Attacking Evidentialism without Presenting an Alternative

I recently received a comment from one of my subscribers whose Christian friend gave a rebuttal to Evidentialism. In the rebuttal, I noticed a pattern that I’ve seen among many critics: attacking Evidentialism without presenting a viable epistemological alternative. So I have decided to post a general answer to this approach.

Typically, one does not need to present an alternative to a position in order to attack it. However, if your goal is to bring down an entire foundational system of belief (an epistemology), it is incumbent on you to propose an alternative.

Why? Because what if the critiques you are making apply to ALL epistemologies? What if your critique isn’t actually a problem with a specific epistemology but rather an unavoidable problem for epistemologies in general? Unless you present an alternative that actually solves your a proposed problem (or comes closer to solving it), you have failed to demonstrate that better epistemologies exist.

Anyhow, here is my rebuttal to the specific comment posted above:

In your rebuttal, you have submitted no viable alternative to Evidentialism. You’ve merely made a vague Appeal to Authority fallacy in reference to past work in epistemology.

Yet, even in doing this, you didn’t even *reference* a specific alternative basis for justification, let alone *defend* one. You’ve merely made some fallacious rebuttals to specific issues, not presented an entire system of justification, as I have.

How does your alternative system detect and correct for errors in perception, memory, and communication? How does it employ physical evidence? How does it justify the use of mathematics and logic?

Merely by having developed thorough answers to foundational questions like these, I have done substantially more to justify my position than you have.

I sit comfortably in a well-made and well-defended, if not perfect, epistemological home. You, on the other hand, are apparently homeless and are merely attempting to tear down my home. No matter what your end result, you both start and end homeless. Attempting to tear down my home is not the same thing as building one yourself.

43 comments on “Attacking Evidentialism without Presenting an Alternative

  1. Matthew says:

    While I agree with a lot of your posts/videos, and think that evidentialism is the best method we have for discerning facts about reality, I cant agree with this post.

    I would argue that if you see flaws in anyones ideas, arguments or position, you NEVER need to offer an alternative, merely to demonstrate the flaws.

    In fact your illustration about the ‘epistemological home’ and the tearing down or building of such homes sounds all-to familiar, as many believers say the exact same thing about atheism – ‘if you dont have an alternative, shut up, stop trying to tear down my beliefs’ etc, which in my opinion is a cop-out. As an atheist I reserve the right to reject any and all theistic claims based on their own flaws, with no requirement for me to offer an alternative.

    Isnt the best approach to simply appraise his criticisms of your ideas and overturn them if they are unfounded, or accept them and reconsider your position if they are valid (which I highly doubt)

    • evid3nc3 says:

      “Isn’t the best approach to simply appraise his criticisms of your ideas and overturn them if they are unfounded, or accept them and reconsider your position if they are valid?”

      In this case, the very act of overturning them would be to ask him to present an alternative.

      For example, he asks how we can detect supernatural beings which don’t produce physical evidence through Evidentialism. The only valid response I can think to this is: “Well, how exactly SHOULD someone go about detecting supernatural beings which don’t produce physical evidence? What is your alternative?”.

      In other words, he is presenting critiques that apply to epistemology generally, not Evidentialism specifically. So, as far as I can see, demanding an alternative is the only viable move.

      • Chaud says:

        The problem, for me, is: why should we assume that there are things like “supernatural beings which don’t produce physical evidence”? It just seems to me like another version of “The Dragon In My Garage”.

      • Chaud says:

        Or, in other words, it seems to me that this is a search for an epistemology that emerged from an ad hoc basis. For wanting explanations about the supernatural, all epistemological position that doesn’t contemplate such a theme would be “wrong.” That, in fact, is what I think as a superficial and naive way to attack any type of evidentialism.

        Moreover, why should anyone “prepare to be frustrated with the limits it places on what you classify as knowledge”? Knowledge can really be something limited. That seemed only like an argumentum ad consequentiam.

  2. Epistemology is kind of a hobby of mine, and I was wondering if you’ve posted a list of books that have informed your thinking on the topic. If you have, would you please point me to it. Thanks.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      I’ve read through a few published philosophical articles from academic journals (including a dissertation) on Evidentialism, as well as the book Evidence & Inquiry. A lot of my thinking comes from my own philosophical perspective and experience, though. I just verify that it matches, is compatible with, and/or extends the literature before expounding it too confidently.

