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 atheist 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 that up. Instead, I want to look closely at this peculiar atheistic 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. Google provides the following usage:
It is often the case that a body of facts can be interpreted more than one way (more on this below). 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.
Direct vs Circumstantial Evidence
Given what has been revealed by Natural Theology, a thriving branch of theology that provides rational arguments for God’s existence, it seems abundantly obvious that we’ve got some kind of evidence for God . 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 support belief in God. Natural Theology provides evidence for God in the same way that DNA provides evidence the accused is guilty. There can be disagreement how all of the evidence ought to be interpreted, but that doesn’t mean there is literally no evidence.
In his book Cold-Case Christianity, homicide detective J. Warner Wallace distinguishes between two kinds of evidence. The first kind is direct evidence. Direct evidence can prove something all by itself. If a person has witnessed it raining outside, their testimony (assuming it is reliable) can prove that it is raining. The second kind of evidence is circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence doesn’t prove anything on its own (it can go either way), but could be used to prove something related. Going back to the rain analogy, if instead of someone’s direct testimony, we instead saw a person inside with water droplets on their jacket, that would constitute circumstantial evidence that it was raining. The drops of water on their coat don’t prove that it’s raining, but it provides pretty good evidence. Combined with other evidence (like the testimony of witnesses), we could reasonably conclude that it’s raining.
Warner says, “Judges tell jurors, “Both direct and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence to prove or disprove the elements of a charge, including intent and mental state and acts necessary to a conviction, and neither is necessarily more reliable than the other. Neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other.”” He goes on to note that in murder cases we rarely are privy to evidence that gives us certainty about the conviction. We aren’t looking for what’s certain, but what is most reasonable given the evidence.
Going back to the atheistic slogan, it’s one thing to say that a certain piece of evidence doesn’t prove that Christianity is true by itself, but another thing entirely to claim “there’s no evidence whatsoever.” Wallace’s distinction above shows the latter claim utterly indefensible; even if we don’t have direct, irrefutable evidence of God’s existence, there is at least good circumstantial evidence in support of Theism (again, note the evidence revealed by Natural Theology).
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 both the slogan and hard-line empiricism. Given Natural Theology, there is at least good circumstantial evidence for God, even if it doesn’t prove by itself that God exists. 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.”