Open thread on AXP #827, with guest, Rob Poole, MB BS, FRCPsych »« Trolling level: ICELANDER!

Proving light exists to a blind man

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How would you respond to a Christian who says “Just like light cannot be proven to a blind man, God must be experienced to believe.”?

I feel like I’ve already addressed this question before, at least on the show, but I can’t find it on the blog. When I googled the question, I found many, many examples of Christians asking this question as if it were a knock down argument. It’s not, so here we go.

They’re wrong. Light CAN be proven to a blind man. Here, I’ll give you an example.

Give the blind man five boxes, indistinguishable except for one box which has two modifications: 1. the box has some braille on one side that distinguishes it from the others. 2. The box has an “X” drawn on the front. The blind man cannot see the X or detect it, of course, but you can.

A small object will be placed in the box that is different. The blind man can verify which box it is by touching it, but you may not touch it. You leave the room and he will arrange the boxes in any way he chooses, from 1 to 5. Then you walk into the room, LOOK, and without going near the boxes, you state which box contains the object (the one with the X).

Your accuracy rate should be close to 100%. Any reasonable person would recognize this as a demonstration that you have a reliable way of “sensing” the object that he does not. He may not “experience” this but he should be willing to accept the evidence that something outside his experience is objectively present.

This is not the case with God. Theists do not have any useful means of demonstrating that the God idea is real, and in fact many of them get quite petty and start muttering things about “scientism” and “evidentialism” if you ask for some. The question itself, in fact, is framed in such a way as to imply that no evidence besides seeing is acceptable for the existence of light, and therefore it really is a good idea to believe things without evidence.

Nothing doing. If we reduce “knowledge” to subjective experience, the same argument works equally well for anyone claiming to have unverifiable experiences. That means that we would have no choice but to believe a Muslim saying “Hey, I spoke to Allah yesterday, and He told me that Jesus DEFINITELY wasn’t His son.”

Comments

  1. says

    This is also a claim that theists have some kind of power, ability or ‘sight’ that we do not. They claim to be special, or even superior, to us, through magic powers they cannot prove they actually possess!

    • says

      People love to feel special, as if they are able to see something, hear something or realize something most people can’t. It explains the appeal of conspiracy theories.

      • says

        I believe that is it at its core. I recall writing a cease and desist letter for a client of mine to a man who was plagiarizing her websites. The man wrote her back and basically threatened her with the hand of god for being in such a snit. He cited examples of god moving in his lie, like his neighbor’s husband leaving her after she yelled at his cat. Dude, I cannot even make this shit up. I think I even kept the letter as a reminder of how idiotic folks can be. For him, God was THE GREAT AVENGER, righting the wrongs…lol. Talk about feelin special.

        • rocket says

          Alicia , those are the kind of people that really turn people OFF to the good news of Jesus . they are the Bible Bangers ! did you take the case ? just curiuos .

          positing God as an avenger is not about the mercy of the cross. some people just want a comic book god , as if he should have a role in the movie ”The Avengers ”. crazy shit indeed.

          • rocket says

            BTW — our comment on the arts in another thread was fantastic. i am professional guitarist for a living . your comments were a bullesye! art is never optional;

    • Artor says

      They call it “Discernment,” and it’s a super-duper power you get for being devout enough. Google it. It’s really a thing that Xians talk about, and it’d even weirder than it sounds.

    • tony gayyusi says

      the difference between science and religion for a blind man , IS that scientist do all what they can to help this blind man to see .. and there is a chance to make him see, while religious men try to beat him to make him just belive there is light..

      • says

        It’s the same difference as going to the hospital for an eye condition and going to a church for the same reason. One is going to actually address the problem in showing that they care while the other only gives you lip-service and pretends that they care.

    • rocket says

      it all depends on weather one runs a reductio against so called objectivity using Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and Godel’s incompleteness theorom that by a progressive process of elimination , the only solid thing left epistomoligically is the subjective experience that this writer scorns . Soren Kierkegaard inversion of Fuerebach ‘s ”Projection theory ” shows that only objective uncertainty via the organ of fatih has a ghost of a chance at getting a taste of absolute reality . this is not a superiuor position , but rather one that a thinking person can take showing that the christian in question is not a fool . quite the contrary .

  2. says

    That’s the lesson – if you claim that X is a real phenomenon, the first step is to exactingly identify it’s qualities, and the second step is to systematically demonstrate each feature, until all features are demonstrated.

    For instance, the line-of-sight nature can be demonstrated by placing an obstacle between the seeing-person and the objects. Or, the reflective nature of light can be demonstrated with a mirror around the corner.. etc.

    We didn’t hire a really small dude to look at the structure of atoms for us, and that’s how we know. We sussed out the particulars through different types of experiments.

    …whereas they can barely even identify what their “god” is, let alone what its features are supposed to be.

    • Lord Narf says

      Some of them might even claim some sort of “experimental evidence” similar to what transcendental meditation sorts claim. There’s evidence, but you have to beliiiieeeeve in order to receive it.

      “Ah, so what you’re saying is that it’s not demonstrable, and it’s not evidence.”

      • rocket says

        Narf — BTW –i could not find a reply place on your Aquinas comeback . so i will say it to you here . The genuis of Aquinas was not in the 5 arguments . Anslem and others had already explored that earlier . His genuis was in what seemed to be an impossible task at the time –how does one even consider reconciling Aristotle with Augustine ?

        To this i do believe he succeded in doing . His work on the Sacraments are supurb also.

        • Narf (the abdicator) says

          What I’ve read of it wasn’t all that impressive to me. He was preaching to the choir, which isn’t me. I can only evaluate his attempts at logical argumentation, and he fails badly at that.

          There could be some brilliant work of his that I haven’t read, but I doubt it. If it was all that convincing, then why don’t we see modern Christian apologists using it? The current crop of Christian apologists are freaking sad.

          Replies on here can only be nested to a certain depth. You can just go back to the previous comment that has a reply button, and reply to that. Your response will be stuck on the end. If you’re worried about clarity, just quote a bit of the text you’re responding to, using blockquote tags or something,

          like this.

          They work the same as any other formatting tag, with an opening and closing tag on either side of what you’re quoting.

          • rocket says

            why dont modern apogetics use Aquainas.?cause Aquanias did not believe that the mind was fallen , but only the body . since the reformation , Calvin and others see man as totally fallen . also , becuase these apolgists dont like catholics . Peter Kreeft , Philosophy Prof at the university of Boston uses Aquinas big time . then again he is a catholic convert.

            you got to take him for his time . others tried –but it seemed so impossible to reconcile the neo-platonic thought of Augusitne to Arisotle . but he did it ! incredibly innovative , and unique . in catholic circle Thomis scholars are everywhere.

          • Narf (the abdicator) says

            Then why don’t you speak of more modern, rational, religious thinkers? … because I can’t think of any. Modern theologians do exactly what I said, speaking of wonder and spirituality, along with other vague terms that only succeed in obfuscating any potential meaning, rather than being precise and explanatory.

