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How to Respond to Evangelicals Using the “Were You There?” Argument

god is omnipresent

Some of you engage young earth creationists in discussions and debates about the beginning of the universe and evolution. A frequent argument used by Evangelical apologists is “Were you there?” How dare we say the universe is 13.7 billion years old? How dare we say the earth wasn’t created in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,027 years ago? How dare we challenge mythical stories such as Noah’s Flood, the Tower of Babel, and Israel’s migration from Egypt to Canaan? How dare we question the supernatural claims Christians make for Jesus? Were we there? Of course not, and since we weren’t there, our challenges have no merit or relevance. Of course, Evangelicals weren’t there either. The difference is that Evangelicals appeal to faith, and unbelievers appeal to science, history, reason, and common sense. Unbelievers demand objective evidence, whereas Evangelicals appeal to subjective faith. For Evangelicals, the final answer is always “The Bible says.”

The “Were you there?” argument, is no argument at all. None of us was there. All we can do is read, study, investigate, and come to logical, rational conclusions. Faith bypasses all these things, appealing to a singular claim, “The Bible says” or “God says.” This may have worked in the prescientific age, but not today. Evangelical apologists say their peculiar deity created the universe a few thousand years ago. This is a positive claim, one that runs contrary to virtually everything science tells us about the universe. If Evangelicals want unbelievers to embrace their beliefs, they are going to have to do more than cough up proof texts or appeal to slick theological/philosophical arguments. Solid, empirical evidence is what is required, and so far, Evangelicals have failed to deliver.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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15 Comments

  1. Avatar
    GeoffT

    The ‘were you there’ argument is pathetically stupid. Almost nothing that we know in life is based on personal witness, it’s that we accumulate knowledge through a variety of sources. Educated and intelligent, in fact anybody with the least reason, people work their way through life making choices that have nothing to do with their physical presence. It’s like asking if Donald Trump really exists if you haven’t seen him (sadly he does, despite my never having seen him). Anyone who thinks the earth is just 6000 years old is beyond help.

  2. Avatar
    TheDutchGuy

    That reduces it to the elements so anyone can understand and remember it. Science versus miracles. Subjective faith versus objective evidence. Some evidence outweighs no evidence is how we see it but to those indoctrinated to believe without evidence, it falls on deaf ears.

    • Avatar
      Jeff Bishop

      Hello Dutch Guy! Hows the tulip business?? LOL (I own a Keshond!)

      The REAL reason for Religon (IMO)
      Around the Neolithic, when “people” were emerging from hunter gatherers to the begginings of collective civilization, many things must have been exceedingly frightning and unexplainable:

      Earthquakes, Tornados, Hurricanes, Tsunami’s, Volcano’s, Comets, Plauges, Droughts, Floods, and on and on and on.
      How to explain these things?

      IMO Humans have this DNA encoded “God Trigger” that switches on to explain the unexplainable.
      It seems resonable and plausable, that before “learning” it was easy to reach the conclusion that “Higher Powers”
      are / were at work.

      At least thats my 2 cents on the subject. It took 10’s of thousands of years to break away form that type of thinking, and of course, the majority of the human population still believes in the supernatural element now.

      Not only that, billions of people are still INVESTED in perpetuating that nonsense.

      • Avatar
        TheDutchGuy

        Well Jeff if you have a keeshond, by the power granted to me by our King, Willem Alexander, I hereby declare you an honorary DutchGuy with full privileges.
        Yes those ancients had to be desperate to understand the frightening world around them trying to control what they could and avoid what they couldn’t. They had a good excuse for fabricating fantasies to explain life, death, fire, weather and other natural phenomena. Modern man, well most of us, have no such respectable excuse as the ancients had. In their case knowledge of the world was minimal and science was nonexistent. The only excuse man has today is plain old ignorance and the contagion of religion deeply entrenched in the minds and social systems under which society is organized.

    • Avatar
      John S.

      Tee can never admit that Earth sciences have a better process for answering “Earth questions” than does religious texts. He insists that modern science can “prove” the Genesis creation story if we just open our minds (and hearts) to it. And he assigns an ulterior motive to secular scientists who publish results which are contrary to the Biblical stories about creation, the flood, etc.

      He also sets up an unachievable standard of proving a negative. Prove the Bible “isn’t true”. Like Pilate, my response would be, “Truth? What is truth?” Literal truth? Is he talking about philosophical truth? Is he taking about “possibility vs probability”? If I say based on scientific evidence the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, does that mean I’m saying the Bible is totally untrue? Not necessarily but it appears more likely than not that the accounts in Genesis are based on primitive observation of Earth processes, and answering those observations with the best explanation the people of the time could come up with- it must be a Higher Power that set all this in motion. It’s easy to understand why primitive man would develop this thinking into oral and later written traditions, which answered their questions at that time in human development. And yes, some of these accounts match the myths of other civilizations. And there is evidence of catastrophic ancient floods. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, however, just like the Inca and Aztec building pyramid temples definitively proves they either had contact with ancient Egyptians or even better with ancient aliens.

      Science was established to study the natural world. Over time scientific methods were developed to hypothesize why things happen, and how to gather and analyze evidence to either prove or disprove the hypothesis. Is it perfect? No but what is? Science offers the most likely answer if it can, otherwise it offers the most plausible explanation. Science is not a tool to either prove or disprove faith-based beliefs. Science can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence. That is for a person’s instinctive emotional part of their being to determine.

