If a Miracle Came, Would It Convince You?

Via the excellent Cectic:

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Where is the line between natural and supernatural, and what would it take for you to admit that the line has been crossed?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    Is it just me, or is this question suddenly being asked an awful lot? Not that I mind, but in the last few weeks I’ve seen it asked all over the place, whereas I don’t recall having heard the question at all prior to that.

  • http://www.blueglowy.com Able-X

    I don’t think there is a line actually…If something occurs in reality, then it’s inherently natural. Otherwise it could not have occurred ;)

  • Steven Carr

    I am now convinced that God exists in cartoons.

  • http://www.xanga.com/drew85 Drew

    I agree with Able-X. I was just thinking that to myself, which is not really a coincidence, since I come back around to this topic often. But yeah, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, or from the supernatural. If I’d lived 2000 years ago, I might have said that if I saw a cart move itself, it would prove to myself that God existed. But that’s because I didn’t know about internal combustion.

    To convince me that God existed, you’d not only have to show me something I couldn’t explain, you’d have to prove to me that the force behind it was a sentient being. Even then, I’d only know that a powerful being exists who can do things I can’t explain. To prove to me that a particular God exists- say, the Roman Catholic God– you’d have to show me beyond a doubt that he was around at the beginning of time, that he created the heavens and the earth, and that he is capable of rewarding my faith in him with eternal happiness that never gets old.

    So, as much as I feel like a humbug, it would take quite a bit. And, if something like this rearrangement of stars happened, without some personal contact with God, I’d be wary that it is an illusion– after all, how many people have said the same prayer as I and not been answered? God would have to show me why he preferred to answer my prayer to millions of others.

    To some, this is the equivalent of, “nothing could ever convince you, you’ve made up your mind.” But these are the same people who are convinced by anything, who will point out a window and say, there, that’s proof. (I was deeply saddened recently to find that my own Father was one who used this argument.) The point seems moot, because a God who can do anything would not need to act through my powers of observation and reasoning. He could simply place in our mind the certain knowledge that he is there. This wouldn’t even impinge on free will; you can’t tell me criminals don’t know that the Police don’t exist. Knowing that something is out there doesn’t mean you must follow it. If such a thing as free will exists, how is it diminished if you know that the thing you’re basing your life on is actually there? It’s still a long way off, and there are still plenty of temptations in between.

    Sorry for the essay. I don’t mean to be so obnoxious, but I have a thing about erasing something I write. I need to– okay, never mind. Bye!

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    If there really is a god and it has all of the qualities that we traditionally subscribe to it, then it should know exactly what it would take for me to believe. In other words, I don’t have to know what it would take for me to believe in a god, but god surely would know and should therefore be able to make me believe. I can be the biggest skeptic in the world but god should be able to convince me if it wanted to. So my answer to this question is “I don’t know, but I don’t need to know because if god exists then it knows and that’s all that matters”.

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis/ Epistaxis

    That might be enough to convince me there’s a god-like entity, which for all practical purposes is a god. It would convince me there’s some being, somewhere out there, that could hear what I just said and could then rearrange the stars themselves in response.

    It would not convince me that anything “supernatural” is going on. For all I know, the entity is just a super-advanced extraterrestrial with nothing better to do than supervise my life. Again, for all practical purposes, that’s a god. But it’s not necessarily “supernatural,” and I’m not even sure that’s a meaningful concept in the first place. If you can provide evidence in the natural world for the existence of a supernatural world, can there really be a separation between them? Likewise, I can’t possibly tell you what supernatural evidence would change my mind, because if I could describe it, it wouldn’t be supernatural, now, would it? Even if this being does something that defies all known laws of nature, I will just assume there must be other laws yet unknown, and as a scientist I’d probably try to use this opportunity to learn more about them.

    The first thing I’d try to do is use it as a cosmic Ouija board to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life, e.g. ask it whether I will be rewarded for worshipping it, and if so, how I should go about doing that. I’d certainly love to get other hidden knowledge from it, too, but if it doesn’t feel like volunteering revelations on its own, I’d feel rude asking it questions out of the blue.

    One thing I would never do, without these additional answers, is immediately relapse into whatever religion my parents happened to celebrate and jump to the conclusion that this rearranger of stars is the same one who sent his only begotten son to redeem my sins before I was born (but too bad for the ancients who were already dead). Because that would be an utter leap of faith, and this hypothetical scenario has nothing to do with faith.

