Hey Religious Believers, Where's Your Evidence?
What evidence do religious believers have for their beliefs?
And when they're asked what evidence they have, how do believers respond?
In my conversations with religious believers, I'll often ask, "Why do you think God or the supernatural exists? What makes you think this is true? What evidence do you have for this belief?" Partly I'm just curious; I want to know why people believe what they do. Plus, I think it's a valid question: it's certainly one I'd ask about any other claim or opinion. And if I'm wrong about my atheism -- if there's good evidence for religion that I haven't seen yet -- I want to know. I'm game. Show me the money.
But when I ask these questions, I almost never get a straight answer.
What I typically get is a startling assortment of conversational gambits deflecting the question.
I get excuses for why believers shouldn't have to provide evidence. Vague references to other people who supposedly have evidence, without actually pointing to said evidence. Irrelevant tirades about mean atheists. Venomous anger at how disrespectful and intolerant I am to even ask the question.
Today, I want to chronicle some of these conversational gambits and point out their logical flaws. I want to point out the fiendishly clever ways that they armor religion against the expectation -- a completely reasonable expectation, an expectation we have about every other kind of claim -- that it back itself up with evidence.
And I want to talk about why believers resort to them.
Whatever You Do, Don't Show Me the Money
We begin the parade of deflective gambits with this:
The spiritual realm is beyond this physical one -- we shouldn't expect to see evidence of it.
Yeah. See, here's the problem with that.
The problem is that religion makes claims about this world . The physical one, the one we live in. It claims that God sets events into motion; that guardian angels protect us; that our consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul; etc.
So if there really were a non-physical world affecting this physical one, we should be able to observe those effects. Even if we can't observe the causes directly.
My favorite analogy for this is gravity. When Isaac Newton developed his laws of motion, he had no clue what gravity was. For all he knew, gravity was caused by demons inside every physical object, all pulling at each other by magic. He tried for years to figure it out, and eventually gave up.
But even though he had no idea what gravity was, he was able to observe its effects. He was able to describe the laws of motion that govern those effects: laws that to this day make startlingly accurate predictions about the behavior of objects. He wasn't able to see or even understand the cause -- but he was able to observe and describe the effects.
I could give a zillion other examples. We can't see subatomic particles directly, either. Magnetic fields. Black holes. But we can observe their effects. We can make accurate predictions about them. We know they're there.
If there really is a non-physical, spiritual world affecting the physical one... why can't we come to an understanding about the nature of that world, and how it affects this one? Why, after thousands of years of religious belief, are we still no closer to an understanding of the spiritual realm than we ever were? Why do religious beliefs still all boil down to a difference of opinion?