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Absence Of Evidence Is Not Evidence Of Absence?


Neverlandrut
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I have listened to debates with William Lane Craig in which he says, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."  

 

Dr. Craig, I completely disagree.  if something does not exist, then it leaves no evidence, and this is precisely the point.  If a claim is made that something exists, but every piece of evidence for it is shown to be fallacious, then those pieces are discredited as evidence.  The only reasonable conclusion is to reject the hypothesis that the thing in question exists.  I think what you are getting at, Dr. Craig, is that absence of evidence is not definitive proof of absence.  You would be correct in saying that, because it's always possible that there is evidence which we have not yet discovered.  But until that happens, it is simply an error to conclude that something exists without any evidence to support it.  So, yes Dr. Craig, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence 

 

 Insisting on lack of definitive proof is a red herring.  Technically speaking, no definitive proof exists for anything.  Science tests falsifiable hypotheses (falsifiability prevents "absolute" proof because it leaves open the logical possibility for disproof).   All of our knowledge about everything is the sum of working theories that best explain the evidence available to us.  The god hypothesis approaches the search for knowledge backwards.  It starts with a conclusion and looks for evidence to support it.  Science starts with evidence and formulates experiments to test our understanding of the evidence to see if that understanding is correct. 

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Christian "philosophy" is ridiculous, because they don't rely on rational thinking, logic and scientific method.  They rely on an old book written by primitve goat-herders, and they use catchy phrases that are ultimately meaningless, or they use circular logic. They have no clue how to put together a decent rational argument.

 

In any argument with a christian, no matter how intelligent they are, it always ends up as, "well, its in the bible, and I believe it, and that settles it!"

 

Yeah, well in my spiderman book, it says he can climb walls and jump hundreds of feet in the air, and has super-human strength.  "Its in the book, and I believe it, and that settles it." GONZ9729CustomImage1539775.gif

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The word your are looking for is "unfounded".

 

For centuries sailors told stories of sea monsters including giant squid.  But without objective evidence belief in the giant squid was unfounded.  Then recently science uncovered evidence for these creatures and we can now study them.  Absence of evidence means evidence is needed for the claim to be taken seriously.  It is reasonable to look for ways to test unfounded beliefs.  That is how we find new evidence.  But asking people to form a world view around an unfounded belief system and have it take over their entire life is a bit much.

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He is right that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. However, he misapplies it, as there basically is evidence of absence regarding the God he believes in. First and foremost, it's logically inconsistent, which is per se evidence of absence.

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The word your are looking for is "unfounded".

 

For centuries sailors told stories of sea monsters including giant squid. But without objective evidence belief in the giant squid was unfounded. Then recently science uncovered evidence for these creatures and we can now study them. Absence of evidence means evidence is needed for the claim to be taken seriously. It is reasonable to look for ways to test unfounded beliefs. That is how we find new evidence. But asking people to form a world view around an unfounded belief system and have it take over their entire life is a bit much.

Agreed. My point is that without evidence to support something, there is no rational reason to accept it as true, regardless of how possible it may be. I agree that we can test unfounded hypotheses, but the evidence must be found to do so. It is possible that hard evidence for god could be found tomorrow. But until it does, belief in god is unfounded. Either way, Craig's "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" ploy goes no where. It amounts to saying, "I know there's no evidence, but I'll believe it anyway."

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The burden of proof/evidence/persuasion is the missing element.  Apply that to the situation. 

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The burden of proof/evidence/persuasion is the missing element. Apply that to the situation.

Good point.

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WLC and people like him fail to connect the dots.  "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?"  Ok, sure, for a deist's god.

 

But WLC endorses the bible god, it's very specific.  We don't have an absence of evidence, we have loads of evidence pointing to the errors of that book.  The evidence says:

1.  Egyptians never had a slave population that large

2.  2.5 million slaves never wandered the desert for 80 years

3.  Evolution did happen

4.  There was never a global flood

5.  The gospels weren't written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (I thought not lying was one of the 10 commandments...)

