“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” – Psalm 19:1
One can only rationally believe in something if one has sufficient empirical evidence for that belief. The evidence for God is not sufficient; therefore, it is irrational to believe in such a being.
The idea that in order for a belief to be rational, it must be supported by a sufficient amount of evidence, is sometimes called the Cliffordian Maxim. In fact, it is one of the most popular arguments used by atheists. It seems simple and straight forward: We learn things through our senses, through evidence, through the scientific method. I, for instance, don’t have any evidence that there is an invisible tea cup circling my head, so why would I believe such nonsense? In the same way, there is not enough evidence for God—He cannot be proven—so it is not rational to believe in such a being.
Like the last one, this argument falls under its own weight. That is, the Cliffordian Maxim cannot account for the Cliffordian Maxim. Show me evidence that I need evidence in order to believe something rationally. It cannot be done, which is why the argument is self-refuting. What is more, one cannot have evidence for every single belief ad infinitum. Scott Oliphint says it like this:
Suppose a disciple of Clifford’s maxim were able to establish, say, three evidential propositions meant sufficiently to support that maxim. Would it not be the case that each of those evidential propositions would themselves be in need of sufficient evidence in order to be rationally held or believed? And if there were evidential propositions sufficient to support the evidential proposition that sufficiently supported the Cliffordian maxim. Wouldn’t those, too, be in need of sufficient evidence? And so it goes.
The dilemma is obvious. There simply cannot be sufficient evidential propositions ad infinitum. There has to be some “place”—some proposition, some concept, some idea, some foundation of authority—that is sufficient to carry the conceptual weight of what we claim to know, believe, and hold.
Moreover, notice that the demand for evidence narrows the playing field. For instance, eyewitness testimonial evidence is rejected, a priori. That cannot even be considered, it is believed. The demand for evidence also does not take worldview into account. That is, no matter what evidence is mounted, if it is viewed from a foreign worldview, it will remain unconvincing. Cornelius Van Til writes, “Facts and logic which are not themselves first seen in the light of Christianity have, in the nature of the case, no power in them to challenge the unbeliever to change his position.”
For the Christian, however, we don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the grave because of empirical evidence. We believe, ultimately, because of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit regenerated us (John 3:3), took away our hearts of stone and gave us a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26), made us a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and is conforming us into the likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). We were given the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8; 2 Pet. 1:1) and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25), and made to recognize the truthfulness of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16).
This, however, does not mean that evidence has no usefulness (see: The Use of Evidence in Apologetics). For the Christian, everything is evidence for God—from the coffee I drink in the morning, to the fine-tuning of the universe, to the impossibility of the contrary. This evidence, however, only makes sense when viewed within the Christian worldview (see: Worldviews and Point of Contact). Therefore, debates about evidence ultimately need to consider worldviews, for there is no neutral or default worldview we can appeal to. Which worldview is consistent and accounts for the preconditions of intelligibility? Which worldview makes better sense of the world around us? These are the questions we must ultimately ask.
Romans chapter one sheds further light into this discussion. In that chapter, we’re told that on judgment day no one will have an excuse for not believing in God (v.20), because God is everywhere and at all times revealing Himself through creation (v.19-20). Even unbelievers, we’re told, know God, but are suppressing that truth (which is evident to them) in unrighteousness (v.18), and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie (v.25). It is because of this suppression of truth that no one can give an excuse as to why he or she did not believe and follow Christ. Therefore, you may proclaim until the cows come home, “Not enough evidence!” But when you meet Christ on judgment day, those words will not come out of your mouth.
“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29
Also in this series:
© copyright J. Brandon Burks
K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 127.
 Ibid., 127-128.
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, ed. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1955), 316.