Stupid Theist Tricks: Perversion of Evidence
This is part of a series called "Stupid Theist Tricks" that focuses on the various ways theists use lapses of logic and similar sleights of hand to support their belief in God.
Today's topic is "evidence", and how theists misuse the term, both to claim support for their superstitions and to deny its value to atheists. The first thing we need to do is establish a working definition of the term. A dictionary definition is: "the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid." One salient point of this definition is that it is based on facts. Facts are not subjective feelings. If someone sees a painting and declares, "That is a beautiful picture", it is not a fact that the picture is beautiful. It is one person's (and perhaps more) feeling that the picture is beautiful, but it may be seen as ugly by others. In order to be regarded as factual, a proposition has to be objectively true. And that is the basis of evidence. If it's not objectively true, then it's not what I call evidence.
But to a theist, evidence is something completely different. A theist can look at a sunset and say, "that's evidence that God exists". An atheist looks at the sunset and says, "I see a nice sunset, but I don't see God". So is this evidence? Clearly, it is not objective. Yet, to the theist, this is the only kind of "evidence" they have. They see evidence of God everywhere they look, and they tell the rest of us how blind we are because we don't interpret what we see the same way they do. Of course, the reason they interpret everything as evidence of God is that they already believe in God. If they didn't, they wouldn't see everything as evidence. So what is the real value of this "evidence"?
Here's another example: (regarding mind-body dualism)
And if you ask, where is the evidence of such independently existing thoughts, I would point to those very same brain functions. Just as my ear reacts to sound, or my eye processes light, or my nose determines what things smell like, so does my brain process thought. The very fact that it is functioning can be legitimately interpreted as evidence of their independent existence. And even more tellingly, the fact that when the brain ceases to function, consciousness also does not interact with the body, this can be strongly indicative of their external nature.What the commenter says is that the brain acts like a sense organ, like eyes or ears, but it senses thoughts that exist apart from the brain. He actually thinks this is convincing. The trouble is that there is absolutely nothing factual about it. Light and sound are real physical phenomena that can be detected even without eyes and ears. We understand how the sense organs work, and how they pass information to the brain. But to state that the brain itself senses or detects thoughts in a similar manner is pure speculation. There is no independent means of detecting these things, so why should we think that they exist? And the brain has no anatomical structure for doing this kind of detection, either. So again, why should we think that any of this is true? Finally, when the brain stops functioning, does this indicate that it is like a radio that has been switched off, and thus support the notion of independent thoughts? You might as well postulate that the brain works by extending invisible tendrils to the objects of its thoughts, and the "evidence" for that is the fact that it can no longer think of external objects once it dies. The argument for this latter speculation is just as well supported as the one presented by the commenter above. It is based entirely on speculation, and not at all on fact. It may serve to confirm your existing belief, but that's not what I call evidence.
But when faced with real objective evidence, what do the theists do? They ignore it, and accuse you of being blind and impervious to reason. Their subjective feelings and beliefs must be regarded as superior to any objective evidence that you can show them. If you don't agree with their belief, you are a fool, an idiot, a troll, a God-hater, dishonest. etc.
Don't even try to ask them for real, objective evidence. What you'll get instead is a lot of twisting, turning, and dodging. When they present speculation or subjective feelings, you'll earn their scorn for even suggesting that they haven't lived up to the claim of having good evidence for the things they claim. Like this:
Evidence? What Evidence? Very often atheists will ask for “evidence” for the existence of God, but I have never been able to ascertain from any of them what they mean by evidence. Do they want scientific evidence of the sort you produce in a laboratory? Archeological evidence? Documentary evidence? Historical evidence? Eyewitness evidence? Contemporary sociological evidence? Psychological evidence? Forensic evidence? I can provide all those kinds of evidence that points to the existence of God, but whenever one produces such evidence the atheist disputes the evidence. Interested in evidence? You tell me what kind of evidence you want and I’ll try to provide it. None have. Meh. Fuhgeddaboudit.What this Christian can produce is not the kind of evidence that would be convincing to someone who doesn't already believe. If he could, they wouldn't be asking him to show the evidence.
And that gets us down to the real nature of "evidence" from theists. It helps them to convince themselves of what they already believe, but it does nothing to convince someone who doesn't already believe. It is grist for the mill of confirmation bias, and nothing more. It is not objective. It is not factual. So what reason do I have to believe it? Actually, I can think of one reason: it might get them to stop all their inane personal attacks, and speak to me as if I were a human being - a fellow human who shares in their delusion. But as far as I'm concerned, their delusional beliefs and the fact that they are convinced by feelings more than objective evidence, tells me that whatever they think of me is not worth fretting over. They may be the majority, but there are plenty of other people who are rational and who don't believe all those stories they were told as young children. Like me, they want to see the evidence.