Friday, February 22, 2013

Absence of evidence

Let's say, hypothetically, that I presented you with the following story:

I have a dragon.  He lives in my garage.  He is invisible and is completely undetectable by any means.  However, I can attest to the fact that he exists because I have had personal interactions with him.  I am just not able to demonstrate his existence to you. 

Do you believe that my dragon exists?  Why or why not?


  1. Hey, that's a good one DVD Bach! I'll play along.

    I don't believe you. You have provided no evidence for the dragon. Furthermore, not only have you not provided evidence, from your description, there can be no evidence of the dragon.

  2. But you also have no evidence that it does not exist. You have no way to support the claim that it does not exist. So you don't claim that. You conclude that it does not exist, based on my inability to provide any evidence that it does.

    Non-belief is the default position. In the absense of evidence supporting an extraordinary claim, the rational conclusion is not to believe it.

    So it is with all gods.

  3. No, I believe your example is different. In the dragon example, not only is there no evidence, but there is no possibility of evidence. That is not the case with God, unless you are saying that there would be no evidence of God even if He did exist. I am not defending a God that provides no evidence of His existence. There is evidence of His existence, you just choose not to believe it.

    BTW, your argument is reversable. I could use the same logic to conclude that God does exist. ie. The claim that God does not exist is an extraordinary claim. You have provided no evidence that God does not exist. Therefore I believe God does exist.

  4. What is the distinction between God and the dragon that makes evidence possible for the former but not for the latter?

    I'm not going to continue to repeat myself about God not existing being a conclusion rather than a claim. I have not claimed that God does not exist, nor will I ever. Continuing to say that I am doing so is dishonest.

    1. DVD Bach,

      If you can't answer your question about the distinction between God and the dragon, that goes a long way toward explaining why you don't believe in God. Read your original story about the dragon. Do you really think that I (and others) are saying that God is like the dragon you described? Maybe someone believes in a god like that, but the God I believe in is not "completely undetectable by any means." (He doesn't live in my garage either, although He is omnipresent.)

      I wasn't saying that you are claiming God does not exist. I was simply pointing out that your argument is reversable. I guess I did use the word "you" regarding evidence. Change that sentence to "There is no evidence to prove that God does not exist."

  5. So the distinction between God and the dragon is that God is detectable, correct? How?

    1. Well, I suppose there are a lot of distinctions. You would have to tell me more about your dragon to say for sure. God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, holy, just, loving, righteous, good. He created everything (visible and invisible) and sustains everything by His power. He spoke to the prophets and had them write down the Bible. He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into this world as a baby. Jesus then lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and rose again from the dead. He freely grants forgiveness of sins to all who trust in Him. There's a lot more, but I think you get the point.

      You gave limited information about your dragon, but I would guess that he doesn't have any of those characteristics. Obviously a lot of the things I listed are detectable, and we have eyewitness records of them.

  6. Right, but none of those claims about God change the fact that you have no evidence that my dragon does not exist. You're baldly asserting that my dragon's existence is not possible, but providing no evidence to back up that idea.

    Since you can't prove that my dragon doesn't exist, aren't you required to believe that it does? Of course not, because non-belief is the default position. So it is with any god as well.

  7. Okay, I believe your dragon exists, since you are a reputable source and I have no reason to assume that you are making it up. Do you now believe God exists?

  8. Sorry, I just had to put it that last comment. Here's my real response.

    I never said that the dragon's existence is not possible. I simply said that I don't believe in your dragon because of the lack of evidence *and* the impossibility of evidence.

    That is very different from God. Not only could their be evidence of God's existence, but there *is* evidence of God's existence.

  9. So you agree with my statement that have no evidence that my dragon does not exist (since such evidence is impossible), yet you believe that anyway. Your default position on my dragon is non-belief, just as mine is on any god.

  10. Okay, I think we're going around in circles here. There is evidence for God's existence (unlike your dragon). In any case, there is a more fundamental issue.

    Hebrews 11:1
    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

    At the most basic level, we have to make assumptions. Even before we can reason and use logic, we must make assumptions. How do we know that logic is valid? You could say that is because we can verify logical conclusions by observation. But then the question becomes, "How do we know our observations are valid?" This continues until we reach a foundation, which necessarily must be assumed.

    My argument is that believing in God is the only consistent, logical assumption that can account for morality and life as we know it. You may choose to believe in something else as your foundational assumption, but there is nothing else that can account for logic, morality, etc. as God can. Ultimately, it is an issue of faith. What is your first assumption?

