The Evidence I Need
Originally written April 4th, 2006
Recently, in conversation with my Jesus-pals at a coffee shop I frequent (perhaps I should stop hanging out next door to a christian youth outreach program) and in the Religion / Theology forums over at Democratic Underground, some have been asking me what evidence I would need to accept the claim that God exists. It’s a legitimate question, as if there is no evidence that could convince me, then I am simply being a headstrong idealogue.
Being that it’s a legitimate question, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought recently. I’ve often respond with off the cuff replies (i.e. If 80% of this country disappears, and there’s no other explanation other than the rapture, then I will believe, or if CNN gets an exclusive interview with God), but the more I think about it, the more pressing the need for a sober, legitimate reply becomes. It does so for this reason: atheists like myself want nothing more than for people to honest with themselves and to make their thinking explicit. I think that this question is a reflection of my own beliefs, or in other words, the question is asking what reasons would I need to surmount the ones that I think are solid. It seems disengenuous not to answer the question in all good faith (no pun intended).
I think a useful distinction to make, for me at least, is the distinction between direct and indirect evidence. Being epistemically certain of one’s sight of a snail is direct evidence of that snail’s existence, whereas a snail trail (the gooey stuff they leave behind when they slither off) is indirect evidence of that snail’s existence. Now I don’t mean to make a comparison between a snail and God (it was just the first thing that came to my mind), but in all the conversations I believe I’ve ever had on the topic no one has ever been able to offer me direct evidence of the existence of God.
For example, take the question of where the matter in the universe comes from. It’s indeed a tantalizing question – and it’s a question to which I do not have a response. I don’t know. My Jesus-pals have an answer – God created the matter in the universe. For all I know, they may be right. However, the problem I have with people offering my suspension of judgement here as proof of God is that it’s indirect evidence at best. Indeed, an all-powerful being seems to be a pretty good explanation for where we came from, but it’s just a “God trail” (okay, now I am comparing God to a snail: sorry theists!). It’s the same thing with all other evidence I’ve heard for the existence of God: if science cannot answer it, then God muscles his way in. These explanations sound intuitively appealing, but the fact of the matter is that the evidence is not as convincing as the doe-eyed missionaries would have me believe. There are undoubedtly countless other explanations for these tough questions, many of which probably haven’t even crossed our worried minds.
Sorry theists, but you’re going to have to do better than that. I agree that God is a good explanation, but I need direct evidence. Some people might think that what I’m asking is too much – that such evidence is impossible to provide even in disciplines such as physics, etc. I think that, for overturning someone’s worldview, that’s exactly the kind of evidence you need. If you want me to believe that you’re a friendly person, the criterion isn’t that high. But if you want me to believe that consciousness is not a result of neural activity, that we have souls, that there is an afterlife, that God exists, and the whole of J-C theology – you’re gonna need a whole lot more than some appealing explanations for science’s tougher questions.