Commentary: Evidence for God, Again

So, in response to my ‘Evidence for God’ post—where I pointed out that there is evidence for God (or gods)—another commentator replied with an interesting but ultimately flawed comment. He said the following:

” beginning of the universe, the reality of change, fine-tuning, the existence of moral duties, etc–then this is circumstantial evidence as well. So, there is plenty of evidence for God and/or gods.”

I wouldn’t argue that those ideas are not sufficient evidence for a god. Those ideas are not evidence because they all can be explained without recourse to religious ideology. To clain [sic] ‘god’ did these is a non-sequitur.

Another requirement for evidence of god must be that any proposed items of evidence cannot be explained by other, non-religious ways.

So, let’s see why this comment is incorrect.

” beginning of the universe, the reality of change, fine-tuning, the existence of moral duties, etc–then this is circumstantial evidence as well. So, there is plenty of evidence for God and/or gods.” I wouldn’t argue that those ideas are not sufficient evidence for a god. Those ideas are not evidence because they all can be explained without recourse to religious ideology.

In one sense, this assessment is partially correct, but in a more important sense, its fatally flawed. After all, just because some data-points (like fine-tuning, consciousness, etc.) can be explained by a separate hypothesis (like atheistic-naturalism) from the one under consideration (theism) does nothing to show that those data points are not evidence for the hypothesis under consideration (theism).

Why?

Because merely explaining some data with a different hypothesis does nothing to show that the different hypothesis is true, or more rational to believe in, or even more likely to be true. So, for example, if someone is found dead, and the hypothesis being considered is that the person was murdered by their friend, then the data of the murder can be just as well explained by the hypothesis that the person was murdered by a secret band of shadow assassins who framed the friend, but there is nothing to show that that alternate hypothesis is as probable or as reasonable to believe in as the first hypothesis. Mere explanatory adequacy is not enough. And so, this means that merely positing an alternate explanatory hypothesis does nothing to negate the fact that the data under consideration is evidence for the first hypothesis. After all, consider that any crime can be explained by the ‘secret-assassins-conspiracy-theory’ explanation, but since such a hypothesis is merely possible, but neither probable nor reasonable, then it does nothing to negate the evidentiary value of the data in favor of the ‘friend-as-murderer’ hypothesis. And, in a theistic context, take something like consciousness, the existence of which has been used as an argument for the existence of God/gods. It is not merely enough for the atheistic-naturalist to say that since it is logically-possible that consciousness could have arisen on atheistic-naturalism than this negates consciousness as evidence for theism, no more than saying that it is logically possible that secret assassins committed some murder is enough to negate the evidence in favor of the normal-murder hypothesis. Instead, the atheistic-naturalist would have to show that his consciousness explanation is at least physically-possible (not just logically-possible) and even probable. Without that, it is merely an ad hoc possibility. Now, granted, the atheistic-naturalist could argue that his worldview is ultimately the better explanation than theism, but even that does not mean that the data points in question are not evidence for theism, it just means that there are non-evidentiary grounds, such as the principle of simplicity, that may allow us to claim that one explanation is better than another. But again, the ‘evidence’ for theism remains.

Additionally, even if an atheistic-naturalist could show that his explanation for some data point was probable or reasonable to believe in, this also does not necessarily undermine the evidentiary value of certain evidences for theism. For example, consider testimony of the miraculous or of religious experience. Such testimony is evidence. But now imagine that an atheistic-naturalist brings up the fact that testimony is often mistaken or that there exist certain psychological conditions that could account for religious experiences. These facts are also evidence that must be considered. But just because these are evidence, they do not show that the religious testimony is not evidence. Rather, the atheistic-naturalist’s evidence would simply serve to undermine the evidentiary strength of the testimony for the miraculous and for theism, and thereby show that that evidence did not meet its evidentiary burden of proof. However, again, this would not negate the fact that the testimony was still evidence. As an example of this, consider that in a court, if you have two witness statements that oppose each other—like a ‘he-said, she-said’ assault—this does not negate the fact that each witness statement is evidence, it just means that the statement presented by the prosecutorial party will likely not be evidentially strong enough to meet its burden of proof to be believed beyond a reasonable doubt. But that statement is still evidence. In order for the statement to lose its status as evidence, the witness statement, in that specific case, would have to be shown to be false beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, in the case of miraculous testimony or testimony concerning religious experience, in order to claim that these things are not evidence for theism, the atheistic-naturalist would need to show that all such testimony—in each and every specific case—was false beyond a reasonable doubt. Since this is practically impossible, then such testimony retains its status as evidence for theism. Of course, as mentioned, this does not mean that the atheistic-naturalist needs to consider this evidence to be sufficient to warrant belief, but it is still evidence.

Another requirement for evidence of god must be that any proposed items of evidence cannot be explained by other, non-religious ways.

So no, this is incorrect. And thus, there is still evidence for God/gods.

Now, if the atheistic-naturalist wants to say that he personally does not find such evidence convincing or that it is better explained in other ways, he is free to do so. But that does not negate the fact that, as stated, there is evidence for God/gods.