Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The "no evidence" charge revisited

It seems to me that the universe could have gone a lot of different ways, and life would never have emerged, not simply  at the beginning, but later. 
DNA mutates, but slowly. Why does it mutate slowly? If it mutated quickly, then evolution would be too crazy to lead to anything positive like humans, or even dogs. If it didn't mutate at all, then there would be no evolution, because nothing changes. But it happens to mutate slowly, so evolution at least looks possible. It's easy to look at what happened and say it was inevitable, since, after all, it did happen.
I find the "no-evidence" position intriguing because to me, there is lots of stuff pulling both ways, which to my mind counts as evidence. The evidence can always be absorbed into the other world view (atheism or theism), but for that side it feels like their side is absorbing a foreign object, something that fits better with the other world-view. And some things, I think, we don't notice or pay attention to, when we could ask "Why did THAT happen, of all things." How is it that we live in a universe in which mathematics fits the physical world? In science it's an article of faith, but how do we explain it. 
On the other hand, the existence of suffering, and moral difficulties within all of the world's scriptures can't be taken lightly either. That's why, in reflecting on the world, I can see how reasonable people can be theists or atheists. And leading physicists, chemists, biologists, and philosophers, are both. 


John Moore said...

DNA doesn't just happen to mutate slowly. We have evolved elaborate means to check and repair our DNA when it replicates. Or also, we could have evolved on Earth instead of some other planet because Earth's magnetic field protects DNA just the right amount against cosmic rays.

Hugo Pelland said...

That post is a great example as to why I think it's fascinating, as an Atheist, to read writings from serious writers such as Victor. On the one hand, I agree completely with notions such as 'I can see how reasonable people can be theists or atheists. And leading physicists, chemists, biologists, and philosophers, are both." Because I don't think it's stupid or silly to believe in God, for various reasons.

At the same time, it's fascinating to read so much misunderstandings, so much failed mind reading, and so much naïveté I would say, in such a short post!
- As John just said, no, DNA is not something that just happen to evolve at the right pace, it adapted to its environment.
- No, nobody is seriously saying there is no evidence at all or they are wrong if they do; it's just that the evidence for God or the supernatural is inconclusive.
- No, not everything is put into a worldview; it's the Theists who want really hard to find evidence for their God. Atheists just reply back because of Theists' claims. Science is what it is, regardless of religions.
- No, we don't live in a universe that fits mathematics; we use mathematics to describe the universe, approximately.
- No, suffering and moral difficulties within scriptures is not important at all, and can certainly be taken lightly. When scripture is right, it's either by accident when there is no justification, or it's because the justification is based on shared values.

Victor Reppert said...

Lots and lots of people say there is no evidence for God. Some post here from time to time.

Hugo Pelland said...

Yep, they're wrong, doesn't make you right

Joe Hinman said...

In the Recent past I published a piece called "Phenomenology and Theological Method." That was about how we can use phenomenological methods to understand various kinds of religious experience as the "co-determinate." That is the signature of God in the world. Like a foot print in the snow, or a fingerprint at a crime scene the co-determinate is the thing that correlates to the evidence. God is the co-determinate of religious experiences. Conversely religious experiences are the co-determinate of God. They are the trace,t he foot print, the track. God is not an empirical issue becuase he's not given in sense data, but we can establish that religious experience is the correlate to the God concept, thus its co-determinate it's trace. The correlate is a matter of empirical data.

Schleiermacher's FOUD freedom from need to prove

Joe Hinman said...

As John just said, no, DNA is not something that just happen to evolve at the right pace, it adapted to its environment.

that does not answer what;s being said it;s just an obfuscation. little moindless science drones on with the robot crusade

Mortal said...

it's the Theists who want really hard to find evidence for their God

I can't agree with that statement, not at all.

In my personal experience, the subject of "evidence" almost never comes up amongst Christians when they're talking with each other. It only arises in conversation with non-believers. And in that case, it's both appropriate and no surprise for it to do so. And in that instance, we're not trying to find evidence, we're presenting it - big difference.

I have no need to find evidence for God - it finds me. I'm quite literally surrounded by it.

Hugo Pelland said...

Of course it doesn't come up among Christians, as if religions ever were about justifying their claims... what I meant anyway is that it's pointless to provide evidence against Christianity, or the supernatural in general, unless there are people who believe in these things. Hence, it's the believers, the one who cares about whether these beliefs are true, that will seek/provide evidence. But without such interactions, non-believers would not discuss it nor seek further evidence against positions that are not held by anyone. Atheists are not trying to disprove Zeus because nobody wants to argue that 'because of Zeus, we should...' But Christians and other Theists do, and ao they are thr ones who need evidence to make auch claims, should they care in the first place.

Hugo Pelland said...

and so they are the ones who need evidence to make such claims credible, should they care in the first place.

Legion of Logic said...

Christians have been providing such evidence for centuries. That skeptics reject it is not a strike against it by any measure.

Hugo Pelland said...

That Christians accept the evidence shown by Christians is not an argument in favor of it.

Legion of Logic said...

Point being, Christians have done what skeptics ask and have provided evidence for their beliefs. We don't want to find this evidence "really hard" because it's already been done for anyone curious enough to research it. So it's a point of curiosity and amusement when we hear from skeptics that there is no evidence.

Hugo Pelland said...

Agreed with the last sentence. But again, that doesn't make the evidence wortht of belief. Especially not books making outrageous claims...

Mortal said...

I have a real problem with the "evidence" debate, as some of the posters here have framed it.

From an admittedly purely personal perspective, I need no evidence beyond the New Testament. Now I don't say this in the manner of "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!" Not at all. What I mean is I've read the Gospels, I've read what many, many others have commented on them, I've read the historical studies, and I've read the doubters and the debunkers - and I am convinced the stories are true. One of the ways (in fact, the principle way) I arrived at this conclusion was by putting myself in the place of someone hearing the Gospel for the very first time from the mouth of one of the Apostles. I wondered, "Now what would they be presenting as "evidence" for what they were proclaiming?" They surely would not be explaining the "Five Ways" to me, nor would they be presenting arguments from design, from consciousness, or from "Why is there something rather than nothing?" They wouldn't be detailing the proofs for the historicity or authenticity of the Gospels. In fact, the Gospels might not have even been written yet!

So how did they go about converting untold thousands to the Faith? I think everyone could profit from asking themselves that question, and try to picture hearing "the word" for yourself. How would you react? No New Testament, no Nicene Creed, no St. Jerome, no Augustine, no Thomas Aquinas, no G.K. Chesterton, no C.S. Lewis... just Peter (or maybe Paul) sitting there and telling you about Jesus.

Speaking for myself, I spent an extensive period of time trying to imagine that experience, trying to put myself in that picture, visualizing even minor and possibly irrelevant details. Would I be standing or sitting? Were we indoors or out? Was I alone, or just a face in the crowd? Did he seek me out, or was I looking for him? Or was it a chance encounter? And then I went back and read the Gospel according to St. Mark (the one most closely based on Peter's preaching) straight through. I have to say it blew me away, despite my having read it multiple times before. Approached in that light, every last word had the Ring of Truth (in J.B. Phillips' wonderful phrase). It seemed infinitely improbable for it to be untrue.

All other "arguments" (as sound as they might be) simply pale in comparison to the witness of the Gospel.

Hugo Pelland said...

Personally, I think that's an extremely low bar to believe. It's just people telling stories. No doubt they believed them, but that's the only thing that's so clear about them. It doesn't make what they believed in more likely to be true.

Mortal said...

Hugh, perhaps I didn't try hard enough, but you missed my point, which is:

No matter how wonderful or satisfying the various intellectual arguments, for or against Christianity, which have been put forth over the centuries, they are ultimately beside the point, and in and of themselves no reason for one to be a Christian. What matters is, "is it true?" Does what you call a "story" faithfully depict actual events?

And really, the only way to decide that question is to put yourself into the shoes (?sandals?) of a random 1st Century person, listening to one of the original evangelists. (In my thought experiment, I chose Peter.) What were his arguments? What evidence did he present? What were his motives for spreading the Gospel, and why would I have given him the time of day?

I'll tell you truthfully, it all looks different when you do that! You're faced with a stark choice - do I believe him or not? And if not, why not? (And you can't use reasoning from later centuries. Focus!) You've been busy salting fish after a catch, or however it was you filled your days, and suddenly you find yourself listening to an incredible story about a man who raised Himself from the dead! But the person talking to you does not appear to be crazy. In fact, you can't recall when you've met with a saner individual. His story sounds unbelievable, but he tells it so matter-of-factly, the same way he would talk about how he found a lost coin on the ground. No bells and whistles, no mythological filigree like maidens turning into geese or heroes becoming constellations - nothing like that, nothing that allows you to dismiss him out of hand.

