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This Argument Shut Them Up--at Least For Now

R. S. Martin

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A Christian on Reasonable Faith posted a question about "sufficient evidence" for "skeptics." I quote only a very short part of his post here; in addition to Clifford he had also quoted "someone somewhere" (he did not name the source), to whom he refers below as "the author." I omit that quote. The entire thread can be found at the link.


W. K. Clifford wrote in an essay: ...it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

This is a slight variation of what is written above. Both statements are problematic. The author claimed above that it is both counter-productive and immoral, what evidence does he have for that statement? I think that he would have a hard time producing any (especially for the immoral part) just as Clifford would be hard pressed to provide evidence for his claim that it is wrong to believe something on insufficient evidence.


I think the evidence exists and is not very hard to find, providing we are open to accepting it. Christians admit that many enormous atrocities have been committed in the name of their God. I think you will agree that if the governments who committed these atrocities had withheld their hand until they had concrete evidence that this God exists, they would not have committed atrocities such as witch burnings and the Inquisition.


Today, powerful and wealthy Christians with multiple doctorates, and with legal and political expertise, are manipulating governments and boards of education on the national and internation levels to halt scientific research, to ban the teaching of real science, and/or to teach pseudo-science/false science in order to keep God at the pinacle of culture, acts that have direct impact on the life and death of human beings today and into the future. They do all this without any evidence whatsoever that this God exists.


Because belief without sufficient evidence kills, it is immoral.


What Is Evidence


In another post you ask: What counts as evidence?


Sensory input is part of the equation. That which can be measured, counted, experienced by human senses, emotions, and intellect. Let me explain. Very many people (atheists and agnostics as well as mainline Christian scholars) disagree that emotions or feelings count because traditionally, everything had to be objective. I think this may be slowly changing so that, if handled correctly, personal experience is acceptable on the basis of qualitative analysis as well as quantitative.


Evidence in the Social Sciences


Psychology and the mental health field depend a lot on the subjective human experience. This cuts across any and all religious or philosophical convictions about the metaphysical. In psychology, some things that can be counted and measured are electrical currents in the brain, behaviours such as twitching of muscles, patient reports of feeling depressed, an individual's attempts at suicide.


In anthropology, some things that can be counted and measured are human cultural artifacts (clothing, tools, building material, food, articles used for religious ceremonies and educating the young, etc.), social rituals or ceremonies (church/religious ceremonies, parties, political meetings, "coming of age" ceremonies such as confirmations, bar mitzvahs, high school graduations, or circumcision of adolescent boys), means of acquiring and preparing food (shopping, gardening, hunting, ceremonies surrounding these such as prayer before meals or rituals before slaughtering an animal caught in the hunt).


In sociology, some things that can be counted and measured are the number of demonstrations at abortion clinics in a certain country by people of a certain demographic, the amount of peanut butter produced by a certain demographic in a certain country in a certain year, how many female Korean infants were adopted by Canadian couples in a certain year. All of these things are indicative of social patterns, hence sociology.


Does Religious Belief Count?


If we look closely at the things that can be counted, we will see that religion is not among them. However, we will see many things that let us know what religious belief is practiced. Only Jews have bar mitzvahs, for example, and only Christians have church, whereas only certain Aboriginal peoples perform circumcision on adolescent boys, while the Abrahamic religions perform it on infant boys. Also, only certain belief systems consider suicide attempts note-worthy.

The Experience of Eating Breakfast


In the Opening Post, this poster had used as an example the experience of eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast.


Back to your question: How do we know that you had cereal for breakfast; must we check your house for a dirty cereal bowl in the sink and an empty cereal box? Does memory of your experience count?


I would not classify the act of eating cereal as an "experience." I would classify it as an act or behaviour. I would classify it as an "experience" when you break it down into taste, and the accompanying emotion or thoughts evoked by certain elements in the meal. Perhaps you were trying out a new brand and a certain taste reminded you of a special time in your childhood. Otherwise, it was just a routine event in your day labeled "having breakfast." And, unless you were raiding my food supply (reference to an incident I mentioned in an earlier post), it doesn't matter to me whether or not you had any. Of course, if you're extra grumpy all morning because you skipped breakfast (and I have to put up with you), I might care.


If it comes down to a detective police court case, then your house may be raided for dirty dishes, missing spoons, and empty cereal boxes. So yes, it depends on the situation (a question in a later post) as to what counts for evidence. I don't care how many people believe in Thor because Thor's adherents don't care what I do. But it matters a great deal to me how many people believe in the Abrahamic deities because:

  1. the sheer mass of humanity it composes (over half the human race) gives them so much power
  2. all three of these religions are at each other's throats, and have been for very many centuries, disrupting life for everyone else obligated to share the planet with them
  3. their sheer mass blocks scientific progress on a level that is lethal to human life, and if they get their way things will get far worse in the very near future.

All of this is being done without a shred of evidence for the deities in whose names they are acting. What madness!

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