      And, now that I think of it: I’ve actually published some of this myself in academic Artificial Intelligence journals and in my own dissertation. So a good portion of my thinking is published as original work.

  3. portal001 says:

    Just wanted to ask, do people think that Wikipedia presents an accurate overview of Evidentialism? Including its Criticism? –

    Where else should I look for a proper introduction?

  4. portal001 says:

    Also I have to ask, does faith have any role in Evidentialism?

    • evid3nc3 says:

      No. Absolutely zero. The entire point of Evidentialism is to make the argument that all justification comes from evidence. It stands in direct opposition to Fideism and Rationalism.

      • Spugpow says:

        But didn’t you yourself say that you need to take it on faith that you aren’t a brain in a jar, or a simulation in a computer?

        • evid3nc3 says:

          No. Faith is the unconditional conviction that a belief is true. My foundations are provisional hypotheses and that is what I said. I am open to my hypotheses being false. A faith-based belief is not open to revision.

  5. portal001 says:

    Hi evid3nc3,

    Is it a firsthand account that we base this trust on, or do we instead take on secondary accounts from books and films?

    For example, I have never directly touched or seen a Manta ray, yet I trust the reports provided to me through films and other people’s accounts. I trust in this creature’s existence based on what other people have witnessed.

    Before film, accounts were disclosed in volumes of books and circulated as encyclopaedias

    If I followed Evidentialism – would I need more confirmation than this to believe that certain animals exist?

    Less than 300 years ago many people trusted and studied certain animals, land masses and plants through the accounts drawn and recorded by others. Since information wasn’t as easily circulated, many correct reports had to be accepted through faith.

    Many Christians refer to The Bible as evidence, since they are accounts that have been shared by a number of witnesses.

    What is considered evidence from the Evidentialist position?

    How much evidence is needed before trust can be established?


    • evid3nc3 says:

      You need to watch the first video, 3.4.1 Evidence. You are showing a lack of comprehension of the concepts I discussed there.

      Beliefs in Evidentialism are not binary. I don’t “trust” a belief. Any belief could be wrong. I *have evidence* for beliefs. The more evidence I have, the more confidence I have. And, yes, we have much more evidence and, therefore, much stronger justification than people 300 years ago.

      Surely you aren’t implying that people 300 years ago had just as much evidence as we do in the modern technological age. We dwarf them in the magnitude of evidence we have and what we can do with it.

      • portal001 says:

        I’ll watch the video again, thanks for your concise response

        • portal001 says:

          And I wasn’t implying that people 300 years ago had just as much evidence as we do in the modern technological age. I am asking how much weight other peoples accounts hold in an Evidentialist postion.

          • portal001 says:

            apologies, 3.4.1 Evidence answers this question.

          • evid3nc3 says:

            No worries. I can see now that you were just asking honest questions.

            I’ve received quite a few inquiries that started like yours. However, in those inquiries, the person was just asking the questions rhetorically and had no intention of actually listening to my answers.

            I’m relieved to see that wasn’t the case.

    • wnymathguy says:

      At portal001, RE: “Many Christians refer to The Bible as evidence, since they are accounts that have been shared by a number of witnesses.”

      I’m not too good with philosophical jargon, but after reading your initial question and pondering it a minute or two I wanted to reply.

      In most of the scientific texts that we accept on faith, their is a tacit knowledge that we can reproduce the results we read about if we follow the same path that the writers claim to have traveled. In Science their is a “blood-sport” of competition that would eventually ferret out a faker after they acquired some recognition for a claim. Even the novice has the potential for decrying “the King has no clothes.” I believe it goes without saying that all the remarkable works of a deity referred to in any religious storybook can never be reproduced and they aren’t claimed to be reproducible.

      I believe the reason that any book of faith is given the esteem and benefit of the doubt, but science is often scoffed at by the same people, is the religious books are promising something valuable that cannot be measured, and science is promising the opposite; deserved everlasting happiness vs. selfishness, struggle and scarce resources with a unpleasant exit.

