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Dec 02 2010

Can Atheism Be Proven Wrong?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Note: I am now, once again, re-thinking this question, and am planning to write more about it soon. I think that I’m still basically standing by my position, which is that atheism both can and should be falsifiable. But I am reconsidering the question of what the word “god” even means, and whether the term can be defined in a way that is both coherent and non-trivial. So this piece is not my final word on the subject: it’s still a work in progress.

Persuasion Is there any possible evidence that would persuade atheists out of our atheism?

And if not — does that make our atheism close-minded and dogmatic?

There’s been an interesting debate lately in the atheist blogosphere. (The media will no doubt point to it as a sign of a terrible schism in the so-called New Atheist movement; but really, it’s been a very friendly and civil conversation so far, among people who are fundamentally allies.) The debate revolves around whether there’s any possible evidence that could convince atheists to change their minds… and if not, whether that makes their atheism an unshakable article of faith rather than a reasonable, evidence-based conclusion.

PZ MyersJerry-Coyne PZ Myers, of the famed Pharyngula blog (almost certainly the most widely-read of all atheist blogs), recently asserted that he had made up his mind. The case for atheism was just too devastating, and at this point, no possible evidence could ever convince him that any religion was correct. Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution Is True, the book and the blog) has expressed strong disagreement. He thinks atheism is falsifiable — and he thinks that it should be. If there is no possible evidence that would convince us God was real, he argues, not even the most wildly ludicrous hypothetical chain of events you could dream up, then atheists really would be just as close-minded as believers claim. The debate between Coyne and Myers has extended its tendrils throughout the atheist blogosphere… so I’m getting in on the action.

I’ve written at length about how atheism is, and should be, falsifiable. I’ve even gone out on a limb, in this very blog, about what exact evidence would persuade me that God was real. And after reading Myers and Coyne and a whole lot of other atheists in this debate, and after thinking about it at some length, I’ve reached two conclusions:

1) I don’t agree with PZ.

2) I think PZ makes some seriously important points.

I don’t ultimately agree with him, but the questions he raises are making me re-think my position on this question.

Sacredheart Let’s get the first bit out of the way: I think PZ is wrong. It seems, uncharacteristically for him, like he’s not getting the rules of the game. I think he’s focusing too much on existing religions, gods that people currently believe in, and on whether any of those could ever provide any evidence that would persuade him. Yes, atheists pretty much agree that no existing religion has a shred of decent evidence to support it. That’s why we’re atheists. If we thought any religion had supported itself with decent evidence, we’d accept that religion. That’s not the game. The game isn’t, “What religion that currently exists could convince you that it was right?” The game is, “What hypothetical made-up religion could convince you that it was right?”

Or, to put it another way: We’re talking counter-factuals. We understand that the universe, as it is now, is overwhelming in its evidence for atheism and materialism, and against any kind of deity or supernatural realm. We get that. We’re talking about alternative universes. We’re asking, “What would the world look like if there were a god or gods?”

Strategic planning for public relations And, in pointing out how vastly different that world would be from the one we actually live in, we’re not just making a stronger argument for our position. We’re not even just making our position falsifiable, and thus making it philosophically stronger. We’re making our position rhetorically stronger. In my debates with religious believers, I’ve found the “What would convince you that you were mistaken?” gun to be invaluable. When I can point out that I’m willing to consider the evidence for religion, but that no possible evidence could convince them that they were mistaken — and that they therefore aren’t arguing in good faith — it can be very effective in getting believers to re-examine their beliefs. And it shuts down the “It’s so close-minded of you to come to a provisional conclusion about religion based on the best available evidence” canard very effectively.

So it’s frustrating to see one of the most prominent atheists undercut that tactic, and give the “Atheists are close-minded” brigade ammunition. (I don’t think the PR point is the most important one — if I were persuaded that PZ’s position was philosophically sound, I’d stand by it even if it made atheists look bad and made our debates harder — but since I think that philosophical soundness and good PR do dovetail in this case, I think the PR angle is worth pointing out.)

But PZ makes some important points here. In thinking over my disagreement with him, I’ve had to seriously re-think my own position on this question.

And I think the most important point he makes is this:

Religion has to do more than come up with some good evidence for its hypothesis.

It has to come up with a coherent hypothesis in the first place.

And thus far, religion has completely failed to do this.

Religions haven’t just failed to support their assorted hypotheses with good, solid, carefully gathered, rigorously tested evidence. They’ve failed to come up with hypotheses that are even worth subjecting to testing. They’ve failed to come up with hypotheses that are worth the paper they’re printed on.

Slip-n-slide Religions are notorious for vague definitions, unfalsifiable hypotheses, slippery arguments, shoddy excuses for why their supporting evidence is so crummy, and the incessant moving of goalposts. Many theologies are logically contradictory on the face of it — the Trinity, for instance, or an all-powerful/ all-knowing/ all-good God who nevertheless permits and even creates evil and suffering — and while entire books are filled with attempts to explain these contradictions, the conclusions always boil down to, “It’s a mystery.” And the so-called “sophisticated modern theologies” define God so vaguely that you can’t reach any conclusions about what he’s like, or what he would and wouldn’t do, or how a world with him in it would be any different than a world without him. They define God so abstractly that he might as well not exist. (Either that, or they actually do define God as having specific effects on the world, such as interventions in the process of evolution — effects that we have no reason whatsoever to think are real, and every reason to think are bunk.)

And when I ask religious believers who aren’t theologians to define what exactly they believe, they almost always evade the question. They point to the existence of “sophisticated modern theology,” without actually explaining what any of this theology says, much less why they believe it. They resort to vagueness, equivocation, excuses for why they shouldn’t have to answer the question. In some cases, they get outright hostile at my unmitigated temerity to ask.

Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_Durer Even when religions do make falsifiable claims — like “Prayer is effective in treating illness” or “The world was created 6,000 years ago” — their defenders slip and slide and squirm away when their claims actually do get falsified. They find the most convoluted rationalizations for why the evidence doesn’t count… or they just stick their fingers in their ears and ignore the evidence altogether. The beliefs are falsifiable in theory — but in practice, they’re unshakeable articles of faith.

So in order to persuade me that it was probably true, a religion would have to do more than just provide some decent evidence for its hypothesis. It would have to provide a decent hypothesis in the first place. It would have to provide a hypothesis that explains existing evidence, makes accurate predictions about future events, can be tested, can have those tests replicated, is consistent with what we already know (or provides a better explanation for it than existing theories), and is internally consistent.

What’s more: This hypothesis would have to do more than just explain whatever new evidence might appear to support it.

It would have to explain the utter lack of good supporting evidence in the past.

It would have to explain why, in thousands and thousands and thousands of years of human history, supernatural explanations of unexplained phenomena have never once panned out… and a natural explanation has always, always, always turned out to be right.

History.of_.the_.world_.part_.i This is another hugely important point that PZ, along with others defending his position, has been making in these debates. Atheists aren’t just atheists because we don’t see any good evidence here and now for the God hypothesis. We’re atheists because, in all of human history, there has never once been any good evidence for the God hypothesis. We’re atheists because, as Julia Sweeney said in Letting Go of God, “The world behaves exactly as you would expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.” The world behaves that way — and it always has. We’re atheists because, every time in history that we’ve come to a better understanding about the world, that understanding has always been one of physical cause and effect. We’re atheists because claims from the past about miracles and so on have always come from unreliable sources, and have never once been substantiated. We’re atheists because, over the decades and centuries and millennia, religions have risen and fallen, not because they’ve been better supported with good evidence, but for social and psychological and political reasons, entirely consistent with them being entirely made up. We’re atheists because religion has had millennia to prove itself right — millennia in which it has dominated the intellectual and scientific discourse, for all but the past few decades — and has utterly failed. We’re atheists because the religion hypothesis has been tested — and tested and tested and tested, and tested again, and tested yet again, and then tested one more time to be sure, and given the benefit of the doubt and tested again, and then again, and again — and has never, ever, ever panned out.

