“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…
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