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A Familiar Conversation: Part 1

Those familiar with past conversations on this blog will be familiar with the voice of our objector. In this article I shall refer to our objector as Didymus, in memory of the one who doubted the Apostles’ word, but came to believe when Christ appeared to him saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believed.”

The following will seem like we’re treading familiar water. That’s because we will be. This is, as the title declares, a familiar conversation.[1] First, take note of few of Didymus’ statements;

Stuart: Failing to make an argument is failing to reason.

Didymus: I’m not failing to make an argument, I’m refusing to make a philosophical one. . . One argument of mine is that I just don’t see god. This is an evidentiary argument.

In response, making an argument, but not making a philosophical argument is impossible. All arguments require and use in some way philosophy, even if it’s just the basic laws of logic (rules of right-thinking) that are employed. Logic is a sub-discipline of philosophy, and because logic must be used in an argument, refusing to make a philosophical argument is refusing to make an argument.

An evidentiary argument is one that provides evidence. Evidence by itself tells us nothing until reason is applied. Good reason requires good philosophy, and bad reasoning uses bad philosophy. So evidence is always used in philosophical arguments, and this is the case for the cosmological, teleological, moral and historical arguments for God’s existence. Because I look favourably on the use of such arguments, I am an evidentialist apologist. The ontological argument is supposed to only use premises that can be derived purely from inside the mind instead of tangible evidence from the world of sight and sound. Still, one could construe this argument to be evidentiary in the sense that it, as a purely philosophical argument can be used as evidence in the case for God’s existence (that is, if one thinks it is a good argument).

Also take note of Didymus’ response to this question.

Stuart: What arguments for Atheism[2] do you find convincing?

Didymus: I see no evidence for god.

“I see no evidence for god” is supposed to be taken as a serious argument for Atheism.[2] Witness the implied syllogism.

Step (1) I see no evidence for god.
Step (2) Therefore, God does not exist.

Clearly this is not an argument. Arguments need at least two premises to reach a conclusion. There is no logical law of inference that would conclude (2) – that God does not exist – from (1) – I see no evidence for God. In order to conclude atheism one would have to add an extra premise between (1) and (2), bumping the conclusion to step (3). Let us presume that the lack of Didymus finding evidence is reason enough to conclude that there is no evidence for God.

Step 1) There is no evidence for god.
Step 2) The absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
Step 3) Therefore, God does not exist.

Now this is a logically valid argument. That is the argument breaks no formal or informal rules of inference. The argument though is far from sound. For an argument to be sound it needs to be logically valid and have true premises.

The evidence for God is vast. There are two broad categories each with a diverse variety: philosophical evidence and experiential evidence. The philosophical evidence is listed above, and frequently discussed here at the Thinking Matters website. The experiential evidence can be everything from a full-blown Christophany[3] to the quiet witness of the Holy Spirit to the believer. Other experiential evidence might include miracles of healing, signs and wonders, deliverance from demonic activity, the functioning of spiritual gifts such as prophecy or words of knowledge and wisdom.

So as there is evidence for God, premise (1) is false. Nothing more is needed to invalidate the argument. However, you will recall that we were operating under Didymus’ belief that there is no evidence for God. So more important for my purpose here is to point out that premise (2) is also false. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

When there is an absence of evidence for belief P it may be reasonable to remain sceptical or doubtful about belief P, but to conclude from only this that there is an actual absence of P is to overstep the boundary of what one can rationally claim. There are many cases where the failure to provide evidence does not mean said occurrence did not happen, or said entity does not exist. Four examples shall suffice.

(A)

A body is found. Investigators are able to deduce a time and cause of death, and come to suspect that it took place in a well-known haunt where other illegal activity often occurs. As it happens, the murder did occur there and their suspicions are correct, though they do not know it. The problem is the place they suspect is clean of all the expected bloodstains and bullet casings. They find no evidence that the crime was committed there. This is because the murder scene was scrubbed clean and put in perfect order by an expert team, who then fled the country leaving no witnesses. Scenarios like this make “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” an axiom in forensic science.