History cover So to persuade us — me, anyway, and I suspect many other atheists — that a religion was correct, it would have to do more than show evidence of a few miracles in our time. It would have to explain why those miracles were happening now… and yet had somehow never happened before. It would have to explain why the world had always been best explained by physical cause and effect, but now, overnight, that had changed. Even if a 900-foot Jesus appeared in the sky tomorrow, healing amputees and unambiguously stating his message in all languages and whatnot, a religion would have to explain why God was making all this happen now… and not at any other time in human history.

Now — and here, again, is a point I think PZ is missing — the fact that religion has utterly failed to do this in thousands of years doesn’t mean that it never, ever could. I could imagine, for instance, a malevolent trickster god, who’s deliberately hidden all traces of his existence from us for hundreds of thousands of years… but who today, just to screw with us, has decided to show his existence: by healing amputees, by moving Earth into Pluto’s orbit without anyone getting chilly, by writing his name in the sky in letters 100 feet tall in every language known to humanity, by making all members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, alone among all other religions, healthy and wealthy and successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

That’s clearly not a god who’s posited by any religion I know about. Not even the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. But he’s hypothetically possible. And if this series of events happened, I would change my mind about my atheism, and I would accept this god’s existence. I wouldn’t necessarily worship him — I’d probably conclude that he was a jerk, and I’d only worship him out of purely self-interested fear of getting smacked down — but I’d conclude that he was real.

Q star trek Now. Many people at this point will play the “super-advanced space alien technology” card. They’ll point out, as Arthur C. Clarke did, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And they’ll argue that “super-advanced space alien technology” would be a more plausible explanation for all these weird phenomena than supernatural gods.

And they’ll have a point. You could argue, as I do, that in the face of a sudden, massive onslaught of the violations of known physical laws — and in the face of a clear verbal message saying, “Yes, I am Loki pulling all this crap, I really am a god, so make with the burnt offerings already” — the god hypothesis would be the most reasonable and parsimonious one. But you could also argue that the space alien hypothesis would be the most reasonable and parsimonious. After all, we know that physical life and technology exist; we don’t know that supernatural beings exist. And when it comes to conflicts between natural and supernatural explanations of unexplained phenomena… well, again. in all of human history, natural explanations have won that fight time after time. Natural explanations have an entirely unbeaten, millennia- old record over supernatural ones. They should always be our go-to choice.

Loki I don’t want to get into that particular argument right here. What I do want to point out is that my conclusion — my acceptance of the trickster god hypothesis in the face of healed amputees and changed orbits and Loki’s name in the sky and so on — would be provisional. It wouldn’t be a fundamental axiom or a tenet of unshakeable faith. It would be a provisional conclusion, based on my best understanding of the best currently available evidence. If I concluded that the trickster god hypothesis was the best explanation of these weird phenomena, and then someone showed me convincing evidence that it was really super-advanced alien technology… I’d change my mind. I would renounce Loki. It’d be a provisional conclusion; a falsifiable hypothesis.

Making it completely unlike any God hypotheses I’m aware of.

Do I think my atheism could hypothetically be mistaken? Sure. I’ve already stated what kind of evidence would persuade me out of my atheism: I’ve gone out on that limb, and I stand by that limb. On that limb. Whatever. I still think atheism is falsifiable — and I still think it ought to be falsifiable. I think it makes our atheism more philosophically sound. (Not to mention better able to stand up in a fight.)

But to persuade me that my atheism was false, I’d have to see more than just evidence for the religion hypothesis. I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that was coherent. I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that was testable, capable of making useful predictions, not shot through with internal inconsistencies and logical contradictions. I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that was worthy of the name “hypothesis.” And I’d have to see a religion hypothesis that explained, not only any new evidence that seemed to support it, but the complete lack of good evidence supporting it for the thousands and thousands of years before now.

Rejecting religion isn’t an unquestioned axiom. Rejecting religion is a conclusion, based on an overwhelmingly mountainous pile of unignorable evidence. And even for those atheists who are now totally convinced that this conclusion is correct, it’s still a conclusion. It’s not that atheism isn’t falsifiable. It’s that thousands of years of history have utterly failed to falsify it.

It could still happen. The trickster god could still show his 900-foot face and wow us all.

