Are Arguments Inferior to “Evidence?”

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It is just as silly to believe in God as it is to believe in any other mythical beings such as fairies, elves, or trolls. Theists, and Christians specifically, may contrive clever arguments to make God’s existence seem more likely, but I could do the same thing for any other fairy tale being. When it comes down to it, in order to believe in the existence of anything there needs to be empirical (observable) evidence which can be repeatedly tested. I am not denying the existence of things that are non-material such as ideas and numbers since these are things that can repeatedly be demonstrated to exist. If Christians want to show that God exists, they need more than arguments; they need empirical, repeatedly testable evidence. We use this kind of “scientific” evidence to believe in everything else, therefore we should apply the same standard to God.

At least, that is what some would tell you. The question is whether or not this standard of evidence is always a good one. The reason this argument by skeptics is so effective is because Christians know that they cannot bring forth any kind of observable testable evidence for the existence of God like they could for the existence of gravity, and they feel silly when they feel like they have to abandon science as if science is the only way by which we can verify the existence of anything. There are two ways to go about dealing with this objection; using this idea to refute itself, and demonstrating other areas in which we use evidence that is not “scientific.”

The first thing to recognize here is that the skeptic is essentially saying that the only good way of knowing things is through repeated experience of them. The question that must be asked here is how they know that. Have they repeatedly empirically seen that all other ways of “knowing”  something are faulty? Have they repeatedly empirically witnessed and confirmed with other people that repeatedly observing something is the only way to know things? I would contend not.

This form of empiricism is self defeating because it relies on reason itself rather than observation to  confirm it. There was not a repeated set of experiments which told the skeptic that they could only believe in things which could be scientifically verified. This would be impossible to prove through observation because there is always the possibility that there is a counter-example to empiricism that our skeptical friend has not experienced. It must therefore be proved by reason. You will never find someone who will say that they rigorously tried every possible way of proving any provable thing. Instead you will hear something like the argument in the introductory paragraph. The skeptic is saying that the only means of proving something exists is by empirically testing it, however this claim itself that empiricism is the only existing way of knowing something exists is not itself tested empirically, but by reason -the very method the skeptic was arguing against in the first place.

Now for the second (simpler) response to the skeptic’s objection. We use non-empirical and/or non-repeatable evidence all the time, and it is perfectly acceptable.

The skeptic is ignoring historical evidence. Based on testimony and archaeology it is a pretty well established fact that Julius Caesar existed. However, the skeptic has never seen him, and he has certainly not seen him several times.  By the skeptic’s standards Julius Caesar could simply be a mythical figure who was fabricated to account for how Rome was brought about. Therefore, the skeptic should be dubious of the existence of Caesar because it is the natural consequence of their standard of evidence.

We also need not always have repeatable evidence. Suppose that you come to your home and realize that it has been ransacked and some item that you value is missing. You run out of your house and see a man running away with this valuable item (you chase him down or call the cops of course). The evidence here is so strong that the man you caught was a thief stealing something valuable that it would be ridiculous to try repeatedly testing your theory that the man running away with your property is a thief. However, if we were to follow the standard of evidence set forth by the skeptic we would need to put the alleged thief in the same situation several times and record his actions to see if he would really steal the property. If he does, then he is a thief and if he does not then he was never guilty in the first place. However, we do not do this because some evidence and the accompanying argument is so strong (such as catching a thief red handed  in this scenario) that we do not even consider the need to repeatedly test and observe the evidence. Assume you came home to find your house in tumultuous disorder and you discovered valuable property to be missing. Would you clean your house, purchase new valuable things, and leave your doors  unlocked to see if your house would again be robbed to confirm that there was a robber? This would seem ludicrous because the evidence was initially so strong for the existence of a robber in the first place that you did not need to repeatedly observe the robber at work.

The conclusion is that the scientific process of repeatedly observing and testing evidence is not the only valid means of acquiring knowledge. As has been demonstrated through the self refutation of empiricism, and the reliability of history and criminal investigations evidence can be produced through reason  (such as stating that houses do not ransack themselves and valuable items do not simply run away) and need not be repeatedly tested in all cases. The scientific method which includes repeated observation is indeed valuable, but only when dealing with questions that are scientific, and the questions of science deal with the “how” and “what” of things in certain contexts. For example, science can account for DNA replication, but it cannot account for the existence of Julius Caesar. The arguments of theists make common use of evidence, it’s just not always empirical and that’s perfectly valid. The moral argument uses the existence of evil (assuming both parties agree to evil’s existence), teleology uses the apparent design in the universe, the cosmological argument uses existence itself, the ontological argument uses pure reason, and historical arguments establish and use reliable testimony and archaeology. There are more kinds of evidence than that which is empirical and/or repeatable, and that  is valid as long as the person handling the evidence understands how it ought to be used.

Kyle Huitt
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Kyle Huitt

Part of the multitude that has lost their faith, but part of the few that has returned to it. This blog is my attempt to describe why I returned to the faith, and to maybe prevent somebody else from leaving it in the first place. Studying philosophy and history at Hillsdale College. Member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Kyle Huitt
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