  11. What is the evidence for God's existence? Each time I've asked, you've stated that it's an assumption; that's not evidence.

    We know that our observations are valid because they can be replicated and verified by others; that IS evidence.

    I don't accept your argument for believing in God because I prefer to LEARN the reasons behind life and morality, rather than simply assume things about them. Logic, morality, life and all other results of natural processes can be explained very well without invoking a God. Just throwing up your hands and saying "Oh well, God must have done it" is a path to ignorance, not knowledge (as your lack of understanding about the science behind the things you're talking about indicates).

  12. In a sense, you are correct that God's existence is an assumption. Are you claiming that you don't make any assumptions? I'd be happy to pursue that if you'd like. Actually, I'll get into it a bit below.

    However, that does not mean that God's existence is not supported by evidence. I have already mentioned many things, especially the record of the Bible.

    You wrote, "We know that our observations are valid because they can be replicated and verified by others; that IS evidence." This is really going to get interesting now. For one thing, that only relates to things that can be replicated and verified by others. What about the origins of the universe? Or do you believe that that is unknowable? If not, why not? And if so, how do you know God didn't create everything?

    Even aside from that, if we strictly deal with much more limited and simpler cases of things that can be replicated and verified by others, so what? Just because water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit today, and it did so yesterday, and every other time we've checked (taking into account other relevant factors), how do you know that it will be so tomorrow? To conclude that requires making an assumption. How do you know that assumption is correct?

    As I mentioned before, we all have foundational assumptions. How do you know that your "faith" is better than mine?

  13. You have mentioned to Bible as evidence; you just haven't explained why we should care what the Bible says.

    We can understand the origin of the universe, to an extent. We do this by making observations and extrapolating data back through time to arrive at the Big Bang. It's possible that there are some things about it that are unknowable. But that doesn't mean that God wins by default. You would still need to provide some support for why we should believe that a God did it.

    We understand that the freezing temperature of water will remain the same under the same conditions because we understand the physics and chemistry of water freezing. If it were to mysteriously change, we could study that and try to understand why it happened.

    I'm not going to let you lie about my having faith; I don't. My beliefs are based on evidence.

  14. I have explained about the Bible on many occasions. I know you don't believe it, but that doesn't mean it isn't evidence.

    You're correct that "God did it" isn't an explanation for everything we don't understand. However, that is not what I believe or have been saying.

    As for water freezing, this is another case of where your belief system breaks down. Do you believe that the freezing temperature of water could change (taking into account all other factors)? That is, assuming we knew and could control all the factors (both the ones we currently know about and also ones that we may not yet know about), is the freezing temperature of water a constant? How do you know this? Or, more to the point, how could you even know that, based on your worldview?

    Okay, I checked a couple of online dictionaries, and they agree that you don't have "faith" (except for one subdefinition). I don't agree with their definitions, though. You say your beliefs are based on evidence, and they may be to a certain extent, but that still doesn't answer the fundamental questions--How do you determine what counts as evidence? How do you know that basing your beliefs on evidence is better than basing your beliefs on some other standard?

    Back to the origin of the universe, how do you know that extrapolating data back through time is valid? Even if all current observations indicate that, that still doesn't make it valid for times that have not be studied. If we really want to be technical about it, the observations are only valid at the moment they were taken. How do you know that the speed of light does not change twenty billion times every second? You cannot prove *anything* without first making assumptions. Or rather, as I would say, one assumption--God.

    Hopefully I'm not losing you with my argument. By the way, I'm not saying that we can't study things, collect evidence, and make conclusions from what we observe. That is a thoroughly Christian concept, and the Bible shows us that that is a valid way to understand the universe. What I am saying, though, is that you have no way to justify it.

    1. Did they discuss these issues when you were getting your degree in information science? If not, you really should ask for your money back.

    2. I'd have a much easier time taking that seriously if you knew the first thing about what you're talking about. Test any of the concepts you're suggesting change randomly over time and see if that really happens.

  15. The fact that the Bible is not evidence is based on the fact that you're assuming your conclusion; it has nothing to do with my not believing it.

    Under the same conditions, the freezing temperature of water does not vary from measurement to measurement. I know this because it can be tested and will come out the same each time. Try it yourself.

    I am tired of answering your question as to what constitutes evidence: it is that which is verifiable by anyone testing it. Please stop pretending I haven't addressed this.

