Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No Evidence for God, therefore No God

Atheists often rely on the appeal to ignorance fallacy: "No evidence for God, therefore there is no God" to settle any discussion with Theists regarding the existence of God. 

At first glance, the argument seems to make sense. If its not there, then it's not there right? Well let's examine it closer. 



  1. First, how do we know that something does not exist?  In order to truly know for certain, one must be omniscient; that is to say, one must know about everything in reality.  This is obviously impossible for a human being.  We are barely scratching the surface on this physical universe with Physics as is. The more we look at sub atomic particles, the more this universe DOES NOT make sense. 
  2. Second, evidence can be anything.  Does a historian need to produce the living corpse of George Washington to prove he existed, or are written accounts of his life enough?   
  3. Third, the human being's senses, perception and cognitive abilities are extremely limited. The brain compensates a lot when processing stimuli so it does not always give an accurate account of what we call "reality."

Just because we might not be able to see, hear, taste, smell or feel God does not mean God does not exist.  Let me explain this using a historical figure in American history.   


I'm sure you've heard of Helen Keller. She is a well known figure in American history. Keller was blind, deaf and mute.

We all rely heavily on our senses, in particular hearing and sight. Imagine living without them. Unless you are touched, you will not have any awareness that something or someone is near you. Keller experienced this. 

Now suppose you had this condition. You cannot see or hear and 10 people encircle you without touching you and at the same time they avoid making any vibrations that your sense of touch might pick up.
  • Would you be aware of those 10 people? 
  • Would you have "empirical evidence" of their presence? 
The answer is no. You would be completely oblivious to their existence due to the absence of 2 of your most important senses.

  • The evidence is there: 10 people encircling you. 
  • The problem is that you cannot sense them by normative means. 

Just because you lack this ability to sense them does not mean the 10 people are not there.

God is the same. He is around us, we might not sense His presence as we would another human, animal or object unless He wills it, nonetheless, He is there.  Our perceptual limitations are not the final word on what exists and does not exist.  Therefore "absence of 'evidence' does not mean evidence of absence."

25 comments:

  1. Suppose I have a box in which I say there is an apple. You open the box and can see no apple, you take the box and it weighs nothing more than a box weighs, you put your hands in the box and can find nothing but the box walls, you sniff the box and smell only cardboard. Would you say there was an apple in the box or not?

    We can't know anything for certain but we can act on what appears to be true. Absence of evidence is one of the characteristics of absence. Things that aren't really there have no evidence, or even more generously, have no good reason to suppose they are.

    To apply these standards in everyday life but not to gods is special pleading.

    Gods appear not to exist, it is only because people want them to that they pretend ("have faith") otherwise. But isn't it fooling yourself to pretend things are other than they appear?

    - @joesw0rld

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    1. To my perception, there appears to be no apple, but my perception does not define reality. There might be an apple, but my senses do not detect it. Two scenarios can be determined from this:

      1) You are seeing things that are not there.
      2) Something is wrong with my perception.

      Moreover, the apple exists in your mind and is real for you. That is what reality is: a reconstruction of stimuli by the brain. Our brains compensate all the time by presenting mental images of what may or may not be. A mirage is an example.

      Exactly, we cannot know anything for certain per se. Therefore, the conclusion that God does not exist is one that cannot be supported rationally speaking. Special pleading does not apply in this.

      God exists whether one believes or not. That is what atheists ignore. Believers do not imagine God. God acts on the world and in individual lives constantly. This is evidence for a personal supernatural being that exists.

      Delete
    2. This was a very informative article on your perception of atheists’ stances on the existence of god. However, I have not run into many atheists that actually claim with certainty that God does not exist. A categorical statement that god does not exist would require proof, as you pointed out. Moreover, that standard of proof would be beyond us mere mortals.

      What most atheists say is that they do not believe in god - this is different from saying ‘god definitely does not exist’. For example, I do not believe in unicorns because there is no valid evidence that unicorns exist. I cannot prove that unicorns do not exist, so there is a possibility that horned equines are prancing around somewhere in the universe, but the probability of that is so low that there is no reason to make any life plans around it.

