Victor Reppert: "There is a Boatload of Evidence for Theism"

Victor Reppert jumped into an evolution blog by making this claim: "I can't figure out what atheists mean when they say there is a complete lack of evidence. To me there is a boatload of evidence for theism, evidence from the existence of reason, the evidence of consciousness, the evidence of objective moral values, the evidence of man's inherent desire for God, the evidence supporting Christ's resurrection, the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament, the evidence for miracles in the present day, the evidence of the beginning of the universe, the evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe, the evidence of religious experience, the direct experience of God on our personal lives, etc. etc. etc. I can understand someone saying this isn't enough, or the nature of our claims requires a special standad of proof that hasn't met. In which case I would just ask "What would it take?" But to say that there is no evidence??? You've got to be kidding."

His comments have generated a good discussion. How can he say that? Evidence? Arguments, yes, but evidence? A whole boatload? I don't suppose he'd be surprized if I argued in the reverse. ;-)


chris said...

John, I am curious to hear your response to two questions:
(1) What do you believe should count as evidence?
(2) Why do you believe this (your answer to #1)?

Hallq said...

It baffles me how an apparently intelligent person like Reppert could jump into a conversation with "There's tons of evidence on my side of the issue" and do nothing more than list off controversial assertions.

es said...

What was kind of amusing to me was that this debate started on his blog, in response to his post on The Great Divorce. I essentially said the same things that other atheists said on the evolution blog later, but I guess Victor didn't like my answers. He never seems to refute any of the rebuttals though.

exapologist said...

To be fair, I think he just meant that there are phenomena that raise the probability of theism to various degrees, though not necessarily above 1/2. This is Swinburne's notion of a good C-inductive argument. Swinburne also thinks that there are a bunch of phenomena that can be used as good C-inductive arguments for God's existence. In the original version of his The Existence of God, he admitted that, together, it's not clear whether the data can be used to form a good *P*-inductive argument for theism -- that is, it's not clear whether, together, they make theism more probable than not. Swinburne was content to say that the evidence shows that, at least, theism isn't *improbable*, although the hypotheses of theism and non-theism are roughly counterbalanced. For if it's at least roughly 50/50, then by the principle of credulity, there's no defeater to religious experience being veridical.

Reppert may merely be making the same sort of thing here.


Anonymous said...

Yes, exapologist is correct. I suppose Vic shakes his head at atheists who say there is no evidence for Christianity, and in that sense he has a right to shake his head wondering how they could say that.

But I've always had a little difficulty with statements like "evidence for" Christianity. Yes, there is evidence, but is it evidence "for" Christianity? Doesn't that sort of prejudge the issue? Let's say we were in court and we have exhibit A, B, and C, which is considered evidence. What are they evidence for? Well, it depends. The State and the Defense have different interpretations of that evidence, right? If Exhibit B might be difficult to explain by the State, then it is evidence "for" (not against) the accused.

That's the distinction I think I was making. Evidence is only evidence "for" something if it's difficult to explain by those who disagree. It's in the explaining of the evidence where there are arguments. So what we have is arguments based upon the evidence.

So Vic has arguments, and so do I. We may not even agree on what counts as evidence, so there are even more arguments. And we certainly each would say that the available evidence is "for" our side, since how we evaluate the agreed upon evidence has a non-reducible personal element to it.

DagoodS said...

John W. Loftus,

I am never quite sure whether the legal terms exactly cross over to the philosophical terms. Since you are better equipped to answer as to the philosophical end, I’ll provide my perspective on the legal end.

First of all, when we use the term “proof” we mean a litigant’s body of evidence. As in “First the prosecutor will present his proofs, then the Defendant will present his proofs.” I have gotten into trouble in on-line discussions by using the term “proof” when the other person assumes I mean absolute proof. If I ask for a person’s Proof for God, I am not looking for an impenetrable body of evidence that absolutely proves a God exists.

I am simply looking for their side of the story, as it were. Their compilation of evidence.

Secondly, we use the word “evidence” in two ways—either as interchangeably with “proof,” being the entire body of evidence, or regarding a particular item we wish to place before the court.

If a lawyer says, in their opening statement, “The evidence will show…” they are using the term as the whole shebang. All the various items that will be presented before the jury. OR, a lawyer may say, “I wish to enter into the evidence Exhibit A” and we mean just a part of the entire picture. One piece.

Evidence consists of predominantly two things—testimony of the witnesses and exhibits offered. (Other items could be the juror’s inspection of the scene, or a fact the judge orders must be evidence.) Because of the system, it is necessarily naturalistic. Evidence is something we hear, see, touch. It can be a Ham Sandwich, or a verbal exclamation, “Get out!” It is not some nebulous concept such as consciousness or love. We can introduce the statement “I love you.” We can introduce Exhibits of candy hearts that say “I love you.” But the concept or feeling of love is not evidence.

