What is Reasonable Evidence?

ev·i·dence: 1. A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment.

rea·son·a·ble: 2. Governed by or being in accordance with reason or sound thinking: a reasonable solution to the problem.

There is much talk about reasonable evidence for or against faith in the blogosphere and in Christian circles. Many have gone to great lengths to outline what they believe is evidence. Others have gone to equally great lengths to refute such “evidence.” What difference does evidence make to things we believe anyway? Philosophers and theologians tell us that in order to engage in true debate, we must base our conclusions on sound evidence. But what is “sound” evidence? Reasonable evidence to some is hardly reasonable evidence to others. All you have to do is follow the debates here on the Internet to know that no one accepts another’s evidence unless they experience it for themselves, yet they still claim they can convince others of the propositions they put their faith in. Hardly anyone is convinced by debate, so why do we engage in it? In fact, more hurt feelings and vicious responses are generated by Christian/Christian and Christian/Atheist debate than any other discourse. (Atheist/Atheist debate is tame and reasonable by comparison) This hardly puts either camp in a good light. In fact, the Christian is supposed to avoid such useless debates because it leads to impiety:

2 Tim. 2: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 16Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17and their talk will spread like gangrene.

So what is reasonable evidence exactly and how is it to be presented, if at all? Should we judge evidence by the consequences to the believer? Doesn’t this Kantian thinking presume that we KNOW what the consequences are before the debate actually begins? Christians think they know what the consequences are as witnessed by the LeaderU article cited above and quoted below:

Some are tempted to apply the rule that “the more critical the decision, the clearer the evidence must be.” They demand that the evidence for Christianity must be extraordinarily and especially clear to win their allegiance. The problem with this standard is that it assumes that there are no consequences to the decision. If, however, there are cataclysmic consequences to the observer, he will have to settle for “sufficient evidence, or the most trustworthy evidence.”

The more appropriate rule is: “The more severe the consequences, the less we should take risks.” Therefore, even if biblical Christianity has a less than one-in-ten-million chance of being true, we should accept it because the possibility of an eternal Hell is such a great torment. If the available evidence shows that biblical Christianity is “the most trustworthy” of all religions, then we are on even firmer ground.

But this is presuming too much. How do Christians KNOW what these consequences are, except by their interpretation of the bible? No unbeliever agrees to the premise that the bible is true or that it is an appropriate starting place for finding any kind of evidence for faith. The bible is only SECOND HAND revelation, if it’s revelation at all. No one has ever proved that the Christian bible comes from God anymore than Muslims have proved that the Koran comes from God. You can’t start there, sorry. If you do then why not believe the Koran’s version of consequences or the Rig Veda’s version of consequences? You can’t pick and choose your supposed scriptural evidence without including all of them. How does the Christian know that God doesn’t speak through every religious scripture?

Besides the supposed a priori arguments mentioned above, there is no evidence from actual lived life and experience (a posteriori) that there are ANY consequences after death for what we BELIEVE. Nor is there any evidence that there are consequences after death for any action. It’s a matter of faith to presume this, not actual evidence. People assume a thing and then presume it backwards to cover all the areas they think they need evidence for. Some choose to accept all such “evidence: on faith. Some choose not to. The bible itself has to be accepted on faith. It’s not binding on anyone without this faith. The point is that you choose to make it binding for YOU. You cannot make it binding for anyone else; that’s not an option. Just because YOU believe it, does not mean everyone else has to believe it or is similarly bound by it.

The opposite is also true. The atheist cannot convince the theist that God does not exist. Faith is an emotion, regardless of what some Christians claim. It is an emotional response first and foremost. The so-called “sinner’s prayer” is a “magic” formula designed for this very purpose, to elicit an emotional response of faith in the person saying or thinking the prayer. It’s not supposed to be based on reason. No one is ever presented with reasoned arguments for faith and are then offered the sinner’s prayer. It works IN SPITE of reason not because of it. This is why religionists indoctrinate children, because their reasoning faculties are not fully developed and they accept everything on faith.

Yet, in spite of these arguments we forget that the very first thing learned in science classes is that any evidence must be falsifiable to be considered evidence at all. Consider the definition of falsifiability:

Falsifiable does not mean false. For a proposition to be falsifiable, it must be possible, at least in principle, to make an observation that would show the proposition to fall short of being a tautology, even if that observation is not actually made. The logical precondition of being able to observe something of a given description is that something of that description exists.

For example, the proposition “all swans are white” would be falsified by observing a black swan, which would in turn depend on there being a black swan somewhere in existence. A falsifiable proposition or theory must define in some way what is, or will be, forbidden by that proposition or theory. For example, in this case the existence of a black swan is forbidden by the proposition in question. The possibility in principle of observing a black swan as a counterexample to the general proposition is sufficient to qualify the proposition as falsifiable.

In other words, if “evidence” is offered that is not at least falsifiable, then it falls short of true evidence because no one can prove the truth of it either way. Take Theism as an example of something that may not be falsifiable. Wikipedia offers this explanation:

Theism may not be falsifiable, if the existence of God is asserted without sufficient conditions to allow a falsifying observation. If God is an unobservable transcendental being then one cannot disprove his existence by observation. It remains quite consistent for a theist to agree that the existence of God is unfalsifiable, and even that the proposition ‘God exists’ is not scientific, but is a matter of faith alone. Theists may also claim to have presentable evidence that verifies the existence of God. This is, of course, a matter of interest for anyone who places stock in witnesses who claim to have seen God or ideas like natural theology—the argument from design and other a posteriori arguments for the existence of God. (See non-cognitivism.) However, arguments relating to alleged actions and eye-witness accounts, rather than to the existence of God, may be falsifiable.

Again, others’ revelations of God are not falsifiable and cannot be used as evidence because there is no way to offer falsifying proof that the statement is false.

Why am I offering this exercise in philosophy? Because more often than not, debates about the existence of God, the claims of a Savior or Prophet, or the veracity of the bible usually end up in name-calling and hateful feelings all around. I’m tired of such debates. I’m not going to engage in them. They are unnecessary and prove nothing. There is no use for such debate. Theists and Atheists alike are hell-bent on convincing the other side that their arguments are true and the others’ are false. To what end? So that we all believe alike? Do you honestly think this will ever happen? Are theists basing their salvation or reward in heaven by how many atheists they can convince to have faith? I can see the reward for atheists. Who doesn’t want a logical thinking and reasoned population? Working for the good of all humankind regardless of personal beliefs is a sign of maturity and good sense. Helping others always benefits us as a society despite what we believe about deities. Why isn’t this enough of a motivation for action?


7 thoughts on “What is Reasonable Evidence?

  1. This is a highly articulate post. I cannot claim to be as schooled in all of the thoughts you have expressed, but your message, on a more simple level, rings true: why must we foist our beliefs on others? It is hard to unlearn that, but I find worth the effort.

  2. This is an excellent post. Excellent points. Excellently articulated. Overall, a – wow….. and backwards … wow! Thanks MOI for taking the time to write this.


  3. I must add my voice to the roster of those who have given props to this post. We may think very differently about where the available evidence leads, but at least I respect your intentions and lack of desire to feed into the viciousness that so often surrounds these topics.

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