      For all I know, Zeus and Thor are just waiting out there ready to surprise us. I can’t prove this to be wrong, but there is no evidence to support it. Therefore, I do not believe in them and I suspect that you do not either. The difference between you and I is that I apply this reasoning to the Christian god.

      All that being said, I admit that I occasionally fall into the semantic trap of saying, “God doesn’t exist”. I do this only to conserve words and condense my writing style. It is far more elegant than saying, “I believe, based on the evidence, that the probability of the existence of a god is so low as to not warrant the lifestyle of a believer.” Particularly, when I am tweeting : )

      Cheers @AbstractAtheist

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    3. I used to be an atheist. Trust me when I say that there are some (atheists) who are confident that no God exists. This is why Atheism is really Agnosticism. If I am not sure if God exists or not, then I am an Agnostic. The rhetoric of Atheists imply that they seem to know for a "fact" that no such entity exists. I have not found one who would entertain the concept with an open mind.

      Delete
  2. If I offered to sell you one of these apples would you buy it? Let's face it you wouldn't, moreover you'd probably complain that there was no apple there. In this way you're operating under two different standards. In most of your life you act according to what appears to be true, except where god is concerned. You're right strictly this is not special pleading (it would be if you asserted that god is not subject to the same standard) but it is hypocrisy.

    You say "the apple exists in your mind and is real for you" but later you say that reality is independent of what you believe (With your assertion that god exists whether one believes in him or not). Which is it? Is reality subject to our beliefs or not? I would say not, I suspect you would to.

    If we were to apply the same standards that we use in everyday life to gods existence then it appears exactly as if gods do not exist. It appears exactly as if believers are simply playing make-believe. It appears exactly as if gods are superstitious constructs from our more ignorant past.

    Can we say for certain that gods exist? No. But they certainly appear not to, that is just honesty. Honesty is the root of atheism.

    Two asides; You realise saying that god intervenes in the world lays the responsibility for all the horrors of life right at it's feet?

    Also, you say there is evidence, I'd be interested in what you think is evidence for god. Theists have never really been able to present any*, otherwise the atheists would be theists too.

    * Exactly the situation we'd expect to find if gods did not exist.

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    1. Your question is hypothetical and can have many answers depending on the circumstance.
      For example, kids playing with a kitchen or store toy set. They will pretend to be
      performing regular social interactions. If you were to come to me selling an apple
      that only you can see, I would have to assess the situation: 1) are you pretending
      2)are you joking 3) are you drugged or insane 4) are you testing me etc etc etc.
      You have to stick to the context and not
      try to apply this abstract though experiments
      to real world situations.
      You misunderstood my comment. When I said that the
      apple is real in the mind, I mean exactly that.
      It is real as a thought - synapse. The bottomline
      is that "real" can mean different things.
      We cannot limit "real" to just what the 5 senses
      pick up. That is materialism.
      Atheists claim God is not real because they expect
      a being to exist just as we do with skin, blood etc.
      Granted Jesus who claimed to be God existed 2000yrs ago,
      but that physical form of manifestation is not here now.
      In order for atheists to understand God, they need to remove
      the filter of materialism.

      Delete
  3. Sacerdotus,the burden of proof goes on those who claims something to be true. If the sole criteria for judging facts is: "Just because you can't see or feel it doesn't mean it's there!", then I could just as easily say that The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists or The Invisible Pink Unicorn exists.

    Also, get your facts straight. Atheists almost never say "No evidence for God, therefore there is no God". What they say is "There is no evidence for God so there are no good reasons to believe in one"

    Long story short, your argument:"Just because we might not be able to see, hear, taste, smell or feel the (insert anything here) does not mean God does not exist." is fallacious.

    You remind me of Peter Medawar's review on Chardin's book, 'The Phenomenon of Man: "The author of this book may be excused for dishonesty, only on the grounds that before deceiving others, he has taken great pains to deceive himself."

