Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 in Religion | 10 comments

You know how they say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence? They’re wrong.

OK, I went a little too far, they’re not always wrong. The statement would be more accurately phrased as follows: Absence of evidence is evidence of absence, but not proof. Disagree? Let me explain.

The following exchange between atheists and believers seems quite common:

Believer: How do you know there’s no God?

Atheist: There’s no evidence for a god.

Believer (smugly). Yes, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Aside from the fact that the burden of presenting evidence lies with the person making a positive assertion, there are several problems with this exchange. First, there’s the erroneous assumption that all atheists know there’s no god. Although I imagine that there are a few atheists who believe that they do, most, if not all, are open to new evidence. That’s what distinguishes (or should distinguish) us from believers. Persuasive evidence of a god or gods should change our minds. I know that if he takes out his thunderbolt and smites me, I’ll believe in god for sure.

Second, absence of evidence is conclusive evidence in cases where evidence would be expected. For instance, you can assume that your window wasn’t broken while you were out when there’s no evidence of a broken window when you return. Or you can conclude that it didn’t rain during the five minutes you spent inside a grocery store if you come out and the ground shows no moisture. You know that there’s no pink hippopotamus in your room because there’s no evidence of one, and you can be sure that a giant meteor didn’t destroy the earth last night because the earth is still here. I can probably get more ridiculous with my examples, but I think you get the point. So how does this relate to the belief in god? When it comes to theist gods, there are assertions in the Bible that we should be able to document, yet our inability to do so — the absence of evidence — points to the non-existence of the Christian god. Further, this absence of evidence is everywhere. God doesn’t answer prayers, he doesn’t perform miracles, he doesn’t show any indication of caring about human actions, and moreover, even if he existed, he’d be morally bankrupt. In other words, we have no evidence of an omnipotent, omniscient, loving, and forgiving god. Given what we know of the world, such a god is impossible. So since there is no evidence where evidence would be expected, we can conclude that no such god exists.

While we can’t reach a definite conclusion about a deist god as easily, as we look in more and more places where we would expect to find evidence of some form of  creator, it’s not unreasonable to assume that one doesn’t exist. Yet this assumption isn’t proof.

As for an ignostic god? He’s merely an elusive idea that slips through our fingers and manages to escape both definitions and conclusions.  He’s beyond the comprehension of human intelligence, and so, I love him best.