I thought I’d write a flow up post to my previous one on discussing Christianity on Twitter. I receive a relatively common question (or statement in some cases) that is something like:
“What evidence is there for Christianity?”
“Show me some evidence.”
To this my common response is, “What would you accept as evidence?” I ask this question for two reasons.
One, in general, I don’t think the asker has ever really thought about it. What exactly are they looking for? Are they looking for something like what you do in operational science as though God is a testable force in nature? The documentary evidence for Jesus as a historical person is better than any other person in the ancient world. Most people would respond to that with the argument that the gospels cannot be trusted because they contain miracles. However they are arguing from the position of an un-argued philosophical bias. They might say that we never see miracles happen. That is generally true. That was even generally true throughout the history in the Bible. Miracles, when they occur in scripture, are always there for a reason. They don’t just happen. Therefore they generally cluster around important events or people (Jesus, the conquest of Canaan, the Exodus, etc.) so even in scripture they aren’t a normative experience. There are recent accounts of miracles. I don’t claim to know the veracity of any particular modern claim. However if your argument is miracles don’t happen today and then dismiss any current account of a miracle as not a miracle because miracles can’t happen you are committing the fallacy of begging the question. This is why finding out what they will accept as evidence is important. It will keep the standard clear. It will keep them from saying that evidence isn’t evidence because there is no evidence. Once they state what their standard is, it will become clear if they are actually wanting evidence or if they operating from the begging the question fallacy and that leads to the second point.
Secondly it’s difficult to hit a moving target. It’s hard to score a touchdown if the goal post keeps moving. That’s why a clear definition of what would constitute evidence is necessary. It will remove the unnecessary back and forth where I present something I find to have evidentiary value and then them dismissing it as not real evidence. Especially as that dismissal will likely be based on an un-argued philosophical bias. Perhaps it’s just be but I think it would be helpful in a discussion to have common understanding. If our definition of the word evidence is not the same how can I be expected to provide evidence to the other person?
There is a part of me that suspects this is part of the strategy. Be as vague as possible and dismiss everything as not valid. Only accept the type of evidence they couldn’t provide to prove they have a sibling. Think about that for a moment. If you were asked to prove that your brother (or sister) was your brother (or sister) on twitter could you? A birth certificate? Ha, that’s hearsay. An email from your mom about them, again hearsay. A photo of you with them? That could be anyone. Outside of DNA evidence how would you prove it? What is the evidence? What evidence would you provide to prove George Washington was our first president? I’m guessing it would be a lot of hearsay. But we have stuff he actually wrote with his own hand you might say. Ah but how do you know he wrote it?
You see, the standard has to be set before the proofs can be laid out. Someone who wants to doubt will always have reason to. And once the standard is set you can probably tell pretty easily if the person is willing to hear evidence or is just trolling you. The answer is usually the later I’m convinced because if it wasn’t they wouldn’t fight so hard to not have a standard.