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    1. Not so, the burden falls on ANYONE making ANY claim. See my blog post: http://sacerdotvs.blogspot.com/2011/12/burden-of-proof.html
      I explain where atheists get this erroneous idea that puts the burden
      solely on theists. This is a way to escape the defense of atheism.
      The difference between the Flying spaghetti monster and unicorns is that
      they are human constructs. We know they do not exist in physical world
      because they were created by the human imagination. God is different.
      God actually revealed Himself to the world, hence we have the Jews and
      Christianity - 2 religions that have had the only direct interaction with the
      Divine. (no offense to my bros/sis in other faiths). When people pray to God,
      they will get a response. However, if you pray to the monster or unicorn, nothing
      will happen. This is why you don't see religions with billions that worship the aforementioned.
      The suggestion that "There is no evidence for God so there are no good reasons to believe in one"
      is pretty much the same as saying "no evidence, no God." There is indeed evidence.
      The problem is the objectivity of the observer of the evidence.


      For example: If you tell me that someone stole something from your store.
      I go see and find that item missing. I then look at you skeptical and say, maybe
      you took it? You say no, that the item was there over night and now it is missing.
      I then reply, well maybe you didn't put the item there in the first place. You insist
      that it was stolen and show the door was broken into. I then say, maybe you broke the
      door and took the item. You look at me confused and say, no someone stole from me.
      I then say, sorry I can't believe you because I don't see evidence that someone came
      in and stole from you. I need to see a video of the person entering.


      Now this is what atheists do. Theists provide all kinds of evidence, but atheists
      beat around the bush by taking a contrarian position which gets them no where.

      My statement is not fallacious because it takes into account that no one on earth is
      omniscient and therefore cannot make such a confident claim.

      Delete
  4. Sacerdotus, your argument here pretty much boils down to "God exists because God exists." The epitome of circular logic. You also add in some special pleading with your assertion that the existence of the Christians and Jews somehow proves that God exists but the existence of, say, the Hindu religion does not constitue proof that their Gods exist. Yet you provide no logic as to why this is the case other than an assumption that your religion is correct and theirs is not.

    Furthermore, you once again mis-state the position of most atheists and wrongly claim they have the burden of proof to validate their position. Most atheists that I know (including myself) do not claim categorically that God does not exist. We simply make a statement that given lack of evidence about God's existence, we lack belief that he really exists. One does not have to provide proof for a lack of belief in something. It makes as much sense to ask for proof about disbelief in the Easter Bunny. Likewise, if you were to simply state that you believed in God, then you would not be asked to meet the burden of proof. However, since you positively assert that God does in fact exist, then the burden of proof does indeed lie with you.

    So far, no theist (you included) to my knowledge has ever been able to provide any scientifically verifiable proof of Gods existence. If such proof ever did come to light, then I, and probably many other atheists, would then accept that God exists. I wonder if you would do the same? If there was scientifically verifiable evidence that God did not exist, would you then be willing to change your position?

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    1. Not at all. My argument is that we cannot conclusively state that God
      does not exist solely on the basis of sensual perception.
      There is no special pleading. You misunderstood my mention of Jews/Christians.
      What I meant is that Judaism and Christianity exist because of God's intervention.
      These are the only 2 religions that have God as their founder. All other religions
      can be traced to folklore. If you study religions carefully you will notice
      that other non-Jew/Christian religions use the concept of god or gods to explain
      natural things. Judaism and Christianity are the only religions that actually
      present God as a transcendent being that interacts with man and not a analogy
      to explain the world or human behavior. When have you heard of Hindu prayers being
      answered or divine healings in other religions?
      In regards to the burden of proof, see my blog post on it as well as this
      from the Atheist channel on about.com:

      "The first thing to keep in mind is that the phrase “burden of proof” is a bit more extreme than what is often needed in reality. Using that phrase makes it sound like a person has to definitely prove, beyond a doubt, that something is true; that, however, is only rarely the case. A more accurate label would be a “burden of support” — the key is that a person must support what they are saying. This can involve empirical evidence, logical arguments, and even positive proof.
      Which of those must be presented will depend very much upon the nature of the claim in question. Some claims are easier and simpler to support than others — but regardless, a claim without any support is not one which merits rational belief. Thus, anyone making a claim which they consider rational and which they expect others to accept must provide some support."

