Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Selective use of evidence

One fascinating aspect of moderate christian apologists is that many of them like to cite "evidence" in support of their beliefs.  One line of such an argument on behalf of christianity is that all the evidence needed is their bible - if the bible says something, then since the bible is a sacred document, then everything it says must be true!  What more evidence would one need?  Apart from the obviously ciruclar argument fallacy, I, for one, consider that such "evidence" amounts to no evidence at all.  The bible is laced with internal contradictions, a lot of historical accounts for which there's absolutely no historical record, a host of ideas about the natural world that are precisely what one would expect from a late Bronze Age set of myths, and so on.  I see no reason to accept anything therein that is not corroborated by some other source of evidence!  Some of my apologist friends, nevertheless, stubbornly maintain that it's evidence.  They go to great lengths to rationalize the bible's contradictions and cast aspersions on scholars who have provided evidence that much of the "history" of the bible is pure fabrication.

Another element of this christian "evidence" is the pseudoscience of creationism.  Anyone who subscribes to creationism in any of its various guises is willfully accepting interpretations of various facts that have been twisted to fit the intellectually barren "hypothesis" of divine creation according to the mythology of their bible.  It's not science - it's religion, pure and simple.  I'm constantly amazed at the bizarre misinterpretations and misunderstanding of science used to rationalize creationism.  Nevertheless, there's a whole cottage industry fabricating such "evidence" to bolster creationism.  And this elaborate collection of pseudoscience seems to be working for many people, given the disturbingly widespread rejection of evolution in favor of creationism in the USA.

Yet another "argument" is that one need only look to the natural world to see vast evidence supporting the deity.  How could I overlook the daily miracles going on in the world around me?  Well ... for starters, I have a rather high standard for what I'm willing to accept as a miracle!  Everyday life just doesn't measure up to biblical miracles that conveniently ceased 2000 years ago, for no obvious reason.  Routine existence is pretty far from supernatural occurrences commanded by a deity.

But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this is that believers would even attempt to offer any evidence whatsoever!  If one is supposed to accept the reality of the bible and its deity on faith - that is, belief in the absence of evidence - then what possible reason do apologists have for trying to manufacture evidence (where none exists)?  If faith is enough, why call upon evidence at all?  This strikes me as a clear implicit admission of their lack of faith, actually! 

However, if you challenge their evidence, one of two things typically happens:

1.  They ignore your challenges to their evidence and maintain that their evidence is valid no matter what you say.  This is, of course, the sign of a completely closed mind, suffering from intense confirmation bias (the universal human tendency to accept uncritically any evidence no matter how flimsy that confirms what we already believe and to question any evidence no matter how substantive that challenges what we believe).

2.  They fall back on faith and argue that faith always trumps any evidence, pro or con.  And it always does, of course.  Whenever you choose to accept an idea without any evidence, then there can be no possible rational argument that will dissuade you.  This is why faith is so dangerous, actually.

To me, the fundamentalists who rely entirely on faith are at least being consistent in their position.  They're not dancing with evidence when it suits them and rejecting evidence when it doesn't.  Although such a position in the modern world flies in the face of all that being rational has given us, they're steadfast in their lack of interest in rational arguments.  It's a lot easier for me to understand fundamentalists than it is for me to understand people who accept the principles of logic and evidence in most of their activities but in their spiritual life, they stubbornly cling to some bizarre belief system for which there's no meaningful evidence.  The capacity of the human mind to rationalize is truly amazing!

Freethinking demands credible, repeatable, independent evidence.  No hypothesis based on belief in the absence of evidence is acceptable.  Science recognizes the distinction between ideas for which credible evidence exists, and ideas that presently are beyond our capability to validate.  The latter are considered "speculation" and while there may be good logical reasoning behind these ideas, without evidence to support them, they remain outside of the domain of science.  Science knows its limitations - religion accepts no limits to its "knowledge".