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  • http://nogodsallowed.wordpress.com Chad

    Jesus-toast. That is all.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    I suppose if there was as much evidence for god (some deity) as there was for evolution and this explanation predicted as well as a solid science did, I’d be convinced.

    But it seems that the idea of deities have been around for a good long while and we only made progress (in terms of human mortality, longevity) when we became LESS superstitious.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    ps: if someone said that it was the will of god that Alan Keyes became president and he did, I would at least give theism a serious look. :)

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    As Able-X and others have said, I categorically deny the very concept of supernatural. That is, if something exists, it is — by definition and by its very existence — natural.

    If the stars rearranged themselves, I would look for a natural explaination.

    I’m still trying to look for a better way to explain this, but the very idea of “supernatural” seems to be a fallacy to me.

    At this point in my life, I honestly can’t think of anything that would make me believe in God, expecially the God of a particular religion. I don’t think I’m closed minded, but after 47 years of searching and exploring these issues, I think it’s fair to have come to a pretty solid conclusion.

    If things were different, I might have continued to believe. That is, if every person who prayed to the Chrsitian God was healed of cancer, and no one else ever had cancer go into remission, that would probably be significant. But nothing like that happens. It’s all subjective touchy-feely “evidence” and ridiculous “miracles,*” and all religions make similar claims of authenticity for themselves. Christians “know” their God is real because they feel it in their hearts. Well, I once knew that Santa was real for the same reason. And Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and people of many other faiths have the same internal knowledge. Something is amiss.

    *I think a God who would waste his time painting his son’s face on toast or making statues cry or helping one football team beat another or stopping the rain for a church picnic or healing headaches — you get the picture — when there are wars and life-threatening diseases to deal with could not be considered anything but a twisted f*ck. At best, this would display a seriously sense of priority.

  • http://www.wotmwatchdog.org MorseCode

    Moving stars is certainly impressive. Unfortunately, it only serves as evidence for something that can move stars.

  • I like tea

    Moving stars is certainly impressive. Unfortunately, it only serves as evidence for something that can move stars.

    Well, it serves as evidence for something that can move stars and claims to be God. Given that it’s moving stars, I’d take the claim seriously, though I wouldn’t believe it at face value.

    That said, I’m with you, writerdd, and Able-X on this one. The phrase “supernatural” is essentially meaningless, and even if God existed, I’d believe that he operates by entirely natural laws that we don’t happen to be aware of yet.

    (In Dan Simmons’ novel Ilium, the Greek gods exist and are powered by nanotech and other super-advanced technology. Not that I think God would be powered by nanotech or anything, it was just an interesting illustration.)

  • stogoe

    Well, it serves as evidence for something that can move stars and claims to be God.

    Are we even sure they’re stars? Because, come on, just launch some satellites in formation. The sun’s reflection may be enough to make them show up, or you could play it safe and cover them in bright LEDs.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    The last sentence of my comment was supposed to say “At best, this would display a seriously FLAWED sense of priority.”

  • Adrian

    I can think of hundreds of things which would convince me that God exists, but they rather depend on the world having a different history (God’s chosen people having a better life, no unnecessary suffering, things like that). This is conclusive proof that if a god does exist, it hasn’t cared about humanity which might be a god but not God.

    So we’re left with deism and amoral or neglectful interventionist gods.

    To that, I’d be convinced if a theist could tell me what they mean by “god”, what predictions could confirm and disconfirm their hypothesis, and hopefully some reason to think that a god could exist. These are pretty basic, fundamental questions, but I don’t think any theist at any point in history has ever met even a single one of these point.

    I guess I could try to do some of this basic homework for the theists, but why bother? Whenever I’ve tried, I’ve been accused of erecting strawmen. You tell me what god is, make some predictions and if they’re confirmed then I’ll believe. Pretty simple stuff, same basic principles I apply to all claims.

  • http://calladus.blogspot.com/ Calladus

    The question has been asked rather quite a lot, and I think this is because of how the waves of apologetics wash through the denominations across the country (and around the world).

    Christians have been having a hard time of it, Atheists have been studying and refuting apologetics rather vigorously of late, and different types of apologetics have been brought in to stuff the holes. I say “different” but not “new”. Few of the apologetics that I’ve read have been new – they are often just a twist on an old theme.

    Apologetics isn’t effective for making new converts, it is fairly effective for keeping current church members from thinking too much.

