It’s Too Soon to Ask for Evidence, and What Is Evidence, Anyway?

Let’s take a peek over at Eve Keneinan’s post Keeping Track, which recounts a Twitter discussion between her, @MrOzAtheist, and Mark Houlsby, about Houlsby’s assertion that

There is no evidence for God. Therefore God does not exist.

Here’s a representative excerpt from Keneinan’s recap/rebuttal:

But evidence is an epistemological concept, pertaining to knowledge, to how we know that something exists or not, and what its properties are. Existence on the other hand is a metaphysical or ontological concept.

And another:

His claim that MH1: There is no evidence for God is already defeated by AMH1: It is possible there is evidence of God that has not yet be discovered.  I of course hold there is evidence for God, and plenty of it, [and so on, and so on]

And this (emphasis added):

I and others have attempted to refute this argument by arguing “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” We proffered plausible counterexamples: such things as protons (at one time), intelligent life in the Andromeda galaxy, and black holes (at one time). We argued that it is overwhelmingly likely that there are things for which we do not yet have evidence.

Go read, or at least skim, the whole thing if you’re curious.

In my experience, this sort of argument isn’t at all unusual for the more intellectual, ivory-tower sort of apologist. But here’s the thing: Keneinan says that “at one time” there wasn’t evidence for black holes. That “at one time” was on the order of a century: it was 101 years ago that Karl Schwarzschild discovered the radius around a collapsed star that bears his name.

A hundred years ago, we couldn’t sequence DNA because we didn’t know its shape and didn’t understand its role in reproduction. Hell, we hadn’t even isolated insulin yet.

Keneinan uses the word “galaxy” in the full knowledge that everyone knows what that is, and why it’s difficult to find life there. But a hundred years ago, we didn’t know that those fuzzy blobs in telescopes were in fact other cosmic islands of stars like our Milky Way. We didn’t know about the expanding universe or the Big Bang.

Meanwhile, we’ve had Islam for 1400 years, Christianity for 2000, Judaism for over 3000, and they’re still stuck on “well, you can’t disprove God” and “what constitutes evidence, anyway?”

You’d think that if there were any solid evidence for God, it would’ve shown up by now.

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4 Responses to It’s Too Soon to Ask for Evidence, and What Is Evidence, Anyway?

  1. Eve Keneinan says:

    As I said, I hold that there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God, including metaphysical demonstrations, experience, perception of certain kinds, etc

    My point vs Houlsby is was to his claim that “There was evidence of protons in the 1st century A.D.—the evidence existed, even if no one would be in a position to grasp it AS EVIDENECE for nearly 2000 years.” I was merely pointing out that, IF he is correct, THEN he has supplied a defeater for his other claim “There is no evidence for God.” He cannot, by his one argument, rule out that the possibility that “There is abundant evidence for God, evidence so compelling that any rational person would accept it instantly—it is only that we are not yet in a position to grasp this evidence AS EVIDENCE (just as the 1st century man was not in a position to grasp the evidence for protons as evidence for protons, even though such evidence existed).”

    It follows that he cannot assert “There is no evidence for God”, as he does. The most he can assert is the disjunct “There is either no evidence for God OR there is such evidence but we are not in a position to grasp it as evidence yet.” It’s a technical point about how his statements undermine other of his statements: by his own concept of “evidence not grasped as evidence” he cannot get from “There is no apparent evidence for God” to “there is no evidence for God” … because he himself explains many cases of lack of apparent evidence with “The evidence exists but has not yet become apparent.”

    I disagree that we need to explain the lack of evidence of God by means of this disjunct at all, since the modified “there is no apparently no evidence for God” is false to begin with.

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    • arensb says:

      I hold that there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God

      I suppose that’s technically true, in the same sense that there’s some evidence for Elvis sightings. And maybe some day good, convincing evidence will come to light, and when it does, I’ll be happy to listen to your presentation of it in your Nobel acceptance speech.
      But since, after 2000 years, you’re still whining about technicalities and excuses for why you shouldn’t have to present as much evidence as the people who discovered dark matter or the Higgs boson, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.

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  2. Fez says:

    I feel like there’s a point at which the continued insistence upon existence in the face of no compelling evidence crosses the line from comfortable-but-harmless delusion to full on perversity. I have no idea where that line is but my gut tells me it’s way before 2000 years.

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    • arensb says:

      I have no idea where that line is

      Oh, so you admit you don’t have all the answers? Then why don’t you just sit down, shut up, and leave the thinking to the smart people with Latin phrases in their Twitter bios?

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