As I wrote about in my last post, one of the main areas of disagreement between Christians and atheists is whether there is evidence for Christianity.
If you’re a Christian, the evidence for God probably seems pretty obvious: Just look around! The stars, the planets, life… of course God exists. There’s no other explanation. In fact, God’s existence is so obvious that atheists must be lying to themselves.
But if you’re an atheist, the evidence for God does not seem obvious. Just look around! We’ve looked all over the place and haven’t found God anywhere. Perhaps there’s some other explanation for the origin of life and the universe. Christians must be deluding themselves.
In almost every field of study, there is hardly ever a debate about whether evidence is evidence. Usually it’s pretty clear cut: Either there is evidence for a claim or there isn’t. It is only when religion has something to say about it–whether it’s history, or biology, or cosmology–that people seem to disagree about what qualifies as evidence. So what is going on here?
I’m convinced it has to do with one’s starting point. For example, when it comes to the existence god there are three options:
1. You can start with the assumption that god exists.
2. You can start with the assumption that god doesn’t exist.
3. You can start with no assumptions and see where the evidence leads you.
The reason Christians see “evidence” for God everywhere is because they are going with the first option, the assumption that god must exist.
Imagine you meet a guy whose religion dictates that the Earth is flat. Here’s how the conversation might go:
You: Why do you believe the Earth is flat?
Him: Isn’t it obvious? Just look around! The Earth is obviously flat.
You: It only looks that way from our perspective because it’s a very large sphere.
Him: That’s ridiculous. I’ve looked out the windows of airplanes and the Earth doesn’t look like a sphere.
You: Yes, but if you went into outer space it would look like a sphere.
Him: Have you ever been to outer space?
You: No, but there are people who have.
Him: You just don’t want to admit that the Earth is flat. The evidence is everywhere!
Because he is starting with the assumption that the Earth is flat, to him there appears to be plenty of evidence, and people who say otherwise must be lying to themselves. As you can see, starting with assumptions about reality is not the way to learn about reality. But that’s exactly what Christians do.
Few people become Christians after being persuaded by the supposed evidence. Usually they were raised with the belief or have some sort of emotional experience that causes them to believe, then later they look at the “evidence” for Christianity and think, “Yup, I’m definitely right to believe the Bible.” What they’re doing is forcing the evidence to fit their worldview after the fact.
This is what happens when the Bible is your starting point. And yet, they are happy to admit that they start with the Bible. So no wonder they think the evidence for Christianity is obvious!
If you already believe the Bible is the word of God, then of course it’s going to seem like the greatest book ever written. But if you just read it like you would any other book, then you’ll realize how terrible it is.
If you assume the events in the Bible took place, then of course the historical evidence will appear to be overwhelming. The fact that there are manuscripts that date to within a few decades of the life of Jesus will seem like absolute proof that Jesus rose from the dead.
But if you don’t assume those events took place, then the historical evidence will appear flimsy at best. And the fact that the earliest manuscripts were written decades after the events will cast doubt on whether they are an accurate description of what really happened.
If you assume that humans were created 6000 years ago, then of course evolution is going to seem like “a fairy tale for grown ups.” The idea of simple molecules evolving into complex beings with thoughts and emotions will sound ridiculous.
But if you don’t assume anything about the age the Earth, then the more you study evolution, the more convinced you will be that it’s true. You’ll agree that it’s pretty amazing, but you’ll have a hard time denying the facts.
The point is that Christians (and people of all religions, for that matter) are biased. They can’t help it. They’ve convinced themselves they know what caused the universe to come into existence, what the meaning of life is, what happens after you die, and so forth. They’ve sunk time, money, and emotional energy into their religion, and they even believe they have a personal relationship with the creator himself. Because of all this, it’s impossible for them to examine the evidence objectively.
Christians have a response to this point, though. They say atheists are also biased, that we are choosing option 2 and starting with the assumption that there isn’t a god, that the Bible isn’t true, and that humans weren’t created 6000 years old. And that, they say, is why we aren’t convinced by their evidence.
This simply isn’t true. While I’m sure there are atheists out there who do start with these assumptions, I’m convinced the vast majority of us are just trying to discover the truth, whatever that may be. Back when I was a Christian, I set aside my biases and examined theism and atheism as objectively as possible; that’s why I became an atheist (I’ll save that story for another post).
The point is, we choose option 3: to not assuming anything and just see where the evidence leads. Most theists don’t believe us, and unfortunately it’s just our word against theirs. But notice how we gladly admit that we are skeptics first and atheists second. Our lack of belief in god is not a dogma. We are willing to change our minds, but we need evidence better than, “The universe just looks designed.” Christians, on the other hand, are proud to admit that nothing will ever change their minds. And they have the nerve to call us biased.
The reason Christians see “evidence” everywhere is because they are starting with the assumption that they are right. Their confirmation bias magnifies anything that seems to affirm their beliefs and minimizes anything that doesn’t. And because of this, they are just as deluded as the Flat Earther who starts with the assumption that the Earth is flat. They don’t care about discovering the truth because their religion teaches them they’ve already found it.