Monday, September 23, 2013

What Evidence Do You Have?

Here's a practical thought about “evidence”, since I often hear Atheist talk about no observable evidence for the existence of God and I often deal with evidence (or a lack of) for a living.

I’m certified to teach (and use) a logic method in problem solving & decision making for a global 500 company. The problem solving part is all about finding the root cause of a deviation. It answers the question, “why did it happen?”  The decision making part is all about making a choice. It answers the question, “what should we do?”  One might say it is about finding “truth”, regardless of opinions or feelings, even regardless of some facts that seem relevant at first, but turn out to be distractions in the end. When a group of engineers or managers cannot solve a problem or wants to make a good decision, I’m sometimes asked to help with the logic process even if I’m not an expert in that particular product or system. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here; I’m getting to a point if you bear with me.

You may think our method is 100% about facts and evidence. IT IS NOT! Most often it is physically impossible for us obtain all the data we need to answer all the questions we have. In fact, I don’t remember a time when we had all the evidence we wanted at our disposal.

So what do we do? Do we give up and say there is no way to proceed with a decision? Do we report back to upper management that the root cause of a problem is “nothing”, or the cause is “random chance”, or a “spontaneous event”? No, these answers are not answers at all and they are unacceptable to explain ANY observed effect, including the existence of the universe or our own being.

Instead, we use a thinking process to navigate the gaps between what we know and what we don’t know. Part of the process involves carefully making and tracking assumptions and inferences that connect the facts we have. We then have a way to move toward what is more reasonable and step away from what is less reasonable given the available data. This is NOT done via experimentation, observation or trial & error because these kinds of activities tend to waste company resources. It’s all done “on paper”, at first, using the available facts & knowledge (thinking made visible). We must get buy-in that the company should spend the time and money based on the conclusion we come up with, even though we have no absolute proof that it is correct; we just show how it is the most reasonable.

(If you’re curious, the process is called KT Resolve. It contains aspects of Occam’s Razor and Toyota’s “5-Whys”, but is much more comprehensive.)
A Thinking Process
The main point is this; at the end of the process we make a decision or determine the most probable cause of a problem, but our conclusion comes with NO observable evidence that it is actually TRUE and we still expect people to accept it. Why? Because accepting some things without observable evidence is rational & responsible solely based on the reasoning. Rejecting those same things is irrational & irresponsible based on the same reasoning. If an engineer or technician at our company were to keep repeating, “I reject your conclusion because there is no observable evidence that it is actually true and I will continue to work as if it were not”, he or she would not be employed with us for long.

Of course, the most probable cause of a deviation is ultimately proved-out to see if it is in fact the TRUE cause. A decision will also prove itself out over time as a good or bad choice. In the spiritual life this proving-out or “moment of truth” relates to the point of death where the theological virtues of Faith and Hope are no longer needed for a soul in the presence of God. All that will remain is Love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).

There is no question however, that reason alone is not enough to rest in God’s love, but it can start us on the adventure.  Like John the Baptist, reason cries out in the wilderness to prepare the way for faith, asking questions about life like “why did it happen?” & “what should we do?” Through reason, the winding roads of contradiction are straightened and the rough paths of muddled thinking become smooth to make way for something mightier, something that completes the often long and difficult journey from the head to the heart.


  1. So you need to die before you can prove it out. How convenient. Magical claims are never rational. Again, you've admitted that you have no way of determining if your God belief is more true than any other. Hop on the deist or pantheist train. That way you don't have to defend irrational, illogical thinking. You don't have to defend contradictory mythology, primitive yammering about the nature of God or the magical claims made in the bible.

    1. Morning CA,
      “Magical claims are never rational”. Agreed. That is why atheistic claims are not only irrational, but also irresponsible.

      Hop on the Atheist train. That way you don't have to defend irrational, illogical thinking. You don't have to defend contradictory thinking and primitive yammering about the nature of man or the irresponsible claims made throughout history.

    2. While I won't use the somewhat loaded term "magical", I will say supernatural claims can be rational, but only if they are based upon evidence. The world is full of supernatural claims, most contradictory. Prudence requires, even demands, due diligence otherwise all beliefs are equally valid.

      I have a relative (actually an in-law) who is a devout convert to Mormonism. I've learned to mostly keep my counsel to myself but I have had the basis of his faith explained to me in great detail and find it incredible. He's a smart man, and a good, decent, honest man, but is adrift in belief system that I think is nonsense. I can argue why, based upon obvious evidence, but how would a person of faith not but accept his beliefs as equally valid.

    3. Hi R1, long time no comment.
      A lot of crazy stuff in Mormonism (Joe has studied much). Of course, depending on one’s perceptive, the same can be said about Catholicism. One thing they believe, that basically every non-Catholic Christian believes, is that Christ’s Church failed and disappeared for many centuries (the apostasy) and then was reestablished by “someone else”. You can take your pick of many founders and many teachings.

      Catholics believe that Christ founded a visible and authoritative Church that never went away. It has had many problems, but never disappeared. It stands to reason that IF there is a God, and IF he wanted to establish a church, and IF he said the gates of hell would not prevail against it, THEN it would survive EVERY century.

    4. Ben - My point in choosing Mormonism, beyond being inlaw's religion is that it's a denomination that most non adherents to it express incredulity in its beliefs. But why? You mentioned that similarly some could say that about Catholicism, indeed it was the Mormon/Catholic comparison that caused Julia Sweeney ( ) to question her faith.

      You mention you're trained to handle problem solving, but in my experience, both in science and in business, most solutions to problems are wrong. That's not a bad thing at all, in fact it's good to come up with wrong answers. It's only bad if you choose not to test them to see if they're valid. And if they're not tested, or can't be tested in any meaningful way, they're very suspect.

  2. I don't need logic. I have FAITH. I know I am God's like I know my own name. I know it deep down inside. I just KNOW. This is like women's intuition but 1,000 times more than that.

  3. "these answers are not answers at all and they are unacceptable to explain ANY observed effect, including the existence of the universe or our own being"

    Actually, I'm pretty sure that your employer has not asked you to apply this process to the existence of the universe or our own being. I suspect (but cannot say with certainty) that explaining the existence of the universe or our own being don't have any practical applications. Maybe they pertain to the question "what happens after we die?" but no one knows with 2+2=4 certainty what does happen. You can have faith (belief without evidence) about what happens - but not the level of certainty that your corporate bosses would accept in their decision making.

    1. We don’t deal with cosmology or metaphysics at work, but some aspects of our structured and formal common sense way of thinking can apply to many things.

  4. One way to approach evidence in science is to ask how can it be disproven. I know in philosophical circles Popper's falsification ideas have fallen out of favour but in science it's still a valid point. About a year ago, several scientists at CERN thought they had detected faster than light neutrinos. Concerned about the veracity of this finding, they asked the world to check they results and prove them wrong. A few days later, the fault was found.

    It took the humility and the honesty of the researchers to admit their evidence could be wrong and the confidence in themselves to ask how could it be proven wrong.