The Day a Former President Visited Your Home

front porch of a house

You are home from work and unwinding in front of the TV, knocking back awful-tasting Budweiser like a "real American." A knock on the door interrupts you. You aren't expecting anybody and are the only one home yet. At least whoever it is didn't knock when you were in the middle of dinner. You open the door and feel your jaw drop open in shock at what you see before you. Former President Obama is standing on your porch, flanked by two Secret Service agents. Over his shoulder, you see a couple of vehicles that appear to contain even more well-armed agents.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but I wanted to be sure to catch you before dinner," he says. "I'll get what I'm here for and be out of your way." Now aware of the dumbfounded expression on your face, you stammer, "What are you here for?" The former president flashes the smile you remember and exclaims, "I'm here for your guns, of course!" Now you struggle to get the words out, "But...but..." He interrupts, "How long did you think it would take me to visit every home in America to take your guns away? I'm not Santa Claus, you know!"

It Finally Happened, Just Like You Knew It Would

If you are a Republican, you might pinch yourself at this moment to make sure you aren't having this dream again. After all, you have been fantasizing about this day for several years. But you are awake, it is happening, and you aren't doing or saying any of the things you swore you'd do or say when it happened. But don't be too hard on yourself; you are still in shock.

So here's my initial question: Do you tell anyone about it? You are the only one home, and there are no witnesses to any of this. Do you tell anyone what happened? If you do, do you expect that anybody will believe you? What are they likely to think of you if you do tell them?

Why Should Anyone Believe You?

And now we come to the central question to contemplate: Why should anyone believe you? If someone you know told you this story, you wouldn't believe them. So why should they believe you? It isn't like you can provide a shred of evidence to back up your story; you have none.

Suppose you did tell someone and they were skeptical. You have no evidence to support your story. If the person you chose to tell possesses the minimal level of rationality we'd expect in a functional adult, there is no reason they should believe you. In fact, it seems clear that they should not believe you. If only you had thought to take a selfie of you handing over your guns to the former president!

Evidence Scales To the Claim

The important thing to remember about evidence is that the sort of evidence we need scales in proportion to what is being claimed. This is why people are far more likely to believe reports that are already quite plausible than those that are not. If you told everyone you saw someone that looked like President Obama on your way to work, few would doubt you. Even fewer would ask you for evidence to support your claim. But when you claim the former president visited you years after leaving office to take your guns, most rational people will ask for evidence. And their expectations for the sort of evidence that would be needed to support your claim will be much higher.

Now consider how much more evidence would be needed to support claims of miracles or supernatural entities. Whatever else one might wish to say about President Obama, I think we can agree that he's a real person, a person who, you know...exists. As unlikely as it is that he showed up to take your guns away, he'd at least be able to do so without violating any natural laws. If there are any claims that would require more evidence to support them than those involving gods, I haven't heard them.

Religious believers will appeal to faith when confronted with the lack of evidence to support their claims. You can't do that in the scenario we have described here. Well, I suppose you could, but I don't think it would be realistic to expect anyone to go for it. If we wouldn't accept faith here, why should we accept it for supernatural entities of any kind, including gods? The answer seems clear: we shouldn't. There is nothing virtuous about faith.