I was just minding my own business, going for my daily jog, when I saw these two fluffy bunnies chase down a stray mutt, kick it to death with their hind legs, and then tear into its matted hide. Just about scared me to death. I was so stunned I didn’t even think to try and shoo them away before they did the poor mutt in. I just stood there in the early morning sun, my jaw hanging down to my chest, watching them rip off hunks of dog meat and swallow it down like vultures. It wasn’t until one of the damn things looked up at me with its beady red eyes, buck teeth dripping with blood, that I finally shook off the shock of it all and ran home. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. So really, take my word for it, keep away from the bunnies.
- Monty Python was right!
Anyone out there actually believe that I saw two rabbits kill and eat a stray dog? Hell, anyone out there believe that I went for a morning jog? Probably not.
But wait… let’s say that right after you read my ridiculous story you shut off the computer and turn on the evening news. You’ve only been watching for a couple of minutes when your favorite news announcer breaks to the day’s top story. It’s all about how two hunters spotted a warren of rabbits take down a deer. They’ve got experts on talking about some bizarre virus that is spreading rapidly throughout the entire rabbit population, wild and domesticated. You shut off the T.V. and check the calendar to make sure it’s not April 1st. Shaking your head and chuckling, you realize that you must have dozed off for a minute and rationalize that my silly story must have crept into your brief dreams. You head off to bed, still chuckling, but you’re awoken just after dawn to the sound of screaming from the neighbor’s back yard. Throwing open the window, you look outside just in time to see the neighbor pull his mutilated hand from his kid’s rabbit hutch. The rabbit emerges from the container, a blur of red and brown, and launches for your neighbor’s throat. He blocks the furry beast in the nick of time, throws the rabbit to the ground and runs screaming into the house. You fly to the television and stab the power button. The news is the same on every channel, the screen filled with images of rabbit induced carnage. A scientist in Germany is presenting data on the leading theory for this behavioral change; a species specific, airborne mutation of common rabies. On the way to work, you’re treated to the auditory version of your morning television experience. The radio is a constant stream on anecdotes, safety warnings, and expert opinions. Then, just as you pull into the parking lot, a tiny bunny hops under a nearby bush with a dead snake held firmly in its bloodied mouth.
What objective evidence is:
Several years ago, I publicly announced that if someone provided me with just one piece of objective evidence for the existence of their god, I would convert on the spot. This challenge still stands. It’s been over a decade and I’m still waiting for that one piece of objective evidence. If you’ve got it, feel free to offer it up. Send me an email. Leave it in the comments. Tie it to a carrier pigeon. Hire a skywriter. Whatever floats your boat.
When I first issued the challenge, I didn’t realize just how many people don’t seem to understand what the term ‘objective evidence’ actually means. I came up with the rabbit narrative as a non-confrontational way to help explain the difference between ‘objective’ evidence, which is what I’m after, and ‘subjective’ evidence, which is what I’m usually presented with.
The dictionary definitions of ‘objective’ that apply are as follows:
1. Having actual existence or reality.
2. Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudice.
3. Based on observable phenomena; presented factually.
For clarity, let’s take a moment to break those definitions down a bit in relation to the rabbit narrative. The carnivorous rabbits were shown conclusively to ‘have actual existence or reality’. They were seen, filmed, captured, and studied. The evidence given was ‘uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudice’, the data looked the same regardless of who was reviewing it. Be they young or old, Hindu or Christian, American or Chinese, the data provides evidence that rabbits infected with a specific virus exhibit carnivorous behaviors. The data regarding these carnivorous behaviors, including the theoretical conclusions, were ‘based on observable phenomena’ and ‘presented factually’. Anecdotes were sprinkled throughout, but the real evidence, the scientific reports and recorded footage, were presented free of bias and conjecture. Fox news, apparently, was not consulted.
What objective evidence isn’t:
Stories. Anecdotal evidence is automatically subjective. The experience is first subject to interpretation by the witness, and is then subject to further interpretation by the person receiving the anecdote. Unfortunately for many religious believers who would love to use it, the bible is also anecdotal evidence. It doesn’t matter that there is a smattering of factual information in the bible, that doesn’t automatically transform the rest of it into fact. Whales exist, but that doesn’t make Moby Dick a reference book. The fact that something written in the book of Matthew can be interpreted to be fulfilling a prophecy written in Isaiah is not objective. Moreover, these prophecies often depended on subjective interpretation, the events in Matthew amount to nothing more than a compilation of anecdotes.
Numbers. Poll results showing that a majority of Americans believe in the christian god serves as nothing more than objective evidence that the majority of the individuals polled self-identified as believers in the christian god. A belief is just a belief, regardless of how many people hold that belief, unless there is objective evidence available to support it. Likewise, if something exists, it exists regardless of how many people believe in its existence.
Rebuttal. Evidence or argument that counters one claim in no way counts as objective evidence in support of a separate claim. if I leave a steak on the counter and it isn’t there an hour later, I’m going to suspect that my dog ate it. Discovering that my dog had been in the back yard, locked out of the house without access to the steak, for the last hour would be excellent evidence against my hypothesis that he ate the steak. My dog’s confirmed lack of access to the steak would not, however, in any way count as evidence toward the hypothesis that a crazed groundhog broke through the window and made off with it. The groundhog hypothesis would require additional evidence.
Pretty much everything counts as objective evidence of something. The trouble starts when something general is presented as objective evidence for something specific. A time-stamped picture or real-time video feed of my former back yard, for example, could be offered as objective evidence that three cottonwood trees exist on the property. That same evidence could not, however, be offered as objective evidence that the house was purposely built directly in front of those three cottonwood trees. A letter addressed to the contractor who built the home stating that it should be built directly in front of the cottonwoods would be objective evidence of that claim, but would not stand as objective evidence that the trees still exist on the property. Likewise, documented evidence of ‘miraculous’ healings do not count as objective evidence for the existence of any god. Such documentation would only count as objective evidence that the healing occurred. The ‘why’ can rarely be addressed beyond obvious medical treatment.
Before you send me your evidence, fully expecting to count me as your god’s newest convert, think about the carnivorous rabbits. If you have truly objective evidence for the existence of your god, I’m willing to bet I won’t be the only one swayed to conversion. Most atheists are reasonable people who lack belief simply because we lack evidence. Provide me with the evidence, and I’ll believe the claim.
Now… bending my knee to worship… that’s another challenge entirely.