A trial lawyer on evidence

November 18th, 2016 in clues. Tags: , , ,

Internet discussions between believers and non-believers often get into the matter of evidence. Is there any evidence for God?

Trouble is, we cannot always agree on what type and amount of evidence for God is enough to believe. And of course we all have our own viewpoints to defend.

But perhaps looking at evidence a slightly different way will help – at least to bring the two “sides” a little closer to understanding each other.

Scientific evidence for God?

Many non-believers I have talked with online have suggested they think the existence of God needs to be proved scientifically before they will believe.

But if I ask them do they mean following the scientific method – form a hypothesis, develop some real world test that will verify or falsify the hypothesis, conduct the test, analyse the results using statistics, and then draw a conclusion at a given level of confidence – of course they agree that they didn’t mean such a rigorous form of science, just the more general application of reason to evidence.

What they end up asking for is, in fact, more like legal evidence than scientific evidence.

Legal evidence?

Legal proceedings set a high standard – beyond reasonable doubt – and they are based on a rigorous examination of evidence.

So it is interesting to see a trial lawyer discuss evidence for God.

The legal definition of evidence

Joe, who is a trial lawyer, has discussed evidence on his True and Reasonable blog. Not surprisingly, he gives a legal definition, which he says would be similar to that used in all US states (and likely elsewhere as well):

“Relevant evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

He then unpacks the meaning a little.

Any tendency?

He says ” “…having any tendency” suggests that that some evidence might have varying degrees of strength to different people.” Thus this definition is broad and subjective, but he says this is necessary because “different reasonable people can often draw different conclusions from the very same piece of evidence”.

I think this definition is important. It is clear that, especially in relation to the existence of God, the same information may be helpful, one way or another, to one person but not to another. But if we regard evidence as what has a “tendency”, then it seems that if information helps one person but not another, it has a tendency and therefore should be considered to be evidence, even if not helpful or convincing to some people.

Who is convinced?

Joe also points out how arguments are directed to someone. In court, that “someone” is the jury, and sometimes the judge. In discussions about God, it is the other person we are discussing with.

If we ignore the other person, and present arguments that are based on information that they don’t find has any tendency to make the existence of God more or less likely, then it is clear the discussion is unlikely to be productive.

A nice test

It is thus clear that we can always defeat someone else’s argument by simply saying “that information doesn’t make the existence of God more (or less, as the case may be) probable to me, so it isn’t evidence!”

The resurrection?

But he suggests a simple test, and uses the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus as an example. Sceptics often say there is no evidence for the resurrection, but he poses the hypothetical: “So for example if we had none of these ancient accounts and I just got up in my closing argument and said “a person that lived 2000 years ago rose from the dead,” would we not think the case weaker?”

He concludes: “So yes the existence of these ancient documents does have some tendency to show the fact that is of consequence “is more probable… than it would be without the evidence.” They are almost certainly relevant evidence.”

Evolution?

We could apply this test to other information, such as the fossil evidence for evolution. A creationist christian might say that the fossils provide no evidence for evolution.

But if there was a court case and the fossil evidence was not presented, surely the jury might reasonably conclude that evolution hadn’t occurred, or was at least unlikely. So it must mean that the fossil record does indeed have a tendency to make evolution more likely, or less unlikely, and so is useful evidence.

Time to stop making ambit claims?

I conclude then that saying someone has no evidence for their viewpoint is often an ambit claim, put forward to dismiss a person’s viewpoint and close the discussion without really facing the issues.

The “evidence” may be unsatisfactory or unconvincing to one party, but if its non-existence would make the claim less (or more) likely, then its existence has a tendency to make the claim more (or less) probable and it can rightfully be said to be evidence.

Then the discussion can begin on the value of that evidence, just as it would be discussed in a jury.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

8 Comments

  1. The observation that leads to God’s existence is that all religions say we will pay for our sins after we die. Suppose you ask the question, does God exist? The answer is no because there is no evidence of God’s existence or life after death. The question a rational and responsible person asks is: What is sin? This leads to the question: What is a human being? The answer, judged to be true by rational people, is that human beings are embodied spirits. You can prove, in other words, that human beings did not evolve from apes. This leads to an argument, not a proof, of God’s existence. This means there are two ways of knowing something. It can be revealed to us by God (faith) or it is supported by evidence (reason).

  2. Before you can present evidence of God one needs to define God in agreed upon terms. There can be no proof of a physical God for “God is a SPIRIT and we must worship and define Him in spirit and truth” which as you rightly point out demands an answer to the question what is a human. Sub atomic energy fields nothing physical yet perceived of as and defined as physical bodies. All of life is but the firing of synapses not even in degree but just on and offs just like the computer binary system. We are nothing but energy even as defined by our scientific laws.
    This creation of Gods is actually one he started but set in motion where each of us are self aware self actuating entities who choose and create our own existence by the choices we make, but His Spirit is available to enlighten us to basic truths if we are willing to engage in communication with His Spirit on a level of Truth. Sadly very fee are able to accept truths especially when they contravene our own wants and desires.
    And we know mans wisdom is foolisness to God and vice versa because we are not privy to the knowledge required to make informed choices.

  3. The definition of God arises from metaphysical analysis. You exist and I exist, but I am not you and you are not me. We are finite beings. A finite being is a composition of two metaphysical principles or incomplete beings: essence and existence. A finite being’s essence limits its existence. God is a pure act of existence. According to the Bible, God told Moses my name is Yahweh (“I am who am.”) This is a reason to believe God inspired the human authors of the Bible because the human authors knew nothing about essence and existence.

  4. My thoughts on paying for sins are more a logical extraction from the expressions in the bible. For example children pay for the sins of their parents in many ways, from the damage their parents do to the environment to the lessons and bad habits they pass on to their children.
    As far as death, We have been given a physical perception of reality to experience in any way we choose. We can create good or bad memories, but we cannot make more or change them once our physical bodies are finished, so we are stuck with what we have created for ourselves as a spiritual entity. Thus if we have done good things we have happy memories to relive forever, if we have done evil things we have unhappy memories to relive forever.
    But in the physical world our wounds heal. Likewise in the spiritual world God has provided a way to heal our spiritual wounds, but it requires faith. If a doctor offers us a cure for a physical illness and we do not have the faith to take the medicine we will not be cured. The same with the spiritual world, if we cannot forgive others then we cannot accept forgiveness of our own spiritual illness. Not very well said but I think you get the idea

  5. What is the purpose of human existence? Fellowship? But to fellowship we must learn what existence is and become sons of God which the Spirit of Christ allows us to do. I am sure God was lonely before he created us and will be lonely till we grow up. Made in the image of God allows us to feel His pain.

  6. WE are the evidence of God, not the inanimate objects of the universe, but self aware, self actualizing intelligence that defines the universe into existence. Are we God? Well I would say in our own way we are indeed creators and controllers of our own destiny, but as finite individuals we are a product of a greater force or creator God. Science itself demands a God because energy cannot be created or destroyed and that law demands the existence of an eternal energy source or God.

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