Empirical and “Evidence”


Can you prove that I have a liver?

I mean yes, obviously, if we wanted to we could see whether I have a liver or not. You could cut me open and take a look (or, less barbarously, put me through an MRI). That would tell us pretty reliably whether I do indeed have a liver. But nobody has ever cut me open, and I’ve never had a full body MRI. Can you find evidence that I have a liver?

Well that depends on what you will accept as evidence.

Fide Dubitandum (the blog I highlighted on Monday) dealt with this issue a few days ago. That post, and the discussion that followed in the comments, got me thinking about evidence. What kind of evidence do we find acceptable when talking about God? For many the only kind of evidence they will accept is empirical evidence. Empirical means that something can be observed and tested. A fish is empirical because I can touch it, weigh it, see it, smell it, and experiment on it. If anyone asked me to prove that fish existed then I could show them a fish. They could touch it, weight it, see it, etc., for themselves. It would be empirical evidence for the existence of fish (or at least for that fish, anyway). For many people this is the kind of evidence they want when asking “Is there a God?” They want something they can see and smell and experiment on. When theists are unable to produce empirical evidence they proclaim that God must not exist. They often imply that if you still believe in God despite of the lack of empirical evidence then you must be an anti-intellectual who merely takes it on faith that God exists. And it’s true, I do take it on faith that God exists. I don’t have empirical evidence for God. I also don’t have empirical evidence for the existence of my liver.

Nobody has ever seen, smelled, weighed, or experimented on my liver. It has never been directly observed by anyone. Yet I believe it exists all the same. I have faith that my liver exists. Why? Because every (healthy) dead person we have cut open has had a liver. Doctors have seen, smelled, touched, weighed, etc., livers inside of every normal person they’ve cut open. What’s more, everyone who has had their liver removed (or whose liver has ceased to function due to disease) soon dies. These two observations are empirical.

From these two observations I make a crude logical proof:

1. All dead human beings that are cut open are found to have a liver within them.

2. All human beings who have been found to have no functioning liver have fallen sick and died.

3. I am a healthy, living human being. Therefore, I must have a liver.

For that reason I have faith that if you cut me open tomorrow you would find a liver inside of me. What is important to realize, however, is that I don’t know empirically that I have a liver. I have faith that I have a liver due to deductive reasoning. I have never seen my liver, but nobody would call me unreasonable believing that it exists. Similarly, I have never seen God but I have good reason to believe that he exists as well. To use one example (out of many) here is one bit of deductive reasoning that leads me to believe in God. It is self evident from our observations and experiences that some things are contingent in their existence on other things. “Contingent” in this context means that we can imagine such a thing not necessarily existing. The computer you are reading this blog on is contingent because it could conceivable have not existed. The computer has not always existed; once it was merely a collection of parts scattered around a factory, and before that it was raw elements taken from the Earth. The computer had to have been created by something. But then that leads to a problem; what created the computer’s creator? And who created the creator of the computer? So on and so on, in an infinite regression. But an infinite line of creators in logically impossible. From this, we can make another (crude) proof:

1. All things that come into existence have a creator.

2. Things exist.

3. Therefore, something must exist that has always existed.

Now this does not prove the existence of God. But it does show that somewhere there must be an eternal and uncreated Something that everything else is based off of. For naturalists this Something is Nature. For theists this Something is God. Now I have other good reasons for believing that the Something is God and not Nature, and I’ve talked briefly about some of them in previous posts. But my overall point remains. Nobody has ever observed, weighed, measured, or tested something that by necessity has always existed. It would be impossible to observe something to have always existed unless the observer has also always existed as well. In this way there is no empirical evidence that such an entity to exist. However we still can reasonably believe in it’s existence despite the impossibility of ever finding empirical evidence for it. I have faith in God’s existence the same way I have faith in my liver’s existence: confidently and reasonably without need of empirical evidence.



About Mark Hamilton

I am, in no particular order, a nerd, an aspiring writer, a Christian, an aspiring filmmaker, an avid reader, a male, a YEC, a GM, and a twenty something. I like learning how things are made, finding out how to do things from scratch, and I you can find more of my writing at thepagenebula.wordpress.com

Posted on April 7, 2013, in Apologetics, Christianity, Science! and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. This a very well written post. I don’t know if your logic is sound though. We have the empirical evidence to support your logic construct about the liver. There isn’t as much evidence to support the other one. Saying everything has a creator is using the solution as part of the equation. An atheist doesn’t believe a leaf has a creator so you can’t use that logic to debate them. I’ve just thought of my next post but It relates to this so well.

    I relate the early “earth” and evolution by natural selection to PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), in genetics. PCR is used to amplify a small sample of dna/rna so that it can be used or tested without using all of the sample you have (or if you dont have enough of the sample to begin with). PCR is basically a numbers game; we add nuecleotides and the sample to the same container, warm it up, let it “mingle”, then basically repeat that routine multiple times. I am not telling the bases how to stack up, I have merely put billions (?) of the bases in the sample, with a sample of dna, i know that the overwhelming number of extra base parts will find the right spot to connect to the dna in order to let it be replicated. You could say I was the creator i guess but i dont see it that way. I haven’t told the bases where to bind or when to bind, I am merely waiting for them to do what they do naturally.

