Not Enough Evidence – A Response

The second of the Saints and Sceptics short series addressing what it calls popular atheist arguments is Not Enough Evidence (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/three-popular-atheist-arguments-part-2/)

My response to the first post is here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/the-presumption-of-atheism-a-response/ . There is a third post in the series but I’m unlikely to make a response to that one.

This second post makes reference to Bertrand Russell and his apparent refrain of ‘Not enough evidence God! Not enough evidence!’ The source of this attribution would appear to be in this article, http://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1974feb23-00025, where in response to the question of what he’d say if faced with God, Mr Russell replied “I probably would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’ ”

Personally, I prefer Stephen Fry’s response, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-suvkwNYSQo.

That’s not the point of this post though, the question at hand is on the evidence while we’re alive, not the hypothetical.

The Saints and Sceptics item opens by setting the scene that the atheist case is that in the absence of evidence the default position is non-acceptance, in other words, no evidence for god means atheism is the starting point and the case must be made for a god in order for that position to become considered. Okay so far. Saints and Sceptics calls this the presumption of atheism. Reference is made to the first item in the series with the conclusion that:

So, even if the insufficient evidence objection is accepted, it doesn’t provide a good reason to accept atheism

And if you read my response to the first item you’ll see that there is a mismatch in the understanding of atheism. Atheism is the non adherence of theism. That is no belief in god. Like in the first item, Saints and Sceptics has gone for the far end of atheism and used that to define all atheism. I won’t repeat my response to that.

Moving on, we get to:

For example, if the only kind of evidence that can be considered for the existence of an entity is direct detection with the five senses, then there would be no evidence for God.

Good, this is why I have no belief in any god.

However, this is completely inadequate as an account of evidence, even within science.

Uh oh!

If evidence is understood more plausibly in terms of facts that are better explained by one hypothesis than its rivals, then there could well be evidence for God.

Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Hypotheses need testing before they get accepted.

A reference is made to a previous post called The Evidence For God (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/the-evidence-for-god/), oddly, it contains no evidence, only assertions. Ho hum.

Even if it is granted that there might be some evidence for God, it might still be objected that it is insufficient, but how are we to decide? How much evidence is needed and how convincing does it need to be?

Two very good questions.

In answer we get an index link titled Evidence Of God (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/articles/existence-of-god/) featuring links to a few arguments that are very familiar, Fine Tuning, Maths, Big Bang; you know, the usual fair. The links are all well known reasons, or arguments, that Christians will use to justify their belief. However, arguments are not evidence so the title is misleading. Arguments should have supporting evidence, which these ones are lacking. There’s a theme emerging here.

We wouldn’t claim that the evidence logically proves God’s existence

Thank goodness for that! Odd use of the word logically though. No one says that gravity is logically proven.

Interestingly, since Russell’s death in 1970, powerful new scientific evidence concerning the fine-tuning of a range of physical constants that are necessary for intelligent life has provided an interesting twist on the design argument. Is this evidence sufficient? If not, why not? And perhaps more importantly, what kind of evidence would be needed?

Suddenly it’s the penultimate paragraph and no actuall evidence has been discussed, what is this post about then?

Is this evidence sufficient? The author asks. What evidence? I wonder.

If not, why not? The Author asks. Because there isn’t any is the best I can muster.

And perhaps more importantly, what kind of evidence would be needed?

A great question, and pertinent too. I’ll answer it.

Evidence that can be used to create a testable hypothesis. That way a set of repeatable and reliable tests for god can be performed and the case for god properly examined. That is the standard and if the theist wants their god idea to be taken seriously, that is what they must submit to.

Regrettably, for some atheists it has become little more than a slogan, a way of avoiding the need to consider the evidence seriously. And it would be an unfortunate irony if a statement which at face value emphasizes the importance of evidence is actually used as a strategy for avoiding it.

Great pithy ending, such a shame that in their decrying of the atheist’s frustratingly consistent demand for evidence, Saints and Sceptics has forgotten to include any. Now that’s irony!

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I get some questions

Over on another post, a visitor left me a comment, asking my input. The entry with the comment is here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/answers-to-questions-for-theists/ but I will repeat the comment below for context and simplicity; any readers are obviously welcome to add their helpful input.

