I recently had a conversation with someone about the nature of evidence. He was asking me why we don’t have this or why we don’t have that? These were good questions and I’m glad he asked them because it sparked something in my mind. In apologetic conversations, it often drifts toward the evidence we want. I argue that we need to shift from that and look to the evidence we would expect.
Let us begin with the example of the existence of God. What is the evidence we would like? It would be great if when we looked at Mars that we saw a message “I am God and I exist” written in every human language. Although even that would not be proof of God’s existence, it would be nice. Or if when we looked at microorganisms that we saw a “Made by God” message. That is the kind of evidence we would want. But what kind of evidence would we expect if there were a God? We would expect there to be a beginning to the universe. We would expect there to be evidence of intelligent design, both in the nature of the universe and in the lifeforms that exist. We would expect there to be some sort of revelation from that God to humanity. I’m not sure that we would expect more if there was a God.
What about the existence of Jesus? I have heard many say that if Jesus existed, there should be a multitude of Jewish and Roman accounts of his life. We should have the court records. We should have written accounts of the Jews that heard him preach. We should have accounts by the Pharisees and Sadducees giving a hostile account of Jesus. I agree that this is the kind of evidence I would like to see. If these were found in some cave, I would be as happy as anyone. But that is the evidence we would like. What about the evidence we would expect? Since many of the people who heard Jesus preach either could not write or could not afford paper, we would not expect anything from them. The Romans did not care about some religious leader in a backwater province, so we would not expect anything from them. As for the Pharisees and the Sadducees, we don’t have anything from them from the first century, so we should not be surprised that they fail to mention Jesus. What would we expect? We would expect that there would be some biographies and letters by the followers of Jesus. We would expect a short mention by Josephus. But that is about it.
The point is when people ask why certain types of evidence are missing, we must shift the conversation from the evidence we want to the evidence we would expect.