Thursday, August 4, 2016

What Qualifies As Evidence?

Have you ever heard of a murder investigation where the police focus on a certain suspect and collect evidence with an eye toward nabbing that suspect, while ignoring other evidence that would lead them to someone else?  Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all too often, and in many cases, it results in the wrong man being arrested for the crime.  In such a case, the investigation is not being conducted properly.  Police shouldn't gather evidence for suspect A - they should simply gather evidence.  And when all the evidence has been collected, a process of reasoning typically leads to the conclusion of what scenario is most likely to have occurred that would result in the evidence that we now observe.  That scenario includes the manner of death (was it a murder or something else?) and the course of events that led to the death, including the people involved and what actions they took.

This is the true nature of evidence.  It is simply a set of observable facts about some state of affairs.  The evidence tells a story, but only after using a process of reasoning from the facts to a conclusion.  Evidence, in and of itself, could lead to one conclusion or another, depending on the reasoning used.  Good reasoning can lead to conclusion A, which is correct.  Bad reasoning can lead to conclusion B, which is false.  In both cases, the evidence is the same.  In other words, evidence is not evidence for A or for B, it is just evidence.  It is the process of reasoning that makes us say something is "evidence for B", but that reasoning could be wrong.

I get tired of hearing theists distort the meaning of evidence to cover up the fact that their beliefs are not supported by observable facts.  Such is the case with crude's latest post.  Because it is brief, I will repeat it here in its entirety:
In my experience.

10 years ago:

Atheist: I demand evidence for God's existence!
Theist: Well, here's this philosophical argument. In fact, here's a lot. Here's this ID concern. Here's this probablistic argument, here's more.
Atheist: None of those count!

5 years ago:

Atheist: I demand evidence for God's existence!
Theist: Alright. What qualifies as evidence?
Atheist: An 800 foot Jesus or some miracle I can't explain!
Theist: So, a God of the gaps.
Atheist: Shit.


Atheist: I demand evidence for God's existence!
Theist: Alright. What qualifies as evidence?
Atheist: I don't want to answer that. Can we go back to the decade ago version and pretend you don't know why I want that?
In the conversation of 10 years ago, the theist is claiming that an argument constitutes evidence.  No it doesn't.  Evidence consists of observable facts.  Evidence is objective.  Arguments and reasoning are how we interpret and understand the evidence, but they can be wrong.  Reasoning is often faulty, but facts are facts.  Reasoning that is verified by testing and corroboration with known facts is much more reliable.  (And this is what we call science.)

In the conversation of 5 years ago, crude has made a straw man of what kind of evidence the atheist seeks.  It isn't merely something that can't be explained.  It is something that is clearly supernatural - something that defies the laws of nature.  Theists love to claim that there are many miracles or supernatural things, but when you examine them objectively, it is always the case that either they can't be substantiated (they aren't objective facts), or they they are not clearly supernatural (they can be adequately explained by natural causes).  This is true of every god-of-the-gaps claim they make.  What the atheist is asking for here is something that is observable and that defies any natural explanation.  And that is different from any evidence that has ever been observed.  If such evidence existed, nobody would call it god of the gaps.  I'd call it observable evidence that justifies belief in something supernatural, and crude would call it the same.

In the conversation of now, crude is desperately trying to make it sound as if the atheist has no rational basis for his demand.  What the atheist has demanded all along is evidence as justification for belief.  And what the theist has shown him all along is a complete absence of any observable facts that would provide that justification through a process of sound reasoning.

Crude can ridicule atheists all he wants, but the evidence is not on his side.  All he has is a set of arguments.  Many of those arguments are a priori - they are not based on facts in evidence.  Others are based on faulty reasoning.  For example, ID relies on the assumption of a designer while ignoring natural explanations (supported by tons of evidence).  The situation really hasn't changed at all from 10 years ago to now.  You can sum it up this way:
Every single time:

Atheist: If you want me to believe in God, I need objective evidence to support that belief.
Theist: I don't have that, but I will never admit it, and I will always ridicule you for not swallowing my bullshit.