This is almost completely off topic, but I couldn’t find a place on your blog to send you a message, so I apologize in advance for making your comment section skewed. You mention several times that you and your wife have conversations on faith. I would dearly love some insight on these conversations, because I (the atheist) only found out my husband’s church was creationist AFTER he’d already been a few years attached to the congregation and my son came home one Sunday last year with a coloring sheet that had a dinosaur coming off of the ark. I seriously thought creationism was a punch line, to be laughed at like the flat-earthers we learned about in history. No one really believes those silly things, right? It’s okay to send the kids to sunday school. What could possibly go wrong? Ugh.

We now fight constantly about our young kids’ (4 and 14 months) exposure to religion. I want to compromise and try to find another church with him, one that is still engaging and exciting for him that won’t teach the kids creationism, but his only response is that I should “just come to church with him sometime.” (I went once. I didn’t like it.) Like I’m going to suddenly convert and not give two shits about what they’re teaching the kids?

He feels attacked, and I get that. I told him I like the people in his church and I’m not asking him to not be friends with them anymore, I just don’t like what they teach the kids. He hears none of it. Do you have any advice as a former YEC on what I can possibly say to him? Or what kind of nutty mediator would take on such a dispute? The whole situation is exhausting.

There is a lot here that strikes a chord with me and it has prompted me to reconsider a series of posts on the subject, an idea I abandoned because they were all personal to my own relationship and I was uncertain how open I wanted to be about it. These posts would all take time to write but I’ll certainly do something on the subject in coming months.

So, on with the points raised.

My wife and I do talk faith on occasion. Personally, I’d like us to interact on the subject more than we do, the difficulty is that I suck up regular podcasts and blogs on the interaction of faith and non-faith. The subject interests me greatly because as someone who has been on both sides, I understand well the arguments and intellectually I enjoy the discussion. My wife, on the other hand, is comfortable in her faith and having never been on the other side, doesn’t get my position at all.

What this means in practice is that when I start a conversation on faith (and it is normally me who starts it) I come in running, so to speak, having already considered both sides of the conversation and spring it on my unsuspecting wife. Having been caught off-guard like that, it is hardly surprising that that the conversations are rarely stimulating. The other disadvantage my wife has here is that I have an answer for pretty much everything she says, because I’ve already been there and considered it. She does not share my thirst for the challenge of this form of discussion and so she’s rarely prepared for what I will come up with. On more than one occasion she’s admitted to being intimidated by knowledge of the subject. That’s not because she’s unintelligent, she is both wise and clever. It’s simply a by-product of our mismatched passions.

We’re still working out how to have these conversations in a fruitful and productive manor, because it isn’t easy. When she’s simply not in the mood to have the conversation, it becomes painfully obvious very quickly and my only option there is to stop. There simply is no point having the discussion when the other partner just isn’t in the mood.

I get where you are from in terms of what is being taught to the children. I’m at an advantage in that my wife would not accept creationism, she never did. Therefore, if someone in the church taught our daughter anything creationist, she would back me up when I inevitably object. Beyond that though, I do struggle with the idea that we each get to give her our own worldview and our daughter should be free to make her own choice. It may sound like an honourable thing on paper, but I don’t consider fables a worthy alternative to truth. I wouldn’t let a doctor treat my daughter with any form of homeopathic remedy, so why should I tolerate her being told the philosophical equivalent each Sunday?

It’s a difficult challenge and I’ve had to learn to step away from that one for the moment because it’s more important that my daughter has parents that are not fighting. It isn’t always easy.

Specifically on the exposure of kids to creationism, I’d suggest in this instance to try to introduce scientific literature into life as early as possible to counteract. Using cience topis that are in the news is a good way, it doesn’t have to be something that specific challenges creationism. The current project to make the first landing on a comet is a good example. It needs to be done in an open an honest way so as not to be seen as to be undermining the other parent. One thing my wife has brought up is that on matters of science I get to be the parent who answers the questions because it’s my passion and the limey daughter seems equally inspired and so we talk science together a lot. The flip side is that Mrs limey then says that it should be natural that for matters of religion, she should get the say. We’re still working that out because I think I should get a say on religion too because that conversation is something I have valid input on. If passion is the criteria, it’s also a subject I am passionate about. Just because I don’t go to church, doesn’t mean I’m not informed about what goes on.