  6. mike says:

    I wanted at first to disagree with you in general about your requirement to present an alternative, since I don’t believe one needs an alternative explanation in order to refute a particular theory, but having read his comment I can understand what you’re getting at, evid3nc3. In fact, in that comment he’s not made any specific arguments against evidentialism, only expressed a general dissatisfaction with it, and, (if I may place myself in your shoes,) has left me unsure what I’m defending it against. The same snobbish dissatisfaction could be expressed for any epistemology.

    In fact, I’m not sure I’d consider it an actual attack on evidentialism at all. Certainly not *specifically* against evidentialism, though maybe against the possibility of forming any coherent epistemology at all. In which case, as you’ve discussed in your own videos, we really can’t know anything, can’t escape Descartes’ brain, so why bother thinking about it at all?

    As Chaud alluded above, the commenter’s friend seems to be yearning for an epistemology that can encompass some knowledge that evidentialism cannot, just for the sake of demonstrating that evidentialism is insufficient. But there’s nothing to say that this extra knowledge is *true* or useful. He might as well look for an epistemology that allows one to know that 1+1 equals 3, or that like charges attract, or that wishing for something makes it so.

    There are indeed limits to what one can classify as knowledge. If he’s not at least trying make his knowledge reflect reality, I’d say he’s merely engaging in sophistry.

  7. Tom says:

    Hi evid3nc3,

    I feel a certain kinship with you, to be honest. Your deconversion journey was very similar to what I experienced (I grew up in a fideistic Christian background).

    This is my biography in a nutshell: Christian > Atheist > Agnostic > Theist > Christian.

    So I’m not here to delegitimize your experiences whatsoever, I really identified with your videos. So really, thanks :) you certainly have a talent for making compelling videos.

    Do you find yourself frequently thinking from a Christian point-of-view? I find myself doing that a lot, except that I think from an atheist point-of-view. :)

  8. portal001 says:

    If a person is born blind, this person would still have 4 senses in order to make sense of the world. This person would still be able to touch, smell, hear and taste. However this person (I assume) would have no concept of colour, since this person would have never experienced colour.

    If someone who could see explained to this blind person how a certain object appeared (at least to them) or explained what they thought its function was then at some point the blind person would either accept the seeing person’s testimony or have to rely only on their 4 senses. The blind person may ask other people who could see about the same object in order to get a other reports. However, since the blind person cannot see themselves, this information is all secondary. if they accept any of those accounts then it an act of faith and not based on any personal direct experience of being able to see the object. But does that then disqualify these accounts? since the person themselves hasn’t experienced them directly?

    Even if the blind person investigated the object themselves by touching, hearing, tasting and smelling they still wouldn’t necessarily understand or reach a correct conclusion of what this object was or its functions without the reports from those that could see. the blind person would also have to accept on faith that those people are actually seeing this, since the concept of “seeing” is something in the realm of the unknown. These people could merely be making things up and claiming they can “see”. What does blue “look” like anyway?

    There are some personal experiences that can’t be measured externally by others. These include Joy, Faith, Hope and Love. Love is expressed physically through actions and affections.

    Those who experience these I don’t think would deny how real they are. Yet they cannot be necessarily measured by other people.

    • wnymathguy says:

      Hello @portal001
      I find your posts intriguing. You would be a fun person to have hanging around in a cigar-smoking lounge.

      You are right about having to take color on faith because even if that person were to use refraction knowledge and photo-sensitive digital receivers to tell what color a object was, they would still be depending on all other seeing people to give accurate information about the measurement tools he would use. I know many people that would calibrate it to say blue when it was red, just so the blind would grab a “Blue” cloak before their first bull fighting lesson.

      However, in your construction, you didn’t allow for the other senses of the blind to correct and refute, nor the inherent logic of the person to judge the character of the others based on verifiable objects. I don’t think a blind woman would need to accept on faith that an object was a ladies “back” massager. Blind people get through a world entirely designed for seeing people all the time and I don’t think they do all that purely on faith.

