Evidence for God's existence

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On August 15, 2009, Philip J. Rayment, founder of the creationist wiki a Storehouse of Knowledge, responded to extensive and persistent questioning from non-creationist editors at the wiki for evidence for God's existence, the existence of which he had consistently maintained. This response came in the form of a major rewrite to aSK's article on "Evidence for God's existence."

The following is a review and response to this major rewrite. The specific article version analysed here was the copy dated 16:12, 15 August 2009 (UTC).[rw 1]


The annotated aSK article
Fair use: copied for purposes of criticism and/or mockery.
The text of the article is on the left; our comments are on the right.

[edit] Introduction

There is a variety of evidence for God's existence, ranging from deductive arguments for a "First Cause" to personal testimony of a personal God.

Evidence does not constitute logical, mathematical, nor scientific proof, but is instead facts and arguments which fit better with biblical claims than with atheistic or other claims.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
It's praiseworthy that the author recognizes up front that the evidence being discussed isn't proof or evidence of a rigorous sort, and that the question at hand is whether that evidence lines up in favor of or against the existence of God. That said, we can stack up all the evidence we want in favor of a certain philosophical model, but one contradictory fact topples the entire model like a house of cards. Not to mention the writers of the Bible had no more evidence of the existence of God than we do today, so using the Bible as evidence for the existence of God is simply restating the assertion that God exists but instead appealing to the antiquity of the belief.

[edit] The need for evidence

Christianity is not a religion based on blind faith, but has faith based on evidence.

This is apparent from the following examples:

  • Gideon asked God for evidence of what God wanted him to do.[ask 1]
  • When the disciple Thomas asked Jesus for evidence that it was truly him, although commending those that believe without evidence, Jesus provided the evidence that he sought.[ask 2]
  • The Bereans were commended for checking that what the apostle Paul told them was correct.[ask 3]
  • Paul based his preaching on the evidence of Jesus' death and resurrection when he said that without the resurrection the Christian faith was in vain.[ask 4]
The Bible is hardly clear on this issue. Perhaps the most famous verse on faith is Hebrews 11.1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV) Which hardly seems to be talking about the type of evidence we are looking for.

Besides, the example of Thomas doesn't exactly support the author here. When Thomas demands evidence that Jesus had died, Jesus says "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed", implying by omission that Timothy was less virtuous because he demanded evidence.

In any case, all of these examples are anecdotal, which is poor evidence. They come from eyewitnesses; decades of research have proven that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. Modern courts, for instance, consider eyewitness testimony a poor form of evidence. As these occurrences cannot be reproduced or independently verified, the accounts are essentially worthless. Furthermore the gospels were written many years after the deaths of the people involved - there is no evidence whatsoever that any of these things were actually said.

On a side note, similar examples can be found for other religions. For instance, "Islam is not based on blind faith, Mohammed asked Allah for evidence".

The "eyewitnesses" and anecdotal accounts have themselves been passed down for generations orally before being documented in some written form. Numerous accounts that were similar in nature, but did not sound credible, have been eliminated from the record, even though they have no less basis for credibility than the ones that have survived. None of these witnesses are available today to interview. Even in the case of Paul, who directly documented his blindness and hallucination, the written account has itself been written and rewritten countless times before getting to the modern times where it has maintained stability (and there are many differing translations of the oldest written accounts).

[edit] Evidence in creation

[edit] The existence of the universe

A Creator is the best explanation for the existence of the universe.

There is a basic principle that everything that began had a cause; something or someone that caused that thing to begin to exist. From the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics taken together we can conclude that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, the universe needed a cause; something or someone that caused the universe to come into existence. The cause of the universe must be something or someone existing outside the universe.

If the cause of the universe itself had a beginning, that cause must itself also have had a cause. However, at some stage one must conclude that there was an "uncaused cause", a cause that itself had no beginning.