However, we cannot have people putting Ham Sandwiches and Candy Hearts into evidence in every trial, so we create gates by which the evidence must pass before it is introduced. The very first gate, and the most important, is whether it is relevant.

“Relevant Evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. (Federal Rule of Evidence 401)

My Ham Sandwich probably won’t get in, unless there is something at issue regarding Ham Sandwiches. A poisoning, perhaps, or (if it is old) a clubbing. I have to demonstrate that it makes some part of what is being determined as either more probable or less probable.

Being fairly clever, we literally invent new ways to make evidence relevant to some issue. And, as you correctly point out, simply because I put my spin on what a part of the evidence shows, the other side may see it completely different. Did the gentlemen send a letter to include everything that was discussed at a meeting, or did the gentlemen send the letter to introduce new negotiating points? Same letter can mean two very different things!

Taking one of the more tangible claims of Victor Reppert “the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament.” There are facts that could arguably be entered by each side of the issue, so to some extent he is correct—it is not a “complete lack of evidence.”

For example, the Gospels indicate Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea. He was. In a trial on the matter of “reliability of the New Testament” this fact has a tendency to make it more probable that the Gospel is historically accurate than if it did not indicate Pontius Pilate was governor.

But (as you point out) this is not difficult to explain by either those who claim it is historically correct as compared to those who do not. And, of course, the opposition would point out the problem with the Barabbas incident, Pilate’s demeanor as compared to that described in Josephus, the contrast between the testimony as to Pilate’s actions, and so forth.

Simply mentioning Pilate may help. The rest of the details can start to hurt.

I can see how a person would say, that technically there is evidence. Whether it is compelling is a completely different issue, of course.

Anonymous said...

DagoodS, when I mentioned court evidence I thought you might comment. Thanks for sharing.

mrieder said...

Hello All,

I think that exapologist makes a very good point. The evidence is such that I feel it could go either way rather well. I think it is possible to make very convincing arguments in both directions.

I think it is fair to say that there is a wealth of information that could lead one to believe in God, but with a slightly different perspective, that same evidence can lead to the opposite conclusion. In addition the things that make one suspect God more, like consciousness and creativity and what not, are also balanced out well by difficult problems such as the POE and things like that.

It seems quite obvious that there is not a preponderance of unevquivocal evidence in either direction since the general population is very much split on their decision. Sure more people say they believe in "God" but I bet that a careful examination would reveal a more even distribution of beliefs ranging from conservative fundamentalist Christian ideas to hardcore atheist nihlists.

I am quite sure that the mystery of existence, which naturally leads itself to speculation about God, is one of the fundamental questions of life. I think that personal experience and even personal preference plays heavily in the decision. I am sure that upbringing has a great deal of influence in the early years of life, but as people become more autonomous, they generally branch off into their own ideas.

Anyway, I think it is fine to say that there is lots of evidence for God, but one must be prepared to have that very evidence interpreted in a very different way by another person. This has happened to me more than once, much to my chagrin!

Good post.



Bahnsen Burner said...

Chris asked:

“(1) What do you believe should count as evidence?”

Well, what did St. Paul count as evidence? According to the mythology (see specifically Acts 9 and 22), Jesus paid St. Paul (when he was still called Saul) a personal visit. It seems pretty cut and dry: If Jesus wants a person to “believe in him,” making a personal appearance to that person would be a sure bet. There’s biblical precedent for this, and if it kept St. Paul from slipping into heresy, maybe it would keep everyone else Jesus appeared to from straying from the “path of righteousness.” So there’s one form of evidence that has the biblical stamp of approval going for it.

For other forms of evidence, see my response to Matt Slick Slick's Foolery: A Review of CARM's "I don?t' see any convincing evidence for the existence of God" [sic].

Chris then asked:

”(2) Why do you believe this (your answer to #1)?”

What I would count as evidence is no different from what the early Christians claimed to have witnessed themselves. If it was convincing enough for them, why wouldn't it be good enough for any of us?

The problem for the apologist is that any “evidence” he can point to, if it is real, would itself be natural, material, finite and corruptible, and yet this “evidence” is supposed to be accepted as testimony for the existence of something that is supernatural, immaterial, infinite and incorruptible. This simply doesn’t work.


Anonymous said...

Arguments are evidence

Victor Reppert said...

Exapologist is right of course. I fired off those comments on my blog and then pasted them to the other blog, out of sheer irritation with the "no evidence claim."

In my view, evidence for hypothesis H exists if there is something that is more likely to exist given H than not-h. That is the long and the short of it. There are numerous features of human experience that seem more likely to exist if God exists than if God does not exist. Even if they have possible atheistic explanations, these facts seem to me to make theism more plausible than otherewise. To say that there is NO evidence for theism just means that EVERYTHING in the world is at least as likely given atheism as given theism.

