Is lack of evidence, evidence within itself?

I remember a while back that someone on another website (youtube) had made a comment stating that a lack of evidence can be considered evidence in of itself (namely when talking about deities whether mono or polytheistic) and it has me wondering as to whether this statement is true or if there is more to it, perhaps something I am missing? Could absence of evidence indicate that said evidence does not exist?

It could be an additional argument, but it is certainly not sufficient evidence in itself, especially when there actually is evidence to the contrary.

If someone come running in and says a grenade just exploded in the next room, and you go and look and everything is nice and tidy, I’d say that is evidence that it didn’t happen.


Well, that is a good case in point, isn’t it? Belief in God has more than one reason. Most TE s would expect less (or no) concrete evidence of intervention. Yet, the reasons for belief are beyond what I csn enumerate, including hope for justice, mercy, abstract reasoning, etc. Thanks.

That would very much depend on what is being claimed. Some evidence is lost to us or unrecoverable. And sometimes the evidence is a long time coming (e.g. the Big Bang). But in the example that Tim_Matter pointed out, the lack of evidence would speak volumes.

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I don’t know who first coined that phrase or in what context. It’s easy to imagine here that it might have been in the context of religion over stuff like the existence of God. But setting that aside for a moment and just looking at the phrase itself, I think there is an assumption that direct evidence (in at least one direction - what I think would be called the ‘null hypothesis’) is difficult or nearly impossible to come by.

In that regard I would critique @Tim_Matter’s grenade example as not fitting the phrase very well. For one thing, direct and positive evidence about an explosion - either way - is available by just walking into the next room. I would suggest a less exciting example might be more fitting: You live next to a large forest of many hundreds of square miles. Somebody comes by your house and suggests that they think campers have gotten lost in those woods and are in trouble. You live near at least one of the major entrances to the forest and you object that you never saw any campers enter the forest over the last couple days. In short … you have an absence of evidence that any campers are actually in there. But your absence of evidence is not actually evidence of their absence. (Positive evidence of their absence from the woods could come in the form of a discovery that they have been partying in a nearby restaurant). But meanwhile, perhaps they got into those large woods by some other route not near you. One might respond that this isn’t actually an “absence of evidence” situation - because after all, somebody apparently had some reason to believe people had gone in there. But maybe their suspicions are nothing more than hearsay or speculations. Even in that case, it still would not follow that nobody is in the forest or even in trouble in there.

That’s a much longer example, but one that I think gets closer to the spirit of the thing.

More purely, a mathematician concerned with proofs would probably press you if you insisted there exist an infinite number of twin primes (something that they are pretty sure is true, but which has not been absolutely proven yet - I don’t think.) So … no super computer has yet found the end of twin primes - there is no evidence that there is out there somewhere a “last pair of primes”. But the absence of that evidence is not evidence that such a last pair doesn’t exist.


The fact that you are having meaningful cognitive and emotional responses to what you’re reading right now is evidence, to you, that at least one mind exists. There is a severe lack of reasonable theories, let alone evidence supporting them, for how mind can be merely an emergent epiphenomenon of matter. In that case I would say yes, that lack of evidence does point to (but not prove) the existence of a non-physical realm of reality, in which minds exist. Once you accept that, then there really is no barrier to believing in things that physicalism expressly denies the existence of, including a supreme Mind who creates and sustains everything, including physical Universe.

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I think all the time in these kinds of conversations people confuse logical inferences and entailments. Proofs are about entailments. If your premises are true, and your entailments are done correctly, your logical conclusions are proven. But there are warranted conclusions (that can’t be “proven”) because they are about justifiable inferences. You can’t have mutually exclusive entailments from the same set of premises, but you can have mutually exclusive justifiable inferences about something based on different evidence sets or even different interpretations of the same evidence set. In light of my lack of experience with unicorns in our world, and the fact that I can’t name a single trustworthy source asserting evidence of unicorns, a justifiable inference would be they don’t exist and my disbelief in the existence of unicorns is warranted. But when people are arguing over things like whether or not miracles happen or whether or not people can hear from God or whether prayer brings healing, usually the evidence people marshal one way or the other is to some degree subjective and shaped by experience (or lack of experience) as the basis for knowledge. So for some people, it’s justifiable to infer those things have happened and their belief in them is warranted, and for others with different experiences it’s not.

When there is a complete lack of evidence for something, it is justifiable to infer that the evidence doesn’t exist. But it’s not true that a lack of evidence entails non-existence.


Sometimes it’s completely objective, though, facts as reported, not feelings or opinions.

No, still no proof. We have proved that there is at least one even number less than 246 that occurs as a prime gap an infinite number of times, though. We have also proved that using current techniques it is likely feasible to prove that some subset of 2, 4, and 6 occurs infinitely many times as a gap.

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Sure, but not all facts entail specific conclusions. Most of the time the conclusions we draw are meanings we infer from the facts, not logical necessities.

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Agreed. Some are more than obvious, though, and while not logical necessities are even silly apart from the obvious implication. (I might have one in mind. :wink:)

Lack of evidence of an unnecessary explanation, i.e. when all the necessary evidence to fully explain existence is already fully testified, is evidence.

I’m curious but am not sure exactly what you are saying. Can you give an example?

When the thing in question is an object such as a unicorn what could count as evidence is a good deal clearer than when the ‘thing’ in question is an experience such as noticing a difference in how the way we hold our attention results in experiencing more or less meaning or insight. Subjective experience is more participatory than objective classification. So it is harder to rule in or rule out the sort of discernments someone like Bach could make in music based on those of which we ourselves are capable. The same is perhaps true regarding empathy and love, our access and conclusions can vary based as you say on experience.

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We already have all the evidence we will ever need to sufficiently explain nature, existence, being, life, mind without anything supernatural. Nothing is missing but details which we will asymptotically fill in. Again and again and again, there is no requirement for a-theism as there is none for theism.

I find the criteria for what counts as supernatural to be too ill defined to be of any use. So for explanation, I agree, appealing to any such thing is useless. But I don’t agree that everything natural is entirely understood already since we and our experience are entirely natural and yet harder to explain than the motion of dominoes. The assumptions you make at the beginning will determine how obvious you experience it all to be. I don’t begin by assuming our behavior or experience are mechanistic by nature.

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Neither do I. Emergent complexity is not clockwork. Nature, whatever destabilizes nothingness, can never be fully understood, hence my use of asymptotically. My criterion of supernatural is real transcendence at best. An unnecessary complication for explaining any aspect of reality whatsoever.

Sometimes there is evidence that begs another explanation.

Not for those who need evidence.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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