Yesterday, I was reading an article called How to Defeat Modern Day Atheism With Three Easy Questions. I mean, how could I not click on that headline? Are you wondering if my atheism was defeated after I read it? Nah, you're not. But you're probably laughing. I'll bet you're at least giggling.
The post was pretty much what you'd expect, the same old arguments we've all heard a million times before. However, there was one interesting passage I wanted to break down specifically. A passage about the nature of evidence:
Evidence is not objective reality that is detected by the senses; evidence is perceived by the mind. The mind converts data from objective reality into the subjective perception of evidence. Because the perception of evidence depends on interpretation from the mind, evidence itself is something that has a distinct subjective element to it. In fact, it would not be too far from the truth to note that evidence is in the eye of the beholder.
This is all true and something that was recognized long ago. Individuals simply cannot strip their biases from their own perceptions. That's why, friends and belly-scratchers, that's why the sciency stuff was invented. We needed a way to determine what is objectively true and so we developed a system. It involves peer review, replication, repetition, independent verification and all sorts of other cool tricks to strip the bias from scientific findings.
A very dumbed-down story, if you will.
Dr. Gigglefarts observes that every time he listens to Mista Dobalina by Del tha Funkee Homosapien within an hour of heading to slumbertown, his dreams are filled with angry alpacas. He figures all this woolly wrath has been brought on by the hottest single off Del tha Funkee Homosapien's album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here. Naturally. So, he sets out to test his hypothesis. Gigglefarts brings in a bunch of impartial test subjects, plays the catchy 1991 ditty,
Mista Dobalina, Mr. Bob Dobalina
Mista Dobalina, Mr. Bob Dobalina
And then tells his sleepover pals to get snoring.
First thing in the am, he asks his subjects whether or not they had dreamt about angry alpacas. He finds that over half of them say yes. He concludes that there's something about the lyrics in Mista Dobalina that makes the human mind imagine a bunch of livid llamas. The doc publishes his findings in a scientific journal.
That's when scientists all over the globe, the vast majority of whom have no idea who Dr. Gigglefarts is, get to read about his Mista Dobalina experiment. Some independent scientists, who have no horse in the race outside of the truth, can test it themselves. Dr. Bignuts in Sweden finds no correlation between the 90s hip-hop ditty and dreams of Peruvian mammals. Dr. Hammerpants in Dubai comes to the same conclusion. Another scientist, Dr. Dogbum, in Vancouver, BC came to the same conclusion as Dr. Gigglefarts, but it was later discovered that his experiment had been conducted after a particularly large monch on magic mushrooms and all of his test subjects had, in fact, just been hallucinations. Dr. Fishface of Croatia also found no correlation. All told, a few dozen scientists tested the theory and found zero connection between Mr. Bob Dobalina and subconscious four-legged fury.
Upon closer examination of Dr. Gigglefarts' methodology, it was found that he was leading his subjects by talking about furious farm animals during orientation, as well as during the questioning afterward, planting the idea in their minds. The process of repetition, replication and independent verification stripped his bias from the findings easily.
This is why we science: so we can find out what is true despite our biases. Science shows our subjective feelings to the door.
This is what most atheists mean when they refer to evidence. Of course, we don't need peer-reviewed, replicated findings for every little thing we accept as truth. We can, and do, accept some claims using our own perceptions and nothing more. For instance, I'm not going to bring in a team of scientists to determine if it's true when my kid assures me he's brushed his teeth. If he disappears in the bathroom for a few minutes and comes out smelling like peppermint, I will trust my own perception. Even if I'm exhausted, and I'm biased towards believing him because I just want to go to bed without a struggle. No science is needed.
However, if you're asking me to accept the existence of a magical being who watches over everything I do, I'm going to need a little more than minty-fresh breath and a wet brush to believe it. Belief in such a being means I have to accept that if I don't behave in just the right way he wants, I have to accept that I will be tortured for eternity. I would have to change my life, my political positions, the way I raise my children. I have put a lot of thought into these things, and a lot of reading and learning. What sort of person would make all of these changes based on the fevered insistence of people who only have their subjective perceptions to go on?
What about the fact that God's instruction book has countless possible interpretations? Do I believe the Mormons? The Catholics? Maybe the Anglicans? Baptists and Charismatics and Puritans, oh my? How do I know which understanding is the correct interpretation, to avoid eternal Hellfire?
What about Hinduism? Islam? Buddhism? How is it that you can determine that your religion is the truth over all of these others? How can you be so sure, if your faith is based solely on your own biased perceptions, that you've got it right? If you think I would be better off religious, how should I choose which to follow?
Evidence, really, is the only answer—testable, repeatable, reproducible evidence. Evidence that can be proven and reproduced outside of my own subjective experience and yours. As it stands, today, I have yet to be given any such evidence for any god: Not yours, not Ganesh and not Thor.
So, while you are happy to base your entire life on your own subjective interpretation of the world around you, I prefer to back my big choices up with science. I'd like to know, objectively, what is true or not before acting on those things. Because I care about what is true objectively, I will wait until such evidence is discovered before I accept any god's existence.