    On the origin of the universe, as well as the freezing temperature of water, you feel to believe that the laws of physics can simply change randomly from time to time. They cannot; that's why they're described as laws. This is testable. Further, extrapolated data back through time allows us to make predictions about how things should be, based on what happens as you extrapolate. For example, the Big Bang model predicted the existence of microwave background radiation; we discovered later that it does exist.

    "By the way, I'm not saying that we can't study things, collect evidence, and make conclusions from what we observe... What I am saying, though, is that you have no way to justify it."
    That IS how you justify it.

  16. DVD Bach,

    I am not trying to be difficult or repeat points that have already been discussed. I am trying to help you think through your position, which is illogical.

    Let me lay it out as simply as I can. Your argument is begging the question.

    You say that evidence "is that which is verifiable by anyone testing it". That definition really only applies to certain kinds of evidence (eg. it does not apply to questions like, "Who was the first president of the United States?"), but we can let that go for right now. Let's limit ourselves to "scientific" questions.

    Okay, so we test some stuff and get consistent results. Then from those results we discover "the laws of physics". Then we use those "laws" to say that results in the past and future must be consistent with what we actually tested. But to say that the laws of physics cannot simply change randomly from time to time is begging the question. You don't know that. You are assuming that. But you say, "I have evidence." I say, "Show me the evidence that the laws of physics are constant and have never changed." You can't do it. The best you could hope to say is, "The laws of physics are constant and have never changed as far as we are aware." But that's a big qualification that completely negates the usefulness of the laws of physics. If they are only "laws" for the specific tests you have conducted, they aren't really "laws" at all.

    You could say, "But we use the laws of physics to make predictions, and they have always proved to be accurate." Again, that only relates to the specific cases you have studied. It proves absolutely nothing about the universality of the laws of physics.

    I don't have a degree in this stuff, but I can figure it out. Really, you should ask for your money back. And you really should believe in God too. He will help you out of your illogical worldview.

    Hey, I just noticed your last line. The problem is that you left out the most important part. "That is a thoroughly Christian concept, and the Bible shows us that that is a valid way to understand the universe." I don't deny that atheists can *use* the scientific method. My point is that they can't justify its validity.

  17. Please see my recent post about knowledge; I think it addresses all of your points.

    "I don't have a degree in this stuff, but I can figure it out."
    Not really. You've provided no reason to think that the laws of physics have ever changed; only your opinion that they could. This position suffers from the same deficiency as the "evidence" you're offering for God. Sure, it's possible that God exists (just as it's possible that the speed of light has changed over time), but you've given no one any reason why they should believe it's true (same with the speed of light). You're simply asserting the possibility without supporting it.

    "I don't deny that atheists can *use* the scientific method. My point is that they can't justify its validity."
    Now you're just lying. What justifies its validity is the fact that it works. You don't get to claim it just because you make the unfounded assumption that your particular conception of god exists. Religion has done far more to impede the progress of science than to advance it.

  18. DVD Bach,

    Your worldview is completely pragmatic. It has no solid philosophical foundation.

    It was that same logic that led to the housing bubble in the United States. Everyone "knew" that the price of houses always went up because they always did--until they didn't. (Yes, I know that house prices dropped during the Great Depression. Similarly, the "laws of physics" have been revised over time as well.)

    It's like the people in the time of Noah. Everything was going along just as it always had--and then the Flood came. Noah warned them, but they wouldn't believe, and thus they perished.

    Of course I have "provided no reason to think that the laws of physics have ever changed." I don't believe they have, based on what the Bible says. But since you don't believe the Bible, you have no basis for saying that can't or haven't changed.

    The point remains that based on your worldview you cannot say with certainty that anything is scientifically true. You can believe that if you want, but don't then go around saying that you know *anything* scientific. That would be lying.

  19. It's clear that you're run out of points to make in most of these threads and are just resorting to being dishonest.

    You're lying about my worldview; pragmatism is the philosophical foundation.

    The housing bubble is guilt by association; no relevance to the conversation.

    The Noah story is an assumed conclusion; no evidence to support.

    You're lying about my basis for believing that the laws of physics don't change, since I explained to you what it was.

    You're lying about my views on certainty, since I addressed them in my Knowledge post.

    Dishonesty. Last resort of those whose arguments don't hold water.

  20. DVD,

    I am in no way trying to be dishonest. I am simply trying to understand your worldview. Because you are inconsistent, it is impossible for me to completely reconcile all of your various views.

    It is helpful knowing that pragmatism is your philosophical foundation. I will continue my comments over on your post "Why is the Bible Not Evidence?".