Arguments and Evidence – Should an Argument Be Considered “Evidence”?

Let me start this discussion with a conversation that I’ve had with a large handful of atheists. It goes a little like this:

Me: “God exists”
Atheist: “I want evidence”
Me: “Define ‘evidence’ for me”
Atheist: “Facts or information indicating whether or not a belief is true”
Me: “I agree with that definition of evidence. Do you analyze arguments?”
Atheist: “An argument is not evidence”

So, the burning question here is:
What exactly is the relationship between evidence and arguments? ***

First, lets start with definitions.
What is evidence?
What is an argument?

Evidence
Atheists always say they want evidence for God’s existence, and rightfully so. But what is evidence? There are a lot of really interesting articles on the nature of evidence, but lets just look at 3 sources.

  • The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a really interesting article, check it out. In an epistemological sense, evidence is considered to play a role in justification for a particular belief.
  • Dictionary.reference.com defines evidence as “that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.”
  • Oxforddictionaries.com defines evidence as “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid”

All of this together should give us a usable, uncontroversial definition of the word evidence. Evidence can be defined as the available body of facts or information which tends to prove or disprove something, usually associated with the justification for beliefs.

That definition of evidence seems to fit well with the three references used above, as well as our everyday understanding of evidence. We could get a lot deeper into this discussion (obviously), but it is not necessary for the goal of this post.

Argument
Now that we know what evidence is, what is an argument? The discussion on the nature of arguments is equally (or possible more) complex than the discussion of evidence, but we’re not going to go deeper than we have to. And, for the sake of consistency, I’ll use the same 3 sources.
And as a point of note, I am using the term argument in it’s technical sense; not synonymous with bickering or quarrelling.

  • The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has, again, a very interesting article on arguments. I’d encourage you to read it. Put very briefly, an argument is “a collection of truth-bearers … some of which are offered as reasons for one of them, the conclusion” and “a typical use of an argument is to rationally persuade its audience of the truth of the conclusion.”
  • Dictionary.reference.com defines an argument as “a statement, reason, or fact for or against a point.”
  • OxfordDictionaries.com defines an argument as “a reason or set of reasons given in support of an idea, action or theory”

All of this together should give us a usable, uncontroversial definition of the word “argument”. An argument can be defined as a collection of truth-bearing statements, reasons or facts used in support of an idea, theory or belief. Arguments are used to rationally persuade its audience of a particular conclusion.
Just like my definition of evidence, the discussion of arguments can go much, much deeper than this. But for the goal of this post, this definition works well.

Given the two definitions above, both arguments and evidence deal with coming to conclusions (either affirming or denying something). They both also deal with supporting beliefs, and they both deal with reasons and facts.

So what is the difference?

It looks like the definitions of evidence and arguments overlap in all the important categories, except one. Arguments deal with “truth-bearers” (a term used by the IEP), which are statements, beliefs, or propositions that can either be true or false.
For example, if I say, “All men are mortal”… that statement is either true or false. The same goes with the statement “Elijah is a man”.

So an argument is a series of truth-bearers that lead to a conclusion. Take the two examples I used above. From those two statements, what conclusion can be reached?

  1. All men are mortal.
  2. Elijah is a man.
  3. Therefore – Elijah is mortal.

We have good evidence to believe the 1st statement.
And, considering I am the Elijah spoken of in the 2nd premise, we have good evidence to believe that I am a man.
And therefore, following the rules of logical inference, we have evidence to believe the conclusion: that I am mortal.

*side note – how logic works*
In order for a conclusion to logically follow from an argument, the argument must be both valid and sound. Not all arguments are sound and/or valid. An argument is valid only when its form follows the rules of logic (does not commit a logical fallacy). An argument is sound when it is valid and all of its premises are true.

An argument is a collection of truth-bearers that when taken to their logical conclusion, give evidence for a particular conclusion. If there is good evidence to accept the premises, then there is good evidence to accept the conclusion.
Take the syllogism offered earlier.

1. All men are mortal.
2. Elijah is a man.
3. Therefore, Elijah is mortal.

Wouldn’t you say that you now have evidence that I (Elijah) am mortal? Or do you still have to kill me (or wait for me to die) to know that I am mortal? I think you have good evidence to believe that I am mortal, wholly apart from killing me.

So, if:
Evidence can be defined as the available body of facts or information which tends to prove or disprove something
… and…
An argument can be defined as a collection of truth-bearing statements, reasons or facts used in support of an idea, theory or belief.

Then it seems reasonable to conclude that when an argument is both valid and sound, it becomes evidence for a particular conclusion. So is an argument actually evidence?
It would seem that the answer is… yes.

——————————————————————————

*** TL;DR?
Evidence is used in justification for certain truth-bearing (can be true or false) propositions. An argument is a series of truth-bearing propositions, logically leading to a conclusion. If the premises of an argument are justified by evidence, and the argument is both valid and sound, the conclusion logically follows.

That logical conclusion from the evidence is also evidence for a certain conclusion. So, an argument is evidence. However, this is not meant to be a bifurcation between the concepts. Arguments and evidence are interdependent upon each other.

——————————————————————————

Have some thoughts or criticisms? Leave them in the comment section below 🙂
Thanks!

———– EDIT MAY 14, 2014 ————-
Someone responded to this post.
And I responded here.

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20 thoughts on “Arguments and Evidence – Should an Argument Be Considered “Evidence”?