This uncaused cause is consistent with Christian and some other religious views of a Creator, but inconsistent with atheistic views, which instead propose that the universe came into being from nothing.
Not saying it is so, but if God doesn't require a cause, then why does the Universe? The argument also does not develop why "A Creator is the best explanation for the existence of the universe" or why "The cause of the universe must be something or someone existing outside the universe"; claims that these are "the best" are also heavily subjective to say the least. It merely claims that a cause is required, and implies any time we don't know the cause it must be God, and then carves out an exception to the supposed rule that everything needs a cause.

It is not entirely decided whether the universe had a beginning or not. It is entirely unknowable what happened prior to one Planck-time after the Big Bang, and cyclic modelsWikipedia's W.svg of the universe, in which the universe traverses a circuit of time rather than moving from a beginning to an end, have been proposed, obviating the need for a cause.

There is also the argument that if, as current models of physics posit, time is part of the fabric of the universe, then there was no time when the universe did not exist—similar to how there is nothing north of the North Pole. With this model of time, even if time did have a beginning, the universe is "eternal," as much as anything can be.

Not to mention that applying the laws of thermodynamics to that particular problem assumes uniformitarianism; if the laws of thermodynamics operated differently in the past, such as YECs posit that they did around 4004 B.C., that argument falls flat on its face. The acceptance of the laws of thermodynamics also precludes miracles in the Bible and eternal life before the Fall, significant problems if one accepts the Bible as inerrant.

Even if the "first cause" argument is accepted, it tells us absolutely nothing about the nature of the "creator". (For example, why it should care about what sexual practices we choose to indulge in, or what we eat on Fridays.) If one is willing to accept the existence of a causeless first cause, what arguments can be made to defend the belief that there is only a single such entity? If gods don't require a cause one might expect an almost infinite number of them out there.

It should be noted that the so-called atheistic view does not propose the Universe "came from nothing", only that it is unknown how the universe came into being. Even if it was accepted that the universe came from nothing, that does not substantially differ from a creator creating the universe from nothing. The idea that the universe came from nothing is more parsimonious than the idea that the universe was created by a creator which came from nothing.

[edit] Fine-tuned universe

There are many constants and physical values in the universe which are just right for life to exist, but which are improbable if they came about by chance.

For example, if the protons in atoms were a mere 0.2 percent more massive than they are, their instability would cause them to decay into simpler particles, and hence atoms would not exist.[ask 5] Or if the Earth was much further from or closer to the sun, water would freeze or boil. We are just the right distance from the sun.[ask 6]

To some extent, these "just right" values can be explained by the anthropic principle (the values are just right where we are, because if they weren't we wouldn't be here). That is, there may be a range of environments with different sets of physical values, and it is to be expected that we would exist in the environment that is suited to our existence.

However, the anthropic principle is inadequate to dismiss the argument from fine tuning. Some of the constants and values apply across the universe, i.e. there is not a range of values from which to choose, but just one value. Yet the anthropic principle assumes a range of values. Some people try and get around this problem by proposing that there are multiple universes, each with its own set of constants and physical values. However, this proposes something for which there is no evidence, and for which there can never be any evidence, and it is therefore unscientific, yet this argument is mainly used by people who reject God as an explanation because He is not able to be tested scientifically.

The argument from fine tuning is so strong that a number of philosophers have argued that the only answer to it is the multiverse theory.[ask 7]

"There are many ... examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents." —Tim Folger[ask 8]
It's commendable that the author gives credit to the anthropic principle as a possible answer to the "fine tuning" argument. However he then dismisses it out of hand on the grounds that the multiverse concept is unscientific, in favor of God—and, of course, his God specifically, as if that's somehow more scientific.