But I’m not holding my breath.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Icaarus

    Greta great post, thoroughly enjoyable, but I take issue with your claim that PZ is wrong.
    His quote “… at this point, no possible evidence could ever convince him…”. His statement is only logically sound if we use the definition that possible evidence is evidence which can be created without violating the fundamental laws of physics* (the rules of possibility as we know them). If some ‘God’ were to show up tomorrow and prove that they were the ‘all knowing creator’ then he or she would have to prove that certain fundamental laws of the universe were in fact artifacts of his/her design. To do such they would have to show a violation of said law. In doing so that would falsify P.Z.’s claim, by producing impossible evidence. Thus under the strictest definition of the terms used by P.Z. his claim is falsifiable. The problem with comparing the two statements is that P.Z. is using the scientific definition of possible (based on the universe), and Jerry Coyne is using the colloquial definition (based on human imagination). Which are most definitely not comparable, since the imagination is not always rational (it would be really boring if it were). I hope that clears up any confusion. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.
    *please keep in mind that laws of the universe do not mean our current universe’s limits as we know them, but the laws themselves for which science is trying to define. The best candidate law to break would be locality. Show that information is transmitted faster than light and you break locality, and thus is an example of impossible evidence which would prove there is a god.

  2. 2
    GedW

    “Now. Many people at this point will play the “super-advanced space alien technology” card. They’ll point out, as Arthur C. Clarke did, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And they’ll argue that “super-advanced space alien technology” would be a more plausible explanation for all these weird phenomena than supernatural gods.”
    Well, I think that’s where I agree with PZ. You might not want to go into it here but it’s a crucial argument in my opinion. A tricksy alien seems much more likely than a god. So no, I still wouldn’t believe in magic.

  3. 3
    DSimon

    Icaarus, seems like you’re using too narrow definition of God. I can imagine a possible God that is still bound to the laws of physics, but is still a deity as most people understand that concept: i.e. it has an enormous amount of capability for modifying the current state of the universe in arbitrary ways.
    Also, if an entity showed up and started doing stuff that breaks the laws of physics, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that the universe is somehow being hacked, it instead might mean that our understanding of the laws of physics is incorrect. In other words, if locality is violated, that doesn’t have to mean it was God showing up, it may just mean that we need to start writing some new physics textbooks.

  4. 4
    johnchx

    The game is, “What hypothetical made-up religion could convince you that it was right?”
    I’m not sure I agree with this. The tricky bit is: how do you tell whether some claim about the world is “a religion?” Suppose, for example, I produce the Standard Model straight out of a physics textbook and say, “Here is my hypothetical made-up religion.” It makes clear, specific, falsifiable claims, and it has oodles of evidence to support it.
    So, are you not an atheist anymore?
    It’s obviously not fair to say that something is only a religion if it makes no falsifiable claims, or only if it makes false claims. (And it would render atheism unfalsifiable, defeating the purpose.)
    It also doesn’t help to say that religion must be something that is believed dogmatically. I can believe the Standard Model dogmatically. Does that make it a religion? If so, does the fact that it passes the tests of science mean that it is a true religion? And that we are all theists now?
    Ultimately, I think PZ’s version of the game makes more sense. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

  5. 5
    Kat

    I had a lot of the same thoughts as you when I read PZ’s post. I think a lot of it boils down to the question of what exactly is it that we are talking about? What is it that PZ is thoroughly unconvinced of? What is the definition of a god, really? I am not ashamed to say I have no idea! Heh, that was actually the subject of my latest blog post- http://kats-brain.blogspot.com/2010/12/god-meaningless-word.html

  6. 6
    sewa mobil

    Nice article, thanks.

  7. 7
    Alexander1304

    Why my post has been deleted?I just stated that I think the debate Atheism/Religion should be broaden,and include the study of Paranormal events,that meanwhile are not explainable.Did I offend somebody?…

  8. 8
    themann1086

    You probably just got caught in the mysterious and all-powerful moderation filter. It’ll appear whenever our author returns to approve it :)

