Christians invent many ways to make themselves seem rational and reasonable while making atheists seem irrational and unreasonable. While it is undoubtedly true that some Christians are quite reasonable, and some atheists are unreasonable, when you try to paint them with a broad brush, your depiction is likely to be distorted. And this is especially true when you try to turn the tables on reality. But that's what Don McIntosh attempts in his latest posting at the Christian Cadre, called The Celestial Teapot and Christian Theism. Don has presented a straw man for the atheist's view of evidence and the opposite of that - an iron man - for the Christians' view.
Let's start with the straw man. Don uses Russell's Teapot argument as an example what atheists would demand as evidence for belief in God. The narrative is that we don't believe in the celestial teapot because we have never seen it. And the same is true for God belief. We don't believe it because we haven't seen God.
the fact that no one has empirically detected the celestial teapot means there is no evidence for it. ... a failure to provide any documentation of the Celestial Teapot means there is precisely zero evidence for the Celestial Teapot. This reductionism of evidence to "the thing itself" is what inspires skeptics to say things like "I'll believe just as soon as you show me your god"And Don proceeds to contrast this with a more scientific view of evidence, where the existence of something is inferred from the body of data available to the observer. For example, the existence of the Oort Cloud was not observed by astronomers, but inferred by the observation of long-period comets. So scientists can infer the existence of things based on the evidence, but when it comes to God, atheists demand to see God in the flesh, so to speak, before they can believe in him.
The problem with this narrative is that it's absolutely false. I've never heard even a single atheist say that only direct observation of God would constitute sufficient evidence to believe. Even most fellow Christians recognize that what atheists want to see is evidence that would allow us to infer God's existence. Most of them just think the evidence we want to see in order to infer God's existence is unreasonable, as discussed in this article. But Don has a narrative, and he's sticking to it.
So why would he want to pin this obvious straw man on atheists? I think it serves his purpose in two ways. One is that if you accept that atheists hold this view, it implies an extremely unsophisticated concept of God. Of course, we Christians understand that God can't be seen. But those naive and unsophisticated atheists ... they don't get it. Do you see how much smarter we are? The second reason for the straw man is that it also shows the atheist to be scientifically unsophisticated as well, since he doesn't understand the scientific use of evidence to make inferences. Unlike the much more sophisticated Christian, of course, who does understand this.
Which brings us to Don's iron man. This is his view of Christians evidence-based belief in God. He claims that Christians infer God from the evidence, since God is the best explanation for the things we observe. And this makes them much more like scientists than the those unsophisticated atheists, who demand to see "the thing itself". And this evidence is abundant:
Of course it is this second sense in which Christians appeal to evidence. In religious experience, the arguments of natural theology, historical evidence for the miracle ministry and resurrection of Jesus, etc., there is sufficient reason to impute causal powers to God far beyond "the power to just sit there." Thus there are many things for which God is the best explanation. Thus there is abundant evidence for Christian theism.But this is an iron man because it sounds much more reasonable than it is. In truth, objective evidence that would justify belief in God doesn't exist. What does Don call "evidence"? Religious experience is a purely subjective feeling that is interpreted in different ways, depending of what a person believes. Arguments of natural theology are not evidence at all. They are not what we observe, but they are arguments and inferences about what we observe, as I discuss here. And what about historical evidence of miracles? I would agree if they were adequately documented, but they aren't. Biblical accounts with no corroboration from other sources are just myths.
So the bottom line is that Christians have to stretch the definition of evidence in order to claim that they have any. Far from taking a scientific view of the evidence, they take a decidedly unscientific view of it. They don't seem to understand that if this evidence was real, science would long ago have inferred God as the best explanation for what we observe.
But Don has a narrative, and he's sticking to it, despite all evidence to the contrary.