A common argument used by atheists is known as the argument by absence of evidence. In a nutshell, it is: absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
The first problem is it can be applied to other things often held dear by athiests. A certain relative of mine doesn’t accept evolution; big bang; creation, or anything removed from solid provable human experience, by the same argument. The thing here is, gravity and magnetic fields, although they are invisible, can be examined over and over and the assumption that they are factual is objective. Things like the existence of a deity, or evolution, are based on evidence, that can be interpreted in different ways. The atheists solution to any evidence for God is that since it can be interpreted, it isn’t evidence, consistency would require they reject evolution, and any cosmological model, since these are based on interpretable data. Any form of theoretical science would have to go too, since the evidence for these branches of science is interpretable. I could merely say that there is no evidence for evolution, since people just interpret the evidence as if evolution is true. This may indeed be the case, but it’s still evidence.
The problems don’t end here. Since the beginning of higher criticism of the Bible, the argument has proven to fail. There was no evidence outside of the Bible for Belshazzar, from Daniel, or the Hittites. Archaeology, in time, proved that these existed, similar criticisms have been levelled at other aspects of the Bible, and many have been later verified. The coelacanth was ruled out as extinct, because there was no record of it in the geological column for about 65 million years, but they are not extinct. It is evident that absence of evidence, is absence of evidence, nothing else. The fact that this argument has been tested and proved invalid begs the question, “why use it at all?”
I commonly receive the come back that I rule out Thor; Ra; Mithra or other deitys for this reason. This is simply a misguided attempt to put an atheist thought process into a theistic mind, and is thus a straw man argument, and for that reason alone is invalid. The assumption that there is a supernatural requires that believers in a Judeo-Christian God, must also believe in the devil; angels and fallen angels or demons. So, while many have for a long time accepted that Baal was a demon, Milton’s Paradise Lost, although fiction, reflected that belief, the existence of Baal wasn’t in question, but rather his status. While the atheist claims an absence of evidence for the existence of the supernatural, the theist accepts it. Generally the acceptance of one religion over another will be based not in a belief that no evidence exists, for the other religion, but rather in what evidence, or what interpretation of the evidence, the particular person finds more compelling.
I would accept an atheist rejecting theism on the grounds that s/he found the evidence for atheism was more compelling than the evidence for theism. The problem with that is that the evidence for the non-existence of something would be non-existent, since something that doesn’t exist wouldn’t leave evidence that it never existed. I doubt anybody would reject atheism on the grounds of absence of evidence, so perhaps it’s about time atheists started being consistent and dropped the whole absence of evidence argument.
For atheist readers, can you improve on this argument, or point out where I’ve gone wrong. For those who accept any sort of a deity, what do you base your belief on, evidence; faith; subjective experience, or perhaps something else? I would be interested to see what compels different people to choose one belief system over another.