  9. 9
    Icaarus

    Apologies in advance, it seems I am having a long-winded morning.
    DSimon, you are correct that my definition of god is narrow. I would argue however that it is not too narrow.
    Consider the famous Clarke quote from above, now in that case any deity which did not meet my claims would be in fact just an individual that had a better grasp of technology then us. Should we worship the fancier stick? No, because like a student to a teacher, we would have the capacity to learn and reproduce that which we found mystical. In the process that would de-deitify the person we perceived as a god. Since, under any definition of god I have heard from any religion, no person can remove a god’s powers without being at least partly a god themselves*. Thus, either the person previously perceived as a deity was never such.
    Finally if you noticed my comment I did not state the laws of physics as we understand them, but the laws of physics themselves. The laws themselves do not change, just our ability to accurately perceive their complexity, as was the reason for my footnote. The example I gave was just a way to force the point that they would have to show that a law that always is true for the rest of the universe is not true for that individual, even after re-examining the law to account for the perceived violation. If after looking at the supposed violation, it cause us to rethink the theory and come up with a new one that better fits the evidence that is science. If however the God were the only person for which a law (say locality, which would need to be broken for omniscience) did not apply, then that would be proof of their deistic powers. This claim would not be easy to prove, and would in itself make us rethink physics, but it would be required for proof of a god.
    *This does not include killing a god, yes there are lots of stories where mere mortals killed gods.

  10. 10
    WScott

    Another way to look at the question is to lower the bar a notch and instead ask “What hypothetical evidence would lead you to reconsider that a religion *might* be true?” Even if I ultimately concluded that 600-foot Loki was probably a space-alien, I would certainly be willing to at least consider the possibility that he *might* be a real god.
    Heck, I’ll go even further: I’d be willing to at least consider any religion that 1) is reasonably free of obvious contradictions, 2) isn’t obviously falsifiable by easily-observable evidence, 3) whose practitioners are clearly healthier, happier and more moral than other religions, 4) whose prayers are actually shown to be effective under controlled conditions, and 5) whose believers are not defined primarily by whatever their parents happened to believe. Those are the key failings that led me personally to abandon religion in the first place, so I think it would be only fair to reconsider any religion that escapes them.
    That’s a pretty low bar, frankly, and I’m not too worried about any religions coming close to touching it. So why are we so eager to set the bar even higher?

  11. 11
    Greta Christina

    Alexander1304: I have no idea what happened to your comment. I didn’t delete it, and I’m not seeing it in the spam filter. I guess you must have angered Loki or something. Sorry.

  12. 12
    Darksmiles22

    Gods used to have real bodies and real homes before astronomers and geologists discovered that the sky and ground weren’t like a ceiling and floor separating different levels of a house.
    What’s the fundamental difference between a physical god born of another god (like Zeus) and an advanced natural entity like a space alien (other than planet of ancestral origin)?
    And once one starts tacking on incredible attributes and feats, almost by definition delusion becomes a more credible explanation.
    Greta really should tackle the problems of distinguishing god from space aliens and brain malfunctions.

  13. 13
    Joe Fatzen

    Ah, it’s back again… Kinda wanted to comment previously, but was late to the thread.
    Seemed to be a pretty random and silly bit of argument going back and forth between P-Zed and Jerry, but I think you and Jerry are less established on “the point” that I think PZ was getting to. I may punch of a longer item when I have time, but one of Qualiasoup’s videos covers it quite well:

    (Gets to the specifics roundabout ~7:00, but the whole video is excellent and should be watched.)
    In short, “God-the-Universe-Creator” is on the FARRRRRRR side of any of an infinite number of more-probably explanations for the evidence you’ve given.
    And while you might consider it good enough evidence to act on and to treat the God Hypothesis(TM) as positively answered, that’s not actually going to get you there the way we talk about “proof” and “proven.”
    Which is the problem at its core. The way most people define God(TM) is completely outside the bounds of naturalism itself. How can you use evidence from within one system to _prove_ something completely outside its bounds?
    We can find evidence that can completely shatter our concept of “what we know” or “what we think is possible,” but I believe that is where PZ was coming from by saying “no evidence will suffice.”
    The entity described defies it.

