I saw an atheist ask the question, “Is there evidence for God?” on Eric Hovind’s public Facebook page. I had a little time, and I love to discuss the nuances concerning this question so I decided to engage this atheist and investigate whether or not he understood the question. If you pay close attention to the way he defines evidence and the way he approaches accumulating it, you will notice that it is a failed attempt to force his conclusion whilst appearing to be void of dogma. He criticized me for forcing my conclusion by picking my axiom, but it is quite obvious that he was doing the same thing. He attempted to pick axioms that would cause him to view the world in a way that coheres with his preconceived notions about the supernatural (specifically, the existence of God). Of course, this is how philosophy is done. One picks a first principle and attempts to arrive at the conclusion that they desire. Immaneul Kant’s quest to save empiricism from the devastating critiques of David Hume is one notable example.
Atheist: Evidence for God?
Me: Since you have not given a definition for ‘evidence,’ I do not think you understand your own question. How do you define ‘evidence’ in this instance?
Atheist: Factual circumstances which account for, or support one available explanation over any other.
Me: What do you mean by “factual circumstances?” How does one determine what constitutes as “factual circumstances?” I do not see how you can define that phrase without begging the question. According to your apparent line of thinking, you seek evidence to account for belief in a proposition, but “factual circumstances” would also have to be determined, and it would either be determined by what you call “evidence” (which would beg the question) or it would involve asserting without evidence (the mistake that you accuse people like Eric of making). Either way, your question becomes meaningless and your own dogmatism is exposed.
Atheist: Factual circumstance in this case would refer to something which is observable true and is indicative of a supernatural creator.
Me: Why is it that something is true when it’s observable? How can one even observe? You would have to be able to answer how you can get perceptions from sensory data. I have never met an empiricist that is able to answer this question.
Furthermore, it seems that the empirical method of observation and experimentation commits the fallacy of asserting the consequent because it involves arguing from effect to cause. The cause of the effect is only assumed, but it is never demonstrated by the empiricist. Therefore, the empiricist only assumes that which is the case without any evidence (given your definition) because it is impossible to determine the cause behind the phenomenon that is observed. Since your definition of ‘factual circumstances” includes discerning one explanation’s validity over another, this a significant problem that your position must somehow overcome.
Atheist: What other method of knowing something other than sensory perception do you have?
Me: Well, first, you have not demonstrated that you can know anything via sense perception. Because of this, I don’t know why you asked your question in the way you did. In order to ask, “How else can you know something besides sense perception?” you must be able to first demonstrate that you can know something via sense perception. You have not done so.
The first step to building a system of philosophy that can escape epistemological skepticism is to realize that everyone is a dogmatist; therefore, every system of philosophy must start with an indemonstrable proposition which is known as an axiom. Though these axioms cannot be demonstrated, they can be tested for logical consistency.
It is, however, important to note that logical consistency does not guarantee the truth of a proposition, and therefore, is not a sufficient positive test for truth. As a Christian, I recognize that truth is propositional, and I define knowledge as the possession of the truth. My starting point in my philosophical system is “The Bible alone is the Word of God written.” The Bible is defined as the propositional revelation of the 66 books of the protestant canon. Therefore, all of the propositions of scripture and the logical forms used by God to communicate divine truths to us are presuppositions. A Christian may also call propositions that are deduced by necessary consequence knowledge as well. This is how we escape skepticism. One might ask, “How can you know what the Bible teaches without reading it?” This, however, simply assumes what the objector has not proven (the notion that sense perception allows us to account for knowledge). The reason why we can know what the Bible teaches is because it is sufficient to give us knowledge (2 Timothy 3:16). Knowledge is not a matter of disjointed sensory data. Knowledge is propositional, and somehow, when we read the Bible, God, being the cause of all effects (Acts 17:28), impresses his revelation on us.
Atheist: what reason do you have to start from the bible?
Me: First principles are chosen. In essence, you may start with whatever first principle that you wish to start with; however, if you do not want to be viewed as intellectually dull, you must be able to defend it.
As for my reasons, I have several reasons why I chose it. First, it is because I am a child of God, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit is within me (Romans 8:16). Second, it is because I am able to build a complete philosophical system that is able to deal with philosophical questions and criticism of my own system. Third, the Bible attests to its own truth. While that does not demonstration the axiom I have chosen, it does allow me to give an account for my belief that the Bible is true.