          • rocket says

            you asked why dont i speak of more rational religuos thinkers ..modern ..etc. cuase they are in short supply now.

            the only one i can think of that passed away in the 1990′s is a Romanian named Petre Tutea . Now that dude is a heavyweight in his life in prison and his work . What a philosopher ! Cioran said that he is the only christian worth listening too.

            i can name others –20th century –Thomas Merton ,. Gabriel Marcel , Maritian ,.Gilson , Hans Kung , Buber , Abdul Azziz ( Sufi scholar and mystic from Pakistan ) .

            as far as the 21st century , the only one that has really impressed me is the irish philosopher Peter Rollins . like i said –short supply .

  3. justsomeguy says

    It’s arguments like these that let me bust out my favorite debate tactics. It’s putting the burden of proof squarely where it belongs: not with the theist, but god himself.

    Of course, the burden of proof is *always* on god to prove his own existence, just like it’s his burden to communicate his various contradictory wishes to us. This just makes a nice opening to bring that fact up. If the only way to know that god is real is to experience him, then it becomes entirely god’s job to cause people to experience him. If he declines to do so, then their lack of belief will be attributable to his divine laziness and nothing else. Oh, he *wanted* people to experience him but they hardened their hearts and wouldn’t listen? I guess that means this isn’t very important to god in the first place, since he clearly isn’t trying very hard.

    • Cyndi says

      This argument was the nail in the coffin that helped me finally leave Christianity. I figured if god was supposed to reveal himself to me and I was sincerely asking for that to happen, and it didn’t, then either god didn’t care to reveal himself (which meant he didn’t love me because i needed proof to believe and if i don’t believe, I go to hell) or that he just plain didn’t exist.

    • rocket says

      Sounds like both of you have had a bad taste of Calvinism . I cant blame you for not believing . However,
      the problem as i see it from Cyndi’s viewpoint is that her argument becomes a swiss chees one becuase of the fact that millions of people have claimed to have had that experience .

      Now what does one do with all of those people ? are they just expereincing synapsis and nuerons firing away in their brains ? if one makes that assumption that becomes problematic becuase as Francis Crick discoverer of the DNA found out ; he could not find the self inside the brain , after John Eccles , Brain Noble prize winner said he could not find it either .

      so..we must put on our thinking caps . There is no proof that the brain is the self . so , where are these experiences coming from with all these people ? are they coming from outside the brain , then where ? and furthermore , how come so many lives are being changed by this so radically and last so long in that change?

      actually Cyndi– it is good that you put the nail in the coffin about christianity . one has to come to a complete stop , and throw in the towel of what they think in their mnid as to what this message of christ is . mental machinations must be cleared out for an authentic conversion to happen . it happens when it is supposed to happen . and you will know when it happens . suddenly –Christ Alive . And you will see that the Real Jesus is opposed to christianity . ..and everyone that has misrepresented him . that is what Plato calls ”the AHA moment ”.

      • Narf (the abdicator) says

        Umm, dude, there have been a lot of advances in neurology since the 60′s. Crick and Eccles are far from the final word on the subject.

        • rocket says

          Narf — agreed . but they both died leaving the subject at a Mexican standoff . Even John Searle admits to that.
          The advances seem to come back over and over again to Neo-Kantian thought , weather we like it or not . Crick sought to disprove Eccles up until his death , after Eccles got that Nobel in the 90′s.

          if you know something Narf that i dont on recent developments in this regard i would really like to know.

          • Narf (the abdicator) says

            The problem is that we have an organ that seems to be the home of the self. It’s physical. We have evidence for the physical. If you want to postulate another, non-physical mechanism for the implementation of self, you have to demonstrate and describe that mechanism. You have to create a working model. You have to demonstrate that a non-physical thing even exists. No one has managed to do that yet, or scientists would be all over it, exploring this fascinating new area of study.

          • Corwyn says

            Not only that but if we break the physical part, the ‘self’ suffers. Pretty strong evidence that.

  4. says

    Common sense is in short supply among theists, obviously, which is what makes arguing with them so often futile, but sometimes fun.

    A “smart” theist would be expected to attack the point that you didn’t actually prove that light exists to the blind man, because they don’t even realize that by saying that they invalidate their own argument. It’s human nature to seek proof and confirmation, and even the theists themselves can’t supress it most of the time.

    • rocket says

      VOX — commen sense is in short order with Theists and Atheists today . There are no heavys out there like there used to be . That is why we are stuck in a feedback loop pf Tautalogy .

      Have you seen Cormac Mccarthy’s ”The Sunset Limited ” ? with Samual Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones . now that is THE best thing in literary fiction form i have seen latley concerning faith and unbelief . what a peice of work . you can watch all 90 minutes on line free. very ala Becket.

  5. machintelligence says

    All of us (even the blind) can experience light in the infra-red range. Just shine a heat lamp on the back of his hand. Color is a bit more difficult.

    • says

      Actually color could be done the same way–with multiple colored boxes placed in order by the blind person. The sighted person could return to the room and simply recite the order of the colored boxes from left to right–each time. Whenever the sighted person leaves, the blind person reorders the boxes. The sighted person returns, and describes which colors are in order from left to right. As long as the boxes are identified in Braille for the blind person, and on the side accessible only to him/her–they’d have to agree that the sighted person can sense something different about each box that they cannot. This is what we’re calling ‘color.’ I can’t make them SEE color, but I can demonstrate my capacity to see a difference in the boxes, that I’m labeling as “color.”

    • Monocle Smile says

      Meh, I don’t like referring to EM radiation outside of the visible spectrum.

      I wonder if this color experiment in part demonstrates the capacity to detect reflection of specific wavelength bands, which could be revolutionary.

  6. L.Long says

    Using the exact same science that shows anyone that Ultra-violet or Infra-red exists can be used to show a blind man that colors exist. Its easy and straight forward. Gawd still is BS.
    Now try to show a blind man that there is a gawd and he LLLLllloooovvveeesss You, which is why he GIFTED him with blindness.

  7. Anthony Magnabosco says

    Great example. I think one could even take the hypothetical scenario fiurther and turn OFF all light, and then see what happens to the success rate of the non-blind individual picking the correct box after, say, one million attempts.
    @magnabosco

      • OverlappingMagisteria says

        Give the blind man control of the light switch. He can secretly flip it on or off. From his perspective, he’s just flipping some pointless object on the wall. But when the switch is down, nobody can solve the box test and they always solve it when the switch is up. They can’t be faking it (pretending that they can’t solve the test) because they don’t know the position of the switch.

        • Gunnar Tveiten says

          Indeed. It’s trivially easy to design any number of tests that show a blind man that something like light, and something like seeing exists.

          You can also have him do something, and have someone on the other side of a window describe what he’s doing. “You’re lifting your left arm” — “You’re shaking your head” — “You’re tapping your left toe on the floor”.

          This is the standard technique for demonstrating something somone can’t experience directly: Let them observe the *results*.

