The Problem of Evidence in AtheismPosted: February 28, 2013
A snippet from a recent essay of mine on Atheism:
“In the God Delusion, Dawkins seems to think the theory of evolution is an answer for everything and quite easily remove God from the equation of life. Life is explained by evolution. Not so. Evolution explains the changes in life. It does not look at origins of life nor physics nor God. His explanations of how it might explain religion and consciousness and many other things are pure speculation, not fact.
Alex Jensen, professor of systematic theology at Murdoch University, points out the basis of such an argument is a logical fallacy. When we do science, we do not assume God. We assume God does not make my car run, the engine does. So the fact that the car runs without God proves God does not exist. Not so.
To make the conclusion that God does not exist, when God has not been factored into the experiment in the first place, makes an inconsistent leap. “Methodological atheism jumps to ontological atheism with no explanation.”
Nathan Duffy brings up the issue more clearly in his blogpost: Evidentialist Atheism
If you traffic in atheistic circles, online or elsewhere, you’ll notice that the primary objection lodged against belief in God is the evidential objection i.e. “I believe things based on [usually ‘scientific’] evidence (and others ought to as well); in the absence of evidence for some proposition, I withhold (and others ought to withhold) belief in it; there is no evidence for God’s existence that I’ve ever seen; hence I can’t justify believing in God (and neither can anyone else).” Not only is this the primary objection, it’s virtually becoming the sole objection. There are many weaknesses to this argument, but I just want to examine one of them in this post.
Namely this: for someone who adopts this stance, what would count as evidence of the supernatural or of God? And if it turns out there is not any sort of event, fact, datum, or combination of facts that would count as evidence of the supernatural or of God, then how is this stance distinguishable from a priori atheism, rather than a result of a survey of the pertinent evidence? And if it is indistinguishable from a priori atheism, why countenance the objection seriously at all?
If an atheist can give criteria for what would count as evidence for God or the supernatural, and a good reason for adopting whatever particular criterion they choose, then they can be rationally justified in their unbelief if they have never been confronted with the sort of evidence they require. The vast majority of atheists I’ve encountered adopt the ‘scientific’ criterion for belief. That is: they will believe in those things which are deliverances of scientific method and nothing else. Now, this doesn’t mean that some atheist somewhere couldn’t adopt some other criterion, in which case I would have to address whatever criterion that would be, but in this post I will be content to address the criterion that the vast majority of unbelievers appeal to.
If ‘science’ is that certain sort of investigation of natural phenomena via a particular systematic method of observation and experiment, then immediately one must ask why this criterion for knowledge should be adopted to answer a question necessarily outside its purview i.e. the question of the existence of the supernatural. Could the supernatural theoretically exist and never be isolated and observed in material phenomena, with conditions necessary for repeatable, controlled lab experiments? Not only could this be the case, but if anything supernatural did exist, then this would necessarily be the case: science as traditionally understood and practiced, could not be performed on said phenomena. So we are left with no sensible, justifiable reason to think that the scientific criterion for knowledge is capable of addressing the question of whether anything supernatural exists. Anyone who demands ‘scientific evidence of the unscientific (or a-scientific)’ makes a nonsensical demand.
Read more on his blog: http://nateduffy.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/evidentialist-atheism.html