Slick's Foolery: A Review of CARM's "I don?t' see any convincing evidence for the existence of God" [sic]
By
Dawson Bethrick

 

Matt Slick has written up a paper in the form of an outline titled "I don't' see any convincing evidence for the existence of God." In it he attempts to deal with the atheist's claim to have no sufficient evidence for the existence of god, and proposes certain tips in the interest of deciding what would qualify as "acceptable evidence" of god's existence. Below I present a comprehensive point-by-point review of this article, and conclude that the evidence which I expect theists to provide is very consistent with both Slick's and with the Bible's criteria for such evidence. Therefore, if theists such as Slick want me to accept their claim that a god exists as true knowledge, then they will know exactly what needs to be done in order to convince me.

 

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The first point which Slick attempts to make in his short piece "I don't see any convincing evidence for the existence of God," is as follows:

The atheist will say: "I don't see any convincing evidence for the existence of God," but the theist will respond "That does not mean there is no God."

This response does not address the issue. When the atheist says that he does not have knowledge of any convincing evidence for the existence of God, he is essentially saying that he has no grounds to accept the claim that there is a God. Most atheists whom I have met and with whom discussed such issues (and that's a lot, by the way), do not say "I don't see any convincing evidence for the existence of God" and then conclude from this fact alone that "God therefore does not exist." After all, I am an atheist, and although I have never seen Pluto, I do not claim that Pluto does not exist. And indeed, I do not claim that God does not exist on the basis of the fact that I do not have knowledge of any convincing evidence that he does exist.

The impression which Slick apparently has of atheists - namely that their atheism necessarily amounts to the claim that "God does not exist" - may be accurate in the case of some atheists (for atheism does not guarantee that one will be also rational, even though one would have to be atheist in order to be fully rational), it is certainly not the case with all atheists. Rather, I would hold that a particular individual is certainly justified in not accepting the claim that a god exists on the basis of the fact that he is not aware of any convincing evidence for the claim that a god does exist.

Slick reasons, "Since you cannot know all evidence, it is possible that evidence exists that proves God's existence, or at least supports his existence." While it is certainly possible that one can accept this as a possibility, this possibility in and of itself is not sufficient to prove the claim in question, which is, namely, the claim that "God exists."

Slick reasons from this, "Therefore, it is possible that God exists." But he does not show this to be possible, nor does this possibility follow from one's acceptance of the possibility that someone can propose evidence to support the claim that "God exists." While it may be the case that Slick and other theists want non-believers to imagine that a god exists, it does not follow from the fact that some atheists are willing to indulge this request that "it is possible that God exists." Conceivability and possibility are two different things. What we imagine has nothing to do with what is possible in reality, and without the presentation of evidences, then all we have to go on is our imaginations if we want to ponder the theist's god-belief claims.

Slick then reasons that, "If it is possible that God exists, then you should be an agnostic (an agnostic holds that God may exist but he is unknowable.)." But again, even if he does present evidence to secure the claim that "it is possible that God exists," it does not follow from this that one should adopt a position of uncertainty on the matter. Indeed, even if one could prove the claim that "it is possible that God exists," if one does not put forth convincing evidence to support the claim that "God exists," one is fully justified in not accepting that claim as true knowledge of reality, since he has no evidence to factor into contextual support for such a claim. Without contextual support for a claim, one cannot rationally accept the claim as knowledge of reality.

Then Slick states "It is possible that there is no evidence at all for God," and of course this is true, since it's always the case that there is no evidence for that which does not exists. The non-existent does not leave evidence around. Evidence applies to that which does exist, not to that which does not exist.

In response to this consideration, Slick states, "But this cannot be stated absolutely, since all evidence would need to be known to show that there is no evidence." But who is claiming that there is no evidence to support the claim in question? The issue is not whether one is justified in claiming that "no such evidence exists," but that one does not have knowledge of convincing evidence to factor into a contextual support for the claim in question. Without knowledge of evidence which can be factored into contextual support for a claim, one is fully justified in not accepting that claim as knowledge of reality.

Slick reasons, "Therefore, since all evidence cannot be known by any one person, it is possible that evidence exists that supports theism." While Slick does not say how he proves the statement that "all evidence cannot be known by any one person," his point that "it is possible that evidence exists that supports theism" is irrelevant. The point which needs to be considered is whether or not an individual has knowledge of such evidence, assuming it even exists. Discussion of the possibility of such evidence existing is not the same as having knowledge of what that evidence is and determining whether or not that evidence is legitimate, sufficient, bogus, etc. All these points Slick seems to ignore.

Then Slick asks, "what kind of evidence would be acceptable?" Well, what precisely is being claimed? What claim needs to be supported by evidence? In the case of theism, the believer makes the claim that a god exists. This is rather broad, and without some idea of what is meant by the term 'god', one could point to anything and say that it is 'evidence' for god's existence. For instance, one chap once said that "God is love," and then pointed to my relationship with my girlfriend is evidence for the existence of this god. Thus, in this chap's opinion, god is nothing more than a fleeting that will die with me. Okay, that's fine.

