Friday, June 11, 2010

What would proof look like if we had it

Could one ask an atheist, "What would proof look like if you had it?" Anything that you used as proof could be doubted, couldn't it, if you were really bound and determined not to believe. Water into wine? A good magic trick. Walking on water? He knows where the stones are. Loaves and fishes? The catering truck is parked where you can't see it. Resurrection from the dead? A hallucination, or maybe we only thought he was dead. Maybe the stars in the sky should spell out "TURN OR BURN!! ATHEISTS REPENT BEFORE I COME BACK AND IT'S TOO LATE."

Thanks once again, Keith Parsons, for that one.

39 comments:

unkleE said...

The two favoured ones among atheists I have discussed with are:

* Healing an amputee (can't be mistaken easily!)

* A personal sign in the sky

Trouble is, if they follow Hume, even these things would be seen as more likely having a "natural" explanation. I think for many it's as tight a prison as they see many christians are in. And there's not far anyone on either side can go with that.

Steven Carr said...

'What would proof look like if we had it?'

That's a big 'if'.

How would Christians prove that an omnipotent being existed who loved all of us more than we love ourselves and could cure all people of all cancer in a second?

Perhaps he could save his own son from death at the hands of a tyrant, and leave the rest of the kids to die.

Or perhaps he could save some money on a drinks bill by turning water into wine.

Or perhaps he could raise his son from the dead while leaving 6 million of his Chosen People to be gassed, shot and starved to death.

Anonymous said...

I believe Michael Shermer has said that whatever one would ever attribute to God, he would and could attribute to aliens.

Steven Carr said...

Does Michael Shermer belong to the Discovery Institute who repeatedly claim they are not preaching about a God, as Intelligent Design could be the work of aliens?

Q in Star Trek has almost supernatural powers. Would he not be taken as a god by most people?

Walter said...

I can't speak to what it would take to convince anyone else, but as an on-the-fence agnostic I would like to see something a little better than poorly attested miracle stories in ancient human texts.

If God is going to hide from humanity, then why should it bother him if people do not believe in him?

Matthew said...

Q in Star Trek has almost supernatural powers. Would he not be taken as a god by most people?

Actually, Q has powers that mere material creatures can't possibly have.

unkleE said...

"I believe Michael Shermer has said that whatever one would ever attribute to God, he would and could attribute to aliens."

Fair enough. I would classify God as an alien. i.e. a non-human who has visited earth. : )

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think you guys overstate the unwillingness of most atheists to believe. If we had decent evidence, we would doubt ourselves. If we had great evidence, we would shift. If I observed a miraculous event, with other people around (especially with cell phones to take video), I would reject naturalism. Sure, some hold-outs would be silly, but if dead relatives came back to tell stories of the afterlife, I would change pretty damned fast. I think most atheists, who tend to be evidence-driven, would do the same.

The invisibility of God, to those skeptics that would like evidence that He exists, should be a concern to the theist. God should know that people running around with a 2000 year-old book of easily-questioned veracity will not cut it in the modern era. It's time for something major, Dude (Mary in the clouds notwithstanding).

I'm open, God. Show me a sign. I'd be a kick-ass advocate for you, and you know it.

Even if something incredibly improbable happened in the next hour, like getting a phone call from Obama, I'd take that as a sign.

normajean said...

The assumption here is that knowledge of God guarantees people who enter into an intimate relationship with God.

normajean said...

I know God exists, unfortunately, knowledge of God hasn’t guaranteed intimacy with God for me.

Jus sayin

Walter said...

I find it hard to have an intimate relationship with a God that hides his face from humanity and chooses to only speak through long dead prophets.

I would think that there would be a far greater number of believers if we received a little more direct mode of communication.

normajean said...

I understand that. My only point was that knowledge doesn't guarantee relationship.

As an aside, do you think it's possible that free creatures are denying what's immediately accessible to them?

Victor Reppert said...

BDK: By the way, you get a free theism pass for 24-hours in case of a Celtic victory in the Finals. No charges of atheistic inconsistency will be leveled if you spend 24 hours in thankful faith in God's boundless providence if this happens.

normajean said...

Re. free creatures denying what's immediately accessible to them--perhaps the non-theist is delusional, or as Plantinga put's it: the non-theist is not functioning properly. Yikes!

Walter said...