  14. 14
    Eclectic

    I’m quite happy to consider a super-advanced alien with a fetish for prayers and burnt offerings to be a god. It’s not like “god” is a narrowly defined technical term with well-understood specific meaning.
    But accepting that a god-like being who wants to be called Loki exists does not automatically mean that all the legends associated with Loki (like that he had sex with a mare and is the father of the eight-legged horse Sleipnir) are necessarily true.
    That’s the same mistake that creationists make, and by far their largest one, vastly overshadowing their misunderstanding of information theory and <a href="http://www.smashboards.com/showpost.php?p=1073734&postcount=232"the second law of thermodynamics. They think that if they can disprove the theory of evolution (the modern theory and Darwin’s original are close enough that we need not quibble about the differences), then their idiosyncratic creation story wins by default.
    Er… no. If Darwin was utterly and comprehensively disproved by startling new evidence tomorrow, you’d still have the thoroughly-documented facts of evolution and common descent (known by the more cumbersome term “the principle of faunal succession” when first documented by William Smith around 1790–1810) in desperate need of a new theory of evolution.
    Einstein’s theory of gravity (known as general relativity) is more accurate than Newton’s. We still teach and use Newton’s, because it’s an excellent approximation in most cases, and we understand when the more accurate but difficult relativistic computations are required. We also know that general relativity cannot be completely correct either, because it flatly contradicts the well-documented facts of quantum mechanics.
    But the facts of gravity (things keep falling down) persist while humans search for a better theory to describe them.
    Yes, if a source document makes 100 assertions and we’ve verified 97, then the chances are excellent that the last three are true as well. But if it used to be considered 100% wrong, and it turns out that three of the assertions are true, that is not enough to accept the other 97.
    Just because Heinrich Schliemann braved ridicule to prove that there really was a city matching Homer’s description of Troy does not mean that The Iliad is true in every particular. Heck, even The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is salted with the occasional truth.

  15. 15
    Eclectic

    (Arrgh, I need a preview button! Greta, please feel free to delete the version above.)
    I’m quite happy to consider a super-advanced alien with a fetish for prayers and burnt offerings to be a god. It’s not like “god” is a narrowly defined technical term with well-understood specific meaning.
    But accepting that a god-like being who wants to be called Loki exists does not automatically mean that all the legends associated with Loki (like that he had sex with a mare and is the father of the eight-legged horse Sleipnir) are necessarily true.
    That’s the same mistake that creationists make, and by far their largest one, vastly overshadowing their misunderstanding of information theory and the second law of thermodynamics. They think that if they can disprove the theory of evolution (the modern theory and Darwin’s original are close enough that we need not quibble about the differences), then their idiosyncratic creation story wins by default.
    Er… no. If Darwin was utterly and comprehensively disproved by startling new evidence tomorrow, you’d still have the thoroughly-documented facts of evolution and common descent (known by the more cumbersome term “the principle of faunal succession” when first documented by William Smith around 1790–1810) in desperate need of a new theory of evolution.
    Einstein’s theory of gravity (known as general relativity) is more accurate than Newton’s. We still teach and use Newton’s, because it’s an excellent approximation in most cases, and we understand when the more accurate but difficult relativistic computations are required. We also know that general relativity cannot be completely correct either, because it flatly contradicts the well-documented facts of quantum mechanics.
    But the facts of gravity (things keep falling down) persist while humans search for a better theory to describe them.
    Yes, if a source document makes 100 assertions and we’ve verified 97, then the chances are excellent that the last three are true as well. But if it used to be considered 100% wrong, and it turns out that three of the assertions are true, that is not enough to accept the other 97.
    Just because Heinrich Schliemann braved ridicule to prove that there really was a city matching Homer’s description of Troy does not mean that The Iliad is true in every particular. Heck, even The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is salted with the occasional truth.

  16. 16
    Locutus7

    I think what distinguishes atheists from theists is not only the hypothetical existence of a god, but the need to worship one should it exist.
    I recall the interview of Hitchens by christian Todd Friel where Friel kept asking Hitch to accept the hyothetical of a god and then admit that he would worship it. Hitch said that not only would he not worship it, but he would actively resist it.
    Friel could not accept this and kept insisting that Hitch was not understanding the hypothetical.
    Tracie on Atheist Experience related this episode with much perplexity and amusement.
    One must conclude that not only do believers need a god to exist, they need to worship it.