But other theists make much grander claims, saying for instance that god created the universe. Okay, now we have something more to go on - the claim in question gives us a little more to work with. So to ask Slick's question, "what kind of evidence would be acceptable?" Well, what kind of evidence will show that the universe was created? Well, obviously, to show that the universe was created, one would have to prove that at one time the universe did not exist. How would one go about proving this claim? I don't see how, but they are welcome to try. But conceptually they run into an enormous problem. For the universe is the totality of all that exists, and therefore, if something exists, it not only exists within the universe, it also means that the universe exists. So to say that the universe was created means to say that prior to its creation, nothing existed. Nada, nothing, zilch. But we know that existence exists, so why would one want to claim that at one time existence did not exist, as this implies? Ah, that is where the theist will feel the rub of logic. He does not want to say, in claiming that the universe was created, that prior to its creation nothing existed. Rather, he wants to say that prior to its creation, there existed 'god'. But this is positing something which exists, which necessarily implies the existence of the universe, since the universe is the total of that which exists. Just by asserting the existence of one thing, no matter what we term it, it exists as part of that totality. Thus, the theist is again digging another hole to nowhere.

What else does the claim that the universe was created want to say? Well, Christians say, for instance, that the universe was created by an act of will: God, they say, chose to create the universe, and that He designed it all. What essentially is this saying? It is essentially saying that existence is a product of consciousness, and effect of intention. Does the Christian have evidence for this? Well, no, of course not. For if he presents anything as evidence for this claim, he is only giving evidence of the fact that existence exists, not for the claim that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness, which is essentially what he needs to claim. So again, the theist is digging more holes to nowhere.

What the theist will then want to say is that this being which he calls god, possesses a consciousness powerful enough to create planets, enable men to walk on unfrozen water, turn water into wine, and make A into non-A (i.e., make contradictions exist) at will. In other words, the theist is claiming that there exists a being with the power to make reality conform to its will. "Then what kind of evidence would be acceptable?" Well, obviously, given the nature of such a claim, the only evidence for such a claim which could at all be acceptable would be a demonstration of such power.

For instance, Christians tell us that the promises inserted into Jesus' mouth by the New Testament gospels are all true, and that they are reliable. In Matthew 17:20, we read the following promise attributed to Jesus:

Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.

A similar (yet significantly toned-down) promise is attributed to Jesus in Luke 17:6, which states:

If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the see; and it should obey you.

Since Christians are so certain that these promises are true, and since they are so anxious that others believe them, then a demonstration of such talents is surely in order. Such a demonstration is what I would consider "acceptable evidence" for the claim that a being with such power exists.

Slick then states, "If you have not decided what evidence would be sufficient and reasonable, then you cannot state that there is no evidence for God," which I think would surely be true if the condition he identifies were not met. But it is not the case that I have not decided "what evidence would be sufficient and reasonable" to support the claim that a being with such enormous conscious powers exists. So, Slick's point here cannot apply.

Then Slick asks the following question: "If you have decided what evidence is sufficient, what is it?"

The evidence which I have decided that I would need in order to accept the claim that a being with supernatural conscious powers exists, is a demonstration of such powers. That is my decision.

Then Slick asks, "Does Christianity fit within that criteria?" [sic]

Well, since the Christian New Testament promises such demonstrations (Matt. 17:20 states, "Because of your unbelief?" as well as "and nothing shall be impossible to you"), then I would say without a doubt that "Christianity fits within that criteria" [sic].

So now we have decided what kind of criterion we need in order to define "acceptable evidence" of the Christian's claim that a being with magical conscious powers exists, and that criterion is: a demonstration.

Also, since the Christian New Testament promises that such a demonstration is possible, we find that the expectation of this demonstration as "acceptable evidence" for the Christian's claim that the Christian god exists, is certainly compatible with the Christian belief system itself.

Slick then asks, "Is it possible that your criteria for evidence is not reasonable?"

Well, in the context of Christian theism, I would say no, it is not possible that the expectation of a demonstration of powers promised by Jesus is unreasonable. Indeed, Matthew 17:20 clearly states, "nothing shall be possible to you." Now, clearly, if what the Bible says is supposed to be true, then it would have to be the case that "nothing shall be impossible" to those who believe, since Jesus promises it. However, believers are warned that "this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21), and it may be the case that it is unreasonable to expect a Christian to either pray or fast, since Christians are notorious for saying they believe something to be true, but acting in disharmony with this claim. However, this does not mean that my criteria are unreasonable; rather, it would merely indicate that the Christian himself is a hypocrite, and one more solid in the faith should be sought out to carry out the demonstration.