    • Ah, I think you misunderstand what I mean by creator. I probably should have been more clear. When I say that a computer has a creator, I only mean that it had to have come from something. In the same way even atheists agree that leaves come from something: they come from a tree. That’s all I meant by creator. I was just trying to say that, logically, if something comes into existance then it must have come from something else that already existed. In other words nothing can create itself, because it doesn’t exist until after it’s been created. Everything that comes into being must come from something. There must be something that has always existed, without ever coming into being. Some say that something is God. Some say that Something is Nature, or the Multiverse, etc.

      So that’s all I meant by “creator.” I probably should have used a more clear word for it.

  2. You are not being truthful. I don’t have empirical evidence that Cicero existed but I have reason to believe he did from books he wrote and from material extant written by his peers.

    Now in your argument for the existence of god, you go back to the cosmological argument as proof. You can rewrite as you wish but you have not given support why infinite line of creators is logically impossible apart from your assertion that it is not.

    What evidence, empirical or otherwise do you have for god, any god?

  3. Could you point out the exact place where I’m being untruthful? If I have made a mistake then I would like to correct it.

    As far as your critique of my argument, I was worried that this might become a concern. Of course my argument hinges on the idea that an infinite line of creators is logically impossible, but it can be tricky to show why. The best illustration I have for why an infinite line of creators is illogical is the old story of the turtles. The story goes that a man was lecturing on cosmology when an old lady in the crowd stood up and said “What you’re saying is nonsense! Everyone knows that the world sits on the back of a giant turtle.” The man said in reply “What does the turtle sit on?” The lady thought for a moment and said “It sits on the back of another turtle.” When he asked what that turtle sat on the lady yelled “Oh no you don’t! It’s turtles all the way down!” Now it seems pretty obvious to me that “turtles all the way down” is not a reasonable proposition. Somewhere there must be something solid for this pile of turtles to sit on. In the same way an infinite line of sources must somewhere sit itself on an always existing, uncreated source.

    I agree with you that we have good reason to believe in Cicero despite the fact that we have no empirical evidence for his existence. Historical evidence is a good example of non-empirical evidence that has shown itself to be a reliable way of knowing things. One evidence for God (at least for the Christian God) is the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. We know that he existed, and that he was a teacher who was executed in Palestine in the early first century. We also know that soon after his death a new sect of Judaism spread rapidly through Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. These believers claimed that Jesus had risen from the grave, that he had appeared to them, and that he was the Son of God. His closest disciples all died for that belief (except for John, who was exiled). Now I don’t have time to go into all the historical evidence, and a debate could certainly be had on it’s interpretation. But the fact remains that there is historical evidence for the divinity of Jesus. Now we can’t empirically prove that he was in fact divine, just as we can’t empirically prove that Cicero existed. But as far as it goes we do have historical evidence for the Christian God that must be refuted first.

  4. 1. _Many_ things that come into existence have a creator.

    2. Things exist.

    3. Therefore, it might be that something exists that has existed before each of these things.

    There, fixed that for you.

    • Interesting correction. What things can you name that do not come from something else?

      • rain drops, gamma ray bursts… what you meant was ‘what does not come from an intelligent cause since you seem to believe that all comes from a creator, an intelligent cause. To claim that rain drops come from an intelligent cause is to say that this cause manipulates all things in the universe. I would assume that you are of the bent to believe in free will… which means your thoughts are initiated by you, not your creator. That’s not exactly what you were on about but it illustrates that not all things come from a creator god, but that example gets complex.

        Lets go with the fact that there is no reason to believe that the universe was created. Astrophysicists et al (Hawking etc.) have shown that the universe looks like it would after the singularity because of the physical laws. No god is needed.

        Of course you can posit that a creator god caused the big bang, but what reason would you have to add complexity to a problem where it is not needed? All the religions that claim a creator god claim the universe is as it is because of that god. We know that is not necessary now. What need then is there to posit a creator given the ‘word’ of these gods is clearly not true, or at least through science we can see that it is highly improbable that a creator god had anything to do with it.

        Why posit a god? Why think such a creator god is the one you worship? Why think such a creator god is benevolent? Why suppose that such a creator god did it on purpose? Why? Who then created the creator god? Who created the creator of the creator god? The list goes on, even if we don’t touch the infinite regression issue.

        Positing a creator god opens up more questions than it answers. I can easily conclude then that it is no answer at all. Answer solve puzzles or problems or questions. A creator god does none of these.

      • Ah. I see the problem here. As I said to Lab Rat in the comments above, I probably should not have used the word “creator.” All I meant by saying that everything has a creator is that everything has a preceding cause that “created” it. In the case of your example, raindrops are caused by rainclouds, which are caused by the evaporation of water, which is caused by energy from the sun, etc. I did not intend to claim that every single physical event and object has an intelligent creator as it’s immediate cause. That would be extremely foolish. I’m considering changing the post to match my original intent, but then these comments would make less sense.

