This article offers a response to a comment posted by Jeff Lowder. (Click on the link to get the comment and the context in which it occurs. I shan’t bother to rehash that background info here.) To be more accurate, this article uses Lowder’s comment as a springboard to a further conversation.
What caught my attention is the idea that one might make the following statement: “I think the total evidence favors Christianity.” You see, I don’t think anybody can make this statement. Nor can anybody affirm its logical complement: “I don’t think the total evidence favors Christianity.”
There are two reasons for this.
The total evidence includes person-relative evidence
First, some evidence is person-relative and thus is simply not generally available to all people. Imagine, for a moment, that you’re debating with a skeptic who claims that we cannot know that objective moral value exists. You insist that it can and as evidence you invoke your own visceral moral revulsion upon witnessing a young man beating an aged, wheel-chair bound war vet: “In that moment,” you say dramatically, “I knew immediately and with unshakeable conviction that there is evil in the world, there is objective moral disvalue. And if that’s the case, there is also good, there is also objective moral value.”
Your interlocutor shrugs and replies dismissively: “It doesn’t seem to me to be so.”
Let’s be clear: the interlocutor’s response is not a rebuttal to your experience. Rather, it is a recognition that your experience is person-relative to you and thus inaccessible to him. Thus, as the two of you continue to debate the existence of objective moral value, you do so informed by the evidence of your experience while he does not.
Here’s a courtroom illustration of the difference. Jones is charged with murder under the weight of DNA evidence, a fingerprint, a motive, and a lack of alibi. While Jones has no alibi available to the court, he nonetheless testifies that he was in bed sleeping at the time of the murder. This memory is part of Jones’ personal evidence, but sadly it is not part of the publicly available evidence. (Of course, Jones’ testimony to his memory is part of the publicly available evidence, but the memory itself is not.)
Consequently, the total evidence includes both publicly available evidence and person-relative evidence. Since the latter is only available to specific individuals, nobody can have access to the total evidence.
Just as people can have moral perceptual or memorial personal experiences that provide the ground for belief in moral value or past events, so in principle one could have an experience of God that provides the ground for belief in God. This experience would thereby become part of one’s personal evidence, but it would not be part of the commonweal of publicly available evidence.
It follows that in principle Jones could justifiably believe in his innocence, or you could justifiably believe in objective moral value, or I could justifiably believe in God based upon personal experience that is inaccessible to publicly available evidence.
Nobody can master the total publicly available evidence
But lest we get off topic, let’s return to our central claim. How about we retool it so that total evidence becomes total publicly available evidence? Couldn’t somebody claim that the total publicly available evidence on balance does (or does not) support the truth of Christianity?
Of course they could do so … in principle. But I dispute whether anybody could do so in fact. The reason is simple: Christianity is a two-thousand year old conversation which has seen contributions from a bewildering number of biblical scholars, historians, archaeologists, theologians, philosophers, scientists, ethicists, activists, mystics, and countless others. We’re not talking simply about assessing a few classic proofs for theism along with some evidence for the resurrection. We’re talking, rather, about a truly vast amount of data in multiple languages and requiring several different advanced skill sets for sufficient appraisal. And nobody has that expertise or has completed or could complete that comprehensive study which would be required to justify an opinion regarding the total publicly available evidence.