Evidence for Christians and Skeptics

Just following on from my post below, and thinking out loud, it strikes me that both Christians and Skeptics are interested in evidence, but they have a very different idea of what constitutes evidence.

Christians - particularly charismatic Christians - are very into evidence. No matter what they might say about not testing God, not demanding a sign, not being a Doubting Thomas, in fact (to generalize massively based on my experience) they (or we) are often looking for signs and wonders to show that God exists and cares for me as an individual and us as a species.

If you go to a charismatic service, and even more if you go to a revival meeting, there will be many testimonies of God's power. When I went to visit Victory Church in Cwmbran, for example, the pastor started the service by telling us about the various divine interventions that had happened that week - people being healed, mainly. Each story was greeted with enthusiastic, almost defiant applause - as if to say, let the doubters scoff, we have hard evidence!

That was second-hand accounts, but churches will also use many first-hand accounts - getting people up on stage to talk about how God helped them. And then people will look to their own experience, look to uncanny phenomena such as coincidences, dreams, visions, epiphanies, ecstasies, prophetic words and so on - which confirm them in their overriding belief that God is at work among us, guiding us, speaking to us.

This is how I think too. I also think God has occasionally spoken to me in dreams, in (very rare) visions, has helped me to meet the people I need to meet, has healed me, and so on. A part of me wonders if this is just my temperament - if I'm simply a bit of a hippy mystic with a tendency to see God in things, in the way the wind blows over a field of corn for example. I even find myself saying such things, to excuse my mysticism - 'oh well, I'm a hippy', or 'I'm a bit of a mentalist'. Though of course this suggests that God itself is just a product of my temperament - which is not what I believe.

I also have the habit of Skeptic thinking and look for evidence in a Skeptic sense. When I was at the Victory Church and the pastor was reeling off all these miracle-healings that people had emailed him about, I thought 'has he checked out these incidents to see if they really happened before he uses them as evidence or testimony to others?' I don't think he had. I really respect first-hand testimony in spiritual experience, but a lot of the stories in circulation seem second-hand - a person told me about this other person whose leg grew through prayer. And - I hate to say it but - how many miracles involve growing legs?? Where do all these short-legged people come from? Why is God so into lengthening legs?

Perhaps it would be seen as bad faith to really check what had actually happened - but it could also be sloppy and uncritical not to. I don't think God wants us to switch off our critical faculties. I don't think that God needs Christians to 'cook the books', twist the facts or otherwise sex up the dossier. He's God! Trusting in God means trusting that scientific investigation of the truth will lead ultimately to God. At the same time, of course, I don't think God wants us to ignore the evidence and testimony of our own hearts, our feelings, our visions, our dreams, our relationships - all that wayward and uncertain data which Enlightenment science has struggled to incorporate.