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.
Posted on April 7, 2013, in Apologetics, Christianity, Science! and tagged apologetics, empirical, empirical evidence for God, evidence, evidence for God, liver, The Page Nebula. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.