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Evidence. truth and personal testimony

29 July 2014, 14:05

Evidence and truth

The following account describes an experience I went through, during the time in which I first began seeking an understanding of the relation between faith, reason and evidence.

One evening after leaving a friend’s house late at night, the road on which I was driving led me to a four-way intersection. At the intersection it was necessary for me to turn right so that I could follow the road home over the mountain. The traffic light was red and I came to a halt in the middle lane of the three lanes of traffic going in my direction. Ahead of me and across the intersection to the right, on the side of the road, I noticed that a road block had been set up. There was a caravan for testing blood alcohol levels and a few blue flashing lights. I was not in the least bit perturbed as I had not been drinking at all. In fact, I barely took notice of the road block. However, what did suddenly make me uneasy was the fact that I was in the middle lane, when, possibly, I should have been in the far right lane in order to swing right at the intersection and head over the mountain. I thought that maybe the middle lane was only for vehicles going straight over the intersection and not also a lane in which motorists could turn right.

My unease came because I had noticed that a police vehicle had pulled up behind me. I saw the blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror and thought that I did not want to cross over a lane with the traffic police right behind me. It was definitely not a time to commit any traffic violations with these guys out and on a mission that evening. While the traffic light was still red, I decided to inch over into the right hand lane so that I would at least be 100% sure that I was not violating any traffic law. There was space for me to make this cross-over into the adjacent lane. As soon as the light turned green I simply turned right and headed off towards the mountain. The very next moment I had the police in hot pursuit of me with sirens going, heads out the windows and frantic hand-waving, directing me to pull over. Both policemen in the vehicle were convinced that I had changed lanes in order to avoid going through the roadblock. My true reason would have sounded pathetic in the face of the overwhelming evidence, which to any reasonable policeman, seemed to clearly point to an attempt to avoid being tested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

I surrendered to their demands to go back and be tested because I couldn’t really blame them for believing what they did, even though I knew that they were incorrect in their judgment. Consider the evidence: It was late at night and there was a roadblock ahead of me, which the police knew that I knew about. I changed lanes as soon as the roadblock came into view as I drove over the hill and then I subsequently drove off in a different direction. A reasonable conclusion for anyone to draw was that I was potentially over the blood alcohol limit and trying to avoid being tested at the roadblock. The evidence was there and appeared obvious.

Nevertheless, the truth of the matter was actually quite different. I knew the truth because I was in the best position to know the truth. It concerned my own personal condition. I had direct, immediate, first-hand knowledge of the issue. However, what I knew was in direct contrast with a rational interpretation of the evidence. Although my personal testimony in the form of my claim to being sober would have seemed like a lie, it was actually the truth. The evidence was against me. The evidence pointed to me being guilty. My personal testimony, the highest quality evidence available for this particular issue (because the issue was my own physical condition), would not have carried any weight with the police. Yet the (quite reasonable) inference to my guilt, based upon the evidence, nevertheless led to a completely false conclusion. 

This experience was a clear illustration to me of this truth: 

‘Evidence’ (in the sense of events and phenomena in the outside physical world or factual states of affairs) does not speak with one voice but is always interpreted from within a particular frame of reference and may speak with almost as many voices as there are individual, subjective viewpoints. The traffic officers were not being unreasonable but they were nevertheless wrong. Their frame of reference made them sensitive and alert to any signs of illegal behaviour on the road. Everyone was basically a potential offender until proven innocent. Therefore any evidence that could be interpreted to fit their frame of reference would be. Their perception was tainted by their particular viewpoint that evening. This issue is no doubt of particular relevance in the case of so-called circumstantial evidence*.

So it is sometimes with the Theist in the world. The evidence may seem to be against him/her. Does that mean that he/she should just “plead guilty”? Should I have said to the traffic officers, “Well, all the evidence certainly looks as though I am over the limit and trying to avoid the roadblock. OK, take me in and lock me up, I’m guilty of drunk driving”? Obviously not. It is therefore possible to know that you know that something is true, even though, to someone else, all the evidence contradicts your claim. The evidence was simply interpreted by the police officers from within their own frame of reference. They saw my actions from within a particular viewpoint and joined the dots (facts) in a way that fitted their own frame of reference. They were out to prosecute drunk driving and were seeking evidence for such behavior. In the same way, if your frame of reference is that of a hard atheist regarding God’s existence, the evidence can also be interpreted from within this particular viewpoint so that the facts appear to confirm your point of view. 

There is an unhealthy skepticism that is not really interested in finding out the truth. People with this attitude only oppose whatever is presented to them. It’s a heart condition more than any intellectual obstacle to accepting the faith and in actual fact precedes and precludes any sincere, open discussion and evaluation of all the evidence for and against Biblical Christianity. The unhealthy skeptic has prejudged the case and had his heart and will exposed by the nature of evidence itself, which lends itself to more than one interpretation.

 I am not by this saying that it is right to convince yourself of the truth of anything because it’s what you want to believe. I am saying that when you really want to understand and get to the truth of any matter, you will be perfectly open to all sides of the debate. The more evidence and facts you accumulate, the better judgment you will be able to make.

It was by adopting the Socratic principle of following the evidence wherever it led that resulted in the famous atheist philosopher, Anthony Flew, coming to reject atheism and accepting instead deism as a more rational position. Flew stated that once a person accepted deism, it would not be long before he would find himself straight into Christian theism as the most plausible view of reality. I personally believe that God Himself has set the entire system up this way in order to call out, through the activation of their own volition, those people who have an honest, sincere desire to know Him. Any person without any sincere desire to know God will have an easy time refuting Christian Theism. Evidence is so designed so as to speak with more than one voice. It is easy to justify a position of faithlessness based on ‘evidence’, which is nothing more than an overly skeptical interpretation of evidence. God is a God who hides Himself.

 Blaise Pascal said it well:

"There is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't."

*(Neo-Darwinists should take note that the only type of evidence for common ancestry and the origin of biological diversity through random mutation and natural selection is circumstantial evidence. This has been clearly stated by Richard Dawkins in an interview with Bill Moyers and can be found online by Googling Dawkins Moyers interview).

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