Can the Evidence “for” God Have Other Explanations?

Can the Evidence “for” God Have Other Explanations?

In my last post, I described J. Warner Wallace’s new book, God’s Crime Scene, and how it looks at the case for God’s existence based on cumulative evidence from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the design of life, our experience of consciousness, free will, and morality.

When I published a link to that post on my blog’s Facebook page, one of my atheist readers commented that he is “more than skeptical because, of [the author’s] 8 chapters, 6 can be easily explained away.”

I’m really glad he made that comment, because it brings up a very important point that your kids need to understand about the evidence “for” God:

All of the evidence that Christians believe points to God can have non-God (“naturalistic”) explanations.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that your kids understand this. I recently received an email from a mom of a teenage son who started studying evolution and became an atheist after he was surprised to learn about all the naturalistic explanations for the development of life.

This happens to a lot of kids who grow up in Christian homes where they aren’t exposed to secular views. The eventual shock factor when they encounter naturalistic explanations is enough to torpedo an entire childhood of faith.

Our kids should never leave home without having been exposed to these other views.

It’s also important that kids not only understand other views, but have a framework with which to evaluate them. Otherwise, you’ll be sending them swimming in a tidal wave of information.

With respect to the evidence “for” God, here’s a simple framework even the youngest kids can and should understand. I’ve woven an example throughout the five points that can help you easily teach these concepts.

 

1. Evidence is a body of facts that require human interpretation.

Evidence alone doesn’t “say” anything. When we talk about evidence, we’re simply talking about an existing body of facts. Humans are needed in order to interpret those facts and draw conclusions.

This clarification is a vital starting point for discussion. Atheists say, “There’s no evidence for God!” Christians reply, “There’s lots of evidence for God!” Those are two opposing claims that can leave your kids feeling very confused if they don’t understand that evidence alone isn’t for anything. Atheists and Christians are both stating their interpretation of the evidence when they make such claims.

Example:

Imagine that you find chocolate chip cookie crumbs all over your kitchen floor, next to a Mickey Mouse cup and a blanket. That is the evidence at the “scene.” The evidence itself doesn’t tell you who the cookie culprit was, however. A human is needed to interpret the facts.

 

2. All pieces of evidence can have multiple possible explanations.

The aforementioned atheist commented on my blog that he was skeptical about God’s Crime Scene because the evidence Det. Wallace details can “easily” have non-God explanations.

But with any evidence, there can be multiple possible explanations. The fact that multiple possible explanations exist says nothing about the plausibility of any one explanation. We should expect there to be competing explanations for evidence.

Example (continued):

Let’s say you have a dog, a 2-year-old, and a 7-year-old, and that the Mickey Mouse cup and blanket belong to the 2-year-old. Perhaps your 2-year-old happened to leave the cup and blanket in the kitchen but it was your dog who actually got into the cookies, leaving the crumbs. Perhaps the 2-year-old broke into the cookie cabinet, set down his cup and blanket, and enjoyed a forbidden treat. Perhaps the 7-year-old old ate the cookie but framed the 2-year-old by putting the cup and blanket there.

Based on the facts of the scene, those are all possible explanations. However, identifying the possible explanations tells you nothing about which one is correct.

 

3. The best explanation for a collective picture of evidence isn’t necessarily what you would conclude from any one piece of evidence.

As God’s Crime Scene brilliantly demonstrates, a good detective never draws conclusions from pieces of evidence in isolation; he or she looks for the best explanation for the collective picture.

For example, many people believe God does not exist because there is so much suffering and evil in our world; they see the evidence of evil in the universe and make a conclusion based on that alone. But to accurately draw conclusions, we have to look at all relevant evidence…and there’s much more to consider than the problem of evil (see point 5).

Example (continued):

If you only look at the Mickey Mouse cup, knowing it’s your 2-year-old’s favorite thing, you might immediately jump to the conclusion that the cookie-eater was him. However, if you add to the evaluation your knowledge that this happened during your 2-year-old’s naptime, the best explanation for the collective picture of evidence is probably not that it was him.

 

4. If you rule out certain possible explanations before you even look at the evidence, of course you won’t find evidence that points to those explanations.

Many people presuppose (assume beforehand) that God does not exist and will only consider naturalistic explanations for evidence in the universe. But if you rule out certain possible explanations before you even consider the evidence, of course you will conclude there is no evidence that points toward those explanations!

Example (continued):

Let’s say that you dote on your dog to the point that you would never believe precious Bowser would do something so ungracious as to get into the cookies. Though in some ridiculous, hypothetical world, it could have been him, you don’t consider him a real possible explanation. When your kids both say they didn’t do it, you tell them that of course one of them had to have done it, because there’s no evidence Bowser did it. They point out fresh dirty paw marks on the cabinet, fur on the blanket, and the fact that Bowser has cookie crumbs on his face…but you insist Bowser could not possibly have been involved.

