Saturday, November 11, 2006

Evidence and Existence

Yesterday on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" one of the topics was "evidence for and against the existence of Bigfoot." "Bigfoot" wasn't at all what I was expecting to follow that introductory phrase. Forgetting that it was "Science Friday" I expected to hear "evidence for and against the existence of God" though I would have probably been annoyed. It got me thinking about that.

Generally, I think that there can be NO evidence for or against the existence of God. As a matter of principle, there can be no "evidence against" the existence of anything, including Bigfoot. But what about evidence for existence? The idea of "evidence" for the existence of God seems to me to involve either a misunderstand of who God is or a misunderstanding of what evidence is, at least as applied to existence.

Evidence as applied to existence is an inherently scientific construct. It is based on the physical -- examining the physical to see what has effected it physically. God on the other hand is other than physical. I don't mean to say that God is "supernatural" and thereby divorce God from the physical world, but rather to say that God acts in the physical world in non-physical ways (though perhaps sometimes through the physical and with the Incarnation as an obvious exception).

An analogy.... This summer as I was driving around the country, I came across a sign that said "high winds may exist". I remarked to my wife what a delightfully philosophic statement this was. I mean, in what way can you say that winds exist? Can you look closely and find wind? Can you hold it? If you examine the air in the presence of wind all you'll find is the particles of air that were there before the wind came, and they're not even all moving in the direction of the wind. So does wind exist?

This analogy breaks down quickly, of course, because while wind is a secondary effect of the physical, I would say that the physical is a secondary effect of God, but it kind of captures what I was thinking. People are far too ready to see physical explanations of what God does as evidence against God's existence.

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