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    2. From your previous comment:

      "Not at all. My argument is that we cannot conclusively state that God
      does not exist solely on the basis of sensual perception. "


      I have no argument with this. Given that God is normally described as being supernatural, i.e. beyond our ability to measure or detect, there is likely no way to conclusively prove he/she/it does not exist (and by the same token, no way to prove he/she/it exists either). That is the reason I, and many other Atheists, do not make the claim that God does not exist. We instead state that we lack sufficient evidence to conclude God does exist. That is a reasonable response given what we have been able to observe.

      Not only has there been no verifiable evidence brought forth for the existence of God, there has not been any verifiable evidence where one could infer God's existence. Any claim for proof of God that I have ever seen is either logically flawed or something that has many plausible explanations that do not require a omnipotent supernatural being.

      As for burden of proof, well, if your argument is restricted to only those Atheist who make a positive claim that God does not exist then yes, they do have a burden of proof to substantiate their claim. And as stated above, I feel it is unlikely they could satisfy that burden.

      However, I still maintain that one does not have a burden of proof when stating they lack belief in something due to lack of evidence. I am not asserting anything about God's existence. I am asserting a belief - i.e. it is not a statement of fact.

      "What I meant is that Judaism and Christianity exist because of God's intervention."

      Where is your proof? Your explanation here presupposes that God exists. It does not prove a thing. And what about Islam? According to the Qur'an, Allah (God) had three previous prophets: Abraham, Moses and Jesus and the follows of each strayed from the true path so God chose Muhammad to be the final and true prophet. God supposedly picking a new prophet and claiming the others wayward sounds like pretty direct intervention to me.

      "When have you heard of Hindu prayers being answered or divine healings in other religions? "

      This statement implies that you are asserting that these things actually happen in the Christian and Jewish faiths. if so, where is your proof? No one has ever been able to demonstrate "divine healing" in a scientifically controlled environment. Multiple studies have been conducted that show that statistically prayer is no more effective than making wishes or doing nothing of the sort. Any one-off incidents of people claiming prayer affected the outcome of something fall well within expected margins of error.

      As a final note please understand that I have no issues with you or your faith. In fact I applaud your willingness to debate on these issues. However, as a skeptic, when someone makes extraordinary claims I demand extraordinary proof before I will accept them as truth.

      Delete



    3. The cool thing is that He actually revealed Himself to man and continues to do so with those who seek Him with sincere hearts.








      The evidence is all around you. It takes a wise mind to dicipher the clues in nature that show God's existence.






      No one can. Whether pos or neg.








      Well not believing in something is a position that one takes for whatever reason. That particular reason should be backed up by evidence in order for it to stand.





      The proof is self evidence. Their existence as such is witness to the intervention. They are the only groups founded by a Divine entity. Islam is different. It is a blend of Judaism and Christianity. Without the knowledge of these 2 faiths, it (Islam) would not be.







      The do actually happen and are documented heavily. Saints, before being declared as such must have confirmed miracles. The scientific community verifies these miracles as not having natural origin prior to the Church advancing its own investigation. Studies involving prayer are not valid. "God" is not being tested. The studies involved the observation of a possible answer. How can one really observe this? It is like if you have a study of what I think every 4 minutes. How can you observe this since no one can test introspection? Prayer is not a wishing well thing. This is where these studies fail greatly. Prayer is not "I want a new bike" and then it appears. That is not prayer.









      Anything can be "extraordinary." In order for you to find truth, you must stop hiding behind the filters.

      Delete
  5. I think it is time for the atheist to answer a question. What specific evidence would you accept that would convince you that there is a God? I would be curious to see what Sacerdotus would do with that hypothetical evidence. Lets just change sides for a bit and watch an atheist in a different position of argument.

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    1. They all give mix answers. Eventually, they all just deny whatever is presented. Atheism is just a contrarian position.

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    2. Well, to carry on this thought... Do you believe in Zeus? If not, why not? what evidence do you have to deny Him?

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    3. I answer this in my Atheism is Stupid series. Check them out. Folk gods have an origin and therefore can be dismissed as myth.

      Delete
    4. "Folk gods have an origin and therefore can be dismissed as myth."

      Yahweh has an origin just as much, Sacerdotus.
      He was invented in Mesopotemia by pagan worshipers who elevated the god they called "El Elyon" (high god), the father of other "mini-gods" whose names I do not remember currently, up to monotheism.
      These historical facts are well researched and documented.

