great lenghts to rationalize or justify what the evidence means. Evidences in the scientific community are professionaly scrutinized. In short, the evidences speak cleary and loudly for themselves if it really fits.

    Comparing this to “hardcore” theist, it becomes the other way around. Since the evidence is weak, they tend to lend their voices to justify or rationalize and to finally fit this evidence into their “story”.

    Like a jigsaw puzzle, if an evidence is good, it will fit like perfectly in its place. If not, people (especially those that want to believe in their evidence) will likely try to fit that piece forcefully thus making torn and jagged edges, obvious to the objective viewer.

    Reply

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