 

5. The goal when looking at evidence is to search for the explanation that best fits all known facts, but that doesn’t mean you’ll reach absolute certainty.

Christians look at evidence from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the design of life, our experience of consciousness, free will, and morality and see a compelling cumulative case for God as the “best explanation,” even though one particular piece of evidence—the problem of evil—alone wouldn’t necessarily lead a person to that conclusion.

The particular challenge to understand with this point is how one defines the “best” fit for the evidence. Christians can look at all of this and conclude that the cumulative case “best” points toward God. Atheists can look at all of this and conclude that the cumulative case “best” points to a series of naturalistic explanations.

That’s why it’s critical that your kids have the opportunity to look at the evidence for themselves. Instead of getting rocked when they start hearing atheists proclaim there’s “no evidence for God,” they’ll have an understanding of the underlying facts involved and know that what’s being discussed is how to best interpret that collective evidence.

Example (continued):

After further consideration, your kids convince you that you can’t rule out Bowser because there is so much evidence that really does point to a dog being the culprit. You realize you can’t ignore the paw marks, fur, and cookie crumbs on his face any longer. Then, right in front of you, little Bowser goes to the cookie cabinet and pulls out more cookies. With all the evidence in front of you, you conclude that the explanation that best fits all known facts (even though you don’t have absolute certainty) is that Bowser did it.

 

For help learning about all the “facts” of the universe that require explanation, be sure to get God’s Crime Scene!

18 Comments

  1. Maureen Small on August 7, 2015 at 12:21 PM

    Looking at point #4, I think this is crucial for Christians to consider. We usually look at the evidence for God through our lens of already believing that He exists. Perhaps we should look at the evidence from the other side, from presupposing that He does not exist, in order to understand how an atheist can interpret the same evidence we also have and come up with a different conclusion. Perhaps we’re guilty of ignoring evidence for the non-existence of God because we are already so defensive that He does exist.



    • Natasha Crain on August 7, 2015 at 12:32 PM

      Absolutely! I should have acknowledged the danger cuts both ways.



  2. Kirsten on August 8, 2015 at 3:22 AM

    Gosh, I do really well at this sort of thing – but not in a Biblical-teaching way. For example, my husband might say “my coworkers must all be getting paid more than me because they all drive fancy, new cars”. And I’ll say “maybe their wives are doctors. Maybe they don’t have student loans. Maybe they have collection agencies calling them every night because they really can’t afford those cars”. I point out that there can be tons of explanations for things that might seem cut-and-dried at first blush. I don’t point those things out – or even ponder them much – from a Biblical perspective. I’m so grateful for this post; it reminds me that I need to integrate my Christianity better into the way I already live my life (hopefully that makes sense with the context I provided).



  3. Lanny kilgore on August 8, 2015 at 4:39 AM

    We also need to factor in that there are two spiritual entities in the investigation lab:Satan who blinds and the Holy Spirit who reveals. These both are energized by ones character traits such as pride vs. humility. Ones will is huge.



  4. Andrea on August 9, 2015 at 11:45 PM

    I really appreciated this post. Excellent!
    I have a slightly off-topic question that I’d be interested in hearing your take on. The more I delve into apologetics, the more I realize that it really does come down to faith. Every “evidence” CAN be interpreted 2 (or many more!) ways.

    Growing up, there seemed to be a lot of emphasis on having a relationship with God, talking to God, KNOWING God, etc. This seems to be in sharp contrast to many, many Christians who believe in the existence for God simply (or not so simply) because He is the BEST explanation for the given evidence.

    Which is it? Can people know conclusively enough to be ABLE to have an intimate relationship with the Creator? Or, underneath it all, is it really a matter of choosing to believe the best explanation for the evidence and living accordingly.

    I think I had a false sense of what “having a relationship with God” would look like and it really shook my faith when the “relationship” part didn’t pan out the way it does with somebody I can sense with my 5 physical senses.

    I don’t know if this makes sense. 🙁 But I would like to portray an accurate picture of what faith in a Creator God looks like to my children so that they aren’t set up for the same letdown that I’m experiencing. I don’t want them to feel like their missing something or even that God doesn’t exist due to it.

    And, at the same time, I’m there right now. What if this is the extent of depth people have in their relationships with God? What is the rest is just a mental build-up or emotional response? What if those in the Old Testament experienced only the same ambiguity? What is He really ISN’T there?