(B)

Prior to the advent of heliocentricism,[4] championed by Copernicus and Galileo, it was thought by more than a few that the earth was the centre of the Solar System and that the sun revolved around the earth. Suppose heliocentricism was proposed before any of the evidence for it was found. One would understandably be sceptical, as this new idea would be totally different from what had always been taught and previously believed by everyone else. The people who ask for evidence get no reply – none yet has been discovered. They conclude then that geocentricism[5] is better because there is no evidence for heliocentricism. In this case the inability to prove something was not proof that that something was false.

(C)

Take the moral claim “cannibalism (to eat another human’s flesh) while the person is still alive is wrong.” When asked to prove this moral assertion, the person making the claim is not able to do it. One argues that is wrong to knowingly inflict harm on someone else, and thus this case of cannibalism is wrong, but this response itself relies on other unproven and un-evidenced moral assertions. The point here is you can know something is wrong, without knowing how something is wrong. Morality is very much an instinctual process, and one grasps that something is wrong without necessarily reasoning out the “why?” beforehand. So here you have a moral claim that is true but is unable to be shown to be true, yet it remains reasonable to believe true. Again, the inability to prove something was not proof that that something was false.

(D)

Before the Seventeenth Century it was supposedly thought that there was no such thing as a black swan. However, during the expansion of Europe people traveled widely and, lo and behold, some black swans were discovered. Prior to this there was an absence of evidence for black swans, but this did not mean that there were no such things as black swans.

Next time in Part 2 we shall continue with this familiar conversation, and see how Didymus generally responds to this.


[1] My reason for posting here is so when this argument again pops up, as it inevitably will, I can simply refer said proponent to this post.

[2] Atheism is the idea that God does not exist

[3] An appearance of Christ in the flesh, such as to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus.

[4] The belief that the earth revolves around the sun.

[5] The belief that the earth is in the centre of the universe, and all revolves around it.

Cracks In The Edifice

The Theory of Evolution has been reigning the academic world for close to a century and a half, but the alleged proofs and demonstrations have been playing a vanishing game. The latest one to do so is what is usually called the “Phylogenetic Tree”.

A theory like Evolution needs multiple proofs and evidences, and thankfully the proponents have been offering a generous number of proofs. This helps both the sides. The proponents get an opportunity to organize their house, while the opponents get an opportunity to examine whether it is a real house or only one made of cards.

Phylogenetic_tree.svg An arrangement of all the known flora and fauna in an organized tree, starting from the simplest known life and culminating in the most advanced one is called a Phylogenetic Tree. Initially they used an intuitive classification based upon perceived similarities, but gradually the work became more sophisticated. Today almost all standard textbooks on biological evolution necessarily contain at least one picture of the Phylogenetic Tree, mainly in support of Evolution.

The first such tree was made by Charles Darwin and his predecessors, and the picture that is shown in most textbooks today was perfected before the 1930s. However, cracks began to appear in the picture soon after that. The Cladists were almost the first to challenge this picture. They refuted the idea of a single tree and substituted multiple trees, each one evolving independently of the other.

Non-evolutionists have always insisted that this tree has no empirical basis and that the whole construction is arbitrary. This arbitrariness was demonstrated repeatedly by the way the tree was rearranged, and also by the absence of established “links” between branches. The question of the non-evolutionist empiricist like me is, “how do you know the branch connects in a certain place when the link that ought to connect is missing”.

The latest issues of Scientific American, New Scientist, and several other scientific magazines accept this observation of non-evolutionists in so many words. Not that they have abandoned the framework of evolution. No, that is not the issue here. The basic issue is that this particular proof, as presented in biology textbooks, is simply not true. Empirical observations have shown — particularly after the arrival of genetic studies — that the tree will not hold together. The presumed edifice will not hold together. [Picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylogenetic_tree]

The author is a physicist, and has worked in the filed of Quantum-Nuclear physics, particularly on the quark structure of protons, neutrons, and deuterium binding energy.