As an aside, do you think it's possible that free creatures are denying what's immediately accessible to them?

What might that be?

Walter said...

Maybe the Calvinists are right about everything and God does not wish to have anymore relationships than those that are already a part of the Master Plan?

Maybe that is why he hides from those of us not on the list?

normajean said...

or maybe God reveals Himself to those He knows would respond. Who knows? And then there's that other thing I alluded to about free creatures suppressing truth.

unkleE said...

I think some approaches to this difficult question are based on an unfortunate paradigm. Demanding a certain type of proof before we will believe seems to me to be a paradigm where believing in God is nasty medicine, only to be taken if the evidence absolutely forces us to.

But the God of Jesus is actually offering us relationship with him and immeasurable good that flows from that, if only we will accept our need of him. And like any relationship, that requires us to go someway to meet him, not sit back and demand proof of the type we want.

That might require us to ask him more humbly (if he's there) to show us the truth, giving belief a bit of a trial, re-examining the evidence with a different paradigm or re-examining our own wishes and assumptions. Jesus said we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom, and I think may be part of what that means for our generation.

I think the evidence for christianity is way better than the evidence against, but I also think it isn't just a matter of evidence in the scientific sense, but of history, reason and personal experience.

Walter said...

And then there's that other thing I alluded to about free creatures suppressing truth.

And maybe some people just have different ideas about what constitutes good evidence.

I can almost believe in a non-interfering deistic god. I have a harder time believing in an interfering, theistic god that conveniently revealed himself in the ancient past only to select people, while claiming a desire to have a relationship with all mankind.

Or, maybe, I am just hardening my heart to the overwhelming evidence due to my desire to commit all manner of nasty sins without feeling accountable ;)

Walter said...

I think the evidence for christianity is way better than the evidence against, but I also think it isn't just a matter of evidence in the scientific sense, but of history, reason and personal experience.

I find the historical evidence for Christianity to be very weak. Does each of us just see what we want to see when examining the same evidence?

normajean said...

Perhaps, sometimes, Walter. Good question.

unkleE said...

I'm sure that's often the case - both ways.

But of course you and I are more objective! : )

Steven Carr said...

UNKLEE
And like any relationship, that requires us to go someway to meet him, not sit back and demand proof of the type we want.

CARR
You mean we shouldn't ask for signs like demanding God keep a fleece dry when everything around it is wet, and then demanding that your god keep the fleece wet when everything around it is dry?

Have you read the Bible? Your god produced sign after sign on demand a long time ago, in your Old Book.

So why do you claim we shouldn't demand proof when your Old Book praises people who demand sign after sign?

Why can't Christians even get their story straight before demanding that others believe in it?

How can non-believers believe in this moving target called Christianity?

As soon as you start believing in a bit of it, other Christians will read the Bible and then tell you to jettison that belief and start believing something else instead.

Walter said...

unkleE:I'm sure that's often the case - both ways.

But of course you and I are more objective! : )


That would be the point. We filter everything through our cognitive biases. So how do we get around these biases to discover objective truth and not just believe in a worldview that makes us feel good but does not really reflect reality?

Clayton said...

And if God struck a six story tall statue of Jesus with lightning, would you give up your religious commitments?

normajean said...

Clayton, I heard about that on the news today.

Walter said...

And if God struck a six story tall statue of Jesus with lightning, would you give up your religious commitments?

Not if you are a non-Christian theist. Looks like Zeus is back!

Shackleman said...

"What would proof look like if we had it?"

Babies. Are there any *real* atheists/materialists/naturalists in a delivery room?

Shackleman said...

"We filter everything through our cognitive biases."

Does the term "cognitive bias" have any meaning whatsoever given materialism?

normajean said...

My guess is that we take a lot for granted. Does anyone think rocks think? (conceivability args). More, we experience the divine when we perceive the right or wrong of X (moral realism args). Perhaps we'd do better w/ Lucy's imagination. Narnia anyone?

Victor Reppert said...

And if God struck a six story tall statue of Jesus with lightning, would you give up your religious commitments?



If God were to strike the Notre Dame Library with lighning, incinerating the Touchdown Jesus mosaic, questions would have to be raised about the divinity of Notre Dame football.

Edward T. Babinski said...
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Edward T. Babinski said...
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Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

PROOF. . .