          We all tend to believe radio-waves exist, afterall, despite the fact that we’re unable to sense them directly. We are however able to sense the *results* — we can turn on a radio. It works. We put it in a metal-box, it stops working. *somehow* information gets to the radio, yet doesn’t if it’s in a metal-box.

  8. says

    Well, I think the issue here might be a little more subtle than that…but equally mundane in its explanation.

    Lots of people have “conversion experiences”. These include a lot of people who are in low places in their lives…miserable with drug and alcohol addiction and other troubles. Conversion experiences “set them straight”. They’re happier, more productive, better people than previously. This experience they attribute to “god”.

    Did you see where they trip up? It’s easy to miss.

    The “attribute” to god something they actually did on their own. It was their own minds they made up, maybe with an outside nudge of encouragement from a preacher or religious friend/acquaintance.

    The experience is real. The attribution is not.

    The proof of this is quite easy. If god is real and the experience of god is genuine, then it should be solely and entirely experienced only by followers of a single deity/religion. But it’s not. You can have the same experience as an evangelical Protestant, a Roman Catholic, a Sufi Muslim, a Hare Krishna, a $cientologist, a follower of est, and about a billion other religions and philosophies, some of which do not even posit the existence of a god.

    The experience is real. It’s often quite powerful, so any attempt to discount the experience itself will engender the type of response that’s in the original quotation.

    And conversion experiences are not always benign and beneficial, which counters the “well, why not just believe in it if it’s such a good thing”. The majority of Branch Davidians, the followers of Jim Jones, the Heaven’s Gate cultists had powerful conversion experiences.

    • says

      and sometimes people did have an experience, often a very profound one, that they attribute to divine intervention or revelation. While I deny the supernatural involvement, the experience to them was quite profound and denying the importance of that experience it is pointless.

    • says

      I think the point is valid… and in science we’re faced with the dilemma of multiple possibilities for experimental results all the time. That’s when we engage in further testing, for additional evidence that distinguishes one possibility over another. We set up controls, control groups, etc. It’s still part of the process, in the end.

      It’s also the reason why I ask so frequently, “What have you done to rule out the placebo effect?”

      • rocket says

        Ruling out the placebo effect using the gospels is easy . let us assume that there is no supernatural world . just for discussion sake . and that Christ casting out the demons was a misunderstandng on the part of ignorant people .ok , fine . but as the story goes those people may have had real mental freakouts , and they were powerful . for the epileptic this is true too. just freak out uncontrol.

        the problem with the placebo arguement is easy : what was it about this literary figure Jesus of Nazareth that stopped people –powerful people out of control– dead in their tracks? the burden of proof of the story is not to prove the story . that is folly . the burden of proof is for those that say it was a plecebo effect that stopped them .

        those who posit placebo maybe have never seen someone that raging out of control . placebo works on the average dude that has it halfway together , but not this . this kind of insanity can only be stopped by getting run over by a train or dare i say the power of the Son of God . Now , do you want to check that train schedule again ?

        • Narf (the abdicator) says

          You need to go much further back to basics than that, with the Bible. You first need to demonstrate that any given story in the Gospels wasn’t made up completely, before we try to analyze a given story for possible alternative explanations, other than miracles.

          The Gospels were written down only after being passed around as oral tradition for a few decades. Who knows what was completely made up, during that time, if they were ever even based upon the activities of a real person. Nothing in them should be taken as … well … gospel. The Gospels weren’t even written by the people whose names were later placed on them. They’re all anonymous.

          The Gospels aren’t evidence for anything, by themselves.

          • rocket says

            Narf , i am not using them as evidence . i am using them as a literay example . now , Scottish historian Micheal Grant puts alot of importance on Hebrew oral tradition . in fact so much so that he states that it was THE strongest and most reliable in the Mesopotamian culture and region . That is a huge statement .

            yes , i do agree that no one knows who wrote them . but even deconstrutionist Bart Erhman in his book ”Forged” states that at least 6 letters from Paul are authentic . So , though the search for the historical Jesus is murky 9 even though Voltaire , Gibbon , and Tacitus said he was an historical figure ) , Paul is a known quantity . so again , the plecebo argument is challenged there.

            concerning the locus of the Self. Nobody does know FOR SURE. i am fascinated with the Dalia Lama ‘s dialogue in this regard with variuos scientists and his hermits being put under EEG’s . if science is gonna use apostiori evidence to prove where the self is located they have not done it yet. and me being the cynic that i am will apply Poppers falsification principle to them . i am from the show me state . so –they have to show me .

          • Narf (the abdicator) says

            Scottish historian Micheal Grant puts alot of importance on Hebrew oral tradition . in fact so much so that he states that it was THE strongest and most reliable in the Mesopotamian culture and region . That is a huge statement .

            … which still isn’t very reliable, by modern standards. Particularly when it looks like Bronze-age mythology, cobbled together from the myths of nearby cultures, you need to do much better than that.

            but even deconstrutionist Bart Erhman in his book ”Forged” states that at least 6 letters from Paul are authentic .

            So, they were actually written by Paul … a guy who never met Jesus, but who had a massive brain malfunction and interpreted it as a vision of the guy whose followers he had been persecuting … assuming he wasn’t just lying completely, like many modern apologists, such as Lee Strobel.

            Strobel lies about having been an atheist and a skeptic. The briefest reading of his apologetics books expose him as the fraud he is. The dude doesn’t understand crap about skepticism. The others are of a similarly weak standard.

            Christianity has a long history of lying in promotion of the faith. Not good.

            So , though the search for the historical Jesus is murky 9 even though Voltaire , Gibbon , and Tacitus said he was an historical figure ) , Paul is a known quantity .

            The historical Jesus isn’t murky; he’s nonexistent. There are no contemporary accounts of his existence and nothing written in his own hand. Almost all of the historical mentions that Christians parade out (written decades after Jesus’s supposed death) speak about Christians and what they believe, not about Jesus himself.

            The one clear, explicit mention of Jesus, by Josephus, was a later insertion by some zealous Christians who wanted a non-Christian historian who mentioned Jesus.

            if science is gonna use apostiori evidence to prove where the self is located they have not done it yet. and me being the cynic that i am will apply Poppers falsification principle to them . i am from the show me state . so –they have to show me .

            Yeah, unfortunately, you don’t have the default position on that issue.

          • rocket says

            Micheal Grant , Voltare , Gibbon , and Tacitus are real historians . we are not .

            Josphepus interpolation ..i agree.

            you were not at the so called conversion of Saul to Paul , so how can you call it a brain malfunction .? maybe it was just guilt that changed him becuase of what he was doing . we dont know. let us stick to the facts.
            comparing Lee Stroble to the Apostle Paul’s genuis is like comparing beginner guitarist to Jimi Hendrix. Sroble used to live and write here in Columbia where i live before he moved to Chicago . there is no comparison .