      This blind man metaphor is great fun and has other implications that I see you and @evid3nc3 are touching on below. I have a next logical spin on it for you here. When we try to apply the metaphor of the blind man (singular) to the knowing of God’s and other unobservable claims, you need to adjust the story. In that case the metaphor has every person on Earth blind. Everybody is blind and everybody is getting along well for literally thousands of years. Then as people begin to organize and pool resources for protection against other people, somebody claims,
      “I should be boss because I can see colors and the rest of you knobs can’t. Furthermore Red is my favorite color and everybody in our camp will wear red, but because you can’t make red correctly with your blind eyes, I will make all the red garments for you from now on.”
      How as a blind man can I prove this confident person is also without vision, or has vision and is right about red? Is he knowingly making a false claim merely for a higher good? Do his ends justify the means? Will he only use his power for good?

      I think you can see where I’m going with this so I should probably get back to work.

      • portal001 says:


        Thanks for your thoughts,

        “Blind people get through a world entirely designed for seeing people all the time and I don’t think they do all that purely on faith.”

        Yes, I think your right, its not only faith that causes people to make decisions.

        “When we try to apply the metaphor of the blind man (singular) to the knowing of God’s and other unobservable claims, you need to adjust the story. In that case the metaphor has every person on Earth blind. Everybody is blind and everybody is getting along well for literally thousands of years.”

        I think that depends on whether you believe God has been passive, or if He has been actively communicating since Adam and Eve, Moses ect.

        “I should be boss because I can see colors and the rest of you knobs can’t. Furthermore Red is my favorite color and everybody in our camp will wear red, but because you can’t make red correctly with your blind eyes, I will make all the red garments for you from now on.”

        I think I see your point, but I have yet to read anywhere in the Bible where God has taken such an attitude towards humanity.

        • wnymathguy says:

          Not to be cheeky here, but I believe Bible scholars put the age of Adam & Eve about 4000 BC and the creation of the Earth at about 5555 BC.
          I own this poster…

          We know their were civilizations of humans long before that who were forming societies on their own. You have to go with the Bible is in error, or that it’s mainly a poetic/metaphorical document, or God didn’t care about the people that were here before he made the first two that made everybody else, or perhaps something else. Maybe God made most people just so good people had somebody to righteously hate? Maybe God didn’t make everybody and only lineage from Adam and Eve are loved by God, like God is Jerry Jones and religious are the Dallas Cowboys team.

          So semi-related to that is the idea of celestial communications in general, which also goes to my comment of the leader that says we all will wear red. I claimed spiritually that we are all blind and that one of the blind people claimed sight and claimed insight from the sight. That would literally translate to one human among many humans claimed they talked to God directly, and has a set of not too arbitrary rules that all people are supposed to live by. How do any of the rest of humans verify the claim of this one particular human? I hold that they don’t. I hold that some do the go-along-get-along, others are true believers, some smell bullshit, but can’t prove it and aren’t powerful enough to make a stand.

          I believe that’s how a religion forms. Some people won’t tolerate the unprovable claims, and leave town. They are now the heretical people that “God” hates. Of the ones that stay (go along get along, and true believer), they have their children indoctrinated in the faith so young that even the ones who would have smelled bullshit have the lie so deep into the psyche that they aren’t objective on that topic.

          Wear red can be no shellfish, or burnt offerings, or wine & cookies in a church on Sunday.

          If we are all equal to God, why would an omnipotent being choose to not communicate with most, and in only unverifiable ways with others, and have so many conflicting messages with the people that get the message directly. And why not do a followup communication when they wrote things down wrong?

          • portal001 says:

            This Chronology is interesting.

            What are your thoughts on this?


            What I am interested in: Is there any recorded written history that is older than 7000 years that exists within any civilization? Apart from Indigenous cave paintings?
            I mean is there any evidence of recorded written history (text) that is any older than approx 7000 years?
            If there is such evidence then either people have misunderstood the Bible, or the actual text is incorrect. But I have yet to find any record of recorded history that is any older than 7000 years approx.

        • wnymathguy says:

          The WordPress software didn’t show a “Reply” link under your last post, so I clicked reply to your second-last post. It’s probably cause the column gets too narrow.

          The Bible Basics link you offered was concurrent with what I meant about the biblical age of the Earth and humanity. Those chronology items force one to question the precise nature of the content in the Bible.