    And as for a miracle that would make me believe? That’s easy. The being in question (supernatural or otherwise) would merely need to change my brain, my thought processes, so that I would believe. I would automatically accept that as proof, wouldn’t I?

  • badkungfu

    I don’t think I’d be so difficult to convince as the rest of you. In the Old Testament, God was said to have played games with the dew to convince one of the judges (I think) of his will in some matter.

    So I think it’s entirely appropriate to ask a God who wants me to know him personally to write me a little note occasionally in the steam on my bathroom mirror- aside from the weirdness of knowing God was in the bathroom while I was showering. Of course, I’d test it the first few times to be sure there wasn’t some trickery involved.

    I used to pray for that very thing until I realized that it’s not a “crisis of faith” when you don’t believe.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Pah! easy answer: Proof….except that by proving that a supernatural event is supernatural then it must have a rational and natural explanation and therefore becomes natural. By becoming natural it is no longer supernatural and so “proof” only serves to deny the existence of the supernatural.

    Dammit!

  • Vincent

    I always liked the way Reginald Finley (the Infidel Guy) answers this question:

    I don’t know, but if there’s a god, He’ll know, and He can provide exactly what’s needed to convince me. So far nothing

  • Adrian

    Vincent,

    That answer sounds zinggy, but it’s really a failure. Can you think of any other proposition that could be answered that way? “What would make you accept the germ theory of disease? I don’t know but if there are germs, they’ll know.” It’s ridiculous and just seems to confirm all of the suspicions of Christians that atheists have no standards for belief and are willfully rejecting the evidence of God.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    I don’t know but if there are germs, they’ll know.

    Are germs generally described as omniscient, omnipotent and interacting with human beings via revelation?

    If not, your analogy fails.

  • Adrian

    Are germs generally described as omniscient, omnipotent and interacting with human beings via revelation?

    If not, your analogy fails.

    If those qualities actually mean something, then the analogy holds.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    No.

  • Adrian

    Wow, persuasive.

    As fun as it would be to try to find an even more dismissive rebuttal saying “God knows” may be accurate, but it’s totally unhelpful and can be actively harmful. It doesn’t say anything about evidence, doesn’t inform the clueless theist about how to build confidence in a theory, doesn’t say anything about the abomination which is modern apologetics and worse, justifiably convinces the theist that atheists are waiting for an individual visit from God.

    If that omniscient blather means anything, then it leads to predictions, which means that individual revelations are not necessary. And just as no revelation is suitable for establishing the existence of a god, none is suitable for establishing the existence of germs.

    Are you just trying to blast out bon mots or do you have any intention of explaining your point? This smug dismissal thing is only fun for so long.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I actually think this is a fair and important question, and one atheists need to take seriously.

    Because if our belief — that there almost certainly is no God — could not possibly be refuted by any possible piece or pieces of evidence, then the common criticism of atheism would be right — it would essentially be a religion. It would be an untested and untestable proposition about the world that resisted all evidence to the contrary.

    If we’re going to argue that our lack of faith in God is rational and based on the lack of good evidence or good logical arguments for God… then we need to be willing to put our money where our mouths are, and state, the way good scientists do, what experimental outcome would prove our hypothesis wrong.

    That being said, I am a lazy, lazy person. So until I have the time and energy to come up with my own list, I generally point to the one Ebon Muse came up with in his excellent Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Can you think of any other proposition that could be answered that way? “What would make you accept the germ theory of disease?

    Accepting germ theory and accepting god are totally different. Germ theory can be explained by the scientific method. God on the other hand is beyond scientific explanation. Don’t you remember how whenever a study on prayer shows that prayer doesn’t work all the apologists come out of the woodwork yelling “You can’t measure God” or “God wanted the study to fail in order to test our faith”.

    According to most religious people I know, it doesn’t matter if science could prove that god exists because religion is about faith. Would we ever say the same thing about germ theory?

    I agree with Reginald, if god really has all the attributes we ascribe to it, then god should know exactly what it would take to make me believe. And if it was so important to god that I believe then god would have done it by now.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    As fun as it would be to try to find an even more dismissive rebuttal saying “God knows” may be accurate, but it’s totally unhelpful and can be actively harmful. It doesn’t say anything about evidence

    Just want to reiterate one more time, you can’t provide scientific evidence for god because god can’t be measured by science.

    justifiably convinces the theist that atheists are waiting for an individual visit from God.

