I swear I’m not trying to make all of my titles questions; it just happens that my best title idea for a given topic keeps ending up a question.
I have had the argument multiple times (usually with atheists) about whether there is or even can be scientific evidence for a god. From those discussions, I have two conclusions: first, if there were any such evidence, we would have found it by now; second, such evidence can never reliably prove a specific deity.
Both of these conclusions were extremely difficult for me to swallow. I grew up surrounded by miracle stories. In one, a man beheaded for his faith picked up his head and carried it six miles to a location where they (understandably!) buried him and erected a chapel. In another, a young Native American woman who was quite devout died and all of her smallpox scars vanished (I never thought to question why that didn’t happen while she lived). In yet another, a priest who doubted his faith bowed his head at the moment of consecration and looked up to find the circle of bread in his hands gushing blood. One young girl cut her leg badly with an ax and was healed later that day without any medical intervention. A woman lived for decades without food except the Body of Christ. A man called an ax head out of a lake (or perhaps river), and it floated to him over the water. The sun danced in the sky and plummeted close enough to earth to dry knee-deep mud and thousands of onlookers almost instantly, yet so gently that nobody was burned. A shepherdess left her flock alone to attend church and never lost a lamb. I was in attendance as a woman experienced a vision of Mary. Even closer to home, my family chiropractor was the attending doctor at a faith healing who declared the person healed (at the time, I had no inkling of the irony packed into that sentence).
Is it any wonder that I clung to the idea that Christianity must be true, for the miracles proved it? Certainly, the more astonishing thing is that I simply lost that dearly held religion because my evidence vanished and my carefully planned arguments failed.
When I have the discussion about what might be good evidence for Christianity, I often bring up the idea that one way the Catholic god in particular might prove his existence (and the truth of Catholicism, by extension) would be for every priest to be able to heal by laying on of hands. This would be so well known and well documented that Catholic hospitals would be in demand everywhere and would employ mainly priests, with no need for employees with medical expertise. There would be no genetic anomaly among the priests; they would not have the ability to heal before ordination, and the identical twin of a priest would also lack that power unless he, too, was ordained. Other holy men from other religions might have the ability to heal, but only very occasionally, and not consistently as in Catholicism. (And while I’m spinning a hypothetical, god also wouldn’t allow any priest to harm any child.)
I hope it is clear to everyone that such a scenario is so far removed from reality that something called the Black Death destroyed much of Europe while the Catholic Church fairly completely in charge. Indeed, that scenario is so outside of our experience that it serves as a good example of exactly the type of miracles we don’t see, miracles that we might expect were there any truth to the idea of an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful deity.
As far as I am aware, there is no miracle that passes the objective experience test; no miracle can be repeated reliably, even those promised in Mark 16:18 of healing the sick and drinking poison without harm. As far as I can tell, miracle claims have decreased in number and impressiveness as scientific inquiry has increased in power and prevalence.
Committed faithful scientists have been searching for centuries for any evidence of their god, and have thus far come up entirely empty. At this point, absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. Normally, not being able to find evidence of something is nearly meaningless – I could not find evidence of a wildebeest on a parking lot in Alaska, but that is not evidence that wildebeest don’t exist. Normally, I would not make this argument, but humans have been searching for god so thoroughly for so long that it is valid to say that our inability to find anything is evidence that there is nothing.
However, even if every miracle claim ever heard could be proved to have actually happened, this would still not be evidence of a specific deity. Again, I took quite some time (and several classes of not paying attention to the lecture) before I could accept this conclusion, but I eventually realized that any miracle that appeared to be evidence for the Catholic god would equally be evidence for a bored deity who wants to fool humans into thinking the Catholic god exists. We simply don’t have a way to know, especially when we don’t yet have a verified miracle claim.