What evidence were you expecting, anyways?

The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was famously asked what he would say if after he died he found himself standing before the God in whose existence he did not believe, and God asked him, “why didn’t you believe in me?” Russell’s reply was, “not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!”

I was having a blog debate with an atheist not long ago. The atheist said, “after centuries of theism and all of the searching we’ve done without finding any evidence, I think we’re justified in discarding religion and moving on.”

In my response, I conceded that we can be justified in disbelieving the existence of some entity E if we expect certain kinds of evidence in the case of E’s existence, and after thorough investigation that evidence does not turn up. I then asked the atheist what evidence he was expecting to find in the case of God’s existence which had not turned up.

Being the good sport that I am, I offered a couple of suggestions for him to consider while formulating his answer. For starters, I said, if God existed we might expect to find that the universe had a beginning rather than finding that the universe had always existed. Hey, wait a minute. According to a considerable amount of evidence that cosmologists have discovered, the universe did have a beginning. That’s pretty interesting when you think about it, since according to the First Law of Thermodynamics (also known as the Law of Conservation), matter can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed into energy (and vice-versa). So if there is no God, we might well expect that the universe had always existed. In fact, that was the dominant view among cosmologists in the early part of the 20th century before the Big Bang theory became widely accepted.

Another bit of evidence that we might anticipate if God existed is evidence of design in the structure of the universe itself (as opposed to it being a haphazard jumble). Again, the evidence for design based on the fine-tuning of the universe for life is extremely well documented. The structure of the universe both in terms of the values of the fundamental constants of physics and the initial conditions at the very first moment of the universe’s existence had to be within a staggeringly small range in order for life to exist. Even the skeptic Fred Hoyle was so impressed by this cosmic fine-tuning that he remarked that it appeared that a superintellect had monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology. He further commented that the numbers were so overwhelming “as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” Since Hoyle wrote that statement, the list of “anthropic coincidences” (those values that are necessary for a life-sustaining universe) has continued to grow longer.

My atheist interlocutor never did answer the question as to what evidence he expected to find in the case of God’s existence that hadn’t turned up. That seemed a little odd to me. If you’re going to conclude that there is no evidence for something, I think you should have some idea of what evidence you might expect. I wonder what Bertrand Russell would have said in answer to that question. Maybe after he died he did say to God “not enough evidence!”, I don’t know. If so, I can imagine God saying in response, “what evidence were you expecting, anyways?”

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