Sunday, June 19, 2011

What Counts as Evidence for God?

In the past few weeks, I have witnessed philosophers, William Lane Craig and Victor Reppert, focus in on a specific atheistic charge: "there is no evidence that God exists." Their response is certainly in line with that of Richard Swinburne and his concept of a correct C-inductive argument. Let's give a few examples:

If God exists, a world with fine-tuning is more likely to exist than a world without fine-tuning.

If God exists, a world in which we recognize objective laws of logic, science, morality, and aesthetics is more likely to exist than a world without such recognition.

If God exists, a world in which contingent being have external causes is more likely to exist than a world in which they do not have external causes.

If God exists, a world in which the miraculous occurs is more likely to exist than a world in which there are no miracles.

Of course, the absence of these characteristics is not conclusive evidence that God does not exist, either. And, that's what it comes down to. Perhaps what the atheist should say is not that there is no evidence that God exists, but rather that there is no conclusive evidence that God exists. However, even that doesn't seem to be much of a claim for atheism. For, it could still be more plausible that God exists than not, even if the evidence is not conclusive per se. So, let's revise this some more. What the atheist should ultimately be saying is that there is no compelling evidence that God exists.*

For any fact X, if X's instantiation makes God's existence more plausible than it would be the case if ~X is instantiated, then the fact of X counts as evidence that God exists. Whether X provides us with conclusive or compelling evidence that God exists is moot.

*This still isn't enough to justify atheism, though, in any traditional sense of the term, "atheism." What the atheist would need to show is not only that there is no compelling evidence that God exists, but also that there is compelling evidence that God does not exist. The former would only justify non-theistic alternatives, such as agnosticism.


  1. (This is Ilíon ... Blogger can't seem to figure or remember out that I'm logged on)

    While I'm no philosopher (except in the sense that everyone is), I put paid to this particular line of (ahem) argument a decade ago --

    If one asserts that there is no evidence for 'X', then one is *also* asserting that one knows what would count as such evidence, and would recognize it, and could describe it (right now!), were there, in fact, any to be had.

    Yet, when I have pointed this fact out to so-called atheists, and then simply asked, “OK, let’s tentatively grant that there appears to be no evidence that God is. But, what would count as such evidence? It you would tell me this – for, you surely know what would count as evidence – then perhaps I could go find you some.” I got no responses. Well, unless you count STFU.

    One so-called atheist did venture something along the lines of, “If God were real, then he’d *make* me believe he exists.” I’m not sure if it was the same one who added, “But I’d still hate him.

    Anyway, in my experience, the best “evidence” so-called atheists will accept for the proposition that “God is” is their own lack of freedom. Something like, “Oh, if only God hadn’t made me a free-and-rational being, then I might be able to believe that he is.” From this I have concluded that most so-called atheists don’t want to be wooed by a lover … they want to be intellectually/spiritually raped.

  2. I think Ilion brings up a good point. Someone who says 'There is no evidence for God existing' - in my anecdotal experience - is either A) likely to choke when asked what would count as evidence, or B) will give ridiculous standards of evidence. One I have seek: "If the laws of nature were such that whenever I said or thought 'I want chocolate cake', a chocolate cake would appear."

    Also, I think 'evidence for God' could be expanded beyond even what's listed. I think any evidence, direct or indirect, that could lead one to infer the existence or activity of a mind behind our observable universe would qualify as evidence for God or gods. That may allow more than, say.. an Omnipotent, Omniscient God to be inferred, but all the same...

  3. Ilion and Crude, I think you're both right about the standards of evidence. It's like the standard is constantly fluctuating. How many of us, for example, would think that an elephant standing in the middle of the road has no explanation? Yet, in debates on God's existence, we often see this kind of thing.