  17. 17
    Annatar

    I would start rethinking things if an entity able to arbitrarily violate each and every law of physics showed up. Perhaps such a thing would be “the owner of the Matrix”. In any case such an entity could easily create a heaven and a hell if it wished.
    Now, what kind of demonstrations would I want? Something that would utterly turn entire fields of science upside down. For instance:
    Take the Earth, move it into orbit around Saturn at an average of 99% of the speed of light, while keeping light and climate as they are, and not causing a cataclysm. Keep it there for at least a month to give scientists time to convince themselves that yep, we’re orbiting Saturn now.
    Why: It would require unimaginably enormous amounts of energy and an acceleration that would kill everything on the planet. It’d require somehow separating light and climate from the Sun and our position respect to it. Orbiting Saturn would probably cause horrible tides that would have to be nullified.
    For a less global demonstration: Turn me into a human/cat hybrid according to an exact written but not shown to the deity before the change specification, in less than a minute, without contact, while keeping my DNA as it was. I will make sure to be creative with the spec, including intrincate fur patterning and wings capable of flight for instance. For a bonus go do that kind of thing at every furry convention.
    Why: Would demonstrate being all knowing. Would have to drastically reshape a living body and radically transform matter. I’m pretty sure that if science ever makes such a thing possible, a body can’t make such changes so fast due to lacking the elements, energy and speed of change needed for such a rebuild on such a short timescale.
    Keeping the DNA despite such a drastic change would turn biology and evolution on its head.
    Now, if such wonders come from an entity residing inside the universe, then we can possibly rise to its level and just have a limited undestanding of how things work.
    On the other hand if we’re in the Matrix and something outside it can mess with the simulation, then we probably can’t get around that, and it’s as good as a deity from our point of view.
    It’s still not a given I’d worship any of those though. Most likely not.

  18. 18
    Timmer D

    Greta, fantastic article!
    It lead me to think more about evidence, and standards of proof.
    A civil trail uses a “Preponderant of Evidence” principle. Maybe on a bad day, one could slip the God Hypothesis past a jury, maybe with a a Virgin Mary displayed on a water stained wall.
    A criminal trial requires “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.” Funny thing about God, he requires reasonable doubt (otherwise known as faith). You can’t “believe” in God unless you don’t really believe in God (but only a little).
    Finally we have the standard of reproductivity, required by the physical sciences. You and I can measure the gravity accelerates at 9.8 meters per second squared. “But you can’t measure God,” yell the faithful. God is infinite, he is everywhere and everything…

  19. 19
    Maxx

    Good evening;
    Interesting article. The question, however, remains the same. How, exactly, could one falsify atheism and how does that differ from the objection that religion also suffers from lack of falsification? The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Ask any lawyer.
    It appears that there is just enough evidence for believers to believe and just enough lack of evidence for unbelievers to un-believe.
    What, exactly, is the middle ground that tips the scale one way or the other?
    Interesting.
    Thank you

  20. 20
    greg

    “It would have to explain why, in thousands and thousands and thousands of years of human history, supernatural explanations of unexplained phenomena have never once panned out… and a natural explanation has always, always, always turned out to be right.”
    I’m sorry, but what’s the ‘natural explanation’ for near death experiences? it must of slipped by me in the night…

  21. 21
    Greta Christina

    I’m sorry, but what’s the ‘natural explanation’ for near death experiences? it must of slipped by me in the night…

    An altered state of consciousness brought on by lack of oxygen to the brain. For more detail: Why Near Death Experiences Are a Terrible Argument for the Soul.
    Did you really think that was a stumper?

  22. 22
    Locutus7

    On NDE’s, it is ironic that as people near death, their brains begin to shut down (fewer brain cells operating), and they become oxygen-starved, only then – when their brains are operating at extremely diminished capacity – that they see heaven, their dead relatives, etc. QED: Brain damaged people are more likely to see god.

  23. 23
    Maurice Smith

    Jesus loves you. He always has and he always will. Although if you don’t come to him now you want understand why He loves you so.

  24. 24
    Maurice Smith

    Listen…

  25. 25
    Greta Christina

    Maurice Smith has been banned. My comment policy prohibits both comment hogging and religious proselytizing, and he has been doing both, in several different posts on this blog.

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