Evidently Evidence Is Not So Evident

I have written posts recently dealing with the subject of evidence. I have read and commented on others’ blog posts regarding evidence as well. When I say to someone that I will require evidence that shows a god is real, I am specifically referring to the evidence that would actually convince a skeptic that a god most certainly exists. Undeniably true evidence that I can observe is what I am looking for. Not all evidence out there is trustworthy. Some is. The goal here is to show that God is real, so is there evidence out there that shows that? Some say yes. Others say no. The truth lies somewhere in between. Let me explain, if I can.

There are several types of evidence that exist. Here is a partial list:

  1. Analogical:  a comparison of things that are similar to draw an analogy
  2. Anecdotal: evidence in the form of stories that people tell about what has happened to them
  3. Character:  testimony or document that is used to help prove that someone acted in a particular way based on the person’s character
  4. Circumstantial: used to infer something based on a series of facts separate from the fact the argument is trying to prove.
  5. Demonstrative: directly demonstrates a fact
  6. Direct:  testimony from a witness who actually saw, heard, or touched the subject of questioning.
  7. Documentary: commonly considered to be written forms of proof
  8. Exculpatory: evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial that exonerates or tends to exonerate the defendant of guilt
  9. Forensic: scientific evidence, such as DNA, trace evidence, fingerprints or ballistics reports. Can provide proof to establish a person’s guilt or innocence
  10. Hearsay: statements made by witnesses who are not present.
  11. Physical: evidence that is in the form of a tangible object
  12. Presumptive: is enough to prove something until it is successfully disproved or rebutted
  13. Statistical: uses numbers (or statistics) to support a position 
  14. Testimonial: spoken or written evidence given by a witness
  15. Subjective:  evidence that one cannot evaluate. One must simply accept what the person says or reject it.

Now, when a skeptic or unbeliever of god (atheist) is asked what type of evidence would convince them of the existence of God, which of the above examples do you think would actually work? I’ll help you a bit and eliminate a few right from the start that are never going to be enough. We can immediately get rid of numbers 1 through 4 as they most certainly would not be sufficient to warrant a god-belief. Number 5 would be great if such a thing were possible. Demonstrative evidence would most certainly work. If someone could demonstrate a god exists, that would end it right there and I and other unbelievers would be forced to believe. Since no one as of yet has been able to demonstrate a god, we’ll move on. Number 6 (direct evidence) would be great as well, especially if it were tied to number 5. If we had direct, compelling testimony from someone who witnessed God and could demonstrate that, we would be in business. Do we? No. So let’s move on.

Now number 7, documentary evidence, does exist. It exists in both the scriptures and other supporting documents. There are several surviving written accounts for God that do exist. Is that sufficient for belief? Again, no. Why not? Because they are words and words only. There is nothing else other than words to support these claims. Nothing in the world we live in reflects the stories and promises made in the scriptures. Numbers 8 and 9 are out as well as they don’t exist as far as we know. Number 10, hearsay, however, exists in abundance. And, as in today’s courts, it is insufficient to be admissible as evidence. Anyone can say anything at any time. Does that make it true? Of course not. Hearsay is weak evidence and will never be enough, at least for me, to warrant belief.

Number 11, physical evidence, would most certainly be persuasive. Does physical evidence of God exist? Is there something we can look at and examine when it comes to a god-claim? No. Physical evidence for God does not exist as far as we know. What’s left? Numbers 12 and 13 certainly do not exist. There is nothing to suggest that there is anything presumptive or statistical that exists that would warrant a belief in a god.

Then there is testimonial. Now there is a form of evidence that exists in abundance. We have many things written down regarding a god in the scriptures. The Bible is full of such evidence. The question is, can we trust it? I say no. How could we? Is testimonial evidence on its own sufficient to warrant belief in a god? I submit that is is not. I do not care if one person or a million people say that something is true. Those are words and words can be spoken by anyone for any reason. That doesn’t make them true. What is the evidence that exists that accompanies those words? Is there any or are words all we have to go on?

Testimonial evidence goes hand in hand with subjective evidence. Believers like to use testimonial evidence to claim that the scriptures contain all the proof necessary to believe. When pressed on the matter, and asked for actual evidence beyond the words written, oftentimes they switch over to subjectivity. “Believe me when I say that I have experienced God. Trust me when I say that stuff happened in my life that absolutely prove that God exists. I trust in the Bible because of how God revealed himself to me.” None of that can be verified. It all has to be taken at face value. Face value isn’t worth much to me. Evidence, however, is a treasure trove of riches.

