Sifting the Evidence
Typically, one of the most common things that I’ve heard skeptics say to argue against the existence of God is, “show me the evidence that God exists.” Whether through discussions with them, reading their blogs, listening to their podcasts or reading their books, one thing seems to be quite common. That is, they only want the evidence that hasn’t already been found.
Not long ago, I picked up a book called “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” I didn’t get past the preface before noticing that the entire foundation of the book was based on the idea that, due to His reported interaction with the world, God should be observable by scientific means. I’m not sure what the basis was for this claim. However, while I tend to disagree with the author’s premise, I find it quite ironic that, while he claims that there should be observable evidence and that there is none, the fact is, he’s completely ignoring the observable evidence that does exist.
Think of it this way, for a moment. Often, a metaphor for theistic debates is that of a legal court case. In a court case, evidence is presented, witnesses are questioned and written statements are submitted. If the metaphor remains true, here, then we should have plenty of evidence in favor of God’s existence. What I’ve noticed, however, is that they only want evidence as long as it doesn’t have to do with God.
While it could be argued that we actually can call witnesses to the stand, here, let’s assume for the moment that all the stories from believers who have had miraculous events take place in their lives are not available. That still leaves physical evidence and written statements. Both of these items are right there in front of people’s faces, but since they typically include accounts of events that point to a supernatural consciousness, this evidence is simply disregarded.
First, let’s address the written evidence.
So often, we hear complaints from skeptics to provide evidence of the existence of Christ outside of the Bible. It seems as though many people forget that in the first century, “scripture” referred onlyto the text that Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The first written documentation that is currently included in the New Testament is dated to about the mid-first century. In fact, Paul’s letters, for example, have been dated to within 20-30 years of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This is far too short a time period, according to historians, to incorporate what they call “legendary development” which refers to the tendency of historical stories to begin to be exaggerated beyond anything realistic. I think of Homer’s works here, as the oldest written copies have been dated to over 1,000 years after Homer’s death. Historians claim that legendary development typically takes at least 200 to 250 years to begin.
The next thing to consider is the fact that all of these written works in the New Testament were not, at the time written, considered to be “scripture.” These documents were canonized a couple centuries later at one of the great eccumenical councils. In the first century, they were really just written statements by eye-witnesses to the events. In today’s court system, eye-witness accounts are very powerful evidence. With skeptics, however, eye-witness accounts only seem valid if they do not work in the favor of the existence of God.
They typically seem to scoff at these accounts and try to question the integrity of the witnesses themselves by casting doubts on their motives. Again, they ignore the facts. Motive? Really? Have they read the histories of what happened to these people? It would be different if they were able to achieve vast wealth or perhaps political power. Instead, they were persecuted beyond what pretty much any Christian in modern-day America could ever imagine. They were beaten, imprisoned, stoned, crucified, evicted, disowned, threatened, etc.
Wouldn’t you be motivated? How often in all of recorded history has anyone, never mind large numbers of people, been persecuted to the point of death to perpetuate something that they knew to be a lie? How often in recorded history have so many people from such a strict, robust culture whose beliefs had stood through centuries and slavery and alien occupation and exile just suddenly performed a complete change in direction from their entire culture that they had grown up in? Particularly given the persecution they would face. No, people just don’t do those types of things
What about the physical evidence?
Well, for that, perhaps you’ll have to come back next week since I’ve gone on long enough, for now.
Grace, love and peace.