Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Evidence for God

In talking with atheists the one thing they keep repeating over and over is that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Of course there is. There is a ton of anecdotal evidence for the existence of God. Lots of people claim to have experienced God either in a purely spiritual way or in even in a physical supernatural way. Certainly their evidence is much stronger than much evidence that is routinely accepted in court. But science does not trust anecdotal evidence. Why not? Science is not concerned with unrepeatable events. Science is concerned with formulating theories that can predict experimental results. Human experience records many strange events. Chasing them all down is not a productive exercise for a scientist. So they ignore them not because there isn't some truth there but just because they are hard to investigate and end up with a solid understanding of what happened.

But there is a maxim in investigation. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If I take a walk in the woods and I don't see any evidence there were deer in those woods that does not prove deer were never there. The absence of deer evidence is not evidence of the absence of deer. Someone could walk in the same woods an hour later and see a deer. That would be evidence. But a scientist would discount the second guy because his evidence is anecdotal. He would want to do some observations. Set up a camera or just wait around and see whether deer are observed. That is more work but it would get you solid evidence.

So why can't science do that with God? What would it look like? Some phenomenon that people associate with God is observed. But it is not a one time thing. It happens over and over. So scientists do their homework and make observations. Yes something is happening. They give it a name. Maybe they can't think of any natural explanation for this thing. Would that count as scientific evidence for God? Not at all. It would just be a scientific question that we have not yet discovered an answer to. There are many of those. Gaps in our scientific knowledge don't prove God exists. That is fair. But then what would this evidence for God look like? Would it be so big and so amazing that we could not mistake it as God? But we look at galaxies and we are unimpressed. We look at endless complexities in living things and in particle physics. It is pretty amazing. If you are not convinced by that then what would convince you?

I am not saying people should just believe in God for no reason. I just think that all the talk of evidence is nonsense. All you are pointing out is you are not forced to believe in God the same way you are forced to believe in trees. It is a choice. You can believe or disbelieve. Is there evidence? Lots of it. Can it all be dismissed? If you want. But is it rational to do so? Both systems make are rational in the sense that there is no compelling proof that can force any rational person to discard it. Some will point to Ockham's razor but that does not really fit.

Christianity is more rational in the sense that it involves the mastery of reason over the passions of the flesh. Human desires like sex, money, pleasure, and self aggrandizement are a much greater threat to reason than religion. Certainly Christianity is better suited to enabling you to establish self control in those areas. I have struggled with these things as a Christian but it is obvious to me that as an atheist I would have far less success. But self control is an important key to all success precisely because it makes us more rational.

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