Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Burden Of Proof: On Acceptable Evidence For God -- By Fenix C

This post is a response to a post on Generation Atheist called Are Proofs Or Evidence For Deities Even Hypothetically Possible and while I highly recommend reading that article, it will not be necessary to understand what I am talking about here.

The entire article is based on two ideas, Occams Razor and Clarke's Third Law
OR: All other things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one, or more accurately, that when discussing hypotheses that are equal in other regards, it is right to select the one that requires you to make the least number of unwarranted assumptions.
CL: Any technology sufficiently advanced would be indistinguishable from magic.

We use OR in our life every day - we assume when we find a suicide note and a guy hanging from the ceiling, we assume that he killed himself. We would not assume that someone forced him to write the note in his own handwriting and then hung the guy for some reason. Unless there is evidence (for example, he was really rich, and then after he died suddenly it was revealed that his will was changed last week to put all of his money into a nameless bank account) of course, we will assume that the simplest answer is correct. This is the reason for the word "unwarranted" because if there were such evidence, the assumption would be completely warranted.

Clarke's Law is less prevalent in our society in an obvious way, but think about A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court. A moden man is sent back in time to the middle ages, and with his knowledge of history and electricity, manages to make firearms and an electric fence to defend himself from those who would wish to destroy him. And what is the first word they use for him? Wizard. He was using a concept of electricity to run his camp, charged invisible particles moving energy around - this was so far above the understanding of the people of that time that they couldn't understand it at all, and so it was magic. But we are smarter now, we have this law to reference. So if an alien race ever showed up and shot energy weapons and were capable of moving things large distances in a single instant, we would assume (based on CL and OR) that they were simply very technologically advanced, not magical.

And really - magic is simply the manipulation of the world using techniques unknown to the observer. If I can make a bosy float, and people do not understand it, it is called magic. But I did it using techniques possible and following from the given rules of the universe. If someone were to do something that we perceived as impossible, we would be wrong - it is not impossible, because we just saw it. Then there are two conclusions we can reach: either our understanding of the rules of the universe were incomplete in this regard, or our understanding of what we just saw was incomplete. This is why I say there is no such thing as magic. Because magic is to do the impossible (or at least the illusion of the impossible) which by its definition is not possible. If it is done, it is possible, and therefore there are rules governing its possibility, which puts us back at the two possible conclusions of incorrect knowledge or faulty perception.

So the question this author poses to us is this: hypothetically if someone showed up claiming to be God and showed up amazing things that we were incapable of doing (water into winewalking on water, etc.) we, the rationalists, would assume that it was simply advanced technology and not magic - so how would a deity prove itself? This is a very good question. I had to think about it for a while, and had to back to the base of the creation myth to answer it.

I am going to assume for the sake of argument that God exists, created the world with natural laws (gravity, radioactive decay, stuff like that) and that we as members of its existence are forced to obey, and that these laws cannot be broken. They can be manipulated - Jesus can walk on water, the sea can part, stuff like that. These are improbable, but do not go against the laws of nature. It is conceivable that the act is a trick based in technology and science. For example, we have invented a vehicle that can travel on land and water without touching either of them directly - we call it a hovercraft. It is simple, a parachute holds the air in place and the force exerted upwards by the air held under the craft is equal to the force of gravity on the craft. But imagine trying to explain that to someone who didn't understand forces or gravity or even air. There was a time when birds were not understood.

So how would a Deity prove itself to exist to us? For me, it would have to violate a rule of this universe that is not violable. For me there, is only one rule that comes to mind - the conservation of matter. Unfortunately, this would be again, very difficult to do even for a Deity, because us skeptics are very skeptical.

So I was thinking how a Deity could prove itself to me beyond all reasonable doubt. Because humans do magic tricks, so a Deity doing something that even remotely looks like a magic trick would merit a response much like the lolcat above. We would raise an eyebrow and say "how did you do that" and God would respond "I am God, I can do what I want - I am master of all creation!" to which we would respond "that was a cool magic trick - now how did you do it?"

So after some thinking, and likely more thinking to come, the only thing that would prove to me that God existed is to do the one thing that it is said that God can do. There is only one thing that God could do to prove his existence to me: destroy the universe. And I don't mean make it all crunch back together - I mean make it disappear. But that would not be enough - because it is conceivable that an alien race with sufficient technology could do that. No, I want God to destroy the universe. Then I want him to take my immortal soul to the afterlife. Then I want to watch him recreate the universe.

In summary, the only thing that would really prove beyond all doubt for me personally that God existed was to
watch him do the one thing that God is certainly credited with - the creation of the universe.

If you are a young non-theist who wants their voice to be heard, consider submitting an article of your own to Generation Atheist. Visit our submissions page for details.

Tomorrow: Thinking Rationally by Rohit A 


  1. Would you like me to do a full rebuttal as a generationatheist post?

  2. Mine wasn't a rebuttal of yours, I agreed. I didn't really say it, but I meant that short of destroying and recreating the universe just for me, there is nothing that could convince me, i.e. there is nothing that can convince me.
    I thought your post was incredible, I just wanted to take a different approach to your question. I wrote it right after I read yours.

  3. Mike, yes if you want to discuss the points Robert has raised, feel free to write something in the form of a post. If you feel a rebuttal is necessary, by all means structure it in that way.

    On the subject of what, if anything, would prove to me the existence of a god, I favour Matt Dillahunty's response(host of the Atheist Experience). When asked that question, he says that if an omniscient god exists, god already knows exactly what it would take to prove his existence to Matt, even if Matt himself was unable to come up with such a hypothetical. Therefore, the god must either been unable to show Matt proof (therefore not omnipotent), doesn't know what would convince him (therefore not omniscient) or otherwise unwilling to provide evidence (therefore clearly not as eager to pursue a relationship with all of his 'children' as Christians perceive him to be).

    The Christian response to that would probably be that God wants us to come to him through faith alone. However, Paul, one of the most famous and influential figures in the Bible was given the evidence to convince him of God's existence and did not come to God purely through faith, so why can't this apply to everyone?

  4. I just want to say - I love this blog. We get serious questions here, and some really good answers. Matt Dillahunty is fantastic, and now I am going to go read more of his stuff.