Out of the list I mentioned above, I believe that only demonstrative, direct, forensic or physical evidence would be sufficient for belief. These types of evidence would convince most people. The others would not. Anyone can say or write whatever they want to and that will never be enough to convince everyone that something is true. If you can demonstrate something and show it to be true, then that is a different story.

The bigger issue for me, is why a god would leave us with insufficient evidence to begin with? Why would an all-knowing god leave everything so vague and open to interpretation? Why would such a being not make evidence accessible and acceptable to all? Why would some people accept testimonial evidence as enough while others would be left asking for more? To me, it isn’t just about what evidence exists, it’s what doesn’t exist. What isn’t there, as far as evidence goes, is huge. I am always amazed at how many people are okay with that, even after acknowledging that their methodology that led them to belief is flawed. The question isn’t whether or not there is some type of evidence available. There are some types that do exist. They are merely not compelling. It’s more of: Why would a god who wants a relationship with us not make it absolutely clear? Why would words alone be sufficient for some while others require more? Why would anything regarding the supernatural be up for debate and interpretation? Why would any god leave it up to man to decide what evidence is “good enough” while knowing that it would leave out a huge portion of the population?

Evidence is what gives answers to the questions we have. Faith is a substitute for evidence. It is not itself evidence despite how many times people use it to try to convince others. Faith is a personal conviction. It may be all one needs in order to convince themselves that something is true, but it is not sufficient to prove it to others. Faith, without evidence, is unjustified. If all you have in your arsenal to try to coax an unbeliever out of their unbelief and into belief is faith and subjective evidence, it is best not to engage them. It will not be a good use of your time or theirs. If any of the “evidence” you present cannot be demonstrated and is just a “believe it or not” type of proposition, just stop. Stop what you are doing, rethink your tactics, do some research about what reliable evidence is and then try again.

9 thoughts on “Evidently Evidence Is Not So Evident

  1. Hi, Ben! Awesome write-up. Because evidence is so important it can’t be over-stated; yes, the absence of evidence IS the evidence of absence! IMO, the single largest, over-looked point of logic in the entire god chain.

    In questioning any deity I can’t help questioning why they would require that humans go though a process they (the deity) already know the outcome? What’s the point? If you were omnipotent or omniscient would you go through the process of acting out an event of which you already knew the outcome? Why? What’s the point?

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    1. I don’t know the point. I don’t understand it. It can be added to the long list of other religious nonsense that makes no sense to me. I guess that’s why people use the phrase “God only knows” so much. 🙂

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  2. I’m thinking that the statistical evidence relating to the fine tuning of the physical parameters of the universe toward life is pretty strong toward the existence of a creator. I actually heard a debate between Dr. John Lennox and one of the leading atheists that travel the debate circuit who agreed that he felt this was the strongest argument. I feel like the strongest argument against is the reality of the suffering of the innocent. I also feel like it’s important to consider confirmation bias. I mean if someone feels like if God exists, He is a monster. No evidence is likely to be found convincing. On the other hand, there are Christian believers who feel like no evidence could dissuade them from faith no matter what.

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    1. Even if statistics made the existence of a god more likely than not, it still doesn’t explain the reasoning for us not all knowing. Some believing in God and some still not believing doesn’t point to a god who is interested in our lives whatsoever. At best, you might get someone to believe in a creator who is not involved with its creation. Yes, we would know what kick-started it all into motion, but nothing would change.

      You see, a creator who creates and then leaves its creation to fend for itself is no different than no creator at all. Nothing changes. Faith would still be irrelevant. Purpose would still have to be determined by the individual. Nothing changes.

      If there is evidence of a god who is intimately involved with its creation, then that would be different. Far different. However, you can’t prove that one exists with physical parameters of the universe towards life. Statistics would not show that relationship. An actual relationship would. No guessing or feelings would be involved. No one would doubt an actual physical relationship they were in was real, if it was actually real, in my opinion.

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      1. Well, the Scripture states that “It is In Him that we live and move and have our being. ” It doesn’t feel to me that we are simply fending for ourselves. But, I think knowing Him is part of a process. Not all are at the same place. I think in general some type of belief in God is pretty universal throughout the world. IMO, to some degree people connect with God even through other religious practices as well as Christianity. Although, of course, not all opinions can be equally true. But, I know that you are wanting an encounter with God that would leave no doubt in your life. For you, what would that look and feel like?
        BTW, they are having quite the discussion over at Ark’s blog relating to evidence toward the resurrection of Christ. No one can seem to agree concerning the definition of evidence. Maybe it would just be better for everyone to use another synonym like clue, indicator, signpost, something like that. I want to add that for me the very fact that people take this all very seriously enough to debate and talk at length is really the beginning of knowing in a way. I mean we don’t sit down and seriously discuss the existence and relevance of Zeus. I think it all really matters to many people whether we can fully realize this or not.

