It is common for atheists to proclaim that “there is no evidence for God’s existence” as if this was some objective truth about our reality. Yet when someone says, “There is no evidence for God,” all they are really saying is “I don’t see any evidence for God.” This follows from understanding that evidence is interpreted data and as such ultimately relies on subjectivity. Evidence is conceived rather than sensed. We cannot measure “evidence.” We measure data and transform data into evidence with the act of thinking. In other words, evidence comes into existence only when the mind interprets data that are sensed. Given the existence of evidence depends on the subjective act of interpretation, it cannot escape its subjective aspect. Now, this does not mean evidence is entirely subjective. For its existence also depends on the data that are sensed. Thus recognizing the subjective aspect of evidence does not commit us to some full-blown, post-modern denial of objective reality. But it does mean that evidence is not some objective criterion that can decide an issue of dispute. Disputes are only resolved when a) data exist to be interpreted as evidence AND b) all minds agree to interpret the data similarly. We deceive ourselves if we treat evidence as an objective criterion.
This subjective element is also on clear display when the atheist is asked to clarify his requests for evidence by spelling out what type of data would qualify as evidence for God’s existence. I have found that most of the time, atheists will ignore or brush off this request. But in the cases where they try to clarify their position, they will invariably adopt the god-of-the-gaps approach to reality. For example, as we have seen before, scientist Jerry Coyne explained what he needs:
if a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus appeared to the residents of New York City, as he supposedly did to the evangelist Oral Roberts in Oklahoma, and this apparition were convincingly documented, most scientists would fall on their knees with hosannas.
Coyne needs a Sign.
Yet there are many atheists who would not consider such a demonstration of divine power as evidence for God’s existence. Both PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins have said that they would not change their mind even if a 15 foot Jesus appeared before them and boomed, “I exist.”
Over at Richard Dawkin’s page, Steve Zara makes the point very clear:
There can be no evidence for God
More stridency? Like this – we should challenge the very concept of gods, we should not let believers set the rules of the game with flim-flam about the possible truth of Biblical miracles, or other ways of knowing reality, or necessary beings. We should make it clear that all arguments that lead to gods are wrong because they lead to gods! God is a singular mistake, a philosophical division by zero, a point at which the respectability of arguments break down. God is out of the question, the ultimate wrong answer.
So yes, I agree. There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let’s stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us.
So we have two schools of atheism: 1) The God-of-the-Gap school that demands signs and miracles and 2) The Closed-Minded school that spins elaborate rationalizations for their inability/unwillingness to change their minds. That there is such disagreement among the atheists is very significant. Why?
We’re supposed to take people like Dawlins, Myers and Coyne seriously because they are scientists. How so? Because they, as scientists, are supposed to be experts at handling evidence. That’s their entire claim to authority. Take away that simple factor and suddenly there is no reason why anyone would have reason to elevate their opinions beyond those of anyone else.
Yet here we have two “experts” on evidence who cannot even agree on the most fundamental question about evidence – what would count as evidence. So what good is their expertise?
Ask yourself why in the world can’t scientists like Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne reach a basic consensus on this fundamental issue of evidence? I can only think of one viable answer. These scientists are incapable of reaching consensus about what would count as evidence precisely because the answer to that question is so deeply subjective. And that takes us back to the third sentence of this post: evidence is interpreted data and as such ultimately relies on subjectivity. By morphing the actual position (I personally don’t see any evidence for God) into the rhetorical stance (There is no evidence for God), the atheist is masquerading subjectivity as objectivity to serve their culture war objectives. And the New Atheist leaders nurture and encourage this error through their constant misuse of science as an authority on this issue.
Look, the atheist is entitled to his opinion about God’s nonexistence.
But that’s all it is.