Nothing extraordinary here, no comedy, no ridicule. This is just a typical sort of message that we receive on a regular basis, and today I decided to give it a thorough reply. I thought I’d blog my answer today because it is a long form version of a conversation that lots of you probably have often, if you’re an out atheist who knows some theists.
The original message is in block quotes; my replies follow each section.
I’ve been watching clips of your show on Youtube, and I have to say you’ve done a pretty good job in debating with theists thus far. It’s a shame many of the ones I’ve heard on there don’t slow down enough to think for a moment. Many of the points you guys have made appear to make sense to me as well.
Glad to hear it. We’d always rather be reaching out to a receptive audience with some disagreement than exclusively “preaching to the choir.”
To start off, I’m going to say that I consider myself an agnostic theist; I believe in God or the possibility thereof, but in no position to make the assumption that there is one with no doubt. So I’m relying on the whole faith thing, which can only do so much for you.
Personally, I’d go farther than that. Not only can faith “only do so much for you,” but deciding to maintain faith in something that can’t be demonstrated is very likely to mislead you. I think there should, at a minimum, be a basic standard to decide whether something is likely to be really true or not. This isn’t the same as “absolute proof,” just some sort of reasonable evidence.
You might’ve answered this question in one of your episodes, I don’t know, but you’ve repeatedly asked for evidence in proving the existence of God, which I perfectly understand and agree with. My question to you is what evidence would you need that would convince you to believe in “God”, or better yet, just know without doubt? I don’t expect you guys to know, as I wouldn’t even know for sure.
Carl Sagan used to say that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If someone came to you claiming “It rained every day in Seattle last week,” you’d probably be comfortable believing them just on their word. If someone said “It rained every day in the Sahara Desert last week,” you probably would not believe them until you looked up more information (corroborated news reports from multiple sources, pictures, etc). The more unusual the claim, the more information you need to confirm it.
With “God,” at least in a traditional sense, we have an infinitely powerful being living outside of time and space who creates entire universes by saying a few words, tracks the lives of every human being on the planet, answers their prayers, and bends the rules of time and space to suit his will. I think you’ll probably agree that if people didn’t grow up assuming that being existed, they’d find that quite an extraordinary claim to process. It would need some pretty impressive evidence to back it up.
I confess I do not know exactly what sort of evidence that might be, although I would point out that God, being omnipotent, would probably know what to do if he existed. In the Bible, God does all sorts of impressive tricks: appears in front of people, performs miracles, parts seas, turns folks to salt. Unfortunately, the only source we have for the claims that those things happened is a very old book of questionable origin, so that doesn’t help us much today.
If those sorts of things happened on a regular basis, it would help. Some atheists would say that even that’s not enough to demonstrate INFINITE power, but I say it would be a good start. An example I always use is that if the stars one night spontaneously rearranged themselves in the sky, spelling out “I am the lord thy God, you fools, everything in the Bible is true” that would be a good effort. Arthur C. Clarke wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, so we couldn’t really rule out the possibility that superintelligent (though not actually omnipotent) aliens were messing with us. But I still say I would be much more willing to consider the possibility that it’s a god.
This is all academic speculation, however, because the evidence that people give for believing in God is nowhere near that interesting. As you said, people generally rely on “faith,” which obviously wouldn’t be necessary if there was anything approaching a good reason to believe in God. When they do try to present convincing evidence, it tends to be of a very mundane sort: They couldn’t find their car keys and then they turned up; an earthquake happened in a place full of people they don’t like; somebody was very sick and then got better; and so on. It’s not enough. Not even close.
I think you’d have to start off with figuring out what exactly God is and work from there, which is difficult since there are so many interpretations that assume to be true. If I had to toss a theory for the sake of debate, I would guess “God” is just energy, which would explain the whole “eternal” or “always existing” part since it cannot be created or destroyed, according to the Law of Conservation of Energy. I won’t add on the idea that this energy or “God” has to have a self-thinking conscious, which seems to be what many of us like to attribute when discussing the concept of a “creator.”
Okay, if that’s what you want to call “God” then you’re welcome to do so. I think it’s unnecessary, though. We already have a perfectly good word for energy. It’s “energy.” Why call it God? What new information does that label convey? If the god you’re envisioning isn’t intelligent or purposeful, then in what sense is it useful to apply such a loaded term? How is a universe where all energy is God different from a universe where energy is just energy?
I might’ve just gave the answer you would give (or a variant thereof), but if you have a different response, I’m curious to know, via email or on-air. Like you guys, I seek to know the truth, whatever it may be.
I don’t see any reason to try to define God myself. If even the billions of people who believe in the concept can’t agree on what it means, then why would I spend time trying to define something I don’t believe? For any individual God claim, I’ll be happy to discuss whether it seems to have any merit or not. What I’ve found so far is that the most impressive and specific definitions of God have no evidence for them; and for dull and uninteresting meanings of God (such as energy) I would say they may exist, but so what?