Religious Evidence
Jan 24, 2011

Religious Evidence

It is often argued by atheists and agnostics that that there is zero evidence for the belief in a deity. As a member of this category, I think there actually is some evidence for the existence of a deity, I just don't find the evidence particularly  compelling. Briefly the evidence is the existence of the universe itself, the fact of widespread religious belief, and the existence of religious experiences.

I wish to frame this discussion by noting that a theory is justified by the extent of its explanatory power. The more evidence a theory explains (without contradictions) the more compelling it is. It is in this way that we find General Relativity more compelling than Newtonian gravity for it explains a larger body of scientific evidence (such as the orbit of Venus).

The most compelling fact that a theory of a deity explains is our own existence and the existence of the universe. This should be seen as evidence for a deity because (provided we don't ascribe additional properties to a deity) it is both compatible with and explained by a deistic origin theory. Note that this is a stronger claim than mere compatibility. If I created a theory that brussel sprouts are universally disgusting, my theory is compatible with the existence of the universe but does not attempt to explain it. Likewise if I create the theory that I created the universe, this theory attempts to explains the universes creation but is not compatible with it for I am but a human and could not create the universe. However, we have both compatibility and an ability to explain the evidence and hence it is indeed evidence for a deity.

Of course, this theory is certainly not the exclusive theory that explains our existence. The idea that the universe arose naturally has equal explanatory power and several physics theories add more detail and more explanatory power to a natural theory as they start to explain a larger body of evidence not just "the universe exists" but also the observations of the early universe, say. Furthermore, as I have talked about before, should we attempt to ascribe any properties to the deity we either don't add explanatory power or start losing compatibility. If we go as far as to ascribe a literal biblical translation, say, we are clearly incompatible because it violates observations such as the age of the universe. However, there is no added explanatory power even if we try to just ascribe properties to the deity like benevolence or even simply omnipotence (a deity that creates the universe is powerful, but is he necessarily all powerful? Perhaps there are constraints on the types of universes he could create, say). When we do not add explanatory power, there can be no evidence said to support these additional properties of the deity and so if we choose the minimal deistic origin theory the concept has so little ascribed properties to be essentially meaningless and equivalent in justification as the naturalistic approach.

The next piece of evidence us the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in our history have believes in some form of deities. That their belief about the existence of at least one deity is simply correct is indeed a theory that explains this fact and hence counts as evidence. The problem is of course the diversity of innumerable different religions. However, if we simply refer to some sense of spirituality and the idea that there is more to the world than its tangible manifestations and it is experiences with this that lead people to believe a religion, then this theory indeed explains and is compatible with this piece of evidence. Again, there are many other theories that also explain this such as various psychological phenomenons. The point isn't to argue that deism is a compelling theory to explain this evidence, merely to establish that its evidence is nonzero.

Finally and on a related note, we have the issue of spiritual experiences. This is more than simply a belief, but a definitive experience. It is well documented, even in psychology, that people get such experiences. Likewise to belief, such experiences are explained by a deity generating them. They are also explained, in somewhat more detail but nowhere near complete, by psychological theories.

I don't pretend to have discovered any amazing evidence and indeed freely admit I do not find the evidence even close to sufficiently compelling. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and deism is indeed an extraordinary claim. However, we should not asset that there is zero evidence for a deity, for there is some. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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thwap said...

Sure, science can't explain existence. But neither can the ancient, evidence-free theories our species was forced to concoct to explain our lives thousands of years ago.

Why do you think your "deity" explanation is superior to psychological explanations for "spiritual experiences"? Does the deity explain every alleged spiritual experience? I think psychiatry would dispute you there. Which ones are real (allegedly) and which are psychotic hallucinations?

If you can handle that existence itself is vast but requires a creator, then what is the nature of this creator and where did it come from?

I believe that there's something out there that will forever be beyond the powers of science but I have no clue as to its nature or what it wants. Neither do you or any of the thousands of religious explanations that our species created.

bazie said...

I don't think we are actually disagreeing. I quite explicitly acknowledged the significant limitations in the explanations for existence of the universe and spiritual experience. My aim was just to move the goalposts slightly from "zero evidence" to "nonzero, but insufficient evidence". So, for instance, I don't think a deity explanation is superior to a psychological explanation, quite the opposite, but I do think a deity explanation is indeed an explanation - at least at this broad level of detail.

Also I think your belief that there is "something out there" is fairly equivalent to my comments about a "minimal deity", namely something to which we can attribute that it created the universe but which we don't attribute any other property and remains as something beyond description. Personally I feel agnostic with regards to this characterization is logically demanded.

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said...

Now I give Radhasoami Faith view of Creation Theory. In Sar Bachan (Poetry) composed by His Holiness Soamiji Maharaj the August Founder of Radhasoami Faith the details of creation and dissolution has been described very scientifically. It is written in this Holy Book: Only He Himself (Supreme Father)and none else was there. There issued forth a great current of spirituality, love and grace (In scientific terminology we may call this current as gravitational wave). This is called His Mauj (Divine Ordainment). This was the first manifestation of Supreme Being. This Divine Ordainment brought into being three regions, viz., Agam, Alakh, and Satnam of eternal bliss. Then a current emerged with a powerful sound. (first big bang) It brought forth the creation of seven Surats or currents of various shades and colours (in scientific terminology we may call it electromagnetic waves). Here the true Jaman or coagulant was given (in scientific terminology this coagulant may be called as weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force). Surats, among themselves, brought the creation into being.
These currents descended down further and brought the whole universe/multi verse into being i.e. black holes, galaxies etc. were born.

bazie said...

Anirudh's post actually demonstrates an interesting phenomenon I have seen with both Christianity and Islam - and now Radhasoami. This is the idea of using scientific terminology, presumably to boost the credibility of ones religious views. As in this case, if there is any sort of vague analogy that can be drawn between a term in religious scripture and a scientific concept it is made. Like "current = gravitational wave", when there is simply insufficient levels of precision to even attempt to draw a parallel here.

This pseudo-scientification of religion, if you will, is also interesting in how it changes over time which is particularly obvious with christianity. The big bang, for example, a relatively recent concept has actually been seized upon by many religious people because it is sort of the perfect analogy for a moment of creation.

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said...

Great surprise. The concept of big bang may be recent but big bang is believed to be 14 billions year old. No vague analogy or pseudo-scientification of religion but perfect synthesis of religion and science.

bazie said...

So there is an interesting progression that exists. One can describe most scientific concepts at a variety of levels of precision and description. So at the one end one can describe the big bang as just "an explosion that created the universe" and at the other end one can bring all of the scientific knowledge about space and time and the early evolution, cosmic microwave background etc etc etc. This is true of religion as well, most religions have origin stories that make all sorts of true claims about its nature. Now when you are on the most general level, where we give almost no description to the concept of big bang, THEN we get this "perfect synthesis" as you call it between religion and science. Both claim some moment of origin and use perhaps the explosive imagery like "current emerged with a powerful sound".

So we get this parallel, but if one then tries to talk about the big bang, and religious creationism stories with just a little bit more precision and detail they immediately diverge.

Now the timeline is also interesting. No religious group claimed the universe originated 14 billion years ago until AFTER science determined this - and now many religious groups have internalized the science and claim it as well. If it has been the other way around, that would be a compelling argument for religion.

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said...

Study Vedas and you will find the details about the age of the universe. Vedas are the oldest scriptures.

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