I’ve been discussing with atheists and other non-believers on the internet for about 6 years now, and patterns start to emerge. One pattern relates to the evidence required to believe in God. Generally, atheists say that beliefs should be based on evidence, and nothing else. Yet I see approaches to evidence that don’t conform to this.
For an investigation to be useful, it must as much as possible avoid giving false positives (a result when none is warranted) or false negatives (no result when a positive conclusion is warranted). Typically atheists demand scientific evidence for God, despite:
- Few of us base decisions in most areas of life (e.g. relationships including marriage, career, ethics, politics, etc) on scientific evidence.
- Science is, by definition, limited to the natural world; God, by definition, lives outside the natural world. It is therefore clear that science will be unable to detect God. Science may be able to detect God’s actions in the world, but here, often, atheists demand an amazingly high level of evidence, like messages written in the sky or regrowth of missing limbs. And even this may not be enough …..
Thus they are choosing a method of inquiry that is unlikely to yield a positive result and may easily yield a false negative.
Hume and miracles
One possible evidence for God’ action in the world is the occurrence of documented miracles (see Healing miracles and God). But 18th century philosopher David Hume famously argued that, since a miracle was an extremely unusual event, we could never know if a miracle had occurred, because other explanations were always more likely. Philosophers these days are not so sure, because this argument makes an unjustified assumption about the probability of a miracle, and Bayes’ theorem shows that in some cases a miracle may be the most likely explanation.
But many atheists continue to use the argument. Strangely, this means that their disbelief in a miracle is based not on evidence as they claim, but on the supposed logic of Hume’s dictum and an unjustified assumption about the probability of a miracle.
The cosmological and teleological arguments start with unexplained scientific facts about the universe – what caused it, and why is it unexpectedly so ‘finely-tuned’ to allow life to occur? – and argue that creation by God is the most logical explanation.
Atheists often respond by arguing that “Goddidit!” is no explanation because it doesn’t add to our scientific understanding. This argument isn’t actually valid (see Who designed the designer?). But when pressed for their explanation, atheists tend to say that don’t know, or this isn’t a question we need to answer.
So in the end, most don’t have an explanation. So why use an alleged lack of explanation as an argument against theism?
There are strong arguments for and against belief in God. I believe the arguments for are, cumulatively, much stronger, whereas others think differently. But I can’t help wondering why it is that so many atheists set unrealistic criteria and use inconsistent arguments for their conclusions, and so almost ensure that they’ll never detect God even if he exists?
Some justify this approach by quoting Richard Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” But of course it’s just as possible to fool oneself by requiring too much certainty as by requiring too little. The ‘right’ course, surely, is to require appropriate evidence.
Read more ….
- For the benefit of non-Aussies, the title of this post is taken from comedians Greig Pickhaver and John Doyle, who play sports commentators HG Nelson and Rampaging Roy Slaven. One of their mottos is “When too much sport is barely enough!”
- Photo from MorgueFile.