    Most of the religious people I know claim to “know” God or Jesus, as if they have an individual relationship with either one of them. So why wouldn’t the same apply to atheists? Again, since you can’t prove that god exists scientifically, this is really the only thing they have for “proof”. So if their “relationship” with god is proof of it’s existence then why isn’t a non-relationship with god proof of it’s non-existence?

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Adrien,

    Your latest post said so much more than your previous two, which failed to convince.

    I’m not sure I agree that we even CAN get into as deep a discussion with most theists as your previous post describes. I also feel that it is possible when discussing this stuff with theists to hold the position that is entirely human and reasonable, and that point is “I have not had the personal emotional experience with religion that you have had, therefore it is not something that I’m going to pursue. If your religion teaches that anyone who prays can see the light and know God is real, well, I have news for you. I’ve followed those instructions to the letter, and they fail. So you need to reasses your simplistic idea that all people who don’t believe do not believe out of a selfish desire not to open their mind or heart to Jesus.”

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have a conversation on those terms… in fact I’ve had exactly this type of conversation many times, and have had good results in bringing Christians to question this unquestioned tenet of their faith, that all who come with an open mind do convert to Christianity as soon as the light dawns on them.

  • Steven Carr

    You have to remember that Christians are apparently convinced by dreams, at least according to the Bible.

    Their standard of evidence is ‘I dreamed it was true’.

  • Adrian

    Bruce,

    Accepting germ theory and accepting god are totally different. Germ theory can be explained by the scientific method. God on the other hand is beyond scientific explanation. Don’t you remember how whenever a study on prayer shows that prayer doesn’t work all the apologists come out of the woodwork yelling “You can’t measure God” or “God wanted the study to fail in order to test our faith”.

    I don’t see that you’ve begun to show that the germ theory of disease and the existence of God are different, all you’ve shown is that theists are willing and eager to use scientific evidence to support their claims but will engage in dishonest evasion as soon as the observations disconfirm their belief. This says nothing about whether God is a scientific question, but says a lot about apologetics.

    Just want to reiterate one more time, you can’t provide scientific evidence for god because god can’t be measured by science.

    Why can’t you? (Apart from the obvious answer that God doesn’t exist :) )

    If that prayer study was positive, would this be evidence? If the earth was 6,000 years old, would that be evidence? If the stars really did rearrange themselves, would that be evidence? If Christians didn’t get sick, would that be evidence?

    Tell me, if any of these things happened, do you think that anyone especially any Christian, would be taking the line that God cannot be studied scientifically?

    Just because there isn’t evidence, doesn’t mean there can’t be.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Because if our belief — that there almost certainly is no God — could not possibly be refuted by any possible piece or pieces of evidence, then the common criticism of atheism would be right — it would essentially be a religion.

    I’m sorry but you are wrong on this one because you forgot one important point: the burden of proof is on the believer, not the non-believer. If this weren’t the case then we would be spending the next milion years trying to disprove every crazy idea that every crackpot could possibly dream of.

    In order for an idea to be taken seriously, it must be based on some sort of evidence that points to the idea’s validity. That doesn’t mean that the idea is correct, only that there is sufficient evidence to at least consider it. In other words, it is reasonable to think that the idea may be valid because of the evidence. So what evidence do we have for god??? A book written several thousand years ago by people who had a very crude understanding of how the world works and people who claim to have a “relationship” with god. I don’t know about you but this is not the type of evidence I would accept as sufficient to justify the possibility of god’s existence.

    We are under no burden to provide experimental outcomes to prove our hypothesis wrong because it is not our hypothesis to begin with. The hypothesis is that god exists, thus they have the burden of proof. And as I have already mentioned, you can’t measure god scientifically, they will never be able to meet that burden but have set the system up so that they don’t have to.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Why can’t you [measure god]?

    Remember, we are playing by their rules here. They are the ones who claim that god is beyond our meager scientific method. So by their definition, you can’t measure god. If they want to change that rule then I’m more than willing to oblige, but for some reason I don’t think they are willing to concede at this point in time.

  • Adrian

    Siamang,

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that you’ve tried to find God by following all of the Christian recommendations – prayer, bible study, etc. – and that it has failed. Even that statement may come as a big surprise to many Christians, and it is paints atheists in a good light – open, receptive. But isn’t it worth noting that they’ve constructed this path so that it can only ever confirm, never disconfirm? If you do this and you don’t “experience God”, then God is testing you or you’re rejecting Him. If there’s no possibility of falsification, then it isn’t evidence.

