Christopher Hitchens wrote, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” Hitchens was speaking of God. While I have never disagreed with the logic of his statement, I do disagree with his presupposition that millions of people having the same experience is not evidence worth exploring. I also disagree with the apparent presupposition that evidence and proof are the same thing. These presuppositions leave Hitchens’ Razor a bit rusty.
There is a very big difference between lack of evidence and rejection of evidence. A person who knows something because of his or her experience may not be able to prove it to me. Their experience is no less evidence than testimony in a courtroom. One person’s experience is very weak evidence. But if millions of others report the same experience, it shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. A good example would be that I can never know what it’s like to be an African American woman. She may describe to me what it feels like to be the target of discrimination, she may show me data that indicates she has been discriminated against, but I will never KNOW what it’s like to have that experience. All I can know is her (and other’s) testimony. And it would be wrong for me to presuppose that her experience must be a delusion; and therefore, something to be dismissed without investigation. Millions of people having the same experience is evidence worth exploring, but not proof. Proof is something totally different.
There is a big difference between proof and evidence. We certainly wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on the search for extraterrestrial life if evidence and proof were the same thing. Conditions are what we would expect them to be if there is life on other planets; Therefore, we search for life based on this evidence. Oxford says evidence is, “The AVAILABLE body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.” Evidence remains evidence unless it is proven or demonstrated to be the result of a rival causal factor.
I have no way to prove God’s presence or absence if the only way to know Him is through a faith given as a gift to those who will accept it. It would not be rational to claim that those who say they have this experience are mistaken unless I can demonstrate a rival cause for their experience. Oddly enough, if one “believes” that other people’s faith is just wishful thinking then they too have a faith unless they can prove the other’s are in error. Let me be very clear here: I did not say the other people’s faith is true because I cannot claim it to be false. I said the proposition that their faith must be false because they cannot prove it is not rational. The only rational claim in that situation would be, “I don’t know.”