What do skeptics mean when they claim to reject theism because “there isn’t a shred of evidence” for the existence of God or miracles? Could it be that all humanity who has held to some conviction God exists, all did so without having any evidence their convictions were true? I am not arguing that the truth of a matter is determined by counting noses or forming a consensus. But how could it be that so many people believe God and miracles exist when there isn’t a shred of evidence for either? I think the problem lies in the objection itself. The objection is highly equivocal, but to be charitable I don’t think it is necessarily intentional. There are at least two problems with the statement “not a shred of evidence”.
First, there is a difference between evidence and strength of evidence. Evidence is the facts of a matter, but the strength or degree of evidence is a subjective assessment which may or may not lead someone to concede their position. I don’t think it is a conscious equivocation, but people tend to think of evidence in concrete terms. I get the impression that people tend to think something that is evidence will force a particular conclusion. Like finger prints on a murder weapon forces the conclusion that a specific individual touched the weapon at some point. But not everyone will place the same value on the same evidence. The evaluation of any particular evidence depends upon who interprets it. Consider the Gospel accounts for Jesus and the resurrection. They are first century biographical accounts which record the life death and resurrection of Jesus. Skeptics generally dismiss the veracity of the documents, but that is not the same as no evidence. It is a mistake to confuse evidence proper for strength of evidence.
For example, Jesus was put to death under Pilate; was buried; the tomb was found to be empty three days later; and the disciples had experiences which they believed to be Jesus to be alive again. Those are facts, the evidence is the New Testament documents and other extra-biblical sources. Christians believe Jesus being raised from the dead to be the best explanation for the evidence. The majority of even liberal scholars will affirm the facts above, but are not compelled to assign Jesus being raised from the dead as the explanation. To say there is no evidence Jesus was raised from the dead confuses the evidence with the strength of the evidence.
Finally, the arbitrary limitations as to what qualifies as evidence will serve to give the false impression there is no evidence for theism or miracles. Requiring naturalistic evidence for a supernatural being or event seems counterintuitive, especially if the event occurred in the distant past where a relatively sparce amount written documentation has survived. Only with the presumption of naturalism can we require purely naturalistic boundaries. Often when the skeptic claims there isn’t a shred of evidence for God or miracles, what they mean is there are no physical artifacts to examine. But on what grounds must we accept that the only kinds of valid evidence is physical in nature? Many events are only evidenced by eye-witness testimony. Testimony is evidence. Take for example sports records from times before video or audio recordings. Winners and losers, scores and stats; testimony and written records are the only evidence we have of the events. There is no physical evidence of who won the first professional baseball game, we cannot examine the ball and determine who played; or dig up the ground and conclude the score. It is not the case that because there is no physical evidence, that there is no evidence whatsoever.
So while the evidence for theism or miracles may not force you to abandon your view, it is not the same as no evidence. No one can force you to change your opinions. When considering a claim the entirity of the evidence must be considered and assessed. Arbitrarily defining what qualifies as considerable evidence is unreasonable and intellectually dishonest. Next time you hear someone dismiss theism because “there isn’t a shred of evidence” for it, ask what it is they mean by evidence. Ask what they would consider evidence. Don’t let this out-of-hand dismissal stand unchallenged. If you are someone who believes there is no evidence for theism or miraculous events, take a minute to think about what you are asking for when making the challenge.