  1. This OP neatly and eruditely captures the irreconcilably problematic nature of god belief, be it christianity, Hinduism, Ju-ju, Rosicrucianism, etc. The basis of crude's somewhat crude rationale is is when traced back is ultimately founded in [floundered, morelike] interpretation of the bible, itself a collection of folkloric tales on the nature of the human condition as recounted by our primitive iron-age forebears. The jesus-god motif suffers exactly the same fate as does Shiva, Ganesha, Allah, and Yahweh, all a conjuration [including the jesus-god rendition] of the human mind, believed to be real and true by some and utterly rejected by others. Even the very form of jesus-god is irreconcilably problematic and irredeemably unsettled between the many thousands of christianities, with some of the view theistic personalism as real while others reject it outright while averring the classical theist god model as the only 'evidentially' true 'fact'.

    Out of this mess the only conclusion any reasonable, insightful, and skeptical person with a modicum of logic can draw is that christians are artfully adept at creating a jesus-god in their own image that best suits their personal needs.

    Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies, Iowa State University, correctly and eloquently characterises crude's mewling caches HERE drawn as they are from the flawed self-serving scholarship he subscribes to:

    "Most New Testament scholars are affiliated with religious institutions and
    are part of what I have called an ecclesial-academic complex that has no
    counterpart in any other areas of the humanities. For example, most, if not all,
    scholars of Greek religion are not a part of some Greek religious movement or
    organization. Despite biases that always exist in the study of the classics, it is fair
    to say that few have any personal stake in whether Zeus or Tiberius was good or
    bad because those entities don’t constitute any sort of authority for their actions.
    That is not the case with Jesus, who is still viewed as the paradigmatic authority
    for most Christian scholars. Such New Testament ethicists are still studying Jesus
    through the confessional lenses of Nicea or Chalcedon rather than through an
    historical approach that we would use with other human beings."

    Crude doesn't deal in evidence, proofs or facts. He deals in christian argument and rhetoric.

    1. Drop the two 'is'es after the word rationale.

    2. Scholarship - even the most self-serving kind - is not exactly the word that comes to mind ...

    3. If not 'scholarship' then perhaps 'flawed self-serving eisegesis' as a fitting substitute.

  2. Arguments can be involved in evidence, but only if their form is right and the premises are either true or probably true. Arguments on their own are worthless.

    1. That's right. If the arguments that crude refers to are evidence-based, then he should cite the evidence, not the argument. Let the atheist make what inferences he will. On the other hand, if his arguments are not evidence-based (like the ontological argument), then they really are useless, since the premises are purely undemonstrable assumptions.

    2. How could you have an argument devoid of evidence? Arguments necessarily involve evidence unless they are pure gibberish.

      For example in this passage"[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

      We have evidence for such things as hearing, concepts, comparisons of greatness, understandings, existent things, reality.

      I think it is perfectly valid evidence based reasoning to attempt to reconcile all these things we do in fact have a great deal of evidence for.

      The argument, however, suffers from a false premise at the outset, that hearing of something necessarily means one understands it.

      Further, a being could be conceived of existing in reality yet be in the understanding alone with out contradiction. To conceive of a greatest being in the understanding alone simply shows a lack of ability to conceive something even greater.

      So, the argument, though deeply flawed does, as all arguments do, involve evidence.

    3. Some arguments are a priori - that is, they are not based on evidence, but simply intuition, logic, or definition. However, I agree that the majority of arguments are (or should be) based on evidence. My point about such arguments is that the evidence needs to be shown. In many cases, it turns out to be assumption rather than something that is actually observed. Let us see the evidence, not the argument. If the evidence is real, everyone should be able to draw the appropriate logical conclusion. But what we usually hear is the argument without the evidence to back it up.

    4. "Some arguments are a priori - that is, they are not based on evidence, but simply intuition, logic, or definition."
      How do you know intuition and logic are necessarily not valid evidence? For example, Sam Harris argues for each of us to consider our own personal decision making processes to demonstrate that free will is false.

      Consider deciding on chocolate versus vanilla. A free choice, many would assert, since you can choose whichever one you want. But in what sense is your want itself free? Imagine within yourself, how did you come to want, say, chocolate at that moment? Didn't that feeling just well up from some mysterious place in your psyche without you having any control over the origin and specifics of your want?

      And what is wrong with basing an argument on logic? Logic is evidence. Logic is based on evidence. We have vast evidence that the universe behaves logically and that logic is a valid descriptor of physical behaviors. Indeed, if an argument is not logical then one would need to show why such an exception should be allowed in the physical universe.