Assuming this relates to the distance of the Earth from the Sun, Earth's orbit is elliptical and the distance of the Earth from the Sun varies from approximately 86 million to 94 million miles on any given year. Every star has a "habitable zone" that is affected by the size of the star and its intensity. The Sun's habitable zone is approximately 0.95 astronomical units (AU) to 1.37 AU. An AU is the Earth's average distance from the Sun, or approximately 93,000,000 miles. Therefore the Earth's orbit could decrease by 4,500,000 miles, or increase by 34,000,000 miles and still be within the habitable zone. With an inhabitable range of roughly 38,500,000 miles it can hardly be said that there is but "a single value from which to choose" but a rather wide range of values which provide for life as we know it.

Furthermore, specific points about the position of the Earth, etc., ignore the fact that there are some 100 billion galaxies in the universe, each containing millions to trillions of stars, and it is entirely reasonable to posit that among all those, at least one star system would have a planet capable of supporting life as we know it.

Additionally, it is not true that life requires a mild range of conditions to survive. Even on Earth, there is a wide variety of organisms that thrive in otherwise hostile or seemingly inhospitable zones. Called extremophiles, they live in places like the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean, under immense pressures and temperatures, and live just as well as any being on the surface. And there exists a species of worm that lives miles underground, where there is no sun or water, and survives by eating rock. To say that life cannot exist without the conditions we find at sea level on the surface of our own planet, when life already exists in places that would kill any of us in an instant, is completely wrong.

The argument assumes that all possible universes had an equal probability of arising and that life as we know it is the only possible form of life, both of which require additional support that is not provided. Imagining a large number of hypothetical, alternative universes does not indicate anything about the universe we are in. (An analogy would be to ask what is the probability of your car being red if there are a lot of other blue cars!) Notably, the range of the constants (0.2%) is largely irrelevant to the argument.

Furthermore, the argument for fine tuning only works if you simplistically assume that you can only change one constant at a time. If you experiment with changing various constants simultaneously then various universes become possible.[rw 2]

Finally, arguing that an event could not have occurred because it was highly improbable that it could occur is fallacious; one could use the same logic to argue that no one ever wins the lottery. And in the particular case of the universe's constants, even arguing that it is "highly improbable" that the constants should be exactly right is a stretch; we know little to nothing about the possible range of values into which these constants could fall (only having observed them in one configuration) and it could very well be a dead certainty that the constants were to take the values they did. Even if the universe is improbable, it is not clear why God creating it is the best option, since the question inevitably arises: Why was the extremely unlikely, fine tuned set of properties known as God created, given that those properties could have any of a wide range of possible values?

[edit] Complexity of life

The existence of life shows that there must have been a very clever Designer at work.

Living things are extremely complex with numerous design features. Atheists acknowledge that things look designed[note 1] and evolution is their attempt to explain this apparent design without a designer.

Living things also contain enormous quantities of genetic information. Information can only come from an intelligent being.

That this design and information needs an intelligent being as its source is recognised by some atheists who try to explain it by suggesting that perhaps life on Earth was designed by aliens.

However, this only removes the problem another step, and fails to answer the question of who designed the aliens.
This is the argument from design, and is answered as follows: it is certainly true that some people confuse the appearance of design with real design; for example, loonies who see conspiracies behind series of completely unrelated events. The fact that people are capable of making such errors says nothing about the existence of designers or planners.

While the definition of "information" here is unclear, information theory applied to genetics shows that variation through mutations followed by natural selection is capable of creating information (in the sense of information theory). Definitions of "information" that creationists use are nonstandard and unaccepted by information theorists (who developed their notions of information independent of biology). The assertion "Information can only come from an intelligent being" is nowhere shown to be based on any evidence.

The evidence for evolution is much stronger than evidence for special design, and research in biology and other sciences continues to confirm the theory without any indication of a designer. If such a "clever designer" existed, it would itself show even greater evidence of design. This pretty much boils down to the first cause argument again.