    • Avatar
      TheDutchGuy

      I read what Tee wrote there: “faith is not subjective”. Wow! I give Tee credit for exceptional facility torturing language and logic. He shamelessly ignores established meanings of words to make his case. You can’t debate a person who won’t even agree to fixed definitions of the language. I’d suggest he devote his considerable facility with words to writing novels. He could let his impressive imagination run wild, (nothing new for him) and he might make more money from reaching a wider audience.

  3. Avatar
    Jeff Bishop

    I take it your 6,027 date is courtesy of the Arch Bishop of Assissi. Whom used some type of arithmetic to “count back” all of the generations of the bible to get o the “start date”. Well at least “some” math was involved in that equation.

    I enjoy science, or should I say, I enjoy reading peer reviewed papers. I enjoy studying geology and the fossil record, as a layman, I am interested in the actual “known facts” about the Earth and not Supernatural fairytales.

    There are mountain ranges, with shale deposits, near the top of mountains, such as the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies, that have thousands of fossils from the Cambrian Explosion of 538.8 million years ago.
    Thats Millions, with an “M”. There are other places with similar fossils, in China, in Australia.

    Scientists are able to rougly date the rock formations the fossils are in. I know the Cultists always have an information loop that always leads back to the same tired, false and uneducated conclusions. Claiming the “flood”
    is responsible for the aforementioned fossils. Who’s that Australian nut case “Ham” that built the Ark in Ky?
    Teaching the children lies and falsehoods to reinforce the Cults positions.

    They claim the dinosaurs were around during Noahs time. All I can say to that is the Ark must have been a hellevalot bigger than biblical claims considering it was hauling around all the dino’s too. Must have been
    kinda touch and go with the T-Rex and Velociraptors when they were loading and storing.

    Here is my beef with the Cultists and Science. First, many of them (majority) kinda shirk away from a REAL conversation of Science, it is embarassing for them considering the wealth of Scientific information supporting Evolution, Geology and the other earth sciences.

    Then there are the Ken Hams of the world, that live in a complete CULT daze 24/7.

    The cultists want to destroy secular education, Women’s rights, science and medicine. They are turning secular education into religous indoctrination at a young age.

    Interestingly the cultists all seem to enjoy the trappings of science, all while rejecting it. Eletcricity, the visual medium, transportation, information dissimination and on and on and on.

    I have remained silent my entire life, once upon a time believing that religon and church was practiced by well meaning people, interested in moral behavior and enhancing ones community.

    While that is still probably ture, the leadership and the money driving these cults have a completely different agenda: Political control (using JESUS) for that purpose. Once in control they shut off the rights of a secular life, education and free speech.

    Welcome to the 21st Century of the Dark Ages. …..oh and of course the orange haired Jesus they REALLY worship!

  4. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    Jeff Bishop: “They claim the dinosaurs were around during Noahs time. All I can say to that is the Ark must have been a hellevalot bigger than biblical claims considering it was hauling around all the dino’s too. Must have been
    kinda touch and go with the T-Rex and Velociraptors when they were loading and storing.”

    Zoe: During my creationism days in the IFB (Canada) days I think it was Henry Morris and his ilk who said the dinosaurs were babies, so that’s how they managed the ark. 🙂

    I actually asked Morris a question during fellowship after his presentation about what he thought of Hugh Ross and long-earth creationism. He literally said with malice: Read your Bible! and then walked away from me.

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    One of my favorite pastimes while watching science shows like NOVA or Cosmos is to regale my secular-educated husband with Things We Learned in Fundamentalist Christian School With Bob Jones University Science Books in the 1980s. It’s good fun.

    Don’t give up on people who were indoctrinated with these lies. People like Bruce and ObstacleChick were able to examine these teachings, compare them to peer-reviewed science, and come to conclusions contrary to the indoctrination. It can and does happen. However, it takes time and a willingness and ability on the part of the person indoctrinated to do the work. It’s a lot of work, painful, tearing at the foundations of one’s upbringing. It’s so difficult that many choose not to do it, rather preferring to ignore truth so as to continue living in one’s safe community.

    I think people like Bruce and me, and all the other readers here who put in the work are a particular type of people. We chose to take the difficult road in order to pursue truth.

  6. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I find my answer to “Were you there?” is an admittedly throwaway, “I didn’t need to be. The rocks were there, and told modern scientists all about it.”

    Studying for my geology MS, I learned about how scientists have “conversations” with our planet, using chemistry, biology, and other baseline sciences to look for clues about ages, environments, and evolutionary changes in the fossil record and in the prehistoric records of humans and our not-yet-human ancestors. It was a mind-blowing step beyond the good TV science shows like Nova and Cosmos (or my current favorite on YouTube, Time Team).

    It also emphasized to me how much modern lab work is involved in drawing conclusions in the much-derided “historical sciences” like geology and archaeology. Not that an unexplored mountain range or village ruin doesn’t need boots on the ground and gathering of physical data, but that’s only the first step. Then the lab work translates hypotheses into conclusions.

    • Avatar
      TheDutchGuy

      “How do you know?” Wow. Unlike “Were your there”, that reduces the question to the fewest possible words without leaving anything out. It’s eloquent, thoughtful, informative and refreshingly logical. I urge everyone to read it.

  7. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    We humans do not control the physical universe. We can observe and experiment. God or gods are a human creation to justify the views of some human groups and to be used to force other humans to do what they want.

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