If one of the defenses appeals to me, it's #5: absence of evidence is evidence of absence (the "Hanson-Scriven Thesis" so "HST"). This would mean that atheists don't have to come up with their own evidence that God does not exist, if theists lack evidence that God does exist.
Sounds pretty good. What's the problem? First Antony says theists don't lack evidence. At the very least they have weak evidence--
religious experience, the fine-tuning of physical laws and constants, the apparent contingency of the universe, etc. These and other points, although far from decisive, and although explicable in other ways, could conceivably be mentioned in a compelling argument for the existence of a divine being.So for the HST to help atheists it must be construed as saying that absence of strong (as well as weak) evidence is evidence of absence. But that, he argues, is implausible.
Consider the claim that earthworms have a primitive form of consciousness. There is little evidence for this, certainly no strong evidence. Nevertheless, many consciousness researchers believe it (with varying degrees of confidence).... Or consider string theory. Again, there is nothing that could properly be called strong evidence for it, yet many physicists believe it. Such examples could be multiplied. Yet if we were to take HST seriously, given that there’s no strong evidence for any of the above propositions, we would rationally have to conclude that the negations of the propositions are true: that earthworms are not conscious .... and that string theory is false. But that is absurd!As Antony points out, HST is typically asserted in connection with a bunch of ridiculous entities--the Tooth Fairy, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the teapot orbiting the sun. That, he thinks, steers atheists wrong.
It is now easy to see where Hanson and the New Atheists go wrong with their example-based defense of HST: they select examples that conform with HST and ignore cases of the sort just offered that conflict with it.OK, he convinced me. HST can't be affirmed if you consider the whole spectrum of cases. But maybe there's a narrower principle something like HST that's correct. What's correct is a principle specifically about "the ridiculous." Absence of evidence for the ridiculous is evidence of absence. But then Antony balks at the suggestion that the God hypothesis is ridiculous. He thinks there's no reason why "religious belief, because it lacks strong evidence, must be judged to be just as ridiculous as the Tooth Fairy or goblins."
Sure, the sheer lack of strong evidence doesn't make the God hypothesis ridiculous. It could still be ridiculous because .... well, because why? Antony is right to press atheists on this question.
Take just one aspect of the God hypothesis--the notion of a disembodied mind. It's one thing to be uncertain whether the nervous systems of worms can or can't support consciousness. Both views are credible. But must I really take seriously the possibility of disembodied mind--God? What a bizarre idea. It sure does seem odd to think a disembodied mind could do so much--like create the universe, perform miracles, and do all that's normally attributed to God. If there's no strong evidence for something as odd as that isn't it fair to say there's no such thing?
Maybe this is just to say there's a presumption against very weird things being true, and it's up to people who believe in them to come up with very good reasons. Skeptics about these things get to disbelieve more lazily than believers can believe. Something of the sort strikes me as true, though I can't say I know how to say it more precisely. Ridiculous, weird, odd, bizarre. There's got to be a better way.
There's lots more in the article. Have a look!