      As for definition, that can be shown to be invalid by the use of logic, since such arguments are begging the question or tautologies. A great many arguments for god begin by simply defining god ad hoc to be omniscient, omnipotent, etc.

      "Let us see the evidence, not the argument."
      Biological evolution is not so glaringly obvious, even though the evidence is all around us. We need the theory to go with the facts, which is why Darwinian evolution is both a scientific theory and a scientific fact.

      The great and most obvious evidence is that we are on an Earth standing still while the universe spins around us. Turns out that even when fine details of observation eventually mounted to make the geocentric model untenable not a everyone was "able to draw the appropriate logical conclusion"

      Sorry im-skeptical, but "Let us see the evidence, not the argument" is a false dichotomy in my view.

    5. How do you know intuition and logic are necessarily not valid evidence?
      - I am an empiricist. It is my belief that both intuition and logic are based on things we observe. We have an intuitive sense of what makes sense or how things work, because we have seen how things work. But we also fool ourselves into believing things intuitively that are not based on any observation. And we do so by making bad arguments (if only to ourselves). For example, "There must be a creator, because all contingent things have a creator". The fact of the matter is that our intuitive sense can fail us, because we haven't observed all the relevant things, like matter itself being created by some creator. I don't say that intuition and logic are necessarily not valid evidence. I say that they are not always valid.

      And what is wrong with basing an argument on logic? Logic is evidence. Logic is based on evidence.
      - I agree that logic is based on evidence. But that doesn't mean that logic IS evidence. Logic is just a set of rules. If we follow those rules, our arguments are said to be valid. But the arguments, though logically valid, may still be unsound. They may be based on false beliefs or assumptions. The premises of the argument must be shown to be true in order for any argument to be sound. And that's the evidence I want to see.

      Biological evolution is not so glaringly obvious, even though the evidence is all around us. We need the theory to go with the facts, which is why Darwinian evolution is both a scientific theory and a scientific fact.
      - My point is that there are several theories. Which one is the best one? The evidence is there for everyone to see, but people make different arguments about what the evidence means. It is only by examining how these theories match up with the evidence that we can have a basis for knowing which of them we should believe.

      Turns out that even when fine details of observation eventually mounted to make the geocentric model untenable not a everyone was "able to draw the appropriate logical conclusion"
      - That's exactly right. Not everyone draws the same conclusion because they might make bad arguments, or they might choose to ignore available evidence. What I'm saying is that the evidence is the starting point for the argument. Without evidence, we don't have much of a chance of coming to the best conclusion. And that goes for theists who refuse to base their arguments on observable evidence. But if we can see the evidence, then at least we have a reasonable chance of applying good logic and sound argumentation to conclude what is appropriate from it.

  3. Ryan, that is pretty much why Biblical Studies as a substantive pursuit, along with philosophies grounded in religious studies, in this case, christian philosophy, is finding it increasingly difficult today to sustain any element of intellectual import or relevance as an explanatory model about us, the world, the universe.

    In earlier times without the light of scientific knowledge and understanding that we now thankfully have access to, the christian narrative seemed reasonable and cogent to the great unwashed of humanity's illiterate and ignorant. Unfortunately, today's apologists, as crude so keenly represents, can no longer hide behind that cloak of ignorance. It is a willful denial of the sciences, a refusal to acknowledge not only the substantial but compelling evidence against religious claims that is at base, plain and simple. As biblical scholar Robert Funk, Chairman of the graduate department of religion, Vanderbilt University, noted:

    "If the evidence supports the historical accuracy of the gospels, where is the need for faith? And if the historical reliability of the gospels is so obvious, why have so many scholars failed to appreciate the incontestable nature of the evidence?"

    Arguments on their own are indeed insupportably tendentious at best.

  4. THIS video neatly captures the definition of 'evidence' that crude tries to impress upon us are matters of fact. :o)

    Equally, as with much of crude's contributions on this matter such 'evidence' should be examined and treated with the same level of due diligence as outlined in the video.

  5. Replies
    1. That's a good one, too. Woody Allen has always been one of my favorites. In this scene, he brilliantly embraces the absurd a la Camus.