Slick then asks, "Does your criteria put a requirement upon God (if He exists) that is not realistic?" Well, if a god exists, I have no idea what could not be realistic, since one of the key tenets to god-belief is that reality conforms to the will of god. So this sounds like a trick question.

But Slick offers an example of what he means: "Do you want Him to appear before you in blazing glory?"

No, that is not what I asked. Jesus promised that believers can command mountains and sycamine trees into the sea. Indeed, Jesus said that "nothing shall be impossible to you" (Matt. 17:20). I'm assuming he means those who believe, since he says "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed?"

So no, the demonstration which I would consider to qualify as "acceptable evidence" does not consist of the request that this being "appear before [me] in blazing glory."

Slick then says, "Even if that did happen, would you believe he existed or would you consider it a hallucination of some sort of trick played on you?"

Well, that depends - did the believer command a mountain or a sycamine tree into the sea?

If God appeared before me "in blazing glory," how would I know it's God? What does He look like? Little old Catholic ladies are always claiming that they see either Mary or Jesus in all manner of mundane objects, such as tree bark, tortillas, tuna casseroles, burn stains, etc. But I always wonder how they know that the faces they think they see belong either to Jesus or to Mary as opposed to, say, Rasputin, Kubla Khan or Jane of Westover. After all, a face in a tortilla is just a face, and unless it speaks to identify itself, it seems it could be anyone's face.

So, to address Slick's point, I would say that it's best not to require God to appear before me, because I might think it's Blarko or Zeus, and misidentify Him.

Slick then asks, "Does your criteria put a requirement on logic that is not realistic?"

Well, that which I would consider "acceptable evidence" of the existence of a god does not take the form of "a requirement on logic." Indeed, as I asked above, if god exists, what could be unrealistic? As I had stated, the belief that a god exists is the belief that reality conforms to god's desires. So determining what is realistic or not realistic is certainly not for any mere human to say.

Slick asks, "Do you want him to make square circles, or some other self-contradictory phenomena or make a rock so big He cannot pick it up?"

Well, those would be fun to see I suppose, but that is not what I would ask for. Just command the mountain into the sea, that's all.

Slick then states, "If God exists, He has created the laws of logic. He, then, cannot violate those laws."

Well, I suppose that's his problem. But such claims still do nothing to tell us what could constitute an unrealistic expectation, for what we might think to be unrealistic may be realistic in the next moment, since reality is said to conform to god's will.

Slick then asks, "Are you objectively examining evidence that is presented?"

So far, I have not seen anyone attempt to cast either a mountain or a sycamine tree into the sea by commanding it. Until someone does, then I have no evidence to examine.

Slick then asks, "Granted, objectivity is difficult for all people, but are you being as objective as you can?"

Well, I've never had any difficulty being objective. Plus, I don't think objectivity is something which is measured in degrees. Either something is objective (i.e., it consistently recognizes the proper role between consciousness and existence), or it is not. (Perhaps people have difficulty in achieving objectivity because they don't know what it is! And if they've been listening to mystics, that would come as no surprise!)

Slick then asks, "But, do you have a presupposition that God does not exist or that the miraculous cannot occur?"

Indeed, if I had such a presupposition, I would not have decided that a demonstration of god's power should constitute "acceptable evidence" of god's existence. So I would say no.

Slick says, "If so, then you cannot objectively examine the evidence."

While I'm not sure how he came to this judgment (he does not say), it is moot, because the evidence I am looking for is a demonstration of god's power to keep the promises his son made in Matt. 17:20 and Luke 17:6.

Slick then states, "Therefore, the presuppositions you hold regarding the miraculous may prevent you from recognizing evidence for God's existence."

Well, if I saw a mountain being cast into the sea, I'm sure I'd recognize it. So this should not be a concern.

Slick then states, "If so, then God becomes unknowable to you and you have forced your self into an atheistic/agnostic position."

Not if I'm willing to examine the evidence objectively, and this has already been decided (see above).

Slick then asks, "Do you define the miraculous out of existence?"

Well, I don't define the miraculous to begin with, theists do. Whether they define "the miraculous" out of existence or not is their problem, not mine.

Slick asks, "If so, on what basis do you do this?"

Well, I don't do this, so again the question's moot.

Slick then states, "If you assume that science can explain all phenomena then there can be no miraculous evidence ever submitted as proof."

Then by all means, let's see the demonstration of a miracle!! Command a mountain into the sea! We'll worry about it afterwards whether we can examine the mountain scientifically or not.

Slick states, "If you made that assumption, it is, after all, only an assumption."

Right! Which means, if I see a demonstration of god's power to keep Jesus' promises in Matt. 17:20 and Luke 17:6, then I don't have to worry about such pesky assumptions any more!

So, how about it? Do let me know once you've prayed up and fasted for a long time, so that I can see the "acceptable evidence" of god's existence in this demonstration.

 

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