A "clever designer" should also be capable of avoiding elementary design mistakes. For instance, light receptor cells in the human eye are "back to front", necessitating the "blind spot" as nerves pass through the eye wall to the brain. Similarly, food/drink and air are both introduced to the body through the same orifice, often causing choking, especially in children. All humans grow a tail during the first four to seven weeks of gestation, which is later absorbed. Hundreds of species of cave fish are blind, yet still possess functionless eyes (a perfect example of evolution in motion, rather than an intelligent designer). Thus, the evidence points to either a not-so-intelligent designer, or natural selection via minor mutations over time as described by Darwin.

The author, in stating that "this design and information needs an intelligent being as its source is recognised by some atheists who try to explain it by suggesting that perhaps life on Earth was designed by aliens" is presenting a textbook strawman argument. If such an argument were even ever presented, the aliens in question would still have had to evolve on their homeworld: this still isn't an argument for special creation.

By admitting the validity of the possibility of aliens creating life, the author indicates the weak link between the complexity of life and God. If who created the aliens is a valid question, then surely so is "Who created God?".

[edit] Jesus Christ

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who is God, probably the best-attested event of ancient history, is further evidence for the existence of God.

That Jesus existed is attested by four different biographers as well as other sources. Three of the biographers knew Jesus personally, and the fourth wrote according to testimony provided by those who knew Jesus personally.

These four biographies are now contained in the Bible, comprising the first four books of the New Testament.
The author got this one almost exactly backward.

The resurrection of Jesus is probably the least-attested event that was alleged to occur in ancient history and is still remembered; it had only a few "witnesses", all friends of his. At least the assassination of Julius Caesar was witnessed by both friends and enemies of his, and is attested in contemporary records, whereas the earliest references to Jesus were written decades later. Furthermore, not only is the "resurrection" unsupported but the very existence of anyone called Jesus has been questioned.

The Gospels can't be regarded as four independent sources: there are well-established links between them (at least the synoptics) and with the hypothetical lost "Q" source. It's misleading to call them "biographies", which is a modern concept; the claim that "[t]hree of the biographers knew Jesus personally" is highly dubious, and in any case does not provide evidence for the existence of God.

In fact, the "Gospels" were all written many decades after Jesus's supposed death and resurrection:

Mark's Gospel was written in the late 60s or very early in the 70s CE, thus around 40 years after the most commonly accepted dates for the death of Jesus.

Matthew's Gospel was written after Mark's, but before Luke's Gospel. It is generally considered to have been written in the 80s CE. This means that it was probably written more than 50 years after the death of Jesus.

Luke's Gospel is generally considered to have been written in the 90s CE, but could well be from early in the second century. It comes some 70 years after the death of Jesus, and long after all his contemporaries were dead.

John's Gospel is generally considered to have been written a little after Luke, and a date early in the second century is probable. Once again, this Gospel is dated more than 70 years after the generally accepted date of the crucifixion.

The time involved with word of mouth being the only method of communication prior to any written record leads to a "Johnny Appleseed" type of folklore, reduces any historic credibility to near zero, and brings the mere existence of Jesus into question.

As to the life and death of Jesus, taking the existence of a splinter group in an obscure Middle Eastern tribe as fact has nothing provable to do with God.

[edit] The Bible

Evidence from the Bible overlaps with evidence for the Bible.

Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant because God is its ultimate author, and there are a number of reasons for considering the Bible to be what it claims to be.

The Bible has a consistent message throughout, despite being written over a period of at least 1,600 years by over 40 different authors from various walks of life.[ask 9]

Despite attempts to have the Bible eradicated and predictions that it would be obsolete, the Bible has not only survived, but is the best-selling book of all time and is available in more languages than any other book.

In addition, archaeology has demonstrated that the Bible has a very high degree of historical accuracy.[ask 10]

This book, which has been demonstrated to be accurate in many testable historical claims, also claims that God exists and has been working in history. This includes claims that are best explained, if not can only be explained, if God exists.

In particular, the Bible documents numerous predictions of then-future events, many of which have already come true.
The evidence here presents contradictory and fallacious reasoning about evidence.