        So, my bad. I should have used a less charged word like “cause” or something.

        Still, the original point I made in the post stands. At some point in the chain of causation there must be something that has always existed. There are three main candidates for this eternal Something in modern thought: the universe, the Multiverse, or God. Either this universe has always existed, some natural device that spawns off multiple universes has always existed, or God has always existed. I find the arguments for God to be more convincing than the arguments for the other two. However none of the three can be proven empirically to be the ultimate cause. If we are to discover what the nature of the ultimate cause we will have to accept unempirical evidence.

      • Don’t change your post! The comments are the thought process we go through, anyone reading the post should read the comments as well. No one should comment about anything we have all commented on already.

        I have a problem with your “trinity” of ever lasting objects. If god always existed….where did he/she exist? I think believing in an eternal universe will actually help when thinking of an eternal god. I don’t personally believe that god exists but I don’t see a flaw in thinking that if god is eternal then the universe (or multi-verse) must be as well.

      • Ah, I see the problem here. The problem is how expansive the word “universe” can be. I am learning a lot about defining my terms properly today! When I use the word “universe,” what I really mean is “the material universe,” the universe we can see, touch, taste, smell, and measure with our fancy instruments. Even more specifically I mean the universe as the philosophy of materialism defines it. A universe that is nothing more than combinations of matter and energy, with no possibility of the “supernatural.” Now of course the word “universe” can also be used to mean “everything that exists,” so obviously if God existed he’d be part of the universe under that definition. Sorry that there was even more room for confusion.

        Of course it is possible that there are two eternally uncreated Somethings that have always existed simultaneous with each other, but that doesn’t seem to be necessary. Unless we can find good reason to believe that both God and the material universe have always existed independent of each other then I believe we should stick to just one.

      • Ah, we are at an impasse, you will stick to your one ever-existent being and I will stick to my ever-existent universe (with the distant possibility of a “god”). I just can’t understand where your god would have been if the material universe wasn’t around. That’s a pretty boring life for him.

      • Well, maybe it was so boring it inspired him to make the universe :-). But all joking aside, as beings made of matter and energy ourselves it is naturally hard to imagine something that exists outside of either. Heck, as Einstein showed us without space you can’t even have time. We can’t imagine what it would be like to exist outside of time, yet if God exists then he essentially created time itself. Perhaps, before the creation of space and time, God could accurately be said to be “everwhere and everytime.” It’s hard to imagine, but just because something is hard to imagine doesn’t make it untrue. I cannot imagine an atom as they actually exist, but I know enough about them to believe they do.

      • You don’t just believe (religiously) atoms exist though. We believe (scientifically) the evidence we have discovered that they are there, in their strange formations, doing whatever it is they do. Just for kicks….he couldn’t be considered to be everywhere and everytime if he hadn’t created the where and when yet. Just because you can imagine something (the difficulty is irrelevant) doesn’t make it true as well. I must tell you I have had a great time talking to you. Unless you present something as a reply to this reply that really needs to be talked about, I leave with my gratitude for the great conversation.

      • Well, I’ve enjoyed talking to you too! All I really have to say to that is that I agree with you. Just because you can imagine something doesn’t make it true. My point was that just because you can’t imagine something doesn’t make it false. We have good (empirical) reasons to believe atoms exist, even though they are unimaginable. I have good (non-empirical) reasons for believing God existed before the universe, even if such an existance is unimaginable. It’s like the Big Bang theory. You’ve probably heard it explained before that shortly after the big bang the entire universe was condensed into something the size of an egg. Whenever I hear that I get this mental image of a glowing egg floating in a void of empty blackness. But this mental image is completely wrong, because you can’t have empty space without space, and all of space itself was inside of the egg. So what does the outside of the egg look like? It’s unimaginable.

  5. To be fair, your premises depend on inductive proofs. As does the major premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

    • Hey, thanks for commenting! You know, you’re probably right. To be honest the main thrust of this post is about how you can accept non-emprical evidence for the existance of things, and I threw in that little “proof” at the last minute to give an example. Boy, I’ll think twice next time! Or maybe not, since it got people commenting.

      Still, I probably would have been best off by keeping the thrust of this post as a critique of empiricism. Just so I know for the future, what makes this proof inductive rather than deductive?

      • It’s inductive because it depends on your (completely reasonable) assertion that because all the healthy people who have ever been cut open have had livers, every healthy person who is cut open will have a liver. As MyAtheistLife points out, we know that “many” things which have a beginning have a cause; just because we’ve never seen something without a cause doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.

        The classic example of an inductive proof is the Black Swan. You can go your entire life and see only white swans; you can then reasonably conclude that all swans are white. But this is an inductive proof, because it only takes one black swan to overturn it.

      • Gotcha! That makes a lot of sense. With that in mind, it must be incredibly difficult to find proofs that are truly deductive that aren’t tautologies.

      • All deductive proofs have an inductive proof or an axiom SOMEWHERE in them. That’s why I prefer to think in terms of probabilities. “The probablility of X correlates to the probability of Y with relationship Z.”

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