Sunday, March 18, 2012

What would it take to convince you God exists?

I saw this question posed recently on a Christian blog and I have been thinking about it for a little while and figured I would make a post of my own. In the post on the other blog there was a quote from Dawkins and another one from Sam Harris (I believe) each to the effect of "No evidence could convince me that a God exists". I have been trying to decide what I think about this and I have actually gone back and forth a little bit, at any rate it seems like an interesting discussion topic and I figured I'd make my own post about it. (For anyone wondering, I was going to post in the comments of the blog in question but it devolved into name calling pretty quickly and I didn't feel like jumping in to it)

My first reaction to reading this was to wonder whether the quotes were taken out of context. It seems strange to me that Dawkins or Harris would say something so definitive. I think such a thing is incredibly unlikely, I would be very shocked to find out one of them decided they believe in God, but even still it seems odd that they would make such a strong statement. I thought that perhaps they were speaking colloquially or something. I tried to honestly answer the question of what evidence I would accept as the proof of God's existence for a while and the more I thought about it, the more I think these were probably fair quotes of theirs.

Let me explain with an example. Suppose I was an amputee and Jesus showed up to my apartment one day and regrew my arm. That would be awesome! I would be extremely grateful to him. After having this experience, what can I conclude? This guy that claims to be Jesus is incredibly powerful. He either has magic or technology that is beyond my understanding. Does it mean that the guy in front of me is God? Does it mean that he has the power to do anything I can imagine? Does it mean that this being created the universe? Does it mean that when I die I will either go to eternal bliss in heaven or eternal torture in hell? I don't see how I could answer yes to any of these questions. All I can say for sure in this situation is this guy who claims to be Jesus is extremely powerful and beyond my understanding. Maybe Christianity is true and Jesus stopped by to help me out, it is certainly a possibility here. Maybe there are aliens who know how to regrow human limbs that are disguised as my conception of Jesus. How can I be sure? How can you ever make the jump from any particular evidence to all the wonder that is God? My guess is that this kind of thing is what Dawkins and Harris were getting at.

So to return to the original question, what would it take to convince me that God exists? I don't know, nothing I can imagine would do the job, but if God really does exist, he is all knowing, so he should know what it would take, and he is all powerful, so he should be able to do it.


  1. If you want to post the quotes I could try to find out. That does sound rather sketchy. Recently Dawkins reiterated that he can't say that he knows there is no God, which really is a position a scientist should on any position until the evidence is in. The religious were all over it as though he had changed his mind when that was what he had been saying all along. In his book The God Delusion he uses a seven point scale. One being gnostic in terms of a God and a seven being someone is gnostic that there is no God. In an oped in a major paper I think it was, I cant honestly remember, the writer said what he said but claimed it was a ten point scale. A big difference. He put himself at a 6.9. I think there is a lot of confusion about how someone can be agnostic and an atheist. I think one way to relate is thus; I'm assuming that neither of us believe in unicorns. While I feel that there isn't enough evidence to have any reason to believe that they exist, we cant totally rule out the possibility that they do. However, based on the evidence given to us we shall just assume that they don't until something comes along to tell us otherwise.

  2. Looks like there was a quote from harris "there's nothing to change about the world that would cause me to revise my beliefs." (SALT talk 2005)

    and there was a quote from dawkins with no source

    "Richard Dawkins have said that they would not change their mind even if a 15 foot Jesus appeared before them and boomed, “I exist.”"

  3. I'm having trouble finding either in their respective contexts bit I've also read more than one atheist that has said their initial reaction would be wondering if they were hallucinating. But for the sake of aggument that's what they meant, that they'd never believe in a God no matter the evidence. I'm not really sure what the argument presented in the forum is, or why it sounds like an appeal to authority. I know I sometimes do the same thing and lump Christians into the same category of beliefs when you'd be hard pressed to find two people that follow the Bible who believe the same thing. Atheists aren't tied down to any sort of dogma or belief system. They just don't believe in gods.