I was born into a world others share, in which they too were born. I share the language of those around me, and we can all go see and touch things together, and scientists round the world are able to repeat each others experiments.

But none of us is born into the supernatural world that is said to lay outside the cosmos, we can't all go with friends and see, touch, smell, God, heaven, hell, the afterlife. Neither do we see people popping out of graves.

If miracles do take place in isolated locales round the world on widely separated dates and rare occasions, do you think "God" is going to damn the many people who question such stories?

Even people of rival religions and denominations question the isolated miracles and "proofs" offered by those of other religions and denominations.

There's also people who accept there may be some weird things going on round the world from ghosts to angels and aliens. But such people could be mere nominal religious believers, mystics, agnostics, etc. Do you think "God" is going to damn such people?

Why not just admit you know less than Christian doctrines and dogmas claim to be absolutely certain about?

Meanwhile draw me a map of the world showing where certain scientific theories are believed and not believed, and compare that a map of where different religions and denominations are believed and not believed. The religious beliefs seem far more demarcated, geographically speaking, and may even influence were a few specific scientific theories are believed and not believed!

John W. Loftus said...

What would proof look like to an outsider?

I have already said what would convince me Christianity is true.

Now YOU be reasonable. What would proof look like for you to reject your adopted faith due to the accidents of birth? I was reasonable in that link. Be reasonable with us.

normajean said...

"PROOF" is a slippery word and doesn't mean a lot these days.

Ed—I too was born into this world—though the world I see is one in which the vast majority of people living in it are theists of some sort, albeit, not Christian. That doesn't prove much, but it sure is fascinating.

As far as God damning people, we’re in no position to know whom he will "damn.” I’m not even sure what “damning” means.

When you say that Christians should “admit” ignorance, OK fine. But, of course, admitting ignorance doesn't require one to abandon Christianity altogether. I mean, how many doctrines, properties of God, etc need one affirm to earn the title “Christian?"

I'm pretty sure they'll be some surprises in the end.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't think accident of birth carries a whole lot of weight here. I'm a Bayesian subjectivist: we come into our thinking lives with a set of antecedent probabilities, and we adjust them as the evidence allows.

It is an accident of birth that I grew up in a Methodist family, but it is equally an accident of history (unless God was in on it), that I encountered good, strong, defenders of Christianity who took the relation of faith and intellect seriously, who took my questions with the utmost seriousness, and showed a kind of intellectual integrity that I thought was often lacking in the sort of glib unbelief I encountered in the academic community.

If my reading of Bertrand Russell had not convinced me of the value of free thought (though maybe not quite as he defined it), how would my thoughts be different today. If Russell had made more of an effort to understand the Christian beliefs he attacked, how would my beliefs be different today? If Craig Bustrin from my home church in Phoenix had not introduced me to the writings of C. S. Lewis, how would my beliefs be different today? If Bob Prokop (an occasional commentator here) and the late Joe Sheffer had not talked me through my period of disaffection with Campus-Crusade style literalism while remaining a profoundly orthodox Christian, how would my beliefs be different today? If Keith Parsons had not moved in to the same house with me when I was in seminary and challenged me from a skeptical standpoint, how would by beliefs be different today? I don't know, and neither do you.

Your own experience with Christianity and with Christian thinkers was different from mine, but it is just as laden with historical accident as mine was.

I am trying to counter a simplistic picture in which believers all believe "on faith" (even if they have apologetic pretensions) and unbelievers, quite rationally, are waiting for PROOF which is not forthcoming. I would like to substitute a different picture for this one, one in which we enter with intellectual predispositions which we cannot fully avoid, but which we can and must modify in response to the evidence.

In the original post I was responding to people who make heavy weather out of the fact that religious believers don't have PROOF for their position, by asking what proof would look like if we had it.

At the same time, changes in belief are cumulative, and big paradigm shifts need big evidential shifts in a various areas of thought. That is just how life is when we think. If you read the life of serious converts and de-converts, you don't find ONE BIG THING that PROVES Christianity, or atheism, or what have you. It's always a lot of things.

Chesterton wrote:

But this involved accuracy of the thing makes it very difficult to do what I now have to do, to describe this accumulation of truth. It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, "Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?" he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, "Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen." The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, this is what I can demonstrate. And so at best you got nothing. Follow the link, okay?

Cheers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Well, the Lakers won so I'm an atheist again. :(