Tuesday, December 18, 2012

If God is real, why is there no evidence for Him?

Q. If God is real, why is there no evidence?

A.  I suppose it depends on what kind of evidence you are looking for. 

A lot of people demand physical, empirical evidence for God.  But God Himself is not physical.  By his nature, he cannot be measured.  And empirical science can only deal with that which can be measured.  Philosophically, God is "existence", and so asking the question "What is the evidence for God's existence" is somewhat like asking the question "What is the evidence for existences existence."

I also do not actually think that there is irrefutable evidence for the existence of God.  Any evidence I could present, someone could say 'yes, but...'.  Christians believe that god is like this deliberately, that God for some reason wants people to have faith in Him, and trust what they do not see.  In deed, Jesus makes a really big deal out of faith, doing works for people with faith, not doing them for people who don't have it, scolding people who don't have it, praising those who do.  For some reason Jesus never made it plainly and irrefutably obvious to everyone that he was the Messiah.  I suspect that that reason is in keeping with why God does not reveal himself in a way that could not be rejected.

That said, I think there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God.  I think it is suspect that the evidence for God is routinely thrown out by those who would deny his existence.

I will start with the weaker evidence to my mind;

I will skip over the whole argument from beauty thing.  I think that arguing that God exists on the basis that there is so much beauty in the world begs the question why is there so much ugliness?

Argument from design-  young earth creationists in particular seem to like this one.  They will point to extraordinary animals; turtles with built in compasses, beetles with explosive compounds in their abdomens, giraffes with an intricate series of valves to allow blood to flow up and down it's neck according to need, wood peckers with tongues that begin by going down their throat, up around their brain, through a nostril, and out their beak... etc.  The argument goes that these animals have irreducibly complex systems-  systems that would fail if not all there at once so cannot be explained by the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  Microbiologists (notably Michael Behe) will point to the nature of the cell, of blood clotting, of flagellum, and point to the same logic of irreducibly complex systems.   Physicists will describe the laws governing our universe, and the fact that if any of these laws were adjusted by the slightest degree, life would be impossible.  And so they argue "Therefore there must have been an intelligent designer."

But the counterargument comes quickly that if conditions were not just so, there could be no one to ask the question, therefore they must have been so.  And they propose the idea of a multi verse, wherein different universes are potentially popping in and out of existence, and we naturally live in the one suitable for life.  In the end they tend to accuse us of believing in the "God of the gaps".  They suggest that we believe in God simply because we have questions that cannot be answered by science yet, and we assume that they never will be.  Then you get guys like Richard Dawkins who paint Christians as believing in God simply to explain the universe.

I think the 'unanswered questions' argument is fair, but I think it goes both ways.  If we cannot allow for unanswered and seemingly unanswerable questions about science to be evidence for the existence of God, I would challenge that unanswered and seemingly unanswerable questions about God are not evidence against.  Why doesn't God heal amputees? I don't know, but this does not mean He does not exist.   In fact, I would expect that if God were real, there would be things about Him that we could not understand.  If a religion successfully answered every question, I would suspect that it was man made.

Argument from Morality-  I've already exhausted this one in previous posts.  Much of morality, notably sexual morality and the concept of human rights-  depends on the idea that humans have a dignity above that of animals. Catholics argue that morals are intrinsic-  in something called 'natural law', and I think this is demonstrated clearly by the morals of non Christians.  But for Catholics our morals are based in something and are consistent-  atheists are left with the uncomfortable position that morals are subjective and decided democratically.

Argument from History- I would like to suggest that scripture is itself a type of evidence of the existence of God.  It is interesting how the Bible gets treated by those who doubt it.  They say "what evidence was there for the existence of Jesus outside of the Bible?".  And Christians tend to say something about Flavius Jospehus, a Jewish historian who made a very vague and unimpressive reference to Jesus.  But why would we reject scripture as historical documents?  Unlike most historical documents, scriptures have been painstakingly copied and preserved for centuries.  Many of the scriptures- Gospel of John, letters of Paul, Acts- claim to be written by people with first hand knowledge of what they are speaking about.  Others- Gospel of Luke- claim to be well researched.  I would like to suggest that scriptures are rejected as historical documents on the grounds that we reject their conclusions, therefore we cannot accept the documents.  I think rather we should treat them like historical documents, and recognize that this is a form of evidence which should be admissible.