  4. I think you have touched upon an important question here. The reason that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are dogmatic in their assertion is because they are metaphysical naturalists: that is, their philosophy posits that the only thing that exists is the physical universe. Therefore, by definition, a miracle cannot occur. This is why it is important to really understand ones own metaphysics and what influence it has on answering the question "do miracles occur".

    If one is agnostic or a theist, then I think one can answer "yes, miracles are possible". If one is a metaphysical naturalist, the answer is "no" by definition: the apparent miracle would just be some aspect of the physical universe as yet not understood. Now a true empiricist, who prayed the prayer: "Lord if you are real show yourself to me" and then was then answered with a miracle would in fact, if he were to all his knowledge in a right state of mind, agree that there really was a God answering. But I know of very few people who are that honest with themselves to follow such bald evidence where it leads.

    But to get back to the question of evidence, if one were going to try and convince someone of, say, christian theism, what you would do is first use natural theology to establish that God (monotheism) exists and has particular attributes (perfection, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.) and try and refute any defeaters (the problem of pain/evil), and then proceed to say investigating the case of Jesus' resurrection. How does it change the question of Jesus' resurrection if God exists or not? Well I think everyone would agree that the least likely possibility is that Jesus' rose from the dead naturally - but if God exists it becomes entirely possible that Jesus' was in fact raised from the dead supernaturally. And if he was in fact raised from the dead it would vindicate the claims he made about himself.

    I don't say all this as exhaustive in any way of defending any of these claims, but just to show how such an argument might go for Christianity.

  5. I don't know if it is fair to say they are dogmatic about miracle claims. People say miracles occur and then when you ask for examples you don't get anything of quality back. Things are either debunked or trivial. (I've heard plenty of these types of claims from new atheist guys, I'm assuming some came from Dawkins and Harris but I can't be sure). Nobody seems to get magically healed like in the bible, sometimes people say they got cured and it is a miracle, but then it turns out they were taking medicine, or maybe they were never properly diagnosed in the first place. You never see someone grow back a limb for instance.

    As to whether miracles are theoretically possible, I guess it might depend on definitions a bit. Suppose spirits were real and I was starving and a spirit conjured up something for me to eat. I might call this a miracle. But this is a ghost living in some ethereal world that can affect our world. Theoretically, there is some set of rules for the ghost, some way it's world works and some way that our two worlds interact with each other. If we understood all of these interactions would we still call it a miracle?

    Change the situation slightly, suppose there was a small animal that was starving and you gave him a bit to eat. He couldn't see you, all he knows if he was going to die and some food appeared for him to eat. Would he call this a miracle? Would you?

  6. I don't really know if associating the word "dogma" with their stance is a particularly good choice of words. Dogma, implies that they would never change their minds even if given evidence to the contrary. I really think that if they were presented with some good evidence or arguments for a God, I'm sure that they would examine it, and then decide on it. Metaphysics is a tough thing to talk about since there are a few different definitions.

    On the subject of miracles, I think their point is that just because we don't understand something, does not necessarily make it a miracle. History gives us a good reason to doubt supernatural explanations for things. Eclipses and Germ theory are just two examples of things that were thought to be caused by the divine but now are such common knowledge that a young child could understand. Even the Bible seems to point to sickness and ailments being caused by God. This was believed for a millennium and a half after the bible was written.

    As far as Jesus rising from the dead there really is no positive proof that happened. The bible also says that that a lot of zombies started walking around in one of the gospels when Christ died. If there was good evidence for that I would definitely be up to listen to it. My younger brother was declared legally dead at the hospital he was taken to after he drowned in my Grandfather's pond when he was really little. He is still alive and in his 20's. I'm not quite sure if it would validate anything he said in that case, but depending on what really happened, it might be a strong indicator for further investigation. If these pointed to the "super natural" it would be a better reason to heed what he said.

    Just my thoughts. :)


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