Evidence or Proof
By: Jim Virkler
Our beliefs depend extensively on our reliance on evidence. Concerning our belief in the reality of God’s existence, it is commonly recognized that the issue of evidence is a frequent request among those who inquire about the reality of God. Direct physical evidence does not exist, but there is indirect physical evidence of the existence of God. The acceptance of indirect physical evidence for God by people who doubt his very existence is a subject about which there is plentiful controversy. Some arguments concerning evidence are acceptable to some, but unacceptable to others. For example, the teleological argument, the argument from design, generates a spectrum of acceptance ranging from full persuasion to unbelief.
Traditionally, many were persuaded by the “argument from design” articulated historically by several noted commentators. One was William Derham, publisher of Physico-theology as early as 1713. His commentary included “the demonstration of the being and attributes of God from the works of his creation.” He was followed by William Paley in 1802 who later published his famous watchmaker analogy as one version of his “argument from design.” Early natural theology promoted by Derham and Paley exults that many natural phenomena yield to the question: “Isn’t it amazing how…” with the conclusion “God did it.”
Modern Natural theology proceeds a step beyond the exultation, “Isn’t it amazing how…” Many observers view ID as an example of natural theology; others object. Our view: this is a moot point. Promoters of the intelligent design concept defend the reasonableness of their conclusion that our planet’s features powerfully argue for the intelligent origin of our entire physical system, macrocosmos to microcosmos. Beyond the popular impression of ID as unenlightened and unscientific, upon careful study many find ID theory to be logically persuasive. In defending their methods of truth discovery, proponents of ID cite their use of recognized scientific methods such as careful gathering of evidence, hypothesizing, reasoning by deduction, induction, and abduction, and offering reasonable conclusions about the nature of reality.
Many professional scientists argue for the exclusion of arguments for natural theology or ID based on the premise that science professionals use methodological naturalism (MN) as an uncompromising principle of science discovery. This principle forbids consideration of supernaturalism in any form to explain the reality of our galactic physical system. Noted intelligent design theorist William Dembski observes, “MN is a regulative principle that purports to keep scientists on the straight and narrow by limiting science to natural causes. In fact it does nothing of the sort but constitutes a straightjacket that actively impedes the progress of science.” Dembski’s characterization of MN as a straightjacket describes the battle between different world views rampant in our world today.
Two major world views are classified as theistic and naturalistic. Believers in the theistic worldview trust in an infinite, personal God who initially created a finite, material world. Their view of reality includes recognition that God has also infrequently acted in the present natural world to produce some supernatural events. They acknowledge, for example, that the origin of life, the Cambrian Explosion of sea animals and other sudden appearances of major animal and plant groups, the creation of modern humanity, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, have the hallmarks of supernatural creation events. These rare events occur within a world where almost all events are governed by natural laws emplaced by God upon our universe at the beginning, 13.8 billion years distant in time. Some theists argue that God’s methods of creation include organic evolution. They have become known as evolutionary creationists.
Let us consider non-evolutionary theistic creationists. They maintain the evidence for supernatural intervention is stronger than evidence for naturalistic, unguided evolution. Evolutionary scientists in contrast, whether theistic evolutionists or naturalistic evolutionists, believe the evidence they cite based on inference from evolutionary genetics is the stronger scientific theory. Seldom discussed among science professionals is the role of personal philosophy and worldview channeling them to their conclusions.
Evidence presented in the course of origins arguments is far more often cited than the overused term proof. In describing the nature of reality, evidence is relatively easy to cite. Defending one’s arguments using evidence takes special skills. Arguments concerning evidence in questions of science could be strong or weak. The persuasiveness of an argument also depends upon the characteristics of the listener. Skills of the arguer and skills of the listener may be at different levels. The standard of conclusive proof is difficult, if not impossible to propose, except in mathematics. The standard for convincing evidence is somewhat looser. Proof for God’s existence is impossible. Evidence of God’s existence could be strong, but are seldom presented as certain proof. Instead, the arguments are suggestive. The evidence for one’s arguments could become stronger or weaker with additional discoveries.
Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin has stated, “It is said that an argument is what convinces a reasonable man and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man.” With respect to the cosmic beginning, Vilenkin continues, “With the truth now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” The cosmic beginning suggests a beginner. Therefore, the evidence of a beginner— God—is strong. Matter does not merely originate by itself. We let our readers decide if the well known event of the cosmic beginning is proof or evidence of the existence of God.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.