Using the Bible to prove the existence of God is not useful and is essentially a resort to classic case of circular reasoning - that God says the Bible is true and the Bible says that God is true. That the evidence for the Bible's validity is in the Bible is extremely poor evidence for God's existence; it would be much more comforting if there were independent sources that verification of its validity. The telling phrase "Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant because God is its ultimate author" is also a circular argument, in that it assumes that God exists. Anyone can write down a log of current events; no supernatural guidance is needed. And it should be "Some Christians believe...". (Or are non-inerrancists not Real Christians?)

The Bible was written by a priest class whose self interest determined that it should be consistent (which it isn't anyhow - see Genesis). There are other inconsistent messages as well: how about (to summarise) NT: "love your enemies"; OT: "kill your enemies (and their wives and children) - with some help from God if necessary".

Where are these "true predictions"? Oh, yes, let's cherry pick the one or two coincidental ones, interpret others in as favourable way as possible (e.g. the supposed virgin birth prophecy in Isaiah 7:14) and ignore all the rubbish that surrounds them.

The argument about the Bible being best-selling is an appeal to popularity. While the Bible is a type of historical text, it cannot be updated. Biblical and historical scholars have indeed improved the knowledge of the time period of the Bible much of which contradicts it. In that sense, the Bible is obsolete. Certainly, an update of some of the laws in Deuteronomy is warranted!

[edit] Christianity

In The Impossible Faith, James Holding argues that "...the only way Christianity did succeed is because it was a truly revealed faith...".[ask 11]

He lists 17 factors about Christianity which should have resulted in the religion not catching on, and says that the fact that it did despite these factors is testimony of God's authenticity.

Included in his list is that Christianity went against society norms, such as drawing no distinction between males and females nor between slaves and free people. And it relied to a fair extent on the testimony of women (considered "bad witnesses" at the time) and people of low social standing.

Providing specific names and times and places that could be checked is also not something that a religion should do unless its claims are true, yet Christianity did that. It went further, and encouraged people to verify the claims, again not the mark of a false religion.

"Christianity, as we can see, had every possible disadvantage as a faith. As I have recently noted, some religions thrive by being vague (Rastafarianism) or by having only philosophical demands, or demands beyond verification (Buddhism, Hinduism). Others staked a claim to survival by isolation (Mormonism) or by the sword (Islam). Christianity did none of these things and had none of these benefits, other than a late flirtation with the sword when it was already a secure faith and it was being used for political purposes, as indeed any religion could be -- not as a means of spreading the Gospel. Every disadvantage, and none of the advantages.
I propose that there is only one, broad explanation for Christianity overcoming these intolerable disadvantages, and that is that it had the ultimate rebuttal -- a certain, trustworthy, and undeniable witness to the resurrection of Jesus, the only event which, in the eyes of the ancients, would have vindicated Jesus' honor and overcome the innumerable stigmae of his life and death. It had certainty that could not be denied; in other words, enough early witnesses (as in, the 500!) with solid and indisputable testimony (no "vision of Jesus in the sky" but a tangible certainly of a physically resurrected body) and ranks of converts slightly after the fact (the thousands at Pentecost) who made it harder to not believe than to believe." —[ask 12]
If it has to be revealed, it is impossible to validate the authenticity. See Authenticity of divine revelation. We aren't accusing that the revelation isn't genuine, but we have no independent way to verify the authenticity.

The argument seems to be that Christianity is such an unutterably bad religion that it could only prosper if it had miraculous help. Perhaps the strongest argument so far!