            Stroble does not understand about being a skeptic …i agree. Paul understood about wrestling faith and doubt . Romans ch 7 is about as existential as it gets in this regard.

            christians lying –yup. some told the truth too. i rather prefer the anti apologetic approach of Turtullian’s scorched earth attitude myself . ..”Credo Qua Absurdum ” ( i believe because its absurd) . he knew how to insult the Pagans and walk away laughing . and he as a brilliant Roman lawyer . he could have played thier game , but he did not.

          • Narf (the abdicator) says

            Micheal Grant , Voltare , Gibbon , and Tacitus are real historians . we are not .

            Why would Voltaire have anything to say about the historicity of Jesus? He’s so far removed that his opinions are no better than any current historian’s.

            Tacitus’s contribution about Jesus is exactly what I said earlier. He wrote about Christians and what they believed, not anything approaching a reliable claim about Jesus’s actual existence. There’s nothing useful outside of the scriptures about him … and the scriptures were written by his cult followers who venerated him as their connection to their god or their god himself, depending upon which one you talked to.

            you were not at the so called conversion of Saul to Paul , so how can you call it a brain malfunction .?

            What Paul described is one of the various sorts of epileptic fit. They can cause wild hallucinations. He may have experienced one, himself, or he may have made the whole thing up and incorporated elements from other “mystics” (aka epileptics) in order to make it more believable. Who can tell, at this point?

            What I do know is that when someone describes something that we now know to be a brain malfunction, it makes me suspicious of anything else they say about the incident. You’re gullible beyond words, if you accept the hallucinations from someone’s frontal-lobe epileptic fit at face value.

            maybe it was just guilt that changed him becuase of what he was doing .

            Which makes the “made the whole thing up” scenario more likely, yes. How does that support your position in any way?

            we dont know. let us stick to the facts.

            Good, let me know when you have some, because everything you’ve said so far is just some shit that someone wrote in a book, thousands of years ago. You haven’t even approached facts, yet.

            comparing Lee Stroble to the Apostle Paul’s genuis is like comparing beginner guitarist to Jimi Hendrix.

            The Apostle Paul wasn’t much of a writer either, in my opinion. You’re speaking of opinion, not facts, still.

            christians lying –yup. some told the truth too.

            That’s nice. How do you tell the difference? You decide based upon which bits give you a warm, fuzzy feeling?

          • rocket says

            1. Voltaire , one of the top 3 historians of the 18th century when he heard of the first quest for the historical jesus in germany lead by Lessing , went there and told Lessing that he was being totally irresponsible in doing this . Gibbon and Hume were the other 2 most important historians of that time and they concurred with Voltaire.

            2. my problem with your remark on Paul and his conversion was that you made it sound absolute . you said ”HE HAD a brain disfuntion ”..this left you wide open . if you had said ” it was most likely a brain malfunction ”. that would have been a responsible thing to say . but to state that is was , as if you knew , i found to be a claim to which you cannot , nor can any one back up . that is why i said stick to facts.

            3. concerning Paul’s writing : Segal points out that thereis big gap and a rupture in historic Judaism between the writings of Ezekial and the rise of the Kabbala if Paul keeps being ignored by Jewish thinkers. Segal took alot of heat from his fellow Jews for saying this , but eventually this began a study of Paul’s work in all forms of Jewish circles that built up to Jewish writer Mark Nanos groundbreaking work on Paul’s letter to the Romans that recieved Jewish book of the year award in 1997. Pauls’ historical personage , confessional , and fully developed theological work fills this gap. this is just one reason why Paul is important . that is what i mean by jimi Hendrix . important . i did not say true . i said important . Lee Strobel is not important .

    • Gunnar Tveiten says

      Occams razor. There’s always an infinite number of explanations that *could* explain anything.

      But you should generally prefer the explanation that is simplest — while explaining all the observed phenomena.

      God can explain everything. The problem is that you can also explain everything we observe -without- involving God, he’s thus a un-needed complication.

  9. says

    Sorry, premature posting.

    In fact, all cults depend on conversion experiences to grow their numbers and to maintain control over their victims. People give up family, friends, jobs, everything they once were to follow some charismatic leader who pushed them over a psychological cliff with a conversion experience.

  10. says

    At least that argument acknowledges that what they think of as evidence is meaningless to everyone else, unlike the people who think that looking at the complexity of the universe proves god. To me, that’s a step in the right direction. Not enough steps, but at least one step closer to reality.

  11. OverlappingMagisteria says

    The experiment can be even simpler:

    I stand a few meters away from the blind man. He holds up any number of fingers. I tell him how many fingers he is holding up. Repeat to his satisfaction.

    With this setup, I cannot hear, feel, taste, or smell how many fingers he is holding up. Therefore I must have some sense that he does not.

    • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

      Or, if you’re sadistic, cut off one of his fingers with a laser while he’s doing this….

      • jacobfromlost says

        True enough, but even sighted people (if you take a moment to think about it) know that sunlight feels a certain way, at a certain angle, at a certain time of year at a certain time of day. It’s very consistent, and very easily identified.

        Other sources of radiated heat don’t have all of those characteristics.

      • says

        Sunburns are attributable to light — ultraviolet light. The use of sunscreen on one part of their body and not another should prove to them to their satisfaction that electromagnetic radiation is real, especially once their affected skin starts hurting!

      • Corwyn says

        If we are going to talk about light as a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum then yes, if we are talking about all of it then no. All radiated heat is a product of photons.

  12. OverlappingMagisteria says

    I’ve heard this same question rephrased as “Explaining color to someone who is fully colorblind.” The experiment here is easy too:

    Give the fully colorblind person one of those colorblindness test pictures where there is a number written with red dots in a field of green dots. He will see just a bunch of dots. He can show the card to absolutely anyone who claims to see color (stranger or not) and ask what number they see. They will all give the same answer.

    Either there is a massive collaboration of people who are in on some strange prank who have all memorized the name of a number, or there is a different visual quality to some of the dots than others that the colorblind cannot see.

  13. OverlappingMagisteria says

    Here is the test for God:

    Have a believer pray and ask God for some unknown, such as the number of stars in the milky way. Have another believer do the same.

    Do they all report the same number, or a different one? Or do they make excuses why God is unable to perform the experiment?

    • says

      And, of course, do something like select random believers who don’t know each other, and who have the same denomination or something (so they can’t cry “No True Scotsman”)

  14. lpetrich says

    This process is the way that science works — we have inferred the existence of an enormous number of things that we do not directly perceive.

    We have inferred the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, even though we directly perceive only a small part of it.

    In fact, I think that the process of perception is widely misunderstood. We do *not* directly perceive objects. Instead, we have certain sorts of ideas in our mind that we infer were induced by outside sources. We do this process of inference unconsciously and automatically, so we don’t notice it.

    To see where the process can go wrong, look at some premodern beliefs and present-day misconceptions. In a lot of premodern beliefs, clouds and rainbows are solid objects, even though we now know that they aren’t. That’s because our automatic inferring of solidity returns “solid” for clouds and rainbows.

    It seems like I’m arguing for solipsism, and I will concede that solipsism is hard to escape. All of you readers, how do you know that there is anything but yourself?