          Before I answer your question about text age, note that the arguable age of the Bible is only 1,300BC

          to 1,500BC

          which makes all the real early Bible content based on word of mouth transmission, one generation to the next, by what were probably the equivalent of historians, over many centuries and undoubtedly changing languages and dialects. No easy feat to maintain accuracy there. I have been convinced though that the transfer of events had some type of accuracy after watching a documentary that showed a special genre of seismic events producing the same plagues that Moses was credited with, and that a similar seismic event happened near the Exodus. If word of mouth transferred the significant and repeating events after a underwater volcanic event near land well enough, then Moses could have known what was coming as a weatherman does now. Apart from turning a staff into a snake, the other plagues are common.

          Far removed from Egypt, over in China their is solid evidence of writing from 1,200BC

          and questionably as far back as 6,600BC

          I’m led to believe that the last time the Earth was a total snow-ball was about 10,000 years ago, or maybe 8,000BC. I would have to think it wasn’t worth the effort to sit down and write things if you were just trying to survive the shitty environmental conditions.

          Since we have found human, or very human like remains from over 3 million years ago, we can surmise that some of the social information was lost during the frigid times on the Earth, and that their may have been rises and falls of entirely different races of humans between Ardi and us. Their may be undiscovered evidence of pre-Ardi humans also. The mythological city of Atlantis could have been on dry land till a major glacial retreat put it under water and unreachable. Theirs freshwater society evidence deep under the surface of the Black Sea, so that wasn’t always salt water.

          Circling back now, how can you make the case that the lack of written evidence of a society denies any existence of a society? We do have evidence of civilizations around 8,000BC

          but not written evidence. Could you be asking for an unreasonable thing to make your argument that the Bible is factual and not part fact and part metaphor and part fictionalized accounts of major events?

          • Portal001 says:


            Not sure if you still visit this blog,

            but just wanted to say, I appreciate the response you gave above regarding Chronology, and considering evidence for civilisations that could have existed earlier than 7000 years ago.

            Thank you for taking the time to respond.

            All the best

          • wnymathguy says:

            I do visit still. Thanks for the thanks. ;) So when are you going to launch your own blogging ideas?

  9. portal001 says:

    Here is another illustration that was on my mind. The loss of vision in an illustration is useful because I think we draw so many conclusions from what we see for ourselves (well I do anyway).
    A blind man is searching for water. A voice calls to him, providing him directions to where to find water. This voice claims to know something that the man doesn’t. Yet the blind man doesn’t have to trust him. He has other options. These include making use of his remaining senses, the man could feel for landmarks and attempt to feel his way to the water, he could try to smell for water, or listen for certain animals that might reside near water. He could just give up and conclude there was no water and remain stationary.

    He could decide to follow this voice, and therefore trust this voice. The voice itself could be evidence that there is a person besides himself in this desert. Or he might be hearing things from dehydration. There are many possibilities. The problem becomes more complicated if there is more than one voice calling out directions. The man could more easily follow the sound or the directions of one voice. But how could he follow the directions or sound of two, three, or four voices? Especially if they all are claiming the right way to the water, while giving different instructions. All from different directions.

    He would have to walk away from one voice in order to follow the instructions and hear another. He would probably die of thirst before he could follow all these voices sufficiently.
    This is the dilemma I think that we find in religions. Replace that “voice” with faith texts. Replace “blindness” with the inability to physically see God. Many people have faith, yet they are led in different directions by different books.

    I conclude then that it is the study of the source of the books and sincerely seeking God that will lead to answers. If after this, there is no answer from God then I could then conclude that either it is not God’s will for me to know, or God is not there. Personally, the place for me to start would be The Bible, since it was written before the Quran.

    I don’t think I have sincerely searched, read, or followed sufficiently to reach such a conclusion that God doesn’t exist. The argument could be made that just like the number of voices in the desert; it would be pointless to attempt to sincerely follow any faith, since I could not possibly within my lifetime follow all of them. Someone might say my time and energy would be much better used living and doing things without thinking about God. However just because I can’t explore every avenue doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek God.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      You appear to be swinging widely between to completely opposite extremes:

      1) Concluding God doesn’t exist
      2) Actively seeking God

      There is a middle ground and it is where most of us are at: not actively seeking God unless we find compelling evidence for God. We aren’t just dropping the investigation and saying there is no God. We are open to evidence. We just haven’t seen it.