Holding's arguments have been rebutted before.[rw 3][rw 4] Essentially, Carrier's analysis is that Holding's argument is an argument from improbability that lacks an assessment of probability:

[H]ow improbable would the success of Christianity have to be before we have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus to explain that success? Holding never says. Nor does he say how improbable Christianity's success really was. Yet without comparing those two estimates, it is not really possible to confirm the success of Holding's argument objectively. Many fantastically improbable things happen all the time, simply because so many things happen. For example, "that's about as likely as getting struck by lightning" is often used as a cliché of an event so improbable it never happens, yet over four hundred people are struck by lightning every year in the United States alone. Some people have been struck multiple times.[2] Hence our intuition often fails us when estimating the improbable.[rw 4]

If Christianity was not the mainstream religion in the West, we would be arguing with the adherents of another one. For instance, Christianity was very similar to the cult of MithrasWikipedia's W.svg, which it supplanted in the Roman Empire; there is much solar symbolism associated with the Christian God even today due to Christ being identified in those days with Mithras's successor-god, Sol InvictusWikipedia's W.svg (the Unconquered Sun). At the beginning of the conversion of the Roman empire, Mithras had about the same momentum (this religion is growing rapidly!), especially among soldiers.

Also, the conversion of most Germanic tribes from their indigenous paganism to Christianity, an act that provided Christendom with a great deal of its territory, did not go off without a lot of bloodshed (hardly the trivial "late flirtation with the sword" referred to); for example, at the blood court of VerdenWikipedia's W.svg, 4500 recalcitrant pagan Saxon nobles were axed by Charlemagne for refusing to be Christians.

Also, before claiming that the Bible treats men and women the same, Holding might want to reread Paul's epistles, which had a few things to say about the role of women at home and in the church.

[edit] Testimonial evidence

Many people have testified to knowing God personally,[ask 13] as He has had an impact on their lives.

Many of these people have not only testified of their own experience, but of their family and friends noticing the changes in their lives.

In many cases, people have been delivered from pornography, homosexuality, anxiety, drug dependence, and other problems.[ask 14]
This is called anecdotal evidence and is not of the first quality. Also, it is known that several people claiming that God intervened in their lives via miracles were outright liars seeking a distinctly temporal reward.

Additionally it is not unusual for people to claim that have communicated with aliens, demons, cats or whatever. Are we really going to take this as evidence of, for example, talking cats?

Moreover, if testimonial evidence is to be believed, God wants different people to believe different, and often mutually exclusive, things. For example, Christians and Wiccans both claim to know their respective deities personally. As another example, the transformative power of conversion (insofar as a causal relationship exists at all) is not limited to one religion.

See: a story of someone with an imaginary friendWikipedia's W.svg.

If God is non-physical then there is no reliable way of detecting God. One cannot taste, feel, hear, smell, or see God. If one claims that they can, then God cannot be considered non-physical, so how would one notice whenever they have come into contact with an immaterial God, if ever? According to many testimonies, it is through the belief that God has intervened in some situation. In other words, the rejection of the possibility that good may befall someone without it being willed by another intelligent being leads one to believe it to be God when no human is found to be responsible. The sheer inconsistency of supposed divine intervention (or at least helpful divine intervention) throughout the world should be suitable counter-evidence to the claim that good fortune is the handiwork of God more so than serendipity. If one claims that God helps those he hasn't helped in this life, then the realm of anecdotal evidence is being left entirely.

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Note

  1. For example, arguing that the design is only apparent was the central thesis of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion

[edit] References

(References refer to publications in the Bibliography, above.)

  1. Judges 6:36-40
  2. John 20:24-29
  3. Acts 17:11
  4. 1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Corinthians 15:12-14, 16-17
  5. Folger, 2008
  6. CMI
  7. Gefter, 2008.
  8. Folger, 2008
  9. See Ask:Bible#Authorship.
  10. Koukl, Greg, Archive copy at the Wayback Machine "The Bible: Accurate and True", The Plain Truth, July-August 1997.
  11. Holding
  12. Holding
  13. See Further Reading
  14. Batten.

[edit] Further reading

[edit] RationalWiki see also

[edit] RationalWiki footnotes

  1. http://www.astorehouseofknowledge.info/index.php?title=Evidence_for_God%27s_existence&oldid=22553
  2. NS - Changing various constants
  3. http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_holding.htm
  4. 4.0 4.1 Carrier's analysis can be found here.
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