Tuesday, 1 May 2012

What evidence would convince me?

One of my friends and regular correspondents asked me the other day:

"Just out of interest, and just for fun, let's just say for a moment that you were to believe in God, well for God to exist, what characteristics do you think He/She/Transient being should have to pass your test! "

It is an interesting question and one that is often asked.  For example, Richard Dawkins was asked it in a debate recently and he used his own 7 point scale of belief as part of the answer.  (Ref page 50 of The God Delusion ("TGD").)  In that scale, you would score a 1 if you were a 'strong theist who does not believe, but knows'.  At 7, you would know that there is no god with the same conviction.  Dawkins has variously put himself at 6.9(9...) with a different number of nines at different times.  As such he is still an agnostic, and the newspapers made a big fuss about the world's leading atheist 'admitting to being an agnostic after all', as if this was a new revelation.  It wasn't!

Where am I on the scale?  Once upon a time I might have scored 2.  I think 10 years ago I would have put myself at 3, "Higher than 50% but not very high".  Reading The God Delusion made me jump to 5, and reading other authors has taken me well into the 6's, now reaching 6.9(9...).  Until I started to read more widely, I had made the na├»ve assumption that there must be people who knew special facts which proved the truth behind the improbable stories of the bible and inconsistent claims of christianity.

I haven't read everything, but I'm now almost certain that nobody does know those special secrets.  Now I very much doubt any possibility of the existence of God or that there was ever an historical Jesus.  I'm just as sure that all the other gods in the pantheon are equally man-made.

In fact, the more I read and the more I discuss religion(s), the more nines I add to my 6.9.  To use a mathematical term, my score is converging on 7.

In the comments on Things Christians say, part 13, I said

Just for fun let's assume that there is an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God with a big G, roaming the cosmos and smiting the innocent in the way that he does here on earth. He's scattering suffering around willy-nilly and taking care to ensure that there is no objective evidence for his existence whatsoever.

In the face of that observation alone, I think we can only hope that there is no God like that.

If he does actually exist he sounds more like Allah anyway.

Given the masses of evidence against the claim that there is a god like the one that christians claim, I can honestly think of nothing that would convince me that I am not being tricked by another human or tricked by my own fallible conscious or sub-conscious mind.

So, I find it hard to imagine ever seeing any adequate evidence for the existence of God.  I might even take it further.  Creationists look at the world and ask how anyone can fail to believe in an all powerful creator.  His existence is just obvious.

I, on the other hand, look at the universe and notice what a small amount of it has been set aside for all the human joy and suffering that we see around us, and ask how anyone can fail to disbelieve in the same god.

Small footnote: Tomorrow's post might answer accusations that I am a Dawkins Groupy.


John Chapman said...

Assuming there is an almighty God why would he/she/whatever want us to worship them? If he does require our worship isn't that too human a need for us to do so?

Who does the 'almighty' worship?

RosaRubicondior said...

Anything which is not detectable is not exerting any influence over anything. Questions of it's existence therefore become mere semantics since it is indistinguishable from something which doesn't exist and could not have done, or be doing, then things it's believers attribute to it.

We might as well spend our time pondering on the existence of undetectable hippos in our lofts.

Reality is all there is; everything else is unreal.

Trish K said...

Great post ty for sharing! I would add,if I may,another book I loved and recommend "The Portable Atheist" by Christopher Hitchens.

Haywood said...

It's like asking what evidence would be needed to show the Earth is flat. You would not only need tons of completely convincing evidence, but a good explanation for all the counter evidence we've seen. For specific god claims like Christianity, I can't think of a way they could provide that.

Recovering Agnostic said...

I can relate to the thing about converging on 7, even if I'm a bit further off than you. It's an interesting question to ask what would convince you. I can't give a good answer, because how I view things now, from a detached rational perspective, isn't necessarily how I'd see things if X happened.

If some serious evidence came along, I might surprise myself by being more suspicious than I expected. Or I might be surprisingly credulous. I can't be sure until it happens, and my experience is that my beliefs have shifted slowly, rather than racing from one extreme to the other.

So rather than idly speculating, if anyone wants an answer to the question they should provide some decent evidence and see what happens.

Plasma Engineer said...

God works in mysterious ways John.

Plasma Engineer said...

Thanks Trish - I keep seeing it and recoiling at the price - but maybe a second hand copy might be found somewhere. Or else I should just bite the bullet and buy one. Yes why not. Amazon here I come!

Plasma Engineer said...

I couldn't agree more.

Plasma Engineer said...

Yes exactly. No more hiding behind the god of the gaps! It doesn't convince anyone who doesn't already have the infection of belief.