    That’s why I brought up the germ theory, but feel free to substitute any other theory. It sounds absurd to say that someone accepts real theories based on personal revelation or faith, so why should god be any different? It seems to me that waiting for personal revelation just accepts this highly biased framing in favour of the Christian propagandists.

    If “God” really means something, then we can make predictions (such as the prayer studies) and test them, just as we can with germs or other theories.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin McKean

    “then we need to be willing to put our money where our mouths are, and state, the way good scientists do, what experimental outcome would prove our hypothesis wrong.”

    Maybe I misunderstood your comment, but as an atheist has no hypothesis to falsify. Sort of like the a-astrologer has no hypothesis to falsify.

    It is up to the one making the claim to provide evidence. It is up to me, the atheist, to take any evidence presented seriously enough to examine it closely. And to take the idea of God seriously enough to reject it if there is no evidence.

    Which, by the way, is my opinon – atheists take the idea of God way more seriously than theists do.

    The germs, by the way, could be said to have known exactly what was needed for us to believe in them. They were deducible from the natural operation of the universe. They were directly observable. Where they were not directly observable their existence was testable. So, yeah, they figured it out.

    God, apparently, has trouble with this thing the germs are able to do without thinking.

  • Adrian

    Bruce,

    Remember, we are playing by their rules here. They are the ones who claim that god is beyond our meager scientific method. So by their definition, you can’t measure god. If they want to change that rule then I’m more than willing to oblige, but for some reason I don’t think they are willing to concede at this point in time.

    They’ve tried to set the rules to suit themselves – evidence is only allowable if it confirms their beliefs, never if it disconfirms. Why should anyone respect that? Give me an example of a single other field where this happens and we don’t call it for what it is: special pleading and wishful thinking.

    We use their description, but we use the same rules as we use everywhere else. It’s called honesty.

  • Chris

    I would need God to come down, himself, and bring his son along and answer all of my 1000+ questions, face-to-face. I’d ask him why he threw Adam and Eve out of the garden for “sinning” when they had no concept of why it was wrong to sin. I would ask God how the walls of Jericho fell down by just men yelling and playing their trumpets. I’d ask exactly how Jesus walked on water. I’d ask why God damns people to hell even though he can anything, ie forgiving them of their sin. I’d ask why God would damn other religions even though it was their best attempt to get to know him.

    And that’s only if it was the Christian God. If Zeus came down, I’d be mighty excited and would throw away my questions, only wanting to play with his mighty Thunderous powers!

  • Maria

    seeing a limb grow back would do it for me

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    A regenerating limb wouldn’t be enough for me. There are other living creatures that regenerate limbs (I’m counting a tail as a limb) so I know that it is possible. OK, not for a human and not at this time but perhaps some scientist researching regeneration will stumble onto a method of granting this ability to a human….

    …I should stop reading comic books. :))

  • ash

    Maria said,

    February 11, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    seeing a limb grow back would do it for me

    if science ever gets us to the point where we (humankind) can acheive this, are we gods ourselves?

  • I like tea

    then we need to be willing to put our money where our mouths are, and state, the way good scientists do, what experimental outcome would prove our hypothesis wrong.

    Justin McKean already responded to this just fine, but seriously. What you’re saying is akin to having to come up with a falsifiable hypothesis just to rationally deny the existence of Santa Claus. It doesn’t work that way. If scientists had to do falsifiable experiments to deny every kooky theory some ill-educated crackpot comes up with every day, they wouldn’t get any real science done. And the existence of God is as kooky a theory as any. It doesn’t need to be taken seriously until some tangible evidence shows up, which has yet to happen.

  • Frank Mitchell

    I’ll stick with my answer in the earlier contest: waking up in Plato’s Cave, or the Matrix, or whatever. Or a similarly dramatic event to demonstrate that every notion of what I perceive as the real world is an illusion or a sham. Even then, I’d probably suspect mental illness (if I were sane enough to consider mental illness).

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    They’ve tried to set the rules to suit themselves – evidence is only allowable if it confirms their beliefs, never if it disconfirms. Why should anyone respect that? Give me an example of a single other field where this happens and we don’t call it for what it is: special pleading and wishful thinking.

