The oft repeated silliness of "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" has always struck me as a particularly stupid line of argument. Why on earth would someone believe an extraordinary claim with no evidence to support it?
You'll get no argument from me here, Jag.
What factually exists but provide no evidence of it's existence? Made-up stuff, that's what. Things like fairies, unicorns, shoes that fly around your room while you sleep, settling back exactly where you left them before you wake up, leaving no trace of their activity. Dragons, talking animals, Hogwart's, vampires, shape-shifters. All things that the vast majority of reasonable adults in first world nations dismiss as made up.
Again, no argument from me. I, too, dismiss these as made up.
Only deities are granted a special exception of not needing to have any evidence to support their existence, and that leaves theists in an awkward position that they rarely address - even if some sort of god-like entity does, in fact, exist, with no evidence whatsoever, what makes any given theist so smugly certain that the deity they claim to follow is the one? If no evidence is required to believe in one deity, what basis do any of them have for discounting every other diety ever described?
If there is no evidence whatsoever, then it is probably not a deity. At this point, I would say a no-evidence deity would require true "blind faith". I don't personally know of any deities that people tend to put blind faith in, it is usually based on something.
The few arguments I've ever seen a theist raise to explain this away are inevitably disproven with little effort. Here's the easiest way to illustrate the central flaw: Religious Diversity Around the World.
Highly credible research, with information that demonstrates the problem, if only you can open your eyes and look at it.
Here are two really easy one to see - geography and number of followers.
Geography - religious diversity tends to have natural boundaries. For some strange reason, the God of Christianity couldn't get himself across the ocean until European captains figured out how to get here. The God of Islam was pretty much stuck in the desert until people started migrating in large numbers during the last 100 years or so. Notice how the beliefs common in Asia are also largely confined to Asia? The Christian God is not a special exception to the geography problem - he was just as local as any other until humans figured out how to safely move across large distances. No god can't get anywhere until his own believers take him with them.
Dominance by numbers: the three Abrahamic traditions combined account for 54.9% of the total global population (details of how thing were categorized and tabulated are included in the article): 31.5% Christian, 23.2% Muslim, and 0.2% Jewish. Jews, while tiny in comparative numbers, MUST be included in the consideration because it's their religion in the beginning - Christianity and Islam are both utterly dependent on Judaism. Overarching observation - the three religions that worship the same god have highly varied dogma.
In very simple terms, Judaism is the foundation, Christianity is at it's core the reinterpretation of Judaism, and Islam is in some respects a reinterpretation of both (this is a very simplistic comparison on purpose). Each tradition is following the same God - and have spent centuries killing each other over their different interpretations of what, exactly, is required by this God from it's followers.
Each tradition has multiple internal divisions, and within those divisions, each sect views every other sect as in some way, following God the wrong way.
So tell me b.a., why would a skeptic think ANY of you have any idea at all of WTactualF you are talking about?
I definitely appreciate your thoughts. I don't expect you to necessarily agree with mine on this, but all I see this explain is that there are a lot of religious people in the world (majority), and that they hold a lot of varying beliefs. Of course, there are many points in here that my faith (Christianity) helps to explain, but I know you're not interested in that. It also contradicts the assertion that we're dealing with the same God, or at least an understanding of that God. The god of Islam is far different than the God of Christianity. Jesus also made it clear that those who deny the Son, do not have the Father. In other words, those same Jews may claim to know God, but Jesus says they actually don't actually 'know' Him, even if they understand He exists.
But, this isn't really the point, debating which God is right (if any). The point is people put faith in God, I believe, because there is evidence or reason to do so, or that is my own personal reason. I don't believe in the tooth fairy because I am the tooth fairy, and Santa Claus, and Harry Potter is just a book. No one has ever given there life for Harry Potter, at least not on any massive scale. But, people do that daily all over the world for Christ. They give up everything. They give up their lives both literally and metaphorically. I don't think it's because they believe Jesus is not real. They are fully convinced. They may have grown up being taught its true and they simply accepted it. They may have weighed the evidence and chosen. They may have experienced something that convinced them God exists. There are a plethora of reasons, and I'm sure this just represents a small sample. Some (many?) may be a combination of factors. Comparing God and the tooth fairy just doesn't hold up for many reasons, but mainly because of two (knowledge and evidence).
Knowledge - We know the tooth fairy isn't real because we've participated in its falseness. We've knowingly put the the money under the pillow, or wrapped the presents and put them under the tree. We willingly and knowingly conspire in these activities as "fun", fantasy, and perpetuate it as false. On the other hand, Christianity (and other religions) have been perpetuated with the assumption of being true.
Evidence - why varying and debatable, I believe most believers (Christians) believe there is some evidence for their faith. You're welcome to pick that evidence apart from case to case, but they aren't just putting in "blind faith". I suppose if you can prove (with reasonable certainty) that the evidence is weak or invalid, you can convince them to abandon their beliefs. But even 'weak' evidence is different than no evidence.
When you combine these two factors, you end up with a much different scenario than Harry Potter. From the get go, it is well understood and disseminated by the author, and common knowledge, that Harry Potter is fiction. That just isn't the case with deities, especially with the "Big 3" religions you mention. If these deities were well understood from Day #1 to be false or fictional, they would easily be abandoned and discarded like Old St. Nicholas, at least from a worship standpoint. This would also happen if believers felt there was zero evidence of their existence.