      In any case, your comments are getting really long and aren’t in response to anyone else. Why don’t you write this is in a blog and post a link here? Or tell us the name of the blog if you can’t post links on WordPress (I honestly don’t know if you can)?

      The purpose of the comment section of my blog is to comment on a specific blog post. It isn’t to write long unsolicited essays about your own thoughts on faith. Why would you want such essays to be in a blog comment anyways? This seems like something you would want to post in your own blog for future reflection and record-keeping.

    • wnymathguy says:

      @portal001 Seeking is awesome. I believe seeking better information got @evid3nc3 to where he is today. It got me to where I am now despite I was seeking to validate, or vindicate my religious beliefs and the holy book I was born into carrying. It would have been better if I could have searched without bias, but it’s hard to be motivated without any assumptions that you seek to prove. As long as you seek with a preparedness to go either way you’ll be fine.
      Have fun.

  10. portal001 says:

    Just because a person might never find water in the desert doesn’t mean he shouldn’t seek water. He might find water, he might not.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      This isn’t exactly like seeking water in a desert, though. When someone seeks water, they are seeking something they have already seen and experienced, and that they already know is vital to their survival.

      When someone seeks God, they are seeking something they have never seen or experienced and which they therefore don’t know is vital to survival.

      It would be more like seeking a magic portal or a quantum computer in the desert than seeking water. We don’t even have evidence that those items exist, let alone if they are necessary.

      • portal001 says:

        Good point, my illustration has some pretty substantial holes in it.

        • evid3nc3 says:

          Don’t get too down on yourself personally, though. We are all just figuring things out. Some arguments are bad, some are good, some can be better. All we can do is keep proposing, evaluating, and improving.

          • portal001 says:

            Yeah, I’ll try not to, its not very productive to beat oneself up. Its good to evaluate though. I’ll keep reading more widely and thinking, thanks.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      I’m serious about you making a blog (for example, on WordPress). It isn’t too hard. It is likely that someone from here would be interested in discussing the issues you raise there.

  11. portal001 says:

    Ok thanks, It would probably help me learn to be more concise.

  12. Tezla says:

    *english is not my first lingo so warning and excuses
    i have been watching your series “why i am no longer a christian”. the last part where you discuss your epistymologi evidentialism how does that relate to skepticism,coherency etc etc.

  13. allzermalmer says:

    Prima facie, there is nothing logically unacceptable in attacking Evidentialism without presenting a viable epistemological alternative. This is perhaps why you bring up that “one does not need to present an alternative to a position in order to attack it.”

    But you present another hypothesis, which appears to be a way to try to avoid having to give up Evidentialism. This other hypothesis is “if your goal is to bring down an entire foundational system of belief (an epistemology), it is incumbent on you to propose an alternative.”; if it isn’t incumbent on you to propose an alternative epistemology, then your goal isn’t to bring down an entire foundational system of an epistemology.

    Immediately, from if “one does not need to present an alternative to a position in order to attack” then goal isn’t to bring down an entire foundational system of epistemology. And if someone can bring down an entire foundational system of an epistemology, then it has demonstrated a contradiction within the that foundational system of an epistemology. It would appear to be irrational to continue to hold to a necessarily false foundational system of epistemology because no alternative foundational system of epistemology was presented. One’s feelings, or preference, for a necessarily false foundational system of epistemology, doesn’t stop it from being necessarily false.

    The second part you have to bring out further is the point about “unless you present an alternative that actually solves your a proposed problem (or comes closer to solving it), you have failed to demonstrate that better epistemologies exist.” The issue that would need to be worked out is about what is the problem that Evidentialism was proposed to solve in the first? If evidentialism is a proposed solution to a problem, then proposed solution solves the problem by presenting something that is necessarily false. Something necessarily false wouldn’t appear to solve the problem.

  14. portal001 says:

    Hi wnymathguy,

    Apologies again for the delay, I’d like to start blogging soon. I just have to set aside time to organize thoughts, and type them up. Thanks for your interest :)

Leave a Reply to evid3nc3 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s