"What can be asserted with no evidence can be dismissed with no evidence." – Christopher Hitchens
It sounds so convincing, so logical and seemingly so devastating to religious belief. However, I can guarantee that Hitchens most assuredly beliefs something with no evidence and all I need to prove it is the statement I just quoted.
How much evidence does Christopher Hitchens have for his statement? How can he demonstrate the truthfulness of his claim?
He has no evidence and he has no way to demonstrate the truthfulness of his assertion, so by his own standard, I can safely dismiss his reasoning without presenting any contrary evidence.
I could, but I won't.
Besides, Hitchens' catchy turn of phrase being self-defeating, it is also illogical. We all believe things for which we have no evidence. I believe that when you are reading this post, it is an actual mind processing the information. If I have talked with you before, I believe that we actually shared that conversation as opposed to me being created 15 minutes ago with already present memories. You believe numerous memories you have in your mind are real, but for many you could provide no evidence for their truthfulness.
I have a fun little habit of reading atheist blogs, articles, comments and I see this fallacy repeated over and over and over again. Some smarmy atheist thinks he can show the idiocy of thousands of years of theological and philosophical beliefs by quoting or rewording Hitchens (who reworded A.J. Ayer, who reworded W.K Clifford, who reworded David Hume …), so he writes something of the sort: "Until you give me some evidence I know all your beliefs are B.S." [paraphrase of an actual comment I read today] How could churches keep their doors open against such intelligent and through-provoking challenges?!? [Now, I'm being smarmy. ;) ]
I wonder how often smarmy atheist blogger guy has sat down to actually think about what it is he is saying. Has Hitchens ever responded to the refutation of his claim?
None of this even touches the debate I have had here often about dismissing evidence as not being evidence because you do not agree with it or find it convincing.
In a murder investigation motive and time of death may not be "smoking guns," but they can most definitely be evidence.
When discussing the metaphysical idea of God, the ontological, teleological, cosmological and moral arguments may not proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists, but that does not prevent them from being evidences.
This leads to yet another tactic of Hitchens and the New Atheists (which is a rehash of older arguments yet again), shifting the burden of proof.
In the average philosophical discussion, the question is not whether one can "prove" one thing over another, the question is which thing is more reasonable or more likely. In the God-discussion, many atheists have been successful in moving the goal post to where God is guilty until proven innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Can God be disproven to that same standard? Of course not, because to completely disprove the notion of God, one would have to have ultimate knowledge of all things to know that nowhere at no time does God exist, but if you reach that point you become self-refuting because your omniscience would show you to be God.
If God cannot be disproven beyond a shadow of a doubt, why should the theist be forced to prove God to that same measure?
Both Hitchens' assertion and the moving burden of proof are subtle ways that atheists have been using to claim victory in every discussion and debate. If you let me establish all of the guidelines, making self-refuting statements and force you to play the game by my rules, then I can win every time as well.
Here's my hope: Christians would stop using bad, heard-it-from-an-email evidences in trying to discuss these issues and atheists would stop using bad, read-it-in-a-Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris-book quotes, but instead both sides should evaluate the claims and have fruitful, enjoyable conversations about difficult, important topics. Great pithy sound bits may be sacrificed, but I think we should be able to live without them.