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