Perhaps the most convincing argument from history is the sudden emergence of the Christian movement 2000 years ago wherein people were killed for making the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. 

Argument from miracles-  At the moment, this is the argument I find most compelling.  That's because miracles- at least the ones I refer to- are scientifically verifiable, and therefore provide the opportunity to disprove Catholicism, and yet they stand up to scrutiny!  In my discussions with atheists, I keep hearing this argument regarding miracles;  "Miracles are by definition impossible. If you rule out the impossible solutions, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be true.  For every miracle there is other possible, though improbable, explanations. We must accept that explanation, and reject the miraculous one."  In other words  "Miracles are impossible, therefore miracles are impossible."

It is remarkable to me that I keep coming across this line of thinking again and again.  I suspect that someone must be teaching it, because so many atheists seem to come to the same conclusion independently.  If what we are discussing is whether miracles are possible, we cannot allow for a premise 'miracles are impossible.'  I even had an atheist argue that Padre Pio's stigmata was not a miracle, because it could have been faked, or it could have been that 'contrary to the laws of nature, holes grew in his hands and in his feet in a way the emulates a crucified man.'  Although that is extremely unlikely, an extremeliy unlikely thing is more likely than an impossible thing, therefore it must be the true explanation.

A parallel is drawn to believing in UFO's based on what evidence is presented, despite the fact that it is extremely unlikely that if intelligent alien life did exist it would be able to visit earth, and would focus all it's attention on Americans.

So let's all agree that the idea of alien life forms coming to earth is extremely unlikely, to such a degree that we would sooner dismiss all claims as being those of lunatics or liars or people with faulty memory.   But supposing they produced evidence-  say they produced a spacecraft with technology hitherto unknown on earth, that could do things that even the American military, though they could duplicate, could only do so with great difficulty.  And let’s say there were some elements that they could not quite duplicate, but could make a fairly close replica of.   From that evidence, which can be scientifically tested, we would have to eliminate the lunatic and liar theories, and develop some others.  I think the reasonable theories to consider would be.

1.       This is an alien spacecraft

2.       This craft was designed by another country (Russia) or secret agency and was not meant to be discovered.

3.       The person holding the technology created an extremely elaborate hoax.
Now supposing the CIA and FBI and foreign intelligence agencies whatever scientific communities have a stake in it all claim to have no knowledge of where the thing came from or how it was made.

I would offer to you that this would be substantial evidence for the idea of aliens.  Not proof- but admissible evidence.  No longer could we assume that aliens don’t exist (or at least don’t travel to Earth), I think we would have to re-examine our biases.
I would argue that the substantial evidence for Catholicism is of that nature!  Not only that, but we have corroborating evidence!  Say in the alien example that we then found a ‘spacesuit’ which would not fit a human, is made of unknown materials, and is very difficult to duplicate, but is found 1000’s of kilometers, say in another country, from the craft find.  Add to this the ‘testimony’ of an eyewitness who says there was an alien in it, who stripped for a dip in the lake, and they stole it.  Then you find that the dimensions of the suit are compatible with the dimensions of the craft. And a photo on the spacecraft mantle depicts an alien wearing that very suit.

Shall we conclude that we have not only a hoax, but a conspiracy of hoaxes?
The Shroud of Turin, taken alone, is that kind of evidence.  So is Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The shroud can be duplicated-  with great difficulty and some level of inaccuracy.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, to my knowledge, cannot be duplicated.  Add to this Lanciano, incorruptibles, exorcisms, Marian apparitions, the confirmed miracles at Lourdes, stigmatists, and 2 scientifically verified miracles for every canonized saint. And they all point to the same consistent reality.  

