Earlier today, I stumbled upon an article entitled How to Defeat Modern Day Atheism With Three Easy Questions.
The author starts off by quoting Steve Greene’s How to validate atheism in one easy step. Then he concludes, “Once again, we see how atheism is built on the Demand For Evidence.” Well, yes. Yes, it is. What other method do you propose we use to determine which religious claims are bogus, and which are not? Certainly, you don’t accept that every religion is true? I would sincerely love to know what method you used to determine that your religion is true, and all the others are not. I hope it’s better than the method I used as a child (that is, “Mom and Dad said so.”).
“But we also know that such a demand is more of a rhetorical trick than a sincere expression of intellectual curiosity.”
…So you haven’t got any evidence, then? Aw. Seriously, though, I would honestly and sincerely love to see the evidence if you had any.
“First of all, Greene is working with a shallow, superficial understanding of evidence… So the fact that Greene is not convinced by ‘evidence’ from religious people (appeals to eyewitness testimony, appeals to personal experience, and variants of the fine-tuning argument) means only that Greene finds such evidence to be unconvincing.”
Well, no. First, the fine-tuning argument is an argument, not evidence. Second, anecdotal evidence is commonly considered unreliable. Wikipedia says, “Anecdotal evidence is often unscientific or pseudoscientific because various forms of cognitive bias may affect the collection or presentation of evidence. For instance, someone who claims to have had an encounter with a supernatural being or alien may present a very vivid story, but this is not falsifiable. This phenomenon can also happen to large groups of people through subjective validation.” See also: Anecdotes, testimonials and urban legends. Empirical evidence, such as experimentation or observation (e.g. a photograph, audio recording, or measurement) is much more reliable.
“When someone like Greene comes to you demanding ‘actual, credible, real world evidence of this god,’ there are three simple questions you can ask to expose the sham nature of the inquiry and thus defeat the backdoor attempt to ‘validate atheism.'”
Ah, now we’re getting to the meat of the post!
“Question 1: What would you count as ‘actual, credible, real world evidence for God?’ If the atheist refuses to answer, he/she will be exposed as Hiding the Goalpost, demonstrating the inherent intellectual dishonesty in such a demand. If the atheist finally answers, there is a very, very high likelihood he/she will cite some dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power.”
As it happens, I do think a “dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power” would be good evidence, especially if it were objectively documented by photograph, video recording, or similar. I don’t see why this isn’t a reasonable thing to ask for, either. Many Christians and other religious people make all sorts of claims that miracles happen. “Faith healing” is one of the more common miracle claims. I would find it to be strong supportive evidence for a god, if that god’s followers prayed for an amputee, who was then healed (supposing there was enough proof/documentation to rule out deliberate deception, i.e. a faked miracle).
That’s not the only sort of evidence I would accept, though. Accurate, specific prophecies could serve as strong evidence. If, for example, a god’s follower made an accurate prophesy, citing a specific time and place and making a prediction that is not self-fulfilling, likely to happen, or easily predictable given the right information (e.g. predicting that a stock will crash based on insider information). An example of a prophesy that would fulfil these criteria would be a prediction made in 2015 that Mt. Vesuvius would erupt at exactly 5:42 EST on November 3, 2043. The most important thing here is that the prophesy should be falsifiable. Either Mt. Vesuvius will erupt at the prophesied time, or it will not. Whether the prophesy is fulfilled is not up to interpretation. An example of a fulfilled prophesy that I would not accept as evidence would be just about anything you would find in a fortune cookie: something vague and open to interpretation that cannot be falsified.
There’s also the concept of “guardian angels”, or the idea that a god protects their followers. I would find it to be at least moderately supportive evidence if a well designed study found that the followers of one specific religion or sect were statistically significantly less likely to die or become sick or injured than a control group of people from another religion, or no religion.
Some religious people claim moral superiority. If a well designed study found that adherents of one religion or sect had a much lower crime rate than people outside of their religion (controlling for socio-economic status, race, etc.), then I would consider that weak evidence supporting their religion. Which is to say, it would be worth investigating further.
I might also find the smiting of heretics and blasphemers convincing. For example, if everyone who said “[name of god] does not exist!” died within the next five minutes (and the autopsy did not indicate murder as a possible cause), then I would consider that as evidence supporting the existence of that god.
I would also accept it as evidence for a god’s existence if a well designed study found that, among treatments for seizures, exorcism or prayer in the name of a particular god was more effective than seizure medication, or sham exorcism or prayer, or exorcism or prayer in the name of a different god.
I would find it supremely convincing that a god exists if that god came and talked to me, and humored my requests for a demonstration of their power (including letting me take photographs or make a video, so I would know later that I didn’t hallucinate or dream the whole experience).
“Question 2: Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God? At this point, the atheist will likely try to change the topic. But persist with the question. What you will find is that the reason why the atheist would count such an event as evidence for God is because it could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science. In other words, because it was a Gap. Modern day atheism is built on God of the Gaps logic.”
Er… Not all of the examples of evidence I gave are “dramatic, miraculous, sensational event[s]”. Each of the examples I gave supports a specific claim made by the followers of various religions, most of which are attributed to a god, or agents of a god. No one single example I gave would be sufficient to prove a god exists (except for the last one), but it would certainly be supporting evidence, if not of the existence of a god, then at least of the veracity of (some of) that religion’s claims.
The idea of the God of the Gaps is that things that we do not understand are attributed to a god or the supernatural. E.g. lightning is caused by Thor, or seizures are caused by demonic possession, or a god (or gods) created the universe. Mostly, these are things that, at some point, past or present, were not explained by natural causes or science. That’s what a gap is: something we don’t currently know how to explain, not something that “could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science”. Furthermore, my examples of evidence are based on actual claims made by religious people about what their god or gods can do. If you interpret some of these as gaps, then that is a property of the sort of claims religious believers make, not some plot by me to find some gaps.
“Question 3: Is the God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God? If the atheist has not bailed on you yet, he/she will likely run now. For if he/she answers NO, then it will become clear that nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. Why? Because if the only ‘evidence’ the atheist ‘Judge/Jury’ will allow in his/her kangaroo court is a Gap (something that cannot be explained by science/natural law), and God-of-the-Gaps reasoning is also not allowed by the atheist, then it is clear the atheist demand for evidence is a sneaky, dishonest game of ‘heads I win, tails you lose.'”
How is my asking for evidence of claims made by actual believers some sort of kangaroo court? Also, see my answer for question #2 to correct your misunderstanding of the God of the Gaps concept.
“Of course, if the atheist answers YES to question 3, then the theist is free to raise Gaps as evidence for God (origin of Life, origin of the Consciousness, etc.).”
Just because we don’t know how to explain something, isn’t evidence that a god did it, or that it has a supernatural cause. It just means we don’t know. This is precisely the sort of God of the Gaps reasoning that atheists criticize theists and supernaturalists for using. Your convoluted attempt to turn that criticism back on atheists is frankly ridiculous.
“Bonus question: I’ll provide evidence for God’s existence, but can you first provide evidence that you are capable of considering my evidence in an open- and fair-minded manner? ”
Sure. My answer to the first question contains quite a few examples of the sort of evidence I would find convincing. In general, I’ll keep the following points in mind while I’m considering your evidence:
- Is the claim it supports falsifiable?
- Is the evidence objective?
- Is there good documentation?
- Is it empirical evidence, not anecdotal evidence?
- Are there potential confounding factors?
- Is it a hoax?
I’m looking forward to evaluating the evidence you have for me.