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      2. An encounter with God that would leave no doubt in my life would be something completely different than what I’ve experienced in my life up to this point and completely different than any of the approaches apologists use. Nothing I’ve been shown has been convincing because it’s all coming to me second-hand. When I say that I don’t have experiences (encounters) with a god, others will try to convince me with scripture, studies done by someone else or books on a shelf. Some will tell me their own personal experiences, which at times may even sound rather convincing. However, without direct evidence in my own life, I find trusting anyone or anything else rather difficult. It’s all hearsay until something observable by me comes into play.

        Again, it all comes down to the story; the promises. A creator god who simply creates is no different than there not being a god at all. A god who promises something to its creation is a totally different thing. Christianity, specifically, promises a relationship, relief from grief, peace, eternal life, etc. These claims require more than just proof of a creator. They require proof of God himself. That needs to be personal and it needs to come from God himself to me. Otherwise it comes off as another hearsay story that I have to accept despite no discernable interaction between God and I. That’s the issue.

        I can buy into a creator god story if the evidence around us leads to that conclusion. I would be perfectly comfortable saying a powerful being set life on Earth into motion. I won’t say that now, as there is no evidence that is sufficient for that belief as of yet, but I am more than open to hearing some. Trying to convince me of the supposed “involved with us down here” god would have to come after we established there was a god to begin with. No one has done that yet which is why faith is required.

        If the God of the Bible was real, then he is a deceiver and liar. Period. The promises in that book can be tested and they have been. They are not all metaphorical or just literary to teach us lessons as some apologists try to say when confronted with the lack of promises and miracles that people can witness and experience. Many are written in a way that it is obvious we are supposed to take them literally, such as when Jesus says that anything we ask for will be given to us. Or if we have faith we can move mountains. Also, when he said he’d be back in the lifetime of his followers, he surely meant that. So if he was real, he was either delusional or a liar because that was over 2000 years ago and still no Jesus. Not only is there no Jesus, there is still no evidence of his father…and that’s a problem.

        So, if people want to believe in a creator, that’s fine by me. I’m not at all so close-minded that I would reject that theory if compelling evidence existed. In fact, there are some good theories out that about a creator that, with evidence, would make me really think it over again. But Deism is no different than atheism as far as our lives are concerned. Nothing changes in our lives and there are no promises of reward or punishment. So it wouldn’t matter if a creator existed or not. We would still have no idea why we are here, what their purpose for creation was or anything else about them. It’d be like they didn’t exist. So that’s not the issue. It’s this never-ending cycle of proselytization that I take issue with. Before people try to convince nonbelievers of the characters, stories and promises in the Bible, first we need to show why that book should be believed as truth. What makes it more than just a book and how can we know that?

        I know that I speak about Christianity a lot, but this goes for all religions. I just happen to have been raised to be a Christian so that’s what I know the most about.

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    2. What statistical evidence? I don’t see how you got from this “evidence” to the existence of a creator?

      And, as far as Christians are concerned (or any faith for that matter) what do you call it when someone refuses to accede to the presence or ABSENCE of evidence? Willful ignorance? Delusion? At some point we have to face the fact that there is no evidence – zero – of a deity. It used to be a vehicle for that which could not be explained or understood by humans. Slowly over the centuries we’ve learned how to explain our world around us in rational, evidence-based or scientific methods and we’ve adjusted our ideas about a deity, as was/is necessary. This has been done by religions many times through the centuries. Keep in mind also, many, if not most, Christians know almost nothin about their “faith” i.e., the dogma that supposedly is the foundational substance of their mythology except for the small, targeted readings they hear from their clergy. That’s enough “evidence” for them, period, they don’t need to hear any more.

      Atheists are made out of those that investigate that dogma, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “You know when I became an atheist? When I began studying the Bible.”

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  3. Thanks, Ben. I know you were sharing a time in your life when God did feel real to you and you were able to experience His presence. What were some things that changed so that you began to feel differently? I know you’ve gone through some really tough times and experiences. Where I’m at emotionally and even how I’m feeling physically can impact me spiritually. That’s not all of it, I know. But, it all can make an impact. Depression and “a dark night of the soul” are tied together. We do have a different view of the Bible. I think it’s important and reflects the word of God, but my faith is not so much tied to whether everything recorded is historically or literally true, but rather to the churches witness to the reality of God in Christ and to the resurrection. Even, when I look at the teaching of Jesus concerning prayer, I feel like He is using hyperbole to make a point, not that I’m really going to literally move a mountain, but that God is present in prayer and working in ways for good in our lives. It is also in prayer that I grow in experiencing the love and presence of God.

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