  1. MeesterGibson

    According to the bible, your argument for your mortality is invalid , because of Enoch and Elijah the prophet. My point is that in all of this, when making an argument, attempting to use that argument as evidence would mean that every premise of your argument must be true and demonstrated to be wholly factually true, in order for your conclusion to be considered as evidence, right? There seems to be none of this in the arguments for a god.

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      //”when making an argument, attempting to use that argument as evidence would mean that every premise of your argument must be true and demonstrated to be wholly factually true, in order for your conclusion to be considered as evidence, right?”//

      Yes. Well, “demonstrated to be wholly factually true” isn’t necessarily the case for an argument to go through. The particular premise must be, at very least, demonstrated to be much more likely to be true than it’s denial.
      But basically, yes. As I said in the post, ” when an argument is both valid and sound, it becomes evidence for a particular conclusion”

      //”There seems to be none of this in the arguments for a god.”//
      We obviously disagree on this one.

      Reply
      1. MeesterGibson

        I disagree, because when presenting an argument as evidence there can be no leeway or else it isn’t evidence.

      2. Elijiah Post author

        I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Just think about the usage of the word “evidence”. In this post, I defined evidence as “the available body of facts or information which tends to prove or disprove something, usually associated with the justification for beliefs”

        Lets think about that in relation to something that isn’t an argument.
        Evidence for… lets just say evidence for evolution.

        A lot of times, people will appeal to the universality of the genetic code as some evidence to confirm universal common descent. And, in a way, it is a “fact… which tends to prove” evolution, right?
        But is that the only way to interpret that evidence? No, of course not. Had there been a single designer, we would expect that designer to use a only one version of an information-bearing molecule. And that’s what we see.

        So, there is leeway when it comes to using the universality of the genetic code as evidence for evolution. But does that mean it isn’t evidence?
        No. It is still evidence for evolution. It is still a fact which tends to prove evolution, and is therefore evidence for evolution.

        All of this is to say that it doesn’t have to be 100% certain (as implied by your “no leeway or else it isn’t evidence” statement) in order to be evidence. The same goes for an argument.

      3. MeesterGibson

        lol so it’s likely that these facts can be used to argue for god, sort of, I mean there’s a reasonable doubt but you don’t have that burden. But for instance practically everything else in my life that exists there is direct evidence of its existence and I don’t need a convoluted argument to prove it so, unlike a specific circumstance that led to a crime or something, the existence of a deity needs more than an argument, it’s a claim that requires drastic evidence as it is the largest claim ever made.ever, try and appreciate that fact!

  2. theromans6man

    This made me think of Hebrews 11:1…faith is what we need..it is the evidence. Proof of things not seen…and by faith we KNOW that God created with His Word. Atheists will never have evidence until they believe. God says believe and then I will show..the world says show me then I will have faith…

    Reply
    1. Elijiah Post author

      This seems like it would relate to a post written by another one of the writers on this blog, PhilLOSTophy.
      https://hashtagapologetics.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/defining-faith/

      Hebrews 11:1 says:
      “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.

      It does not say that faith is the evidence, it says that faith is the assurance. The reason we have faith is because of the evidence, faith is not the evidence by itself. So we have evidence first, then faith, and then assurance because of that faith.

      //”Atheists will never have evidence until they believe.”//
      I think that’s a very strange way to go about analyzing belief. If they don’t have something to believe (i.e., they lack evidence)… in what would they believe? You can’t just believe for the sake of believing. It doesn’t make any sense.

      May I suggest you take a look at these posts, on how we should view “faith”?
      http://www.str.org/articles/what-does-faith-in-christ-mean#.UgW3nWT71jQ
      http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/02/02/the-problem-of-blind-faith/

      Reply
      1. theromans6man

        This is what I get out of Heb 11:1. Faith is both the substance of the things we hope for and faith is the evidence of the things we don’t see. To get the things we hope for, we must add faith which is the substance. And when we get these things hoped for because of our faith in God, then we know or have proof/evidence. Hoping God will do something is wavering, yet faith in God is knowing that God will give you the things you hope for. But anyway, I believe that faith is evidence of things unseen.

  3. MeesterGibson

    so if one of the premises for an argument is not true you can still accept the argument as true? Interesting

    Reply
      1. MeesterGibson

        “demonstrated to be wholly factually true” isn’t necessarily the case for an argument to go through”

        because of that

      2. ElijiahT Post author

        Maybe you didn’t see the rest of what I said. Here’s the conclusion:

        “All of this is to say that it doesn’t have to be 100% certain (as implied by your ‘no leeway or else it isn’t evidence’ statement) in order to be evidence. The same goes for an argument.”

        I explained my position on this carefully.
        Yet you just snagged the first sentence and ignored the rest. And if you didn’t ignore the rest, you certainly didn’t consider the rest before posting that.

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  8. God

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A sound argument that isn’t based in facts hardly counts as extraordinary evidence. Some might accept a non factual argument for a simple, common claim, but not for an extraordinary one. In the case of a god claim, I agree. We need extraordinary evidence. Consider that there are many god claims.

    And faith is not a pathway to truth. One can believe anything on faith.

    Reply
    1. ElijiahT Post author

      Extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence any more than hilarious claims require hilarious evidence.

      All claims require adequate evidence. Your subjective understanding of what is or is not extraordinary has no bearing on the validity of the evidence for something you think is extraordinary.

      Reply
  9. fred

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A sound argument that isn’t based in facts hardly counts as extraordinary evidence. Some might accept a non factual argument for a simple, common claim, but not for an extraordinary one. In the case of a god claim, I agree. We need extraordinary evidence. Consider that there are many god claims.

    And faith is not a pathway to truth. One can believe anything on faith.

    Reply

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