He goes away and you get back to work. But you can't put what he said out of your mind. No, you say. It's all crazy talk - dead people don't come back to life!... But, damn it all, this just sounds, well.. different... You try to get to sleep that night, but despite being drop dead exhausted, you find you can't. What you heard keeps churning and churning. Why didn't he leave me alone? There were dozens of others he could have approached today. Damn and blast him!

Morning comes, and to your utter amazement, you find yourself seeking him out. You need to hear more! Everything you've ever regarded as important now seems like so much straw, other than this one, all-important question. Was what you heard the day before true... or not? Was this man Jesus most definitively killed (the Romans, after all, never make mistakes about such things), and then three days later show Himself to be very much alive?

And if that is indeed true, then nothing else can ever be the same.

Hugo Pelland said...

That explanation does confirm that I had indeed understood your point perfectly. And again, it's not that I don't believe they did not believe. It's that I cannot pretend I don't know more, today, than they did back then. So the key here is when you say "you can't use reasoning from later centuries". This is absurd! We should totally use all reasoning that has happened since, from any angle, be it pro or anti whatever position we embrace.

In other words, the only thing you are really arguing for here is whether someone like Peter truly believed. And the answer is yes, of course it's yes, but not everyone recognizes that. We often here that these believers were either liars or lunatics and that it not, at all, the only 2 options. I think your story shows that quite well. They were convinced for good reasons, for the time, and were not crazy lunatics in any way. But that does not mean that we should believe them.

Mortal said...

This is absurd!

Not if you're trying to put yourself into the mindset of someone hearing the story for the very first time, unencumbered by 2000 years of commentary.

Peter would never have said anything about something "greater than that which nothing can be thought." And he certainly wouldn't have gone off about the need for a First Cause. And the idea of debating who wrote the Gospels would have been totally irrelevant, because they hadn't been written yet!

The whole point of the exercise is to cut through the centuries of verbiage and put yourself in the place of one of the first listeners to the Good News. You can't do that if your mind is filtering everything through Augustine or Chesterton (or Boghossian or Ehrman).

So, no - it is the opposite of absurd. It is an essential element of the experiment.

Hugo Pelland said...

It's not hard to put ourselves in the place of one of the first listeners; it's not some grand thought experiment you are proposing... and yes, of course, it's not that hard to imagine why they did believe, why they were convinced. I believe them, I think they were honest people trying to make sense of the information presented to them.

Therefore, what you are talking about is only relevant to understand whether they were justified to believe, at the time, given their context. But it's irrelevant to the truth of the claim. So what is absurd is to argue that because they were justified to believe, so are we.

Mortal said...

I must be really having an off day, because I am obviously not making myself clear. You're still missing the point.

I'm not concerned about why my hypothetical listener has decided to believe. I'm concerned with what Peter (or any other Apostle) is saying. What arguments did he use? What was the point of persuasion? What evidence did he produce? What did he tell his listener to convince him he was worth being listened to?

Did he just straight out tell the story of Jesus, and say "I was there. I saw Him do these things. I drank the water which He had turned into wine. I saw the blind man gain his sight. (And by the way, you can ask him about it yourself. His name is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Lives in Jericho.) I watched Him feed 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. I witnessed Lazarus come out of the tomb after being dead 4 days. I ate grilled fish with Jesus by the Sea of Galilee after He Himself rose from the dead!" Or did he argue from (Jewish) scripture, showing how Jesus was prefigured in the Exodus story, in the Prophets, in the life of King David? Or did he concentrate on his listener's presumably miserable life, and explain to him that Jesus loves him, cares for him, and has forgiven his many sins? Perhaps all of those things?

That's what I am trying to visualize. It's all too easy to dismiss the Gospel (as you yourself did, on June 21st, 7:10 PM) as "books making outrageous claims." So that's what I'm aiming at. Forget the "books". Forget apologetics. Forget Aquinas (or any other theologian). Forget the Argument from Reason. Just what exactly was the message preached on Pentecost of A.D. 33, or on any day in the years immediately following the Crucifixion (and Resurrection) of Jesus? And what did it sound like to the listener?

Hugo Pelland said...

Mortal, I think you were very clear and I do understand your point. Again, it's just not an approach I find convincing or to make any difference at all. Whatevere it sounded like for the listeners of the time is irrelevant to the truth of the claims.