The Church has had to rule on the subject, and has its own reputation to uphold which would be dubious if it ever claimed a hoax to be authentic.  Note it has not ruled on the Shroud, but did declare Padre Pio a saint.  If Padre Pio can be demonstrated to be a fraudster, then we will know for certain that the Church is wrong!  The Church cannot afford those risks… and so requires a certain level of scrutiny before authenticating something.  So the very fact that the Church would examine a miracle like Pio's stigmata, and still feel compelled to stake it's reputation on canonizing him, is itself an indication of the strength of the evidence.

If the Church were faking her miracles, or they were just fortunate coincidences, I would expect  to find such fortunate coincidences in other religions as well.  (When I've used this argument, people tend to say 'yeah, well there's miracles in other religions.'  So far I have not found a any compelling ones, and I've looked.  I'm open to suggestions.)
Conclusion-  I return then to my original point, which is this-  There is plenty of evidence for God, even a remarkable amount.  I submit that the tendency to reject the evidence outright usually demonstrates that we are using our conclusion as a premise.  It is my opinion that the evidence strongly points to the conclusion that Catholicism is correct, even if it leaves some questions unanswered.


  1. "I even had an atheist argue that Padre Pio's stigmata was not a miracle, because it could have been faked, or it could have been that 'contrary to the laws of nature, holes grew in his hands and in his feet in a way the emulates a crucified man.'"

    I'm disappointed to see you so misrepresent my argument. You've represented my saying essentially the opposite of what I did.

    The reference to something happening contrary to the laws of nature was not an alternate possibility to a miracle, it was my *description of a miracle*. I was saying that it is POSSIBLE that it is a miracle--a violation of the laws of nature--but that we need reason to say so, since that involves a violation of physics, and we'd need very good evidence to ever suggest that this is what is happening, when mundane explanations are available and haven't yet been ruled out. When a vase is broken, you ask your children if they did it before you assume that a ghost did.

    My argument wasn't ever that miracles are impossible, therefore x isn't a miracle. The fact that you read it that way despite my explicitly having said otherwise might explain why atheists "keep making this argument": you keep hearing it when this isn't the argument.

    The argument is:

    1) Miracles are, by definition, *improbable* (not impossible!) events.

    If walking on water were a probable occurrence, would it be impressive to say that Jesus did it?

    2) More evidence is needed to accept an improbable claim than is needed to accept a probable claim.

    If I told you I had a cat, you'd believe me without demanding to see a picture. If I told you I had a pet tiger...

    3) Therefore if an event has a miraculous and a non-miraculous explanation, the non-miraculous explanation is to be preferred *unless substantial evidence can be marshaled in favour of the miraculous explanation, and against the non-miraculous explanation.*

    It has nothing to do with a bias against miracles. It's not about presuppositions. It's about how probability works. The math is undeniable, as are the premises, *even if you believe miracles are possible.*

    Ask yourself: why do you not accept the validity of Hindu miracles, which are as numerous and impressive as Catholic miracles? Or do you believe that Sathya Sai Baba was miraculously born of a virgin?

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    2. Regarding the Hindu miracles, as numerous and impressive as Catholics, I dispute that claim. I listed 5 miracles (shroud, stigmata, OLG, Lanciano, incorruptible) that are observable by modern science (If you will accept the 1960's as modern in the case of Padre Pio). I think the example you listed is impressive, but only at the level of Joan of Ark, Francis of Asissi, Mother Teresa, Anthony of Padua, or any number of the other 10000 saints venerated by the Church- which is evidence, but of a lesser form.

      In truth, I don't think Sathya Sai Baba is nearly as impressive as the saints I listed- he seems to me to be about as miraculous as Chris Angel, and refused scientific scrutiny. But let's assume that he on par with a Catholic Saint. If you are keeping score, that would mean 1 point for Hindu's to 10,000 points for Catholics, before you weigh the value of the scientifically observable miracles.
      Again, if you want to dispute the point, or for the sake of the reader, search Sathya Sai Baba or Hindu Miracles, and decide for yourself if I am misrepresenting the argument. To me, a clay statue 'drinking' milk is not nearly so difficult to account for as the 5 miracles I listed.

    3. Peter, you've all but proven my point--that you're using a double standard to judge Catholic miracles as genuine while being able to see non-Catholic miracle claims as improbable.

