Creationist Wisdom #487: Evidence of God

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Asbury Park Press of Asbury Park, New Jersey. It’s titled There is empirical evidence for God, and there is no comments section at the end.

We don’t use the full names of letter-writers unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures. We’ve got a preacher this time. He’s identified at the end of the letter as The Rev. Dr. Richard L. Shaw, and this is the website of his church: Calvary Chapel of Monmouth County. Excerpts from the rev’s letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

The Oct. 19 article in the @issue section of the Press, “Separation of church and fate,” by the public relations director for American Atheists Inc. is a paradigm of special pleading. In flaunting the use of evidence versus Christianity, his examples ignore the heavy weight of empirical evidence for the existence of a supernatural architect called God.

We can’t locate the article the good rev is complaining about, but we’re familiar enough with what it probably says — that it’s difficult, indeed it’s impossible, to provide proof — or even evidence — for things which are said to be miraculous and supernatural. As for the rev’s accusation of “special pleading,” that’s usually said of various theological claims, such as the familiar one that the First Cause (usually Yahweh) is a unique exception to the rule that everything needs a cause. We’ve never seen a charge of special pleading hurled at the other side, so this should be an interesting letter. The rev says:

His quote from the acerbic writings of Sam Harris regarding the Christian who demands proof for a cheating wife but not for the Bible effectively turns the tables on the atheist claim. It is the atheist who is arbitrary and dismissive of the evidence.

Huh? Our usual experience is that it’s the creationist who who dismisses evidence. But the rev is claiming here that the atheist is dismissive of the evidence. Well then, we assume that the rev is going to give us some evidence, as the title of his letter promises. We very much want to see it, so let’s read on:

To use the evidence of one who believes without evidence is special pleading and does not address the substance of the Christian claims of evidence or the many millions of Christians who have come to believe after careful weighing of the evidence.

Okay. We’re eagerly waiting for the rev to tell us about the substance of the claims of all those millions who believe after carefully weighing the evidence. He continues:

Lee Strobel is a brilliant contemporary Christian who as a journalist and atheist interviewed many, Sam Harris among them, on both sides. After much careful consideration of all the evidence, Strobel became a Christian.

What? We’ve all seen Lee Strobel praised and cited at various creationist websites. Wikipedia says that his book, The Case for a Creator (Amazon listing), “consists of interviews with intelligent design advocates and Christian apologists who argue for the existence of a creator.” In your Curmudgeon’s humble opinion, interviews with contemporary believers (whether they believe in deities, UFO abductions and probes, or an afterlife) isn’t what we would consider evidence of anything — other than the existence of believers. Here’s more:

Frank Morison started writing a book in rebuttal of the resurrection of Christ. After examining the evidence, he became so convinced that Jesus indeed rose from the dead that he became a Christian and wrote, “Who moved the stone?”

Here’s the Amazon listing for that book: Who Moved the Stone? It’s about the Resurrection, and it has a forward by Lee Strobel. We haven’t read it, but we doubt that it presents verifiable evidence for the 2,000 year-old events it discusses.

And now we come to the end of the rev’s letter:

Science, reason and empirical evidence, so far from opposing Christianity, bear witness to their common Author.

Well! So let us review the rev’s evidence, which consists of several levels of data: (1) Strobel read the bible, talked to a bunch creationists — including Discoveroids — and became a believer. (2) Strobel then wrote a book about his beliefs. (3) Morison read the bible, thought about it, and became a believer. (4) Morison then wrote a book about his beliefs. (5) The rev read their books — or at least knows of their existence. (6) The rev considers those books to be evidence of the things their authors believe. (7) The rev wrote a letter claiming that the foregoing is evidence for the existence of God.

What do we conclude from this? Your Curmudgeon expresses no opinion about God’s existence, but he firmly believes that the rev doesn’t have a clue what the word “evidence” means.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #487: Evidence of God

  1. We can’t locate the article the good rev is complaining about

    It’s the first section (titled “The least religious countries are the most moral and peaceful”) of this piece: http://www.app.com/story/opinion/2014/10/19/issue-decline-religion-portend/17462391/ . Either the site retitled the piece later or the good Rev got it wrong. I know where I’d place my money.

  2. Incidentally, the faux-title may have come about through the Rev’s having listened to too much headbanging hard rock: it’s the title by a band called Death on Two Wheels, which can be listened to in all its ear-numbing, brain-scrambling glory here.

  3. A Christian coming at me with promises of evidence for the divinity of Jesus or any other theological claim reminds me of a carnival barker coming toward me with a ball of cotton candy promising to fill me up with nourishing goodness.

  4. That Frank Morison (ps. for Albert Henry Ross) is one shady figure. Wikipedia says he was in advertising before taking an interest in writing on religion- in 1930! As far as I can tell, though, the only source for his alleged purpose of writing something skeptical about Jesus is the man himself, or rather the blurb on the original print. The book can be downloaded from https://archive.org/details/WhoMovedTheStone .

  5. Eddie Janssen

    Maybe some Kafka adept could write an equally impressive article about the existence of Gregor Samsa.

  6. What do we conclude from this? Your Curmudgeon expresses no opinion about God’s existence, but he firmly believes that the rev doesn’t have a clue what the word “evidence” means.”

    I’d like to firmly believe that too. And I would if humans were incapable of saying what they know ain’t so. So at best I’m “leaning toward” believing that, if only due to Hanlon’s Razor, and the fact that the rev is not, to my knowledge, a Discoveroid. If he were I’d “lean toward” believing that the cluelessness was faked.

