Thursday, May 29, 2014

Absence of Evidence IS Evidence of Absence

It has often been said that there is no way to prove a negative and therefore it is impossible to ever prove that God does not exist.  Or, as it is often phrased, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”  In fact, however, as an atheist I am not trying to prove the non-existence of God.  At most, I am trying to disprove his existence, which is a whole other kettle of fish as far as I’m concerned.  Or, to put it another way, absence of evidence is evidence of absence when the evidence required to prove something is missing.

Let’s say, for example, I claim that a full-size adult African elephant is living in my backyard tool shed.  If such a thing were true, there would necessarily be certain evidence of the fact.  I would need to have, for example, an unusually large tool shed at the very least.  You would expect to hear the occasional trumpeting sounds at odd hours of the day and night.  There would be some indication that large quantities of hay were being delivered and that copious amounts of waste products were being removed on a regular basis.  A certain elephanty smell would be unmistakable as it wafted through the air.  And, above all, you would expect to actually see the elephant if you opened the door and looked in.

Keeping all that in mind, the fact that my tool shed is barely five feet wide would be an indication that maybe I don’t have a full-size elephant there after all.  The fact that nobody has ever heard, smelled or seen the elephant would be telling, as would be the fact that there is no indication of any hay deliveries or waste removal going on.  In sum, the lack of all the evidence of an elephant that should be there is conclusive proof that I do not, in fact, have an elephant in my shed.  Unless, of course, I want to argue that my elephant is a magical, invisible, shape-changing elephant that subsists only on air, excretes only sunshine, is very shy and hides in another dimension whenever anybody opens the door.  In which case, the only proper response is that the creature I have described can’t even properly be called an elephant in the first place assuming it even exists.

The same logic applies with regard to disproving the existence of God.  If God exists – at least the God as described in various scriptures and actually worshiped by those who claim to be religious – then there would necessarily be specific evidence of his existence.  All prayers offered to God in faith would be granted, for example, since this is what the Bible explicitly promises (granted, mind you, and not just “answered”).  Prophecies made in God’s name would unequivocally and unerringly come to pass in exactly the way they were prophesied to occur.  Miraculous events performed by God, including the creation of the entire universe in six days, the flood in Noah’s time, etc., would all be verifiable by modern science instead of being completely contradicted.  And yet, time and again, every place where there should be evidence to support the existence of God, it is mysteriously lacking.

Of course, some would argue that God’s existence requires no evidence because God is an immaterial being that exists wholly outside space and time and that once he created the universe he has had no interaction with it or us ever since and doesn’t expect us to worship or fear or obey or even acknowledge it in any way.  And that’s perfectly true if you want to define God that way, except that it’s most definitely NOT the way God is actually described in the scriptures and is not a God that is actually worshiped by anybody.

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