About a year ago I attended my very first and possibly my very last atheist meet up. Leading up to that evening we were all told that we should read chapter one of ‘The Demon Haunted World’ since that book would be analyzed and discussed then and on subsequent meetings that followed. It was the first time that I had ever come into contact with atheists that have never subscribed to any religious belief system. They were for the most part brought up without religious beliefs in a secular environment with non-religious parents.
One of the things that stood out with me during that meeting was the look of amazement on their faces as I briefly informed them that I had at one time been an evangelist with the Pentecostal faith. Another thing that shocked me was how difficult it was for them to grasp how a fundamentalist believer could be taken by such foolishness as religious beliefs without any evidence. I came to the conclusion that some things have to be experienced to be fully understood.
That experience led me to think a lot about evidence and how it is interpreted by both believers and non-believers. The two main types of evidence are subjective evidence and objective evidence and the difference between the two is quite substantial. We both look at the evidence and interpret it differently and this leads us to very different and contradictory conclusions.
Evidence: Your basis for belief or disbelief; knowledge on which to base belief.
Objective: Undistorted by emotion or personal bias; based on observable phenomena.
Subjective:Taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias.
A theist bases his/her beliefs primarily on faith. In the book of Hebrews 11:1 it says: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This is a perfect description of subjective evidence. In the bible it is often repeated that you do not need evidence that faith should suffice to sustain your belief. After providing evidence of his resurrection Jesus scolds the apostle Thomas with these words: Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
When theists are pressed into a corner and asked to present evidence for their beliefs every possible argument that they present is subjective and based entirely on the presupposition that what they believe are facts. Even William Lane Craig arguing for the evidence of the resurrection states all of his points as facts. The following is how Dr. William Lane Craig presents his arguments for the resurrection.
FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.
FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.
As you can see he states all of these “facts” based entirely on his presuppositions and his faith on the truth of the biblical narratives about Jesus. For those of you interested in reading this article you can find it here. He even went as far as making the following statement in his book ‘Reasonable Faith’
“Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa. [William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p. 36.]
When you read the statements by Christianity’s foremost apologist, it is so much easier for you to understand how the theistic mind thinks. An atheist on the other hand thinks quite differently, in fact we think a lot like the apostle Thomas who has been dubbed doubting Thomas by believers. Like Thomas we want objective evidence. Your so called experiences based on faith are invalid to us and because of their “supernatural” nature they are also unverifiable by any natural means. In a court of law most “evidence” presented by theists for their beliefs would barely be considered evidence at all. In fact, hearsay is not admissible in court and since the bible is nothing more than a book based entirely on hearsay it is not recognized as evidence by the standards of evidence.
Objective evidence is based on what can be observed both directly or indirectly inferred from what we observe. For example; we can’t see oxygen with the naked eye but all that it would take to convince someone of the existence of oxygen is to simply deprive him of it. Doctors are able to diagnose certain diseases and physical disorders by their symptoms indirectly. When an atheist asks for evidence he is asking primarily for objective evidence. What you felt or heard or thought you saw is useless to us since we haven’t had the same experience as you.
In closing, it is evidence that divides theists from atheists. The definition of evidence and what each side considers evidence. When I was a theist I had religious experiences, visions, dreams, and experienced the so called 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those experiences were sufficient evidence for me at that time. The physical sensations I felt due of course to my mental conditioning and my beliefs, was evidence enough for me to establish my beliefs as the absolute truth. Theists speak as if their beliefs are absolutely true and undeniable and it takes a special person to dare to be bold enough to challenge what they believe and notice the inconsistencies in those beliefs. Subjective evidence alone will only keep you deluded, while objective evidence will set you free.
Note: All biblical citations are from the NIV of the bible.
As usual all my word definitions were taken from the Sage Dictionary and Thesaurus if you are interested you may download the latest copy here.