Although, to be fair, I think we’re mostly in agreement but talking past one another because of our prioritizing of certain premises.
Michael Shermer thinks that “the most any natural science could ever discover in the way of a deity would be a natural intelligence sufficiently advanced to be god-like but still within the realm of the natural world.”; Jerry Coyne claims that there could be, in principle, evidence for a supernatural god — there just isn’t.
My position is that we cannot find evidence for a god, that the God Hypothesis is invalid and unacceptable, because “god” is an incoherent concept that has not been defined. I could claim that a spumboodle exists, for instance, and we could go around and around with you presenting hypothetical examples and listing potential entities or forces that are spumboodles, but we’ll get nowhere if I never tell you what the heck a spumboodle is or what it does or even how I recognize a spumboodle. Without that, the whole concept is untestable and unverifiable. It really doesn’t count if I insist that something undefined exists, and then keep jiggling between vague realities (it exists in our dimension! It has a color!) and contradictory guesswork (it’s transdimensional! And completely invisible!) designed to keep moving the spumboodle away from any possibility of honest evaluation.
Coyne accepts the wobble. On the one hand, he is insisting on general principle in the possibility of existence of a divine being (I think a clear and unambiguous definition of “divine” is a prerequisite for that), but on the other he’s willing to substitute a mundane creature with only unexplainable abilities for “divine”.
Well, yes, we wouldn’t know whether a divine being was absolutely omniscient and omnipotent, or relatively more omniscient or omnipotent than us. But if the degree of, say, omnipotence and omniscience is sufficiently large (i.e, any miracle can be worked, all things can be foretold), then I think we can say provisionally that there is a God. I’ve previously described the kind of evidence that I’d provisionally accept for a divine being, including messages written in our DNA or in a pattern of stars, the reappearance of Jesus on earth in a way that is well documented and convincing to scientists, along with the ability of this returned Jesus to do things like heal amputees. Alternatively, maybe only the prayers of Catholics get answered, and the prayers of Muslims, Jews, and other Christians, don’t.
Yes, maybe aliens could do that, and maybe it would be an alien trick to imitate Jesus (combined with an advanced technology that could regrow limbs), but so what? I see no problem with provisionally calling such a being “God”—particularly if it comports with traditional religious belief—until proven otherwise. What I can say is “this looks like God, but we should try to find out more. In the meantime, I’ll provisionally accept it.” That, of course, depends on there being a plethora of evidence. As we all know, there isn’t.
And that’s where he loses me. What does it mean to be relatively omniscient or omnipotent? If our criterion is that the being has to be a certain amount more powerful than us to be defined as a god, what is that amount? The sun is much larger than us, and has far more power than we do…is it a god? Or will that suggestion be met by the sudden appearance of additional criteria to constantly exclude all entities from consideration that don’t also meet certain unstated requirements?
What I want is something like the Higgs boson: a description of a set of properties, inferred and observed, that can be used as a reasonable boundary for identifying the phenomenon. If you’re going to dignify it with the term “hypothesis”, there ought to be some little bit of substance there, even if it’s speculative. The god proponents can’t even do that. God beliefs are remarkably specific — belief in Jesus as an admission ticket to paradise, for instance — but somehow, when it gets down to saying who, what, where, when, and why, they all fly to pieces, and when it comes to saying how they know of its existence, all goes silent, or subsides into ritualistic repetitious chanting of words from a holy book.
The only way to win this game is to not play. Don’t concede the possibility that X might exist unless you’ve got clear criteria for defining the bounds of X’s existence, and it’s up to the advocates for X to provide that basic foundation. If they can’t do that, reject the whole mess before you brain gets sucked into a twisty morass of convoluted theological BS.
(By the way, I do agree with Coyne on one thing: I also reject Shermer’s a priori commitment to methodological naturalism. If a source outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena is having an observable effect, we should take its existence into account. If Catholic prayers actually affected medical outcomes, we shouldn’t reject it out of hand because of the possibility of a supernatural source. But it’s still not evidence for a god, unless you’re going to commit to defining god as a force that responds to remote invocation via standard Catholic ritual chants by increasing healing…in which case god becomes something we can disprove, and also faces the prospect of consolidation with other phenomena. Maybe god becomes the placebo response, for instance, in which case he’s been reduced to something feeble.)