      Please do some honest research before making claims that make you look silly.

      Watching the following video is a good start for you:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlnnWbkMlbg

      Delete
  6. Believers have this backwards. Of course no one is omniscient. There might be fairies and unicorns and dinosaurs and aliens and all kinds of impossible things hiding under that one rock mankind hasn't bothered to uncover yet. IF we ever find evidence that is the case, which can be scientifically verified and replicated to show other people, THEN we can accept that these things exist. Until then, it's safe to assume they don't exist.

    Atheists are simply applying this logic to gods as well. Now, there are several gods which most believers don't accept. Especially monotheists. They feel there is only one true god, but there are many gods which have allegedly claimed to be the only one. So there are "One True Gods" out there which a monotheist doesn't believe in. If they did, they'd be polytheistic.

    If you happen to believe in one god, but you don't believe in these other gods, there's no reason to believe in your own god. You simply refuse to apply the same logic to your own god that you have already applied to aliens and other gods and unicorns and anything you don't currently believe in, that others have claimed at one time or another might exist.

    We do not blindly believe in all these other things until given proof they do not exist. By default, we don't believe in all kinds of stuff. If you're going to believe in anything, it should only be stuff that you can prove actually exists. Monkeys for example, or dolphins, or Paris, or apple pies.

    And if you know something is real, why do you have to believe it? At that point, believe becomes redundant to what you know can be proved. However, if you can't currently prove it, you really have NO reason to believe it.

    It's really that simple. To insist ppl believe in your god even though you can't prove your own god, that is the height of arrogance AND ignorance, and anything which can be asserted without evidence, should be dismissed just as quickly.

    Go prove your god exists outside your own mind, and then we'll talk. Until then, your god only exists inside your mind. There might be a god out there hiding under that one rock mankind hasn't bothered to look under yet, but if you can't prove it exists, it's not YOUR god.

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    1. *****Believers have this backwards. Of course no one is omniscient. There might be fairies and unicorns and dinosaurs and aliens and all kinds of impossible things hiding under that one rock mankind hasn't bothered to uncover yet. IF we ever find evidence that is the case, which can be scientifically verified and replicated to show other people, THEN we can accept that these things exist. Until then, it's safe to assume they don't exist.*****


      If there is a Creator, that it is logical to assume that this creator is omniscient since He/She/It created everything and knows the blueprint. There might be fairies etc, but most likely not. These ideas stem from folk beliefs. Since they can be traced to the imagination of man, then it is logical to conclude that they exist only within the realm of the imaginative potential. Science is NOT the measure for all things. Scientism is not the way to go. Even my former professor, Dr. Pigluicci (a renown atheist) is against this idea that science must test everything. Science is limited. It uses instruments that can fail. Human brains that are subject to all kinds of different perception manage these instruments and the data from them. THis is why science is constantly change its facts. It is not truly reliable, unfortunately.






      *****Atheists are simply applying this logic to gods as well. Now, there are several gods which most believers don't accept. Especially monotheists. They feel there is only one true god, but there are many gods which have allegedly claimed to be the only one. So there are "One True Gods" out there which a monotheist doesn't believe in. If they did, they'd be polytheistic. *****


      No, you are confused with this God vs gods thing. There aren't gods out there and each are competing for man's attention. There is only ONE GOD who exists within Himself. This ONE being is the originator of everything seen and unseen. The gods, Thor, Zeuz, etc, are man's attempt at giving an antropomorphic description of the divine essence. In other words, these gods are how man has tried to explain or describe the ONE God. God in the Bible speaks out against these gods because these ideas of Himself are erroneous. If you were God and you are good and want humanity to live its full potential, would you want your creation to believe you as this god who wants child sacrifices?




      *****If you happen to believe in one god, but you don't believe in these other gods, there's no reason to believe in your own god. You simply refuse to apply the same logic to your own god that you have already applied to aliens and other gods and unicorns and anything you don't currently believe in, that others have claimed at one time or another might exist.*****


      See my answer about regarding this God vs gods issue. In regards to your latter point, these gods, aliens, unicorns have their origin in folk religion or beliefs. Since they can be traced to an original thinker, it is logical to conclude that these ideas do not exist in the universe or outside of space and time. A being that exists that man does not know about would reveal Himself. However, if man has to develop this being, then it is obvious that this being is not real. God revealed Himself. This is what makes all the difference between God and the gods of folk religion.




