Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Evidence: Guide Lines but not Tram Lines

For the epistemically naive evidence is thought to lead straight to the Truth.

As usual evangelical atheist Larry Moran is keeping me on the hop with his interesting and thought provoking blog. This time it's a post about "Evidence for the existence of god(s)”. I reproduce the short post in its entirety below:

Evidence for the existence of god(s)

I am always on the lookout for evidence that some sort of god actually exists. The reason I'm an atheist is because I've never seen any evidence that's the least bit convincing. I keep asking for evidence but nobody ever supplies any. Somebody suggested to Barry Arrington that there was no evidence for god(s) and that really set him off [Astonishingly Stupid Things Atheists Say].

He responded with a list of all the evidence for god(s). Here's the list. I don't find it very convincing but some of you may want to head off to the the nearest church after reading the list.

  • The fine tuning of the universe.
  • The moral sense.
  • The fact that a natural universe cannot logically have a natural cause.
  • The fact that there is something instead of nothing.
  • The overwhelming odds against the Darwinian story being true (estimated at 10^-1018 by atheist Eugen Koonin).
  • The irreducible complexity of biological systems.
  • The vast amounts of complex computer-like code stored in DNA.
  • The miracles that have been reported throughout history.
  • My subjective self-awareness.
  • The fact that we do not even have plausible speculations to account for the origin of life.

Let me say straight away that in spite of being a theist myself I would claim that the list of "evidences" supplied by Barry Arrington is flawed on several counts. I won't go into details on that score here except to say that Arrington is part of what I refer to as the Homunculus  Intelligent Design movement, and although I would agree with the general thesis that one has to introduce the concept of intelligence a priori in order to make sense of life, I reject Homunculus ID’s Intelligence vs. Naturalism dualism (See here, here  and here for example). What I want to briefly comment on here is the concept of “evidence” itself, a question that I have aired more than once on this blog.

Except perhaps in very elementary epistemic connections it is wrong to speak of evidence as a kind of deterministic rail track that inexorably and necessarily leads to the truth and where the seeker of truth is portrayed as a passive dispassionate mechanical “follower” of the evidence. In contrast the actual assessment and interpretation of evidence that gives rise to very general theoretical explanations, especially when it comes to world view synthesis, is never going to be an exact science followed by passive dispassionate agents using a strict set of epistemic rules; in fact it is probably going to remain a very passionate fuzzy science.  As I have implied before, the human mind is highly proactive and creative in the hunt for meaning and explanation: If we think in terms of the joining of the dots metaphor (where the “dots” = “evidence”) we might be getting somewhere near the truth about how evidence and theorising works in practice;  in joining the "dots" we find that the arrangements of those dots stimulates a rich set of imaginative structures that exist in our minds, structures which in turn are no doubt a function of much experience. These imaginative objects are then used in the negotiations between theory and evidence. The upshot is that we move less from evidence to explanation than we do from a priori explanatory structures to evidences; although we must acknowledge that a bad fit between explanation and evidence ought to prompt us to at least keep our proposed explanations under review. In short, evidence is less tram lines that it is guide lines.

If the imagination (and probably the emotions as well) is highly proactive in the synthesis of evidences into unified explanatory objects, it should be no surprise that Larry Moran has found that claimed “evidences for God” don’t work for him, especially as this involves world view synthesis. These higher level world view matters cannot be said to rest on hard science and so opinions will differ. Consequently, I can respect Larry’s view (re. the existence of God) that “I've never seen any evidence that's the least bit convincing”. But to express the view that the evidence for God is not convincing is not quite the same thing as saying “there is no evidence for God”.  There is plenty of evidence for God in the sense that theists assimilate many evidences into a world view backdrop that incorporates those evidences, although of course for atheists like Larry Moran this assimilation will not ring true.

Barry Arrington is part of the polarised evangelical Christian vs. evangelical atheist North American scene where opposite sides of the debate slug it out together in uncompromising terms. It’s difficult not to get sucked into this battle because the respective sides see those who are not for them as being against them. For example, the evangelical Christian culture that Arrington represents is, in my view, too close to the paranoiac anti-academia right wing Christian fundamentalists for whom disagreement with their opinions is regarded as tantamount to siding with what they perceive as the Antichrist conspiracy ranged  against them. Consequently, cordial relationships are difficult if not impossible to foster even though one might be a fellow Christian theist.

Relevant links:

No comments: