What about evidence?

I don’t understand what Tim Crane is trying to say. Maybe it’s just the usual (the ingredients of which are present): religion isn’t science, it’s about meaning; the end. Maybe, but Crane says more than that, and some of what he says doesn’t go well with “religion isn’t science, it’s about meaning.”

Atheists, he says, ask for evidence for religious claims, and reject the claims when the evidence is not forthcoming. Yes that’s right. Then he says in their view those claims are

a bit like scientific hypotheses. In other words, they are claims — like the claim that God created the world — that are supported by evidence, that are proved by arguments and tested against our experience of the world.

Yes, but it’s not just scientific hypotheses that match that description. Crane at one point admits this.

It is absolutely essential to religions that they make certain factual or historical claims. When Saint Paul says “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain” he is saying that the point of his faith depends on a certain historical occurrence.

Theologians will debate exactly what it means to claim that Christ has risen, what exactly the meaning and significance of this occurrence is, and will give more or less sophisticated accounts of it. But all I am saying is that whatever its specific nature, Christians must hold that there was such an occurrence. Christianity does make factual, historical claims. But this is not the same as being a kind of proto-science.

But it doesn’t need to be “a kind of proto-science,” whatever that may mean; but it is still a matter of evidence. Factual, historical claims depend on evidence, and if the evidence is not there, then the claims are just bogus. If the evidence is disputed, the claims are disputed. If the evidence has been faked, the claims are blown out of the water and the claimant may be disgraced, or may just be suspended for a year with pay. At any rate the evidence matters, and without it, all you have is stories. This is an important point, and Crane has put it at the center of what he’s saying, but he never actually makes it again. I don’t understand why.

He turns the whole thing into a false choice between science on the one hand and religion on the other, ignoring the great swath of empirical inquiry that’s not science but nevertheless depends on evidence. Why does he? I really don’t know.

It is true, as I have just said, that Christianity does place certain historical events at the heart of their conception of the world, and to that extent, one cannot be a Christian unless one believes that these events happened. Speaking for myself, it is because I reject the factual basis of the central Christian doctrines that I consider myself an atheist. But I do not reject these claims because I think they are bad hypotheses in the scientific sense. Not all factual claims are scientific hypotheses.

But they don’t have to be; you still reject them, when there is no evidence, for reasons. You reject these claims – don’t you? – because you think they are bad hypotheses in a broader sense, and you think that because there is no evidence to back them up…don’t you? You say it is because you reject the factual basis of the central Christian doctrines that you consider yourself an atheist, and you reject the factual basis of the doctrines because there is no evidence for them – don’t you? So why make such a point of the “scientific” aspect while not mentioning the lack of evidence?

Religions do make factual and historical claims, and if these claims are false, then the religions fail. But this dependence on fact does not make religious claims anything like hypotheses in the scientific sense. Hypotheses are not central. Rather, what is central is the commitment to the meaningfulness (and therefore the mystery) of the world.

Maybe so, but the claims are false (in the sense that there is no evidence for them) and so, according to Crane, the religions fail. Saying the commitment to meaningfulness is what is central doesn’t change that.

So, I don’t understand what he’s getting at.

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