Atheist: your first “reason” is just begging the question ,second the bible makes claims that are evidently untrue ,therefore it can claim no truth, lastly just because something is logically consistent , it isn’t necessarily true. jason i was asking for evidence in the natural world that it has been influenced by a supernatural being, specifically the god of the bible, my meaning was quite apparent. you continue to dance around the question.
Me: Your accusation of begging the question is incorrect. Begging the question is attempting to demonstrate what you are arguing by assuming it. I am not attempting to demonstrate my axiom. It seems to me that you have not yet learned how to distinguish circular reasoning from linear reasoning. If you think that what I did was begging the question, and you reject it because of that, you must also reject logic as well because it is constructed in the same way as my philosophical system. Of course, if you reject logic, accusations of fallacies become inconsequential.
You say that the Bible makes claims that are untrue, but you have not given any examples nor have you given any systematic approach to falsifying its claims. Just because you think the Bible makes untrue claims does not make it so.
If you had read my comment more carefully, you might be aware that I stated that logical consistency does not guarantee the truth of the axiom, and that is why I provided a positive test for truth that did not involve logical consistency. Your criticism of my position involves misrepresenting it, and if you misrepresent my position, you are not interacting with it.
You asked for ‘evidence,’ but as I already pointed out in a comment (That you never bothered to answer), your definition of evidence is meaningless because your definition necessitates that you determine the cause for what is observed. If you have not yet demonstrated that you can do so, your request is meaningless. I suppose I was correct when I first responded to your question because you do not appear to understand the very question that you directed at Eric.
Atheist: to say that you choose a religion gives the appearance that you can assert whatever you want as true.
Me: This is ironic to say the least. I have demonstrated that this is exactly what you have been doing this entire time. If you reject my axiom because you don’t like it, I am free to reject yours. To suggest otherwise is special pleading.
This can, again, be demonstrated with how you will answer this simple question: As someone who rejects the supernatural, how can you demonstrate that a cause for an effect is a natural cause? Also, let me ask you, how can you draw a conclusion without starting at a proposition? In order to go somewhere, you must start somewhere, and in order to start somewhere, you must assume a proposition is true before drawing inferences. In other words, it is not possible to have a philosophy that is not predicated on an indemonstrable axiom. You are every bit as much of a dogmatist as I am. An apparent difference between you and I is that I accept my dogmatism, but you will not admit to your own dogmatic tendencies.
Atheist: i don’t “reject the supernatural’ there is no reason to think anything outside the natural world is true
Me: And what reason do you have to think that the natural world is true? How do you know that causes for effects are natural causes? If you have no reason to think anything outside of the natural world is true, you have no reason to think that there is a natural world to begin with. I’d also like to note that you did not address how you can build an approach to accounting for knowledge without starting with an axiom. I am enjoying this discussion, but if you are going to avoid my questions, I am going to have to bow out of this conversation.
Atheist: axioms- i exist, the information i obtain via my sensory receptors is accurate, i assume the natural world exists because it is observable . i assume that causes are natural because they are the only causes demonstrated, also ia there anyway we can move this discussion to a private and longer term format
Me: What does it mean to ‘exist?’ The term is not conducive to a philosophical system because it is a predicate that can follow from any subject.
What does it mean for sensory receptors to be ‘accurate?’ What about mirages in deserts and the numerous empirical tests that conclude that our senses are not always accurate? It seems that if we grant your axiom, it refutes itself.
How can you say the natural world exists because it’s observable? What if what you are observing is really the product of an omnipotent demon that intends to deceive you so that you might think the causes are natural? And besides, your third ‘axiom’ is not even an axiom because it includes an attempt to demonstrate it.
How does one demonstrate a natural cause? Once again, you are attempting to demonstrate your axiom by assuming that the causes are natural. This is a classic case of question begging. A significant problem with all of the axioms you presented is that it leaves no way for you to distinguish between truth and error.
If you want a different format, I am open to doing a formal debate that includes opening statements, rebuttals, and closing statements. The debate would have to be public though because one of the reasons why I am engaging you is to educate other people on how to handle neo empiricists like yourself. We could also have a public discussion and talk on my YouTube channel via Google plus. You, of course, are not obliged to discuss anything with me here (although you are the one who came on this page to start something with Eric Hovind), nor are you obliged to discuss anything with me via the alternative venues I mentioned.