I would not be inclined to say "There is no evidence for theism." and I would not want to say "there is no evidence for atheism." If I were on a website where everyone was implying that atheists were a bunch of idiots and that there is no evidence whatsoever that God does not exist, I could just as truthfully reply that there is a boatload of evidence for atheism. All told, I think the scale points toward theism myself, but not so strongly that I would want to be defending irrationaltiy charges against atheists. (As you may know, I've gotten into some exchanges with people who think that here are really no atheists).

I threw a bunch of stuff out because I thought the discussion up to that point was one-sided and even somewhat ad hominem. I an convinced that a new brand of atheist apologetics is brewing which is doing considerable harm to the quality of debate between our two sides. `

Anonymous said...

I am convinced that a new brand of atheist apologetics is brewing which is doing considerable harm to the quality of debate between our two sides.

Vic, I see your point more clearly, and I agree with you. Your comments have generated some discussion, though, and I wanted people to see it.

Still, these new atheists who claim there is no evidence for Chistianity are probably mainly on the internet by people who are not in academia, correct? Or are you referring to Harris and Dawkins?

Victor Reppert said...

Yep. It's the usual suspects, and those who follow them. I'm not at all sure that they are unrepresented in academia. Dawkins is a Oxford evolutionary biologists, an academic position if there ever was one, though I think his job is supposed to be that of a science salesman last time I checked.

Eric said...

I think Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are right on the money. Science, according to Michael Shermer, is "the best thing we have" (Why People Believe Weird Things), and countless nasty things have been caused directly by religion.

I think it would be worth examining where the bible came from before anyone begins (though it is too late) that it is "evidence". works of fiction are NEVER taken as "evidence" in a debate.

On facts in fiction, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment notes the date (my copy does) when the serfdom was abolished in Russia. Does that mean Raskolnikov was real?

Sorry for stopping so abruptly, I have run to class.

Steven Carr said...

In my view, evidence for hypothesis H exists if there is something that is more likely to exist given H than not-h.

An interesting view of evidence.

If the Dragon Variation is a forced loss for Black, we should expect to find lots of games where White wins in the Dragon.

I can find a boatload of wins for White in the Dragon.

Therefore there is a boatload of evidence for the hypothesis that the Dragon is a forced loss for Black.

Of course, there is also evidence that the Dragon is not a forced loss, but that is not the point.

Victor's methodology does lead to the conclusion that there is a boatload of evidence for the hypothesis that the Dragon is a forced loss for Black.

These wins for White do exist, tens of thousands for them, and each and every one is far more probable on the forced loss for Black theory than on the not forced loss for Black theory.

Not a single one of those White wins is evidence for the 'not a forced loss for Black' theory.

So how can Victor's methodology lead to the conclusion that a boatload of evidence exists for something which is blatantly false?

Well, I'm not a philosophy professor, but perhaps there is something wrong with Victor's statement 'In my view, evidence for hypothesis H exists if there is something that is more likely to exist given H than not-h.'

Dissident said...

Of course there is evidence; to say there is NONE is misleading.

Many just don't ACCEPT the evidence.

The arguments continue.

Tom said...

Why do people use probability calculus when looking at the evidence? That has got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard of.

Steven Carr said...

Why do people use probability calculus when looking at the evidence? That has got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard of.

In my view, evidence for hypothesis H exists if there is something that is more likely to exist given H than not-h.


I'm not sure about 'dumb', but Victor's probability rule certainly generates a boatload of evidence for the most suprising things.

Take the thesis 'On Tuesdays, but only on Tuesdays, everybody in the world can speak English.'

We use Victor's rule and look for things which exist which are more probable if that thesis is true, then if that thesis is not true.

Well, last Tuesday, I found a boatload (literally) of people who could speak English.

The existence of these people is probable on the thesis 'On Tuesdays , but only Tuesdays, everybody in the world can speak English.

And on Wednesday , I found a whole load of people who could not speak English.

Again the existence of these people is more probable on the only-Tuesday-world-speak-English hypothesis than if that hypothesis were false.

So we have used Victor's rule and found a boatload of evidence for the hypothesis that on Tuesdays, and only Tuesdays, everybody in the world can speak English.

Anonymous said...

Victor Reppert said...

Of course. Karpov's crushing win over Korchnoi in the 1974 Candidates Final was evidence that the Dragon was going down. It's just that the counter-evidence is stronger than the evidence. I have no problem with this.

I'd just like to see the "no evidence" claim explained in a little more detail. I think it's a piece of controversial rhetoric that atheists would do well to ditch.