Absence of Evidence

Someone requested a comment thread here to discuss Victor Stenger’s article from the Huffington Post: Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence.

Note, unless you want to be condemned to the pits of hell, be sure to RTFA before commenting.

11 responses to this post.

  1. I’ll begin where Stenger begins: “the origin of the visible universe.” He states, about the spot at which the universe is thought to have begun: “This tiny region of space could not have contained more than a few bits of information — far too little to specify the universe that evolved from it.” He then goes on to still allow, based on this, the idea of a deist god. The problem with this line of thinking is that a deist god would have had to include the spec for the universe in the seed he started with. On the other hand, an active God working from outside the matter-bound universe and directing it’s creation, whether by big bang & evolution, or simply by spoken-word creation, would not need to include that data within the bits that started the whole thing physically.

    To go further, for there to be bits of data to begin with, there had to be BITS OF DATA! He wants to demonstrate that God can’t exist because the physical evidence doesn’t allow for it, but he doesn’t propose any other cause for the beginning, or for the data that obviously did exist. Science can only prove that there was a beginning, but it can’t provide us with a why or how that beginning occurred.

    His second point is one of the most absurd things I’ve read since we started these discussions. We’re to ignore atomic order, and say because there is randomness in biology, there can’t be any design?!? A designer can’t allow any randomness? This makes no sense. He provides no support for any of his claims, except an add for his upcoming book.

    As to his final example, most modern theists don’t teach (or believe) that God “tells” them anything about the future that hasn’t already been revealed. It’s a straw man.


  2. Here’s a full sentence from his second point: “Everywhere biologists look they find evidence of randomness and haphazard arrangements that would be called incompetent if they were designed.”

    It’s not just randomness, but the fact the “haphazard arrangements” that would mean any designer was incompetent. Some examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_poor_design


    • Posted by graceisunfair on August 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      I don’t want to flippantly disregard the argument from poor design, but I feel like that argument can only be made by those who have at best a cursory knowledge of the way Christians view the world. One of the most basic elements in Christian theology is that we live in a fallen world, a world that was made less than ideal (although some strains of Christian don’t argue that the pre-fall world was perfect, per se) by sin. Of course, that can bring up the issue of why a God would allow such a thing, but that’s a topic for a different discussion. The main thing is that there are surely better arguments against God we could be discussing that come from someone with a better understanding of theology.


      • Posted by Eric on August 17, 2010 at 8:34 pm

        Even granted that when sin was introduced, imperfection was introduced into the world, the question simply moves from “Why imperfection at all?” to “Why these types of imperfection?” Christianity has (to my knowledge) no way of explaining the reason why specific imperfections exist out of the infinite possible imperfections.

    • So god gets credit for the good stuff, but humans and the debil get blamed for anything bad. It’s so very convenient! I hope you’ll take a look at some of the specific examples of bad design. I don’t really see evidence that god designed it well and then satan/man/fall changed that design. Take the recurrent laryngeal nerve, for example. Please describe how “the fall” changed the route of this nerve from the direct path any competent engineer would use to the inefficient loop that we see in animals. Evolution explains this quite easily while the design hypothesis has no elegant way to deal with it.


  3. Posted by David Duthie on August 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    How does anyone know what randomness is? Where does our idea of order come from?


  4. “Bad design” is pretty subjective, though, isn’t it? Maybe, in His mysterious ways, He has a reason for that laryngeal thingy being all over the place. Or maybe we presume too much by way of intention, and all that He “designed” per se was the *conterxt” in which everything, including evolution, unfolds.

    Or, you know, not even that.

    But saying “I would not have designed that frog in that particular way, therefore there must be no God” does not seem any more convincing to me than “oh how wondrous is the design of that frog, therefore there must a God”


    • Posted by bluharmony on October 3, 2010 at 3:19 pm

      Re: “Maybe, in His mysterious ways, He has a reason for that laryngeal thingy being all over the place.” What an astute observation you make! But if someone is arguing god from intelligent design, then they’re claiming that design is objective. And it can’t be both objective and subjective at the same time.

      As for the context argument, if there’s a god with reasons for things being as they are, then he’s the lowest of the low and not worthy of human worship. If god is merely another term for a causal force, then there’s no reason for worship, either.

      There are plenty of reasons to be kind to each other, however, and to tolerate differing views so long as those views don’t encroach on what we consider to be basic human rights, so believe what you like. Just don’t claim to have logical support for your beliefs, because it doesn’t exist.


  5. You heard me right. I said *conterxt”. I meant to say *context* but a flaw in my design tripped me up. B-)


  6. Also, good question about “what is randomness”!
    As usual, Wikipedia offers a starting point:


  7. Posted by bluharmony on October 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I absolutely agree with Stenger and P.Z. Meyers when they say absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It’s not conclusive evidence of absence, but it’s very strong evidence of absence in many cases. In fact, in my field — law — in the absence of evidence, we assume that something didn’t occur. There’s no legal case if there’s no evidence. If there’s no evidence of a car in this parking spot, then I can logically conclude that there is no car in this parking spot. If there’s no evidence that someone burglarized my house in my absence, then I can fairly safely assume that no one did. If there’s no evidence of rain, then I can assume that it didn’t rain. In all of these cases, my ability to access how the absence of evidence relates to the occurrence or non-occurrence of an event is the key.

    In the absence of any evidence of existence, the logical default position is nonexistence. There is absolutely no evidence of god, so most likely god (at least in any way that we understand that term) doesn’t exist. Further, there is ample evidence to disprove the existence of an Abrahamic god, so it’s a certainty that such a god doesn’t exist. Exactly like we know that Santa doesn’t exist, though I wouldn’t mind Santa’s existence nearly as much as I’d mind the existence of an ignorant, racist, homophobic, self-important, murderous Abrahamic god. (I can’t, however, rule out pink unicorns with the same degree of certainty, because all we know about them is that they don’t exist on earth. Theoretically, they can exist somewhere. We have no evidence to counter their existence, though we have evidence that makes their existence rather unlikely.)

    Yes, it’s true that there are people who choose to write and rewrite their religious doctrines such as to weakly comport with modern science, but where is the logic in doing this? If you’re constantly changing your image of god, then what you’re really doing is making him up. Just as the original god was made up to reflect culture and society at a much an earlier point in history. And just as multiple gods were made up to reflect culture and society at an even earlier point than that.

    In any case, most organized religions are at best silly and illogical, and at worst dangerous and brutal. Let’s please apply a modicum of logic to these scenarios and evolve.

    (And for those who are claiming “intelligent design,” yes, consistently stupid design is one of an infinite number of counterarguments.)


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