      Delete
    2. *****We do not blindly believe in all these other things until given proof they do not exist. By default, we don't believe in all kinds of stuff. If you're going to believe in anything, it should only be stuff that you can prove actually exists. Monkeys for example, or dolphins, or Paris, or apple pies.*****



      What proof do you have that they DO NOT exist? To date, no atheist has proven God does not exist. Yet they seem so confident in believing this.



      *****And if you know something is real, why do you have to believe it? At that point, believe becomes redundant to what you know can be proved. However, if you can't currently prove it, you really have NO reason to believe it.*****



      Belief is a choice after opening the gift of Faith. The "Higgs Boson" for years was not proven, yet it was believed to exist. Had physicists taken your advice, they would have never found the elusive particle.




      *****It's really that simple. To insist ppl believe in your god even though you can't prove your own god, that is the height of arrogance AND ignorance, and anything which can be asserted without evidence, should be dismissed just as quickly.*****


      People believe in God not because of others necessarily. They believe because they actually experienced God in their lives. Take the many atheists who convert. They did so on their own. No one proselytized them. God can be proven. This idea that He cannot is unfounded. The problem is that some people do not want to accept the proof just like some don't accept evolution or even the Higgs Boson! The problem then is not God or the evidence, but the people observing.




      *****Go prove your god exists outside your own mind, and then we'll talk. Until then, your god only exists inside your mind. There might be a god out there hiding under that one rock mankind hasn't bothered to look under yet, but if you can't prove it exists, it's not YOUR god.*****





      Just look around. The billions who believe. I never approached those people. Heck.. I used to be an Atheist! No one ever approached me with a Bible or Catechism. God is the one who reveals Himself. Unless you're open to that revelation, all you will hear are your own presumptions instead of hearing the voice of God calling from within.

      Delete
  7. Please demonstrate how you know the story of your god did not originate from humanity. Even if you could show no known first origins of the christian god, that in NO WAY shows that it wasnt made by man. It is the SAME as every other religion.

    This blog is a fine example of the blatant fallacious arguments you pose daily. You should be ashamed at your behavior, but you apparently have no conscience in spreading fallacies as truth. You are the worst theist on twitter... the biggest liar.

    ~ FreeAtheism

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    1. Well for one, we are biologically predisposed to believe in God. In order to say God originated from humanity, then we must have programmed our genes before even existing. This of course is impossible. Your comment is a perfect example of how atheists rely on sophism and disregard science and philosophy. In the end, they are made to look like fools.

      Delete
  8. More silliness from the believers. Putting words in people's mouths, then knocking down the false argument. But...it would be soooo easy to resolve these endless pro-Invisible_Guy blogs. Just have him prove his existence. You know, show up at a Mets game, part the Gulf of Mexico..or end the Middle East religious mess... Simple! See!

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    1. You don't need me for that. You can easily pray and ask. Go ahead, try it. If you know prayer is the means of communication with this "invisible guy," then logic dictates that one would use it if one wishes to contact this guy. If you have the number to a girl you like, why not use it and call? Think!

      Delete
  9. It is true that absence of evidence is not by itself evidence of absence. However, absence of evidence where you would expect to find evidence IS (defeasible) evidence of absence.
    For instance, if the flood described in the bible had happened, we would expect to see evidence of a worldwide extinction event dated to somewhere between 4 and 5 thousand years ago (which is apparently when biblical scholars say the flood happened). We should also expect to see significant layers of sediment laid down at about the same time.
    If we don't find evidence of these things, then we can say that this absence of evidence supports a number of possibilities.
    1. the flood didn't happen
    2. the flood was only a local phenomenon
    2. our dating of the flood is wildly innacurate.
    Note, we are only entitled to infer 3. if we find the above evidence dated to some other period.

    See how it works.
    We treat the claim under investigation as a hypothesis. Then we ask, if this claim is true, what evidence would you expect to find? If you don't find the expected evidence, then this absence of evidence IS evidence that the claim (hypothesis) is false. (or at least partly innacurate)

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