There is a very real danger in situations like this that each parent suspects the other of trying to pull the child to their side of the fence. Openness is the key if there is any mistrust on issues of faith then it will undermine the marriage.

On conversations specifically.

Conversations can be difficult.

I’ve made the mistake of calling religion bunk. It didn’t go down well and wasn’t especially wise. It’s not easy for my wife to be married to a man who once shared her faith and now looks down on it. For a very long time she struggled with the notion that I was secretly considering myself superior to her and that she was stupid for still believing. That wasn’t true, and still isn’t, however, I didn’t do anything to dispel that misunderstanding and so it’s hardly surprising there was an uncomfortable atmosphere for some time.

In a relationship like this, it is very difficult for the Christian partner to not feel attacked every time religion (or even the church) is criticised. For them, the church and their religion are part of who they are and to criticise one is to attack them. It is a separation and distinction that is almost impossible for them to make. I should have known this because I was there once, but it is still something that I struggle to comprehend. I don’t know what all the answers are.

The questions above, are serious because they come from the heart and here I feel that I have not given them enough of an answer. Hopefully in further postings I’ll be able to address some specific elements on a personal perspective. As can be seen though, this is still an area where I am learning too. I am sure there are many others who are learning this unexpected road too.

Answers to Questions for Theists

Over at his blog (http://maasaiboys.wordpress.com/) makagutu has posted some questions for theists(http://maasaiboys.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/questions-for-theists/).

 

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to consider the questions as I might have in my Christian days. So, over lunch yesterday I discussed the questions with my wife (who is still a Christian) and below is a summary of how we assessed the questions.

Some of the questions are long, so you’ll need to go over there to see the questions, I’ll write just the answers we discussed.

 

  1. It’s not specifically about the eating of the fruit. It’s the disobedience and rebellion that the act signified. The warning had already been given so the response should not be a surprise. The sacrifice element is a very long theological answer.
  2. It’s not about God not being clear, it’s about man injecting his own bias and interpretation over the years. The result is less than perfection.
    • As an atheist, I find this answer wholly unsatisfying, yet I don’t see how a theist can offer much improvement on the answer.
  3. No one can know the answer to this one and any answer would be a pure guess on what God actually did. Also, no valid conclusions could come from whatever guess a theists decided to give. The only honest answer is “I don’t know”.
    • As an atheist I don’t consider this a good question because there is no answer and therefore there is no comeback. It might lead to some interesting postulating but there is no serious dialog that this question can promote.
  4. This one actually made me laugh. It basically hits the free will argument, which is at the very centre of Christian theology. God didn’t do it out of predestined confusion; he did it to give us a chance.
  5. Short answer: “No one can know the mind of God.” The answer to 4 extends into this one, but it also touches on a very real challenge, why did God do it the way he did?
    • As an atheist, I think this question shows exactly how tortuous the route to salvation is and how uncritically Christians accept it.
  6. How very true. The bible also records that Jesus had his own credibility issues at the time. Just because someone appears to be out of touch, different, or even irrelevant, does that mean they are automatically wrong?
  7. I’m not and never was so cannot possibly answer. I would suggest that the heavenly language is unlikely to be any language of earth, we’d somehow just ‘know’ how to communicate with each other.
  8. The unique selling point of Christianity is salvation through grace. It is this that makes it the one true path to god.
    • As an atheist I do not find this at all convincing. The only answer to “they can’t all be right” is that none of them are right. Each will have its own unique selling point and the USP answer isn’t particularly good.
  9. My wife conceded that this was a very challenging question and possibly the one which demonstrated the biggest flaws in religion as a whole. We couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer.
  10. This is another question that seeks to predict the mind of God and frame it so he is self-contradictory. No one can answer what God’s motives were so the question is impossible to answer and therefore no conclusions can come from it. Better questions are needed.
  11. This is clearly a reference to the bible saying the God hardened pharaoh’s heart so that he would not set the Israelites free. The English phrasing is a problem and the preferred reading is that god allowed it to happen rather than actively made it to happen. Either way, it’s a difficult passage with no easy answer. We didn’t try to invent one.
  12. Similar answer to 11.

 

So there you have it, some good questions, some not so good questions; some good answers, some not so good answers. The exercise was an interesting 30 minutes for my wife and I, but ultimately it didn’t change the basic position of either of us.