    • says

      It seems like I’m arguing for solipsism, and I will concede that solipsism is hard to escape. All of you readers, how do you know that there is anything but yourself?

      In terms of “hard solipsism” – that’s the closest thing to an axiomatic assumption (or presupposition) we have. There’s a few ways of addressing it.

      First, even if I were in a simulation, and only my mind existed, then I’m testing/learning about that similartion/”Reality” that I think I’m in… and that’s what I’m talking about.

      Second, if that’s true, why do the other “people” have access to information that I didn’t know, that turned out to accurately describe a consistently functional reality?

      Third, if you think it’s true that only your mind exists, go ahead and stop eating food. Let your hunger dictate how long you’ll believe that it’s all in your head… hopefully at some point before you die.

      Forth, if we are just minds in a vat, then it doesn’t matter… but if we aren’t then it does matter, because now we’re dealing with other people, so we may as well go with that.

      … none of those are great answers, but they’re sufficient to me, anyway.

      But going back to your original point, I agree that even when we’re talking about “observing” things “directly”, it’s still going through a subjective layer of interpretation, as our brains receive signals from our sensory organs. That doesn’t make it impossible to accurately learn about the world – just harder… and that’s what science spends a colossal amount of energy and effort mitigating… and successfully.

      • says

        The thing is though, solipsists are just like theists, they will go to extreme and absurd lengths to justify their beliefs, once you back them into a corner and demonstrate how silly their beliefs are. I had someone honestly tell me, as in your above example, that other people can know things you don’t know, because you actually do know it, but your brain won’t let you know that you know it, so as not to spoil the illusion.

        We have a term for “not knowing things you actually do know”. It’s called “not knowing”.

        Arguing with solipsists is like arguing with Matt Slick and his ilk. Utterly pointless.

  15. OverlappingMagisteria says

    Here’s a tougher one that I haven’t figured out yet:

    How would you prove to a blind man (not colorblind, but totally blind) that color exists?

    Any ideas?

    • says

      I think if you had multiple objects, each had identically-shaped colored squares on them, and you shuffled them around, the person should be able to distinguish between them. That’d be a start.

    • John Kruger says

      Name the colors of a bunch of similarly shaped objects for the blind person that they cannot differentiate between. Then have the blind person mix them up while the color seeing person cannot possibly observe, while keeping track of the objects in some way. The color seeing person’s ability to consistently identify the objects with the same color identifications would be evidence supporting the existence of color.

      • Russell Glasser says

        Alternatively: have multiple people come in and identify the same colors on the same objects, consistently.

        • John Kruger says

          That could work, although it would require some level of collaboration on the part of the identifiers in order to maintain a consistent naming method, which might make it a bit less compelling.

          Many colorblind people do not realize that they are in fact colorblind for quite some time, in that the hue that they have always seen was called by the same name they and everyone else had always called it. That is why colorblindness tests have actual numbers or letters to identify, showing there is definitively a difference they cannot perceive. After all, the labels for colors are only conventions set by cultural language.

          In the one person test the specific names of the colors would not be important, since the consistency could still be gauged regardless of what the person chose to call each color.

  16. John Kruger says

    When you can’t go through all the complicated specifics of something, you can still make a demonstration of it being real just by showing a consequence of actions. You may not be able to explain electricity in all its complexity to the natives of a distant and isolated land, but you can at least show them you are on to something by handing them your cell phone.

    This is what makes the Courtesan’s Reply so valid. If you actually do have a valid concept that is important and worthwhile, you should be able to make some kind of demonstration. If you can’t make any demonstration at all, there is no good reason to take you seriously, no matter how special or superior you want to claim you are. That is why guys like Chris Langan and his CTMU don’t merit significant consideration.

  17. says

    There is another aspect to this which Sam Harris has commented on, and I think it is a very important point in atheism. Many religious people DO experience something numinous through their faith, it is a very real experience. Many atheists, when responding to the claim that atheism is devoid of hope, meaning or spirituality, say that they are just as awed by the beauty and wonder of the natural world as any religious person is of their God.

    But the fact is that many religious people do have this transcendental experience in prayer or meditation or worship, and it is something beyond a rapturous sense of wonder at the beauty of life.

    Sam Harris knows this because he’s a neuroscientist and has had similar experiences via transcendental meditation. However, he understands that the experience is based in physical processes that happen in the brain, they are not proof of the divine.

    So that experience of the “divine” is something that can in fact be demonstrated to an atheist, and reportedly it is an amazing experience. What it is not, however, is any kind of proof of the supernatural, because it can be duplicated naturalistically.

    I suppose they can always say though that there is something more special about their experience that is missing from the mere TM experience.

    Here’s my challenge: how do you distinguish the undemonstrable from the non-existent? Or, how do you choose between undemonstrable alternatives? Whose vision of the transcendent should we accept, the Christian, the Muslim, or the Buddhist?

  18. DannyJudas says

    Thanks to all for the great insight. I basically told the Christian that it was a lame attempt at shifting the burden of proof, as he left it to me to prove it to myself with my own “experience”.

  19. lpetrich says

    More generally, we infer unperceived entities by making them create perceivable effects. Consider how Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-rays. He was experimenting with vacuum tubes when he noticed that some nearby fluorescent material was fluorescing. He did some more experimenting, and he concluded that that fluorescing was caused by an otherwise-unknown ray from the vacuum tubes.

    It’s the same story with the rest of the non-visible-light electromagnetic spectrum. It’s even the story of how we discovered that there is a continuum of wavelengths of visible light, and not just red, green, and blue light.

    So for a blind person to “see”, he/she needs a light detector, and to “see” colors, a colored-light detector. The perceptions of sighted people are a kind of colored-light detector, and the procedures that Jasper of Maine and John Kruger had described are ways of testing those colored-light detectors.

    We sometimes use this approach with other species. Seeing-eye dogs and hearing dogs, and also dogs and pigs trained to detect certain smells.

  20. says

    Theists try to use word salad and abstract ideas to prove something that is impossible to prove by its very nature. That is how they come up with this crap.

    They even go so far as to dissect books like THE GOD DELUSION in an effort to refute very well thought out arguments with what amounts to “God exists so nanny nanny boo boo.”

    I can only surmise that those is dire need of something to guide them in their lives are the only ones on which this kind of logic works. I know that is where I was at when I decided to become a Christian. Thank Cod I put away childish things.

    • rocket says

      Alicia , there is that word ”prove” again . must be some kind of fetish that people want proof . objective certainty on anything is stupid . Heisenberg ‘s uncertainty principle showed us that. those who seek objective certainty or evidence of Christ are childish . one either knows Christ or one does not . to argue for or against according to proofs is folly . people do it to sell books . Dawkins sells books to be rich . the fake christians sell books to be rich . reality has nothing to do with all of this .

      it is good to just walk away from book sellers and take care of needy poor people , speak out against war , the death penalty , and speak out against relgiuos bullshit … just like Christ did . everything else is prattle .