6.  etc. etc. etc.

 

We do have evidence showing these things, and they all prove the bible wrong.  

 

WLC's arguments might very well be true if he were talking about a deist's god, an unknown who just left things alone.  But then he makes that leap of faith (as so many christians in our Den do) to their own version of the bible god.  

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real proof only exists in mathematics.  In every other field, there is really no such thing as 'proof,' only evidence or lack of evidence.

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One of the many problems with the "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" argument is it can be applied to any fool thing you wish. Purple unicorns that poop Skittles? Absence of evidence...

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Craig is generally accepted to be a clever man, but I suspect his metaphysics are really really convincing to him, as long as he doesn’t has to apply them to the real world.

 

Case in point, Craig has publicly stated something along the lines it was not wrong of God to order the killing of children in the OT, I have not got the exact quote to hand, but it was along the lines that God does no harm in ordering the systemic murder of infants, as they go straight to Heaven.

 

If someone wiped out Craig’s family, because God had told them to, wold Craig would be quite so philosophical

 

I think (and I may be wrong here) but even Craig’s theology is wobbly. My understanding of The Bible is that the wages of sin are death, all have fallen short of Gods glory and there is no salvation apart from that of Faith in Jesus. From a Biblical viewpoint, I guess those children passed straight into the pit, but hey –ho, Gods ways are not our ways, the Lord, giveth, etc

 

With regards to Absence of Evidence itself, does not the Bible teach that servants of Christ shall be able to do all that He Himself could do…..yet they cannot. So we appear to have some evidence of absence after all.

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     WLC needs to provide a testable method for his god.  There is no evidence one way or the other.  No predictions.  Nothing.  Just saying "the universe" is no good unless you can show this is, for certain, the direct test for god.  But it's not.  Lots of gods claim it.  So he'll have to do better.  So come up with that method.  We'll test for god and see what the evidence shows.  Then we can apply this "absence of evidence."  So far everything that people say are evidences for gods are lacking since there are other explanations.

 

          mwc

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I think Christian apologists often have a valid point-- that finite, fallible creatures can't be 100% certain-- but then they don't apply the principle to their own thought systems.  IMO, mortals must deal in probabilities and likelihoods.  Someone can have a feeling of certitude from faith-- but since there are seemingly innumerable faith positions (and so much about faith in general that seems inherently speculative) that doesn't seem to bridge the gap.  

 

If there be any, we can leave it up to gods to be omniscient.  The rest of us are stuck...

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If it looks like it isn't there and feels like it isn't there and sounds like it isn't there......it probably isn't there. As with my god experience.

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Absence of evidence can be evidence of absence depending on circumstances.  For example, if the absent evidence is from a place where supporting evidence should exist, then that lack of evidence (from where it should be) can be evidence (not proof) of the absence of the claim or assertion.  A good example is the claim of a global flood within the past 10,000 years or so.  If that occurred, certain evidence would be in certain places.  It doesn't show up.  Therefore, the absence of that "should be there" evidence is evidence that the claim of a global flood is not true.

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The burden of proof/evidence/persuasion is the missing element. Apply that to the situation.

Good point.

 

WLC avoids this debate/discourse rule like a plague, as do many others.  The statement "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" does too.  Well, more precisely, that statement does not take into account any burden of proof/evidence/persuasion regarding positive claims, and is not applicable to many situations (see my post above for an example).  It is not the septic that is required to prove the falsehood of the merely asserted positive claim.  It is the asserter's responsibility to provide evidence of his/her positive assertion.  WLC's use of this statement is merely a duplicitous feint attempting to avoid his responsibility to support his frequent unsupported assertions.  I rather prefer Hitchen's statement, "That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence".  That statement has precise applicability, and precise limitations, that anyone can (or should) understand.