  7. The Oct. 19 article in the @issue section of the Press, “Separation of church and fate,” by the public relations director for American Atheists Inc. is a paradigm of special pleading. In flaunting the use of evidence versus Christianity, his examples ignore the heavy weight of empirical evidence for the existence of a supernatural architect called God.

    It’d be nice if, after a claim like that, the Rev. Shaw would reveal some of that evidence. But since that would expose it to the light of day, in which it likely would disintegrate, it’s understandable that he does not.

    To use the evidence of one who believes without evidence is special pleading and does not address the substance of the Christian claims of evidence or the many millions of Christians who have come to believe after careful weighing of the evidence.

    “Christian claims of evidence” are no stronger than Islamic or Buddhist ones if “claims” are all one has to judge by. And what “evidence” have the “many millions” the Reverend mentions weighed so carefully and found convincing? Surely if it’s that good it’s worth showing to the world.

    Fundamentalists resort to hand-waving and play on Americans’ terror of being labeled, oh no, atheists to sucker the rubes. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to present any real evidence.

  8. Dave Luckett

    Yet I think it’s true that the good rev doesn’t know what evidence is. He thinks published anecdotes are evidence. Well, then, he must believe that aliens come to Earth in spacecraft and kidnap people to probe their bodily orifices. But probably the good Rev doesn’t believe that. (Maybe he thinks they’re demons instead, but still…) He must believe in the sea serpent and the Loch Ness monster; in all the ghosts, ghouls, vampires and whatnot of legend. Only he probably doesn’t. He certainly doesn’t believe in the Greek gods, just because they appear in Greek myth.

    So what the rev is doing is privileging some kinds of accounts, but not others. The Bible and personal anecdotes that accord with it are evidence; other texts, natural explanations and personal anecdotes that run counter to the first are not evidence. This act of privileging one set of anecdotal evidence over another set is called “special pleading”.

    Special pleading, when present, simply means that the argument is unreliable.

  9. Special pleading as I understand it, is an argument that only works in the one case.

    While the standard for a valid argument is dependent on there being different instances in which it works. It is an instance of a pattern.

    To me (but what do I know), the ontological argument for the existence of God is special pleading because it is the only instance of the pattern of inference.

  10. SC: “In your Curmudgeon’s humble opinion, interviews with contemporary believers (whether they believe in deities, UFO abductions and probes, or an afterlife) isn’t what we would consider evidence of anything — other than the existence of believers.”

    Especially interesting is the who those other believers are (usually well-known pseudoscience-peddlers), and more importantly who they never are, such as devout theist critics of pseudoscience, such as Ken Miller and Francis Collins. If they do cite any believers who did, or likely would have, embraced science, you can bet those believers are no longer alive to defend themselves against misrepresentation.

  11. Revver Richard L. Shorn puffs authoritatively about—

    “… the many millions of Christians who have come to believe after careful weighing of the evidence.”

    Ad populum aside, it appears our Revver is crediting Christian belief as the result of “careful weighing of the evidence” (at least in “many millions” of instances). What a stunningly brilliant insight, derived no doubt from an even more “careful weighing of the evidence”! It explains why so “many millions” of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and Jediists instantly convert to Christianity once they do some of that “careful weighing of the evidence”, rather than in the main sticking with, say, the faith into which they were born…

  12. I’ve read Strobel’s The Case For Christ, and his “evidence” consists almost entirely of quotes from the New Testament accompanied by arguments as to why they they are accounts of real, verifiable events- as if editorializing constitutes evidence (well, Strobel is a lawyer). One that I recall was his saying that the events must have really happened exactly as recounted, because there were too many eyewitnesses to those events still alive who would have contradicted them otherwise- as if the Gospels were newspaper articles passed around for fact-checking before being published instead of articles of faith published only for purposes of faith.. IOW, an argument that imposes an anachronistic view of how history is (ideally) written now on how it was then.

    I haven’t read The Case For A Creator, but I suspect it’s largely the same- a lawyer pretending an argument is evidence, and pounding the table loudly because the facts aren’t on his side. But Strobel know his jury- they’ll be convinced because they want to believe.

  13. Con-Tester and the good rev both speak of “careful weighing of the evidence”

    I agree. The ultimate test is to find a place on earth where there are no earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, droughts, blizzards, plagues, etc., and then see what religion the people there are practicing.

  14. aturingtest: “But Strobel know his jury- they’ll be convinced because they want to believe.”

    He must also know that a small but vocal subset of that jury, e.g. Michael Medved and David Klinghoffer, will not buy his case for Christ, but nevertheless applaud his anti-science “crusade.”

  15. Our Curmudgeon proposes—

    “The ultimate test is to find a place on earth where there are no earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, droughts, blizzards, plagues, etc., and then see what religion the people there are practicing.”

    Agreed. After thinking about it, I’d expect that such people would have less of a hankering after Oogity Boogity! in their lives. If very little that is adverse happens to them, there’s less to contrast the good stuff against, so that their lives would generally be on a more even and placid keel. It seems to me that consequently they would be less inclined to seek conscious intent and deliberate agency in order to “explain” the good and the bad that befalls them.

    On the other hand, it could also mean that they would be less inclined to probe their world for deeper understanding; i.e. they may not develop extensive and rigorous sciences. The places on Earth where life has historically been easier (such as mild winters, fertile ground, much wildlife, no volcanism, tectonic stability, good rain, lots of potable water, etc.) also tend to be the ones that until recently were inhabited by more primitive people, and their deities are typically reflective of things in their environment that are important to them in their daily lives.

    However, death itself and its evident inescapability will always be a wellspring of mystical notions, as manifested in rituals centred on burial (or cremation) and on ancestor worship.