      • Narf (the abdicator) says

        Dawkins sells books to be rich .

        Heh, no he doesn’t. He was already rich, before he wrote his first book about religion.

      • says

        Try making sense, Rocket. These two sentences, that appear in sequence, render everything about the way you think incoherent.

        those who seek objective certainty or evidence of Christ are childish . one either knows Christ or one does not .

        But how do you propose to “know Christ,” or know anything, without evidence of some kind? Unless you’re the kind of person who is perfectly happy to pretend that “believe strongly” means the same things as “know,” without caring that the words you’re using have real meanings that differ from how you’re attempting to apply them.

        reality has nothing to do with all of this .

        How do you claim to discern what reality is, if evidence is a thing you dismiss right out of the gate?

        • Lord Narf says

          Yeah, Martin. I think this is why he keeps insisting that all of those other religious thinkers he mentioned are such great examples of the usage of clear, precise, logical thinking and writing. Rocket’s own thoughts are kind of fuzzy and illogical, so he can’t recognize it in others.

          I still can’t get over him holding up Aquinas as a clear-spoken, logical thinker. I’ve read Aquinas. He isn’t. Same obfuscation as modern apologists, just in more flowery language.

        • rocket says

          try making sense ? there is a presuppostion in that statement that logic and reason are the be all and end all . there are other kinds of epistomology . ever heard of intuitive ? revelation . ?

          you are probably all used to christian apologetics . i am not into christian apologetics Martin . my view is slash and burn –believe or be offended. anyone who says that they have evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead is nuts. there is no evidence. the reason why christian apolgetics is such bullshit is becuase it removes the message of the gospel as an offence , and it negates christ as the object of faith .

          do i believe christ was raised from the dead. yep . why ? becuase he proved it to ME . should i waste my time trying to prove it to to others ? nope. why ? becuase i cant . it has to come by revelation . believe you me , greater minds and cynics, (than any intellegent writer on this blog thru history) have been converted thru revelation .

          Narf , as far as Aquinas goes: he must be taken in context with his time . the innovation and brillance it took to write the SUMMA was unheard of at that time . and that was a time of of amazing thinkers who re-translated Aristotle in Toledo Spain . But they could not put it all together like Aquainas did . He is the Chuck Berry of theology . He fused all these elements like Chuck did when he invented rock and roll.

          • unfogged says

            Unless your “intuitive revelation” produces something that is demonstrably correct it has no more value than the contents of a delusion. Logic and reason may not be the only tools but they have proven to be far and away the most reliable.

          • rocket says

            Unfogged — unbelief and Atheism presuposses a null set as the total picture . how can one purport that and remain logical ? no one knows the total picture becuase there is no infinite reference point . without some infinite refrence point , as Sartre points out ,all finite referecence points have no meaning ultimatly . so my subjective faith and your subjective unbelief in which niether can prove anything are at a Mexican standoff .

            i have no evidence. i am simply the guy in the witness stand stating what i have experienced. many case have been decided legally on one witness alone with evidence. That does not constitute proof . ..however in the history of Law in Western civilization this form of Logic has been used many times.

            Corwyn , good question ! i was talking about this with Narf earlier . alot of this comes down to what John Searle calls ”The MIND/BODY debate . In other words; where does the locus of the Self reside? outside the brain as Kant said , calling it ”The Observer ”, or from the brain ? if , say fro discussion sake we are only our brains then perception itself is only anthropocentric , and all this God talk is just synapsis and nuerons firing away in ourself/ brain .

            on the other hand , if we are more than just our brain , then a whole other form of Epistomology besides Aproiri reasoning and Apostiori objective verification enters the dicussion . that is what Kant calls the Nuema , or what Jung calls ”the Ghost in the Machine ”, or what many mystics call ”the Spirit ”. getting back to the core of your question , i dont know how one can differentiate between revelation and brain malfunction , or in some cases brain superfunction . i really dont know how to tell the difference .

            That is another reason not to seek to offer evidence. However , Subjectivity is not Solipsism . Many on this blog would disagree , seeing them as one and the same . But i digress . Here is the rub in all of this –even of one cannot tell the difference between revelation and brain stuff , to accept the possibility that revelation can actualy happen to the existent individual is enough to open up new vistas in knowledge and conversation .

            all the best to you both .

          • unfogged says

            unbelief and Atheism presuposses a null set as the total picture

            Assuming you mean the null hypothesis then it is not presupposed to be the total picture. It is simply the basis from which you start. To move away from it you need evidence. Your “subjective faith” is irrelevant, If you don’t mean that then you are even more wrong than I think you are about what atheism is.

            even of one cannot tell the difference between revelation and brain stuff , to accept the possibility that revelation can actualy happen to the existent individual is enough to open up new vistas in knowledge and conversation.

            Conversation, maybe. As for knowledge… you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

          • Corwyn says

            i dont know how one can differentiate between revelation and brain malfunction , or in some cases brain superfunction . i really dont know how to tell the difference .

            So when you said:

            …ever heard of revelation . ?

            You meant it in the same sense as “ever heard of unicorns?” Not as something you that you have any evidence for the existence of, but rather as a hypothetical other possibility. Since we have observed brain malfunctions, that phenomenon is *sufficient* to explain all such experiences. That being the case, I see no reason to give any credence to your argument.

          • Corwyn says

            i dont know how one can differentiate between revelation and brain malfunction , or in some cases brain superfunction . i really dont know how to tell the difference .

            So when you said:

            …ever heard of revelation . ?

            You meant it in the same sense as “ever heard of unicorns?” Not as something you that you have any evidence for the existence of, but rather as a hypothetical other possibility. Since we have observed brain malfunctions, that phenomenon is *sufficient* to explain all such experiences. That being the case, I see no reason to give any credence to your argument.

  21. bugmaster says

    Why not just make five (or however many of them you want) boxes out of transparent plastic ? Then, while the seeing subject is out of the room, the blind man could randomly pick a box, then put the ball into that box. He could even shuffle the boxes if that’s what he wants to do. The seeing subject should be able to pick out the correct box with unerring accuracy, every time; whereas a blind subject would do no better than chance.

    That’s the same test Randi (and other skeptics) use on self-proclaimed dowsers and psychics. The only difference is, light actually does exist…

  22. Owlmirror says

    [I have posted this elsewhere, but I think it's appropriate and amusing. "Bob's" responses are similar to those of other theists when I offered the empirical test below.]

    Bob: Hi Owlmirror. Did you know that Alice exists, loves me, and has complete access to all of your data?

    Owlmirror: What an extraordinary — and oddly specific — claim. Can I make an empirical test of this claim? I have a random string of 1024 numeric characters that I output to a file called “randnum2″. I’m willing to offer some information about the string, so I won’t be accused of denialism or lying about it, if Alice is correct.
    $ md5sum randnum2
    $ 6aa60e2155a66e1117cee00c6cffc8a7 *randnum2
    $ sha1sum randnum2
    $ a888f87e4646c568e8f7d1bbd2794e7268161021 *randnum2

    The first digit is “9″.

