A few weeks ago I wrote an article discussing why there isn’t more evidence for God’s existence. Why we don’t see Him floating around everywhere we go. But many an atheist will say there is no evidence whatsoever, therefore one should not believe in Him. But before we fall for this claim, we need to understand more about evidence, especially for God’s existence. Once we’ve done that, we’ll see that this isn’t the knockdown objection the skeptic thinks it is.
The nature of evidence
Suppose there were an elephant in your room. How would you know it? Well, elephants are pretty big, so you’d probably see it. I think you’d hear it. You could touch it. You could definitely smell it! If you wanted, you could taste it too (but, um, eww). The evidence would be pretty clear. You could easily use any one of your five senses to determine whether or not there is an elephant in your room.
But what if I told you there were a flea in your room? Not so easy to determine, right? You probably couldn’t see it with your naked eye. You wouldn’t hear it, smell it, touch it, or taste it either (although it could be touching and tasting you right now). As hard as you may search, you still couldn’t be so sure there wasn’t one around, simply because fleas are tiny and very easy to miss. So it would be a lot harder to say definitively that there was no flea in your room.
So now, let’s compare this to God. He’s all-present, right? Then we should be able to find Him everywhere! But here’s the kicker: God is spirit. He’s invisible, intangible. How do you find a Being like that?
And that’s the problem. Science relies on our five senses, on observation. Think about the elephant: We know exactly what to expect when searching for one. And with enough time and the right equipment, we can determine whether or not there is a flea in the room. But what scientific instrument do we have that can detect spiritual things?
This is what philosophers call a “category error.” It’s applying criteria to something that just doesn’t fit. For example, trying to weigh the number 7. To smell the color purple. To seek physical evidence of a non-physical thing. So when the skeptic says there is no direct, empirical evidence for God’s existence, he’s right! Because that’s a category error. A logical fallacy. Shame on Mr. Skeptic!
Absence of evidence
You may have heard the phrase “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Well, that’s not completely true. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence if there is certain evidence you would expect to find but don’t. (Feel free to reread that sentence a few times!) For example, if there were an elephant in your room, there should be obvious evidence! If you can’t see, hear, touch, or smell the elephant, it isn’t there. So in that case, absence of evidence of an elephant is evidence of absence.
Now, what would lead you to believe that there is a flea in your room? That’s not as easy. Direct evidence of a flea is far less likely to find. However, there may be indirect evidence of it if you suddenly felt very itchy and found tiny bites on your body! The same goes for God. If you have good reason to think that the universe was created, then you must conclude there is a Creator! (This is the perfect time to plug Tim Stratton’s ongoing series on the Kalam Cosmological Argument: part 1, part 2, part 3.)
Evidence for God’s existence
It’s easy for a skeptic to say “There’s no evidence for God’s existence!” (Actually, it’s easy for a skeptic to say anything.) But before he can use this objection to rule out God’s existence, he needs to determine two things:
- What kind of evidence would I expect if God exists?
- Can I find this evidence?
I wonder how many people have really thought about this. If you haven’t, I invite you to do so now! If an all-powerful Creator exists, what kind of evidence do you think we should have? And once you’ve determined that, how do we go about finding it? I don’t think it’s as straightforward as the skeptic makes it out to be.
And remember that to seek direct, physical evidence of a nonphysical, spiritual being is a logical fallacy. Science is not the proper tool to directly determine God’s existence and so it cannot be used to disprove His existence either. If you have trouble answering the questions above, perhaps you should reconsider using “lack of evidence” as an argument against God’s existence.
But this does more than just knock down one of an atheist’s most popular objections. It also shows that he has to shoulder a burden of proof as well. Perhaps I cannot prove that God exists. The atheist must then proceed to tell me what evidence he expects if God exists and then show that this evidence does not exist. Otherwise, we are both stuck in uncertainty, a position known as agnosticism.
So I hope I have deflated the “lack of evidence” objection. But more importantly, I hope you will take some time and seriously look at the world around us. Are there any clues that may point us to a Creator? You might begin noticing the indirect evidence, as “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
William Lane Craig discusses this topic in a lot more detail in his Q & A article, “Is God Imaginary?” Check it out!