    Thanks. 🙂



    • Chavoux on September 18, 2015 at 8:42 AM

      Hi Andrea,
      I think there is a progression. As the Bible says, he who comes to God (in order to have this relationship) must believe that He is and is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. This initial step is based on the evidence… when we believe that the evidence is stronger that God exists than the evidence that He does not exist (and both conclusions should be based on evidence, but are going to require at least some level of faith – although different pieces of evidence can also be considered more or less trustworthy).

      The next step is to start acting on this evidence… and that is when the personal relationship begins. It is not the same as any other relationship on earth; He is the Lord, Creator of the universe, and we are only people. But the thing is, as we read the Bible, we learn more about the personality of God and also more about how He wants to work through and in us. And as we allow more of Him in our life and become more and more obedient, we will also experience more and more of Him, leading to further trust… it should be a growth process (similar to the increase in trust we have in an earthly person, or decrease in trust if they fail us). The difference is that we will frequently fail Him, but He will never fail us… He will be true to His promises and living in that, will grow our faith in Him.

      In my own life, the “what if” questions related to the existence of God have always been intimately connected to sin in my life that have not been confessed and forgiven. Sin stops us (even as believers) from experiencing God personally and the only way I found to overcome this, has been to confess it, own up to it, turn away from it and ask forgiveness (even if I initially considered it as something small or unimportant). When i have lived a life of being cleansed almost continuously from my sin, I have also lived a life of intimacy with God. But this needs to be new every morning, because even my past experiences become doubtful to me if I no longer experience Him today. And these experiences need not be extraordinary or outwardly miraculous, it is enough that I experience His peace and love and joy in me, knowing that I am free in Him. I see changes in myself, in my personality, that agree with the promises of Scripture (but that other people may not see).



  5. Andrea on August 9, 2015 at 11:50 PM

    (Sorry for my typos and misspellings!)



  6. Andrea on August 10, 2015 at 12:04 AM

    I suppose, why do Christians need so much assurance and confirmation of their beliefs if they truly experience God on an intimate level? I experience my children every day. I don’t need evidence of their existence. I know they exist BECAUSE I experience them every day.



    • Heather on August 18, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      Christians have doubts too because our faith is in the unseen, and yet He is seen in everything around us. I like this quote, “In faith, there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” (Blaise Pascal) Christians have the same fears and thoughts and doubts as others, because we are human. But I guess it comes down to ‘What are you willing to stake your eternity on?” We all have faith in something. We all “bet” our eternal souls on something unseen and not completely known or understood. And even if we are fully confident that there is a God, we can still be very disappointed by how distant He seems. I struggle with that, too. But my hope is in my belief that it will not always be this way. Someday all things will be clear and more tangible. Till then it really does come down to faith that He exists. Because He does not force Himself on anyone. And while I might have had experiences that fully convince me that He is real, it will not be enough to convince anyone else. We all are on our own journey with Him. And I will say a prayer that He reveals more of Himself to you. But we have to have the eyes to see and ears to hear. Sorry that there is no simple, easy answer to this question.



    • Heather on August 18, 2015 at 9:57 AM

      And you asked, ‘What if He is not really there?’ Well, for me, I would say ‘no harm done.’ I lived as a good person, loved my family, treated others kindly and had a blessed life. And if there is no God then we all end up in nothingness and it does not ultimately matter how we lived. None of us would remember what happened in our lives or what effect we had, so no harm done in my mind. I am happy with my life if this is all we get. But maybe the question should ‘What if He really does exist?’ Because that would have a much greater impact on us and our eternities. If He does not exist, no harm done for any of us and it does not matter what we think of Him. But if He does exist,.it matters tremendously what we think of Him and if we put our faith in Him. This is called Pascal’s Wager, and the question is ‘Which one seems like the safest, wisest one to bet on – the idea that He does not exist or that He does?’ I do not know if this really addresses your questions, but I am throwing it out there for your consideration. And I hope you take comfort in knowing that we all struggle with this at some point, even those of us with really strong faith and the experiences to back it up. Personally, I no longer doubt His existence at all, I just get really confused about how He interacts with us, how He answers prayer, and wht He seems so silent and hidden most of the time. But I do not doubt His existence or the validity of the Bible. I have staked my eternity on it. What are you willing to stake yours on?



    • Heather on August 18, 2015 at 10:09 AM

      And if I may say one more thing. I thinks it is actually good that you are wrestling through all of this. God does not mind when we wrestle with Him. The ones who concern me are the ones who won’t be bothered or worried enough to even think about Him, the ones who are indifferent. Tell Him you are struggling, ask Him to reveal more of Himself to you. He is always willing to do this for people who genuinely seek Him.



  7. Paul Short on August 11, 2015 at 6:08 AM

    Exactly, Amanda.

    I’ve been vocal for years about how Christians shouldn’t engage in apologetics at all, for many of the same reasons.