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Absence of evidence can be evidence of absence depending on circumstances. For example, if the absent evidence is from a place where supporting evidence should exist, then that lack of evidence (from where it should be) can be evidence (not proof) of the absence of the claim or assertion. A good example is the claim of a global flood within the past 10,000 years or so. If that occurred, certain evidence would be in certain places. It isn't. Therefore, the absence of that "should be there" evidence is evidence that the claim of a global flood is not true.

This is a great explanation. I think the main problem with the god claim, in general, is that it has no real predictive power. It is not really testable, in and of itself since the general concept of god is so ildefined. Now, the moment theists attempt a description of what god is like, then we may have a testable idea. For example, the claim that god answers prayer can be tested, and in fact has been tested. Prayer has been found to be completely ineffective. Claiming that god answers prayer with a yes, no, or later, pushes the prayer claim into the relm of non-testabiity, rendering any possible effects of prayer indistinguishable from any other explanation. This tactic is used to defend many biblical claims. Many Christians like to retreat to non-falsifiable position to protect their claims from disproof. But by doing so, they also make proving their claims impossible, and leaves them as mere assertion. The fact that their claims require such a defense strategy suggests that they are probably not true.

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Absence of evidence can be evidence of absence depending on circumstances. For example, if the absent evidence is from a place where supporting evidence should exist, then that lack of evidence (from where it should be) can be evidence (not proof) of the absence of the claim or assertion. A good example is the claim of a global flood within the past 10,000 years or so. If that occurred, certain evidence would be in certain places. It isn't. Therefore, the absence of that "should be there" evidence is evidence that the claim of a global flood is not true.

This is a great explanation. I think the main problem with the god claim, in general, is that it has no real predictive power. It is not really testable, in and of itself since the general concept of god is so ildefined. Now, the moment theists attempt a description of what god is like, then we may have a testable idea. For example, the claim that god answers prayer can be tested, and in fact has been tested. Prayer has been found to be completely ineffective. Claiming that god answers prayer with a yes, no, or later, pushes the prayer claim into the relm of non-testabiity, rendering any possible effects of prayer indistinguishable from any other explanation. This tactic is used to defend many biblical claims. Many Christians like to retreat to non-falsifiable position to protect their claims from disproof. But by doing so, they also make proving their claims impossible, and leaves them as mere assertion. The fact that their claims require such a defense strategy suggests that they are probably not true.

 

Those theists, or others, that 'make proving their claims impossible rendering their claims mere assertions' (your words paraphrased) have the burden of proof/evidence/persuasion.  They have painted themselves into a corner (by asserting claims that are non-falsifiable) hence they can't meet the burden of proof/evidence/persuasion.  This is an example of where Hitchen's "That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence" statement is applicable.

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the amazing atheist - "i can shoot lasers out of my eyes when no one's looking... OH, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

 

What?

 

what point are you trying to make? Are you quoting someone?

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Although there is no direct evidence for the cause of the universe, we now have a fair amount of knowledge about the early history of the universe and the laws that govern it, which provide us with indirect evidence that a super-intelligent Agent designed the universe

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the amazing atheist - "i can shoot lasers out of my eyes when no one's looking... OH, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

 

 

I have an invisible dragon who lives in my garage.

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  • Super Moderator

I have an invisible dragon who lives in my garage.

Please return him to us; we've been worried sick about him for months.  The address is on his collar... he does still have his collar, doesn't he?

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Although there is no direct evidence for the cause of the universe, we now have a fair amount of knowledge about the early history of the universe and the laws that govern it, which provide us with indirect evidence that a super-intelligent Agent designed the universe

That's a far jump of a conclusion since the only intelligence we are familiar with is human and animal intelligence. An inteligent designer is logically possible, but given the vast scope of the universe, and our limited cognitive capacity, and the fact that we are egocentrically the ones defining intelligence, it seems that we would have no basis on which to recognize a universe causing agent as intelligent. What's more, you say we have a fairly good understanding of the early universe and the laws that governed it. True, but the conclusion of an intelligent designer does not logically follow from that fact alone.

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