      The very reasoning and criteria that allow you to reject Sathya Sai Baba as being on par with Chris Angel--and let me add that I totally agree with this assessment--is the reasoning you misrepresented as "miracles are impossible, therefore miracles are impossible"--namely, that 'one must first have sufficient evidence to rule out mundane possibilities before leaping to extraordinary ones.' Until there are sufficient grounds to dismiss the possibility that Sathya Sai Baba used parlour tricks, no rational person can believe he was actually able to fly, for instance.

      So too do we have to admit that it's *possible* that Padre Pio engaged in a bit of pious fraud--hardly an uncommon occurrence--and that until we have evidence to prove he did not, this possibility stands in the way of any rational person believing that "it's a miracle."

      This double standard explains why Hindus accept Hindu miracle claims, but reject Catholic ones. Muslims accept Muslim miracles, but reject Hindu and Catholic miracle claims as exaggerations, legends, or hoaxes.

      It's your greater familiarity with the Catholic saints that makes you think Catholic miracle claims are exceptionally numerous. They aren't. But even if they were, there's nothing impressive about a mere claim. Until there's good evidence that even one of the claims is genuine, it's Catholics 0, Hindus 0, Muslims 0, etc.

    4. As for your misrepresentation of my argument, in your reply you do a much better job of representing the argument as being about probability--thanks.

      Though you still left the impression that you didn't quite get the point of the "contrary to the laws of nature," line. I'm glad you didn't intend to misrepresent it, but now that I've explained what *was* meant by it, I hope you might address it.

      Do you reject the notion that more probable explanations must be eliminated before entertaining less probable ones? Do you reject the understanding that miracles are, by definition, very improbable events? If so, I would be interested to hear why.

  2. "the uncomfortable position that morals are subjective and decided democratically."

    Atheists do not believe that morals are decided democratically. Complete misrepresentation of Atheist beliefs. Also morality being subjective is not an uncomfortable position for most Atheists. It is empowering. I have to decide what is right and wrong. I need to take responsibility. You must have a reasoned argument that stands to scrutiny for your morality. That alone gives it more weight than Christian morality. The sole basis for Christian morality is "God said so." If God said to slaughter children, it would be one-hundred percent morally acceptable. You can't object to it, even though it is plainly objectionable. (He has done it himself after all, what with Egypt.) I just can't reconcile how even if God was real, you would want to abide by his morality and bow before such a cruel and haphazard entity.

    Archaeology has shown that there are many errors in all parts of the Bible in regards to historical accuracy, thus taking it as a book of facts is ridiculous. (I'm not just talking about the old testament.)

    And the definition of miracles is that they are something that violates the laws of nature. If it is possible within nature, then it is not certifiable as a miracle. The nature of miracles own definition constitutes the requirement of other possibilities to not be possible, for there is nothing miraculous if it is possible. Now that you've read the most confusing sentence ever written I have some questions.

    1. When people were crucified the spikes were driven through their forearm, so they wouldn't fall off the crucifix. Why would Jesus have been crucified through his hands instead? The shroud depicts it somewhat ambiguously although it appears to be through his lower hand.

    2. The stigmata appear in the upper part of his hands, not the lower as they do in the shroud. This is inconsistent. Perhaps it slipped Gods mind? Maybe it is my own eyes mistake. Maybe one is authentic and the other not?

    The real question is why does God waste time with pointless "miracles" such as these when he could do something that demonstrates his love? Why not cure disease, solve scarcity or do something worthwhile of a loving creator? If you believe that these are his miracles then you believe that God thinks putting some holes in some guys hands is more important than that girl being raped, that innocent man being convicted, that child starving or that beautiful newborn dying of aids. You believe in a terrible creator.

    1. In my opinion, the wound on the shroud is clearly in the wrist, but I suppose that is debatable. Why is it on the hand for stigmatists? I admit I don't know. I think it is possible that it is a sign given in a manner that is understandable- like Mary appearing in Guadalupe as a native Mexican while we know she was Jewish.

      There is also the possibility that he was nailed through the hands, but also tied on... but truth is I don't know!