Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What Would It Take to Convince Me?

OK, so I've been watching more theist vs. atheist debates, and one question that often gets asked of both sides is "what would it take to convince you the other side was correct?" Typically, when the theists are asked what it would take to convince them that God doesn't really exist, the answer is that nothing could shake their belief in God. Which is, of course, rather telling, since it means that they admit their beliefs are neither based on evidence nor even rational to begin with, despite all their attempts to provide proof the existence of God.

Conversely, when the atheists are asked what would convince them of the existence of God, they usually start off by giving a snarky response along the lines of "a single shred of empirical evidence" and then say something like "if I looked up one night and all the stars had rearranged themselves to spell out a message saying, 'I am here.'"

Personally, however, I'm not sure a single bit of empirical evidence would sway me, no matter how impressive. Even if, say, somebody prayed to have an amputated limb restored and it grew back, I'd have to weigh that evidence against all the times when people prayed to have their limbs restored and it didn't happen.  And even if the single shred of evidence was overwhelmingly amazing, like the aforementioned message in the stars, I'd have to wonder whether I was hallucinating.

No, I think what would probably convince me more than anything else would be if the promises made in the holy scriptures actually and unequivocally happened on a consistent basis.  The Bible states repeatedly, for example, that if anybody prays for something in faith it will be given to them (not just that their prayers will be "answered").  The fact that most people don't actually get what they pray for, no matter how sincerely they believe, is just more evidence for the non-existence of God.  But if it were the case that Christians who prayed for things routinely received what they asked for (whether it be the health of a loved one, enough money to pay their rent, a safe trip, or even for a mountain to move from one location to another), I'd have to seriously consider the fact that maybe there's something to this whole God thing after all, despite how otherwise ridiculous it might seem to me.

Similarly, I'd be pretty convinced if faithful Christians routinely handled venomous snakes and drink poison with no ill effects as promised in the New Testament.  Sure, I know there are some fringe sects that do just this (well, they handle snakes, at least -- I'm not sure about the poison drinking), but the leaders have a tendency to die of snake bites after awhile...

Of course, believers will say that we shouldn't test God and that God purposely chooses not to reveal himself in such incontrovertible ways so as to not rob us of the ability to have faith in him.  To which I respond, "Then why did Jesus and his disciples make all those testable claims in the first place?"  I'm sure there are many other justifications why the things promised in the bible usually don't happen as promised ("God moves in mysterious ways", "the age of miracles is past", "it's all metaphorical", etc.), and that's fine.  The purpose of this post is not to point out the inherent inconsistency or hypocrisy involved, it's simply to state what would personally convince me that the God of the Bible actually exists.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Some Random Questions for Theists

OK, I've been watching some debates between theists (usually Christians) and theists again, and as usual I thought of a bunch of questions I really wish I had been able to ask.  I'm not saying these are unanswerable questions, especially since 2000 years of formal apologetics have allowed modern theists to come up with some sort of answer to just about anything thrown their way, but I'd like to think they are questions which would, at the very least, indicate the weakness of some of their positions and assertions.

  • Why do you keep asserting that the universe was "obviously" finely tuned to support life (and specifically intelligent human life), when 99.99999999... % of the known universe is utterly and completely hostile to the existence of life (let alone to human life)?  Is all the rest of the vastness of space just for the sake of decoration?

  • You've said that the observed suffering in the natural world is the direct result of mankind sinning in the Garden of Eden and causing the world (universe?) to enter into a fallen state with suffering and death.  If God is all powerful, however, why did he create a universe where man's sinning would affect all of creation and not just man?  Why would God punish innocent animals instead of just punishing mankind?

  • In the past, theists have claimed that the creation of the universe "out of nothing" proves the existence of God since there's no other possible explanation.  Now that physicists have described ways in which a universe could have arisen out of nothing by purely natural processes, why does it matter whether physicists can prove that this is how it actually happened?  Since you previously said God must exist because there was no other possible way it could have happened, isn't it a sufficient refutation of your "proof" that there is, in fact, at least one possible way after all?

  • As a Christian, what does it matter that some percentage (that you completely made up) of humanity throughout history has had some sort of spiritual experience that lead them to believe in some sort of god or gods?  Even if that somehow proved that there was some sort of God (which it doesn't, since it would only prove at most that humans have a tendency to believe in supernatural beings), what justification is there for assuming that the "God" in question is the Christian one and not, say, the God of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Norse mythology, etc.?

  • How can you claim that the Bible is evidence of the existence of God and then admit that much of it is allegorical and not to be taken literally?  Especially when, once upon a time, it was all thought to be literally true until science and evolving societal norms slowly but surely proved that more and more of it couldn't possibly be literally true??  Also, how do you determine which parts are literally true and which parts are merely allegorical??  Does it bother you that the determination of which parts are literal and which parts are allegorical has changed over time, indicating that there is no "correct" answer other than "everything is literally true that hasn't yet been shown to be demonstrably false or distasteful to our modern sensibilities"?

  • On a related note, how can you claim that "absolute morality" can only come from God and then acknowledge that the only source we have for what God's morality actually is (i.e., the Bible) contains numerous laws and principles that do not apply to today's society and therefore are not absolute?

  • You claim that God is necessary in order to explain what the purpose of life is, which is something science cannot do.  What justification do you have for the assertion that life must necessarily have a purpose in the first place, other than the fact that you find the notion of a life without a purpose to be too depressing to contemplate?

  • Once you have "logically proven" the necessity of some sort of timeless and immaterial supernatural being in order to explain the creation of the universe and all its laws (leaving aside for the moment the question as to whether you actually did prove anything), how do you get from that supernatural being to the God of your particular religion and your particular sect of your particular religion? If you're trying to prove something, it's not enough to just say you have faith in your God or that your God personally spoke to your heart. You're perfectly entitled to your faith, but that's not the "proof" you promised to provide.