    Bob: I’m sorry, you misunderstood something. Alice won’t tell me what any of your data is.

    Owlmirror: Why not? I give her permission to do so.

    Bob: It’s not a matter of your permission. I’m not allowed to ask her to empirically verify her claims to exist, love me, and have access to all of your data.

    Owlmirror: Wait, what? Haven’t you ever seen or communicated with Alice?

    Bob: Not exactly. Eve told me about Alice, and said I could verify the claim that Alice exists by initiating a silent conversation with Alice, and that Alice would make me feel peaceful as a confirmation.

    Owlmirror: Um, technically, that sounds to me like a one-bit signal channel. Couldn’t Alice provide more data by modulating your feelings? Peaceful equals a “1″, not-peaceful equals “0″?

    Bob: No! It doesn’t work like that! I’m not allowed to ask Alice for anything other than to confirm her existence via a peaceful feeling! No other data may be transmitted from Alice to me!

    Owlmirror: . . .

    Bob: Also, I’m supposed to tithe 10% of my income to Eve, and Alice thinks that gays are icky.

    Owlmirror: *facepalm*

    • jacobfromlost says

      Alice told me you’d say that. Well, actually it was Eve who told me Alice said that you’d say that, but I’m sure it’s true as Eve wouldn’t lie to me and now Alice’s prediction about what you have said has come true!

  23. says

    Yet another deepity shot down by experimental science. Christians accept that the electromagnetic spectrum exists beyond the light they can see. Why would they assume a blind person wouldn’t accept that light exists for the same reasons?

  24. Guy in a Tank says

    If it would not be possible to show the existence of light to a blind man, it would not be possible to show the existence of X-Rays to anyone, since every one of us is blind to X-Rays.

  25. says

    There are many things that a human cannot sense that have been proven with science. Things like gravity or quantum mechanics or magnetic fields would be just 3 examples that no one could possibly sense and yet they have already been proven with science. Most people believed the world was flat until it was proven round. I believe that intellgence is a sense that governs the other senses. One example would be a dog can see a stop sign, but does not know what it means and yet a person that has more intellect and understanding would know what the stop sign means.

    This is just another excuse that theists use because they cannot prove that their god(s) exist then they resort to platitudes which simply gets old. If someone knows that their god exist then they or their god would know how to prove it. A blind person may not be able to sense light however that’s still no excuse for anyone to believe in non-sense.

    • Psychopomp Gecko says

      We sense gravity all the time. You may know the feeling as weight. Just like we’ve sensed magnetic fields before with magnetic materials like lodestones.

      The problem is that too often Christians assume that observation equals seeing something with the naked eye. That’s why they commonly bring up the wind. Except you can see the wind if you toss dust or dirt into it, you can see it move smoke and clouds, you can see it as it blows through grass and trees, plus you can feel it on your body.

    • says

      I believe you are mistaken about gravity because it’s not the gravity we sense but rather the effect it has on different objects. For example gravity has effects on the tides, so are you able to sense that? Can you smell, taste, touch, see or even hear the gravity that effects the oceanic tides? The point in which I’m trying to make is that it is our sense of intelligence that let’s us know what something is not just the other 5 senses.

      One good example as for the blind man to know that light exist would be if a friend of his, who is able to see simply drives him to the store. If light didn’t exist then how would his friend be able to drive him to the store.
      Who built the car they road in and how would they be able to build it if no one could see? It’s all quite simple it’s called intelect, not god.

      • says

        (Correction If light didn’t exist then how would his friend be able to drive him to the store?) and (Who built the car they rode in and how would they be able to build it if no one could see?)

  26. Psychopomp Gecko says

    Light tends to give off heat. That helps somewhat with proving it exists. Then there are its effects on living beings. Not just plants growing, but little things like sunburn.

    That person chose an absolutely terrible analogy. No, he chose a terrible analanalogy. It had double the anal in it.

  27. snowylocks says

    Uhm…I’ve been told that there’s this thing blind kids do, where they close their eyes, and then carefully but firmly press their thumbs into their eyeballs until they “see” flashes of colored light. Kinda dangerous, but it works.

    Anyway, there’s also deep brain stimulation. Or would christians consider that “cheating” ?

  28. Paul Wright says

    If something manifests in reality/nature, then it will be detectable under the right conditions and therefore provable to anyone willing to evaluate the evidence. Black holes are a fine example of this. They emit nothing to show they are there, not even light, but we know they are there because of their gravitational effect of objects around them.

    Theists, conveniently it seems, have chosen a ‘god’ that can manifest in and out of reality at will, making it immune to scientific scrutiny, unless of course this ‘god’ decides to manifest in reality while someone is looking to detect it.

    Seems a little funny to me that this ‘god’, much like ghosts, has never been detected yet. He is after all an interventionist god right ? So every time he ‘intervenes’, should he not manifest in reality in some way ? Even if he is just answering a prayer from a devout Christian, surely that act of communication between the ‘god’ and the Christian should be detectable ?

    What do I know though ? I guess this ‘god’, like that U2 song, just moves in mysterious ways !

    • says

      That’s true about black holes having an effect on other objects, but then gravity is an absolute constant which means that it is 100% reliable and consistant, unlike any god that I would know.

  29. Grainger says

    These experiments seem complicated. If we’re trying to prove seeing exists, the sighed person just needs to perceive something without using taste, touch, smell or sound.

    Have the blind person hold up a number of fingers in front of him, and have the sighted person guess the number.

  30. chris lowe says

    With all the research and instrumentation that science brings to bear on the subject of light alone, not to mention sight, the theist who poses this question cannot possibly be interested in the answer. Actually posing the question is tantamount to puerile taunting of the people who can easily furnish the answer. Silly theists!

  31. Aaroninmelbourne says

    The late Dr Paul Bach-y-Rita developed a device that turns light into an ‘image’ on the tongue to help blind people ‘see’, because as he put it, “We see with our brain, not with our eyes”. What this device does is allows blind people to ‘see’ in terms of being able to comprehend distant objects and landscape through the pattern they feel on their tongues. There’s an article about it at Scientific American here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=device-lets-blind-see-with-tongues

    I saw a documentary about this a couple of years ago and one of the device’s users was a blind man who loves to go abseiling. He can also now lead the abseil which he was not able to do previously. So yes, while the blind can’t see light with their eyes, they can use devices which will use light to let them determine where things are. That use of a device can provide life-preserving information. In fact, this is what science means by ‘observation’: not that we ‘see touch taste smell’ as the apologist fancies it means, but rather that we are able to gather information directly or indirectly that is able to be corroborated and confirmed through multiple measurements and/or methods.

    Now if the theist wants to prove that they have some form of extra sense that allows them to communicate with a being that others cannot, then they must also be able to provide consistent information. Slight problem there: the existence of multiple religions all positing inconsistent or even contradictory information, along with self-appointed representatives of such beings (whether priest, apologist, or believer) with all these people in disagreement about various aspects of this being, shows that their claim is already suspect (to be generous) before they even begin.

