I hear this claim quite a bit. There is “no evidence” for God or anything supernatural.
What is evidence? As a Trial Lawyer I have an understanding of evidence and what it is. I also think I have learned allot about how honest people can make mistakes from memory yet this does not mean their entire testimony should be thrown out. But let me give a legal definition.
The United States’ Federal Rules of Evidence defines relevant evidence. (Each state will have its own rules of evidence but this is pretty similar state to state.)
Rule 401 says:
“Relevant evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.
Is there much to argue against? On the whole I think it’s pretty good. “…having any tendency” suggests that that some evidence might have varying degrees of strength to different people. “Any” “tendency” seems pretty broad. But since I am well convinced that different reasonable people can often draw different conclusions from the very same piece of evidence I am fine with that.
I have long understood that you prove things to someone. And you need to know who your audience is and adjust your proof accordingly. If you prove something to no one, then you have not accomplished much.
It seems to me that the various New Testament accounts do provide some relevant evidence for Jesus’s miracles. Would we not agree that having these accounts tends to increase the probability that the resurrection happened than if we did not have these documents? So for example if we had none of these ancient accounts and I just got up in my closing argument and said “a person that lived 2000 years ago rose from the dead,” would we not think the case weaker? So yes the existence of these ancient documents does have some tendency to show the fact that is of consequence “is more probable… than it would be without the evidence.” They are almost certainly relevant evidence.
Is a miracle evidence that God exists? Well it might or might not be. In the case of Jesus miracles I think they are clearly evidence of the Christian God. Why? Because Jesus says he was sent from God and that it was by God’s power he can do supernatural things. And then he does them. Does that fit our definition of relevant evidence?
Consider if I had a trial on the issue of whether God exists and someone says well if God exists then prove it by performing a miracle! And sure enough I then say by Gods power I will raise this corpse from the dead and a dead person stands up and walks. Would this miracle have “any tendency” to make the existence of God more probable “than it would be without the evidence.” Of course, it would. The fact that the person asked for a miracle shows it has a tendency for him.
Plenty of atheists have asked for miracles as proof. So presumably it would have that tendency for them. Of course some might argue even that is not enough proof for them, but my case for God would be much stronger than if I offered no evidence at all, and just said in my closing argument “God exists so you should find for my side.” Therefore these miracles are evidence of God.
I think this is an important point to get people off the whole “No Evidence!” “No Evidence!” mantra we hear. There clearly is *some* evidence. Is it is enough evidence for you? How much evidence do you need? Are really the questions we are getting and that is a subjective matter. I discussed this in a prior blog here:
The evidence in the OJ Simpson criminal trial was not enough evidence to “prove” he was guilty beyond reasonable doubt to that jury. However the trial was televised and lots of people saw that very same evidence, and thought it was enough to “prove” his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Both sides had plenty of relevant evidence to support their case but different people drew different conclusions from that same relevant evidence.
Consider the case of psychopath orthodontist. He puts a woman under, fixes her teeth, undresses her, molests her and puts her clothes back on. He then wakes her up. The woman wakes up none the wiser. He didn’t physically injure her. He received sexual gratification.
Now if we assume the following about our moral view:
1) maximizing happiness is the goal of morality.
2) sexual gratification is as a form of happiness
would this be a good thing for the orthodontist to do?
You might say he will feel guilty, but he is a psychopath and so will suffer no guilty feelings. Does his lack of guilt make the act better?
I am also curious if people accept the 2 premises of the morality I present. Perhaps they need to be reworded.
Just to clarify. By “happiness” I do not mean to limit it to epicurean moralism at all. The term for happiness here can be much broader and even mean the equivalent of the Greek word eudaimonia which is usually translated as happiness. This can mean well being or human flourishing.
Of course, in this hypothetical the definition of “happiness” “wellbeing” “human flourishing “must place value sexual gratification (which I think the vast majority of secular humanists do) but “happiness” isn’t intended to be limited to that or limited to purely pleasure and pain. I hope that clarifies and explains why the hypothetical applies to many more moral systems.
As I get older for some reason I am more and more interested in history. I recently listened to the Bloodlands and a lecture series on Russian history. I recommend both. I think I was more surprised by Bloodlands which I listened to first. I was not aware that Germany and Russia had basically agreed how to divide Poland and other Eastern European countries before Hitler invaded Poland. After listening to the Bloodlands I see no moral difference between Hitler and Stalin.
I first became interested in History for largely apologetic reasons. I wanted to learn about the Crusades, Medieval history and early Christian history. As I read the history I certainly found plenty of ammunition that can be used for any side if one wants to do that. That’s true whether we are talking about Muslim versus Christian, or Atheist versus Christian, or even Christian versus Christian in regards to the reformation. Reading history for those reasons, or at least mainly for those reasons, lost it’s luster.
People say you can learn “lessons” from history. I am not so sure or at least I think people might take that too far. They strain comparisons of today’s events with those of history. History is a one time thing. It’s not going to repeat itself exactly and it will always be controversial to claim that this current event is just like some event from the past. It is very difficult to try to speculate about causes of certain events. Like why did Stalin and Hitler end up leading their countries? I like many people like to draw my own conclusions. I think I can better sort out the good from the bad in people based on experiences I live directly or vicariously through reading history. But I have read enough history (and lived enough life) that I also know that many of my previous theories weren’t right after all. So concocting theories about human behavior is part of the reason I like history but its not an entirely satisfactory answer.
Sure what I learn in history is truth, and I value the truth for its own sake. But certain truths are more important than others. For example it seems facts dealing with morality are more important than just descriptive facts. So it seems somehow more important that the truth about the secret Soviet and German agreement to divide Poland is revealed, than whether or not Stalin had siblings. Finding out who was really responsible for the Katyn massacre seemed more significant despite the fact that those who were responsible are now dead.
I also read history for the same reason I read current events. It can be interesting. Current events that I read about in the paper might have some impact on my life, but really it’s pretty rare that learning about them will change my behavior very much. The events of history are yesterdays headlines and are even less likely to change my behavior, but they are usually much more interesting and surprising.
From the philosophical and religious perspective that this blog usually takes, is it important whether or not Hitler was a Christrian? Does it matter that Stalin was atheist? Does it matter that Christians have done wrong? I think the answers are somewhat more complicated than I thought when I originally took an interest in history.