“There’s No Evidence for God’s Existence.”

Anyone involved in Christian Apologetics is bound to come in contact with the phrase “There’s no evidence for God’s existence.” In his debate on the topic “Does God Exist,” famed chemist Peter Atkins was adamant, “There is no evidence whatsoever for any assertion that Dr. Craig has made this evening. You have to accept that everything you have heard him say can be accepted on faith, and cannot be demonstrated by evidence.” I’ve argued elsewhere that faith is compatible with apologetics (I’ve also commented on what faith is). I won’t spend time clearing up that particular confusion. Instead, I want to look closely at this popular phrase and see if it holds any water.

What is Evidence?

The first thing on our to-do list is to define what is meant by evidence. People use the term all sorts of ways. A quick Google search lends the following understanding:

Evidence: The available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

It is often the case that a body of facts can be interpreted more than one way. For instance, finding DNA evidence at the scene of the crime doesn’t prove the accused guilty. The DNA could have been fabricated (and sometimes is). Evidence doesn’t always lead–logically–to only one conclusion.

Natural Theology

Given Natural Theology (a thriving branch of theology that provides rational arguments for God’s existence), it seems abundantly obvious that we’ve got evidence for God [1]. That is to say, there are bodies of facts (e.g.: the existence of contingent beings, the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, moral facts, etc.) that arguably lead to the belief “God exists”. According to the definition above, Natural Theology provides evidence for God in the same way that DNA provides evidence the accused is guilty. There can be disagreement how the facts ought to be interpreted, but that doesn’t mean there is literally no evidence.

It’s one thing to say that a certain piece of evidence is unconvincing, but another thing entirely to claim “there’s no evidence whatsoever.” Given Natural Theology, the latter claim is completely indefensible. The DNA evidence is still evidence even if it’s unclear which interpretation of the DNA is correct.

The Need for Empirical Evidence

At this point the atheist might retort that, sure, there are philosophical arguments for God, but there’s no empirical evidence for God, and we require “empirical evidence” if we are to rationally believe something is true (empirical in this context just means grounded in observation or experience). However, this view is self-defeating–if it’s true, it’s false. Simply ask the atheist what “empirical evidence” lead them to believe that. What empirical evidence supports the belief that “empirical evidence is required to rationally believe something is true?” The fact is there is none! So if this view is true, we have no reason to believe it and should therefore reject it.

The best option for the atheist is to abandon using these empty rhetorical phrases. Given Natural Theology, there is obviously evidence for God, even if not everyone finds it convincing. Requiring empirical evidence turns out to be self-defeating. There’s no empirical evidence that empirical evidence is required to rationally believe something. That view is self-defeating and no one should adopt it.

Is there evidence for God’s existence? The answer is, “Of course there’s evidence! Now get your head out of the sand and deal with it.”


[1] See the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology for the most sophisticated arguments from Natural Theology put forth by the world’s leading philosophers.

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Taken from a moving car (don’t tell my wife!). I was on my way home from work (sitting in traffic as usual) and decided I wanted to see what these clouds looked like through my camera. I’ll let you be the judge if it was worth it.
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7 comments

  1. The argument here amounts to “there are people who spend time on something called ‘natural theology’, therefore there is evidence for god.”

    There are people who spend time on defending that 9/11 was an inside job or that the moon landings were fake, or on homeopathy. That doesn’t mean there actually is any evidence for any of those things. That people allege or believe something is evidence don’t make it so. You need actually to present and defend the point that a certain set of things constitute evidence. Punting to the fact that other people say it’s evidence is clear argument from authority.

    I’d suggest starting with a definition for evidence more sophisticated than one you get from a quick Google search. A very common one is:
    E is evidence for hypothesis H iff P(H|E)>P(H).

    1. Your one-sentence summary is not very charitable, nor is it remotely correct. What I argued is that Natural Theologians produce arguments from a given body of facts to the conclusion that God exists. This is identical to what the prosecutor does with DNA evidence; they argue it leads to the accused guilt.

      This is compatible with exceptions like in the case of conspiracy theorists (though it could easily be argued they do in fact have “evidence”, it’s just often not very good). That said, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a Blackwell Companion to Conspiracy Theories anytime soon.

      I like (and prefer) the Bayesian analysis of evidence, however that level of sophistication isn’t necessary for my purposes.

      1. That people use a certain set of facts or claims to justify their arguments doesn’t make those things genuine evidence for their conclusions. Moon landing skeptics point to the way the flag moved or the footprints left on the ground as evidence that it was faked, but each of those things can be tested (see e.g.: mythbusters) to be not only possible but expected on the moon. A prosecutor might bring forth a witness as evidence for a crime, and the witness may later turn out not actually to have witnessed anything relevant. So, again, the points alleged as evidence need to be themselves examined: it is fallacious to argue from “X is presented as evidence for Y” to “X is genuinely evidence for Y”. To quote a wise man: “get your head out of the sand and deal with it.”

        Evidently something more sophisticated is necessary if your purpose is to make a valid and robust argument. The language in the definition you gave is wholly insufficient for anything but the most rudimentary understanding. What does it mean that facts indicate the truth of a proposition? How would one fact be relevant to the truth value of another if they are logically independent?

        Is there evidence for a god’s existence? I’d say there is, insofar as there are facts that increase the chance that one does exist (I also think there’s evidence against). Is there evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy? No, notwithstanding the large body of alleged evidence for it: we need actually to look at the points presented and analyze them ourselves, not just point to the fact that people have things they present as evidence.

  2. I suppose you could mean “bad evidence” in two senses:
    1) Something presented as evidence that turns out not to be genuine evidence.
    2) Evidence that doesn’t support the conclusion very much. I.e. P(H|E)/P(H) is not much above 1.
    But (1) only has the name “evidence” historically, in the sense that it was once alleged or thought to be evidence but actually isn’t.

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