  32. says

    Christians are simply arrogant self centered assholes. They believe they will live forever. The fox dies, the fish dies, all creatures die, yet human being animals do not die. Human being animals live forever, either in hell or heaven. No proof is needed they say yet if you have a claim, such as Evolution, the first item they demand is….proof! Arrogant self centered lying, cheating, thieving, cold blood killer assholes.

  33. Corwyn says

    “… God must be experienced to believe.”

    Well since I haven’t experienced any god, I don’t believe. I am glad that said Christian thinks that is sensible.

  34. Charl says

    I am a little late to the discussion, but I did not see solar panels mentioned. Mini solar panels can be used to power various devices if rigged to do so which would be the simplest method to prove the existence of light to someone who cannot see light.

  35. edmond says

    Has anyone considered that a blind person does not NEED light proven to them? When was the last time anyone heard a blind person deny the existence of light? Just because they can’t SEE it, doesn’t mean they’re not completely aware that their lives are heavily disadvantaged compared to the rest of us, due to a perception that we have which they don’t. They don’t need any colored boxes, or fingers held up. The difficulty of their lives is obvious to them, without it being “proven” first.

    This analogy simply doesn’t stand up when applied to some alleged “god perception”. My life is none the worse for not being able to perceive what theists insist they feel. Some theists’ lives are better than mine, some are far, far worse. I see no discernable difference between the lives of theists and atheists which would even BEGIN to suggest that atheists are lacking a “sense” of some entity or force.

    Blind people KNOW light exists, I assure you. Even its LACK exerts an influence on them. This is because light REALLY EXISTS. How does a lack of god affect my life? In no way that I can perceive.

    • Corwyn says

      I wasn’t going to get into how *insulting* that comment was towards blind people. But since you brought it up, absolutely right.

  36. josebuendia says

    It seems to me that a question more closely analogous to religious experience is: “How do you demonstrate empirically that Art exists?

    The answer, of course, is that you can’t. Yet you cannot deny that Mozart or Emily Dickinson or Vermeer are capable of generating experiences that are both transcendent and ineffable. And it would be hard to deny that a life devoted to cultivating and sharing those experiences might be a life well lived.

    • unfogged says

      Of course you can demonstrate that art exists and that the emotional response to art is a pretty common human experience. The issue isn’t finding an analogy to religious experience, it is finding an analogy to belief in god.

      A life devoted to cultivating and sharing the heightened emotional responses that great art inspires can most definitely be a life well lived. A life devoted to insisting that that experience is proof that a deity exists and is in control of everything is not only wasted, it can be harmful.

      • josebuendia says

        I am a Buddhist, so I have no dog in this fight.

        But, to me, the fundamental question “does god exist” is flawed. Existence implies a state of being imbedded in time — in relative truth, to use a Buddhist concept. This is because existence implies non-existence which brings in the concepts of change, time, and death.

        If I were a theist, I expect that I would take the position that god is beyond time, beyond concept. If this is the case, then god is not comprehensible through logic because logic only works within the concept of relative truth — the world of change — when you are comparing and contrasting one thing to another. If logic is not functional to understand god, then we are left with understanding through other means. And when we think about understanding through other means, Art provides a good analogy. Art (or music) is a non-conceptual (non-logical) method for experiencing truth.

        For me, a better question is whether the concept of god is necessary or not as an explanation of our “religious” experiences. Perhaps because I am a Buddhist — or perhaps I am a Buddhist because I have this view — I tend to think that ultimately the answer is no. But you don’t get to that answer by analyzing whether god exists or not. And this is why the views of theists tend to be impervious to atheist argument.

        • unfogged says

          If logic is not functional to understand god, then we are left with understanding through other means. And when we think about understanding through other means, Art provides a good analogy. Art (or music) is a non-conceptual (non-logical) method for experiencing truth.

          Other means may inspire you to search for an actual understanding but if it can’t be understood through logic then I do not accept that it can be understood. It can be experienced but that is not the same thing. It also can’t be “truth” in any functional sense of the word because it is all subjective.

          I do not in any way mean to deny the richness of the experience you can have through art but to call it “truth” is a complete bastardization of the word.

  37. arensb says

    I had this come up in real life: my girlfriend is a sign language interpreter (some of you may have seen her onstage at the Reason Rally).
    If there really is a sensus divinitatus that allows other people to perceive God, but that I lack, then I’m like a deaf person in a community of hearing people.
    And so I asked: is atheism a reasonable position? Yes.
    Are there any deaf people who think that so-called “hearing” people are just deluded?
    No, she said, that would be crazy: anyone who interacts with hearing people sees a million and one little bits of evidence every day that there really is such a thing as “sound”: hearing people can convey specific information (like “we’re going to lunch at 12:30 at Paolo’s”) despite being in different rooms and unable to see each other.

    It seems to me that if there really were a sensus divinitatus, and people did use it to perceive God, then doubting it should be as crazy as doubting the existence of hearing. But it’s not.

    • says

      …my girlfriend is a sign language interpreter (some of you may have seen her onstage at the Reason Rally).

      (Unrelated to the conversation, if she was the one interpreting for Tim Minchin then please convey to her my admiration for how she was completely amazing.)

      If there really were some kind of “god sense” that produced reliable results, then we should be able to build a “god-meter”, just the way we can build a light-meter or a sound-meter. I’ve never seen a theist who could produce one.

  38. pinkey says

    Simpler way to prove the phenomina of light to a blind person:

    Blind person raises random number of fingers on his hand.
    Other person is able to demonstrate the phenomina of light
    by saying the number of fingers raised. Blind person confirms
    his fingers were not touched, so the information was transmitted
    differently. Repeat until statistically significant beyond chance.

    • says

      Having lived with a blind guy as roommate for a semester in college, I can say with some high confidence that blind people are aware that sighted people experience the world through vision, which they themselves lack. So they are aware of light. Thus any theist who tries to launch a rebuttal to an atheist with the line “You can’t prove light to a blind man!” is simply an uninformed idiot about yet one more thing.

  39. theoptimistatheist says

    Simple answer:
    Even a blind man can detect light photons using a photon detector. Where is the god detector again?
    I know, they’ll ask why a blind man should believe a device when he can’t experience what is being detected, but ask them; why should I believe in a god with NO evidence whatsoever of its existence.
    Just my 2 cents.

  40. Marcia Everett says

    Well unless the person was Helen Keller, I would just explain that just as there are variations of information that you receive through your ears (loud to soft, music to noise) through your nose, (sweet to rank) through your mouth, (sweet to salty) throiugh your skin, (warm to cool) there is information that comes through your eyes and we call it color.

  41. Ric Bowers says

    “How would you respond to a Christian who says “Just like light cannot be proven to a blind man, God must be experienced to believe.”

    So a blind believer might say he experiences god by seeing His light but, the simple task of crossing a busy road will undoubtedly prove to him the existence of light and possibly at the same time, the non-existence of a caring god..

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