How to Respond to Theists' Three Easy Questions
Shadow To Light believes there is a simple way to defeat atheism by posing three simple questions that will send them packing with their tails between their legs. His confidence is based on the idea that the atheist unreasonably demands evidence for what he believes, but has poor understanding of what constitutes evidence.
First of all, Greene is working with a shallow, superficial understanding of evidence. He seems to think that if certain data were indeed evidence for X, then these data would be universally perceived and acknowledged as evidence for X. But that is not how evidence works. Evidence is not objective reality that is detected by the senses; evidence is perceived by the mind. The mind converts data from objective reality into the subjective perception of evidence. Because the perception of evidence depends on interpretation from the mind, evidence itself is something that has a distinct subjective element to it. In fact, it would not be too far from the truth to note that evidence is in the eye of the beholder.He has a point. Skeptics should admit that there is plenty of evidence that theists use to support their belief. But he's absolutely wrong that subjective evidence merits the same epistemological status as objective evidence. Theists can point to plenty of poor evidence that only serves to reinforce their own belief, but when it comes to the kind of evidence that actually provides epistemological justification for belief, they have nothing.
But Shadow To Light thinks that the atheist is rigging the game by seeking the kind of evidence that he would find satisfactory to justify belief. Not in the least. As much as theists would like to denigrate the need real evidence, in favor of their own brand of epistemological hogwash, there is an actual definition for the word 'evidence' that is considered to be generally useful, as I noted in an earlier article, and it involves objective, factual information - not subjective feelings. So it isn't atheists who are rigging the game by demanding objective, factual evidence. It is the theist who is rigging the game by trying to change the definition to fit what he thinks is satisfactory to confirm the belief of people who have already been convinced. This paper by Alex Byrne, chairman of the philosophy section at MIT, discusses the epistemic value of factual versus perceived evidence. I'd like to see Shadow To Light present the case to Dr. Byrne that his understanding is shallow and superficial.
So let's answer Shadow To Light's questions, shall we?
"Question 1: What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?" First, it must be objective. It must be something that everyone can see and examine - and not just hearsay. Second, it must be something that never occurs, or at least has a vanishingly small probability of occurring in nature, especially something that is sustained or repeated, so that it can't be written off as just a one-time improbable event. It needs to be something we have no current technological ability to produce. And there is no need for it to be dramatic.
Here are examples of things that won't convince skeptics: Sunsets or sun rays shining through the clouds may seem miraculous to theists, but they are perfectly natural. Stories about miracles that other people claim to have witnessed don't cut it. It needs to be visible to everybody. That spiritual feeling you have deep inside may be really awesome, but it is subjective. Remember, the idea here is to convince non-believers, not to feed your own confirmation bias. The authors of the New Testament understood this. They wrote about Jesus going around performing hard-core miracles, not trying to convince people by showing them pretty sunsets. If only we had a chance to see those miracles for ourselves instead of just reading the stories.
Atheists have suggested many things that they might find convincing, such as special arrangements of stars or atoms that spell out some message. Or finding messages written on the inside of fruit peels or egg shells. How about regenerating amputated limbs? Or an urn that never empties, no matter how much is poured from it? How about predicting future events (not just one time, but repeatedly and reliably)?
"Question 2: Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God?" Because it indicates clearly that there is something supernatural. Shadow To Light calls this "God of the Gaps logic" because he doesn't understand what that term means. Theists use "God of the Gaps" logic when they resort to God as the explanation for natural phenomena for which there is no current prevailing scientific consensus. But that's not the same thing as explaining supernatural phenomena. And let's be clear. Supernatural phenomena are things that we don't ever see in nature - things that defy the well-established laws of nature. Seeing something that really is supernatural would be good evidence that the supernatural exists. Evidence is good evidence if it is objective and factual.
"Question 3: Is the God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God?" No, it isn't. As I explained, the answer to question 2 is different from "God of the Gaps", where the term 'gaps' refers to areas of scientific understanding that are incomplete, but with further investigation may eventually be understood scientifically. But whether there is a consensus scientific explanation or not, science deals with things that occur in nature. So theists exploit those gaps to claim that natural phenomena, such as the existence of mind, are supernatural. On the other hand, there is no need to have a scientific explanation for things that never occur in nature. There is no explanatory gap for corpses rising from the dead, because it never happens. So if we suddenly did see such a thing and we deemed it to be supernatural, that wouldn't be "God of the Gaps" logic.
"Bonus question: I’ll provide evidence for God’s existence, but can you first provide evidence that you are capable of considering my evidence in an open- and fair-minded manner?" Absolutely. Because it won't just be me evaluating the evidence. We'll open it up for the whole world to see and examine. No chance for me to rig the game, and no chance for you to rig the game, either. We must agree on a fair and standard definition for evidence: objective and factual - not your subjective theistic special pleading. And it has to be the consensus among non-believers (not just among theists, since they are already convinced) that the evidence actually indicates something supernatural. These rules of the game are perfectly reasonable and fair. If you don't think so, it is only because of your theistic bias.
Now go ahead and show me the evidence. I'll be waiting, but I know that will never happen. Theists love to scoff and ridicule skeptics for their "Demand For Evidence". Why so much disdain for what seems to be a reasonable request for epistemic justification to believe something? Because you don't have any.