    I’d love to hear something from the faithful, in regard to your comments.



  8. Sam McKee on August 14, 2015 at 7:02 AM

    Hiya,

    Really enjoying your work and glad that I found it.

    Thank you very much, keep going and God bless you!

    sam x



  9. Norman on August 22, 2015 at 11:29 AM

    My first thought on reading someone doubting God’s existence because all the reasoning has a naturalistic explanation was, “Why does a naturalistic explanation remove God?”

    If God is Creator then God works through the natural world he created. When looking at the natural world you aren’t looking at something which necessarily excludes God, you’re looking at the actual handiwork of God.

    If a naturalistic explanation removes God from the scene then that implies you’re already working from a definition of naturalism that necessarily excludes God. In that case nothing will persuade you God exists.

    But back to my starting point. A ‘natural explanation’ itself does nothing to remove God from the scene. I would have to ask how the person defines naturalism and how they came up with this definition?

    Thanks.



  10. J.W. Wartick on August 27, 2015 at 6:59 AM

    Thanks for putting together this great post, Natasha! It’s a topic that needs to be read about far and wide. It’s always possible to come up with some explanation to fit a set of facts; the problem is whether that explanation is actually plausible.



  11. […] Can the Evidence for God Have Other Explanations?– Natasha Crain, a Christian apologist focused on putting together apologetics for parents and children, answers a question from a skeptic about the evidence purporting to show the existence of God having other explanations. Short answer: of course it might have other explanations; the problem is whether these explanations are better. Check out her post for elaboration. […]



  12. Dan Porter on August 28, 2015 at 7:02 AM

    Natasha, thanks for this and the previous post. Well done! Just to make clear: While God gifted us with intuition, logic, senses, etc., these are not sufficient to find God. And our bent to sin pushes us to the other direction. So, naturally, we will always seek another explanation for the ‘evidence’. Already 5000 years ago the story of Job put the lie to the ability of Natural Law and human reason to find God. And Paul wrote 2000 yrs ago to the Romans (1:18ff) that the most we can know for certain based on creation and conscience is: (1) all of this did not get here by itself (contra Hawking) and (2) God is distinct, that is different from created reality and thus not subject to human science and reason. Unless he enlightens our will we cannot choose to follow the evidence.



  13. Richard J. Woerner on December 12, 2015 at 7:05 PM

    4. If you rule out certain possible explanations before you even look at the evidence, of course you won’t find evidence that points to those explanations.

    Many atheists I have encountered like to use Occam’s Razor to point out that the simplest explanation is the best explanation. Well, the problem with Occam’s Razor from the start is that it assumes the two proposed theories are the only theories. The razor also does not require evidence to determine which of the theories are the simplest. So in reality when debating God, Occam’s Razor is a rather weak method of reaching a conclusion.

    In his debate with Dr, Krauss, Dr. Craig sets forth his entire premise with this statement:
    “My purpose in tonight’s debate is more modest: to share with you five pieces of evidence each of which makes God’s existence more probable than it would have been without it. Each of them is therefore evidence for God. Together they provide powerful, cumulative evidence for theism.”

    All throughout this debate, Dr. Krauss kept trying to say that Dr. Craig was trying to “prove” the existence of God from his premise. This was not true. Is there evidence for the existence of God? It is not up to us to force the atheists to accept our premises, they must decide whether the evidence we present makes a case for the existence of God. However, even if they disagree, that does not mean that it is necessarily false.

    However, to say there is no evidence what-so-ever, the atheist then is making the claim that he not only researched all possible evidence available and that he is omniscient. Besides, like those that deny the Holocaust ever took place, even if we did present ALL possible evidence, they can still deny it to be probable.

    The problem with Dr, Krauss is that he contradicts himself on numerous occasions.
    For instance, he says: We don’t know what the right answer is. (That concerning what nothing is.) But we’re willing to look at all the possibilities. But none of them require anything supernatural.

    No one said it “required” (Typical word play by Dr. Krauss if you have ever listened to him prior) the supernatural but to say “all,” unless Dr. Krauss wants to redefine the word all like he tries to do with nothing. means every possibility.

    Even Carl Sagan did not limit his research, “There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths.” – Carl Sagan. Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Night. Ballantine Books.

    But let me conclude with a couple of quotes that I think sums up those that purposely deny the possibility that God does not exist.

    Atheism requires a leap of faith, the adoption of a belief that there is no God, when there is no evidence to support it. An atheist doesn’t know. An atheist isn’t scientific. (Mike Dobbins) This is also why Carl Sagan said, “An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no God. By some definitions atheism is very stupid.”

    I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel) (Yet according to Dr. Krauss, we have to accept the universe the way it is whether we like it or not. Seems he would disagree with Thomas Nagel.)