    I couldn’t agree more. And that’s the whole point! The argument for god has absolutely no credible evidence to suggest that it should even be taken seriously. Thus, atheists have absolutely no burden to prove that a god doesn’t exist or the need to offer any specific scenarios in which they would be convinced to believe in a god. To ask us to provide such things is playing by their rules, which as you’ve stated, is wishful thinking.

    I think a lot of the confusion stems from the notion that atheists are making a positive assertion that “god does not exist” and thus must defend their assertion. This is not the case. As I mentioned earlier, the burden of proof falls on the believer. If this were not the case, we would spend the rest of our existence having to disprove every crazy assertion that any wackjob could think up and if we couldn’t disprove it, then we would have to say “well, you could be right so I guess the best we can say is that we are agnostic about it.” Now that is just plain nonsense.

    If there is no reasonable, credible evidence to support an assertion then it is perfectly reasonable to state that until new evidence crops up to the contrary, you don’t “believe” it. You don’t have to say “well, you can’t prove it but I can’t disprove it so therefore you may be right”, otherwise we are tacitly agreeing that everybody may be right about every weird belief they hold in their heads.

    In other words, the default position is atheism because nothing we know about our world suggests otherwise. Therefore, we have nothing to defend and do not need to offer up any . When we fall into the trap of trying to defend our views we are merely agreeing to play their game of “wishful thinking”, a game in which we cannot win because the rules are set up against us.

  • http://blog.dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    I’ll stick with my previous answer. :)

  • http://blog.dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Follow-up question. If Hemant announced on this site tomorrow that he’d witnessed a miracle and was now a Christian… how much weight would you give it?

  • Adrian

    Bruce: Great answer, thanks for explaining!

    Shishberg: virtually no weight, why?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I agree with Greta Christina, and I’m disappointed that the majority opinion here seems to be that nothing could convince you, or that you won’t/shouldn’t have to answer the question in the first place. No, atheists don’t have the burden of proof, but that doesn’t mean you can’t answer an honest question for the sake of conversation. Quite honestly, if anyone here cares how this comes across to theists like me (though I know that these days that’s a big “if”), it certainly doesn’t help bolster the frequent claim that atheists are more “open minded” than Christians.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    In order to test the hypothesis “God exists” or “God does not exist” we must first define what we understand to mean by the word “God”. “Exist” in this context means “To have actual being” which as a philosophical idea is true enough. However Christians tend to claim that “God” is an actual intelligence as opposed to an idea. I mean if you claim that “God” is an idea then there’s really no arguing with the assertion that “God exists” but claiming that “God” is an intelligent being with ideas and plans of his own is something that can be challenged.

    My question then is “what is God?” What characteristics does “God” have? Can these be measured? What actions does “God” perform? Can these be verified? Where a miracle is said to occur can it be tested?

    There would be no single miracle that would convince me of God’s existence. I would require a whole array of tests and series of questions to be applied that satisfied all my doubts. All my doubts.

    I have been challenged in the past by various theists to disprove God. Without defining what God is this is an impossible challenge. Not to mention the foolishness of trying to prove a negative.

  • Miko

    p=0.01 reliably. ;-)

  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Shishberg: virtually no weight, why?

    Just curious.

    I wouldn’t change my mind based on it, but it’d make for some really interesting debate. :)

  • Adrian

    I agree with MikeClawson on this one, sort of.

    The comic does probably portray the way that Christians perceive many atheists: even if God moved the stars in the sky, we wouldn’t believe. I think that this reaction is based on some big misunderstandings and probably an unhealthy ignorance of the scientific method, but there’s no reason to exacerbate it by saying thing which can easily be misconstrued.

  • Adrian

    I wouldn’t change my mind based on it, but it’d make for some really interesting debate. :)

    Well, there are more than enough people who claim to have gone through this experience that we’re free to have that debate right now. I just hope it wouldn’t go the way of A. Flew, with some deceptive Christians capitalizing on a man dealing with mental illness. Depressing to see that how far they were willing to go to.

  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Maybe I misunderstood your comment, but as an atheist has no hypothesis to falsify. Sort of like the a-astrologer has no hypothesis to falsify.

    What you’re saying is akin to having to come up with a falsifiable hypothesis just to rationally deny the existence of Santa Claus.

    I think you guys are confused about the meaning of “hypothesis”. A hypothesis is just a statement that can be either true or false. It doesn’t have to have the burden of proof, but to be useful, it does have to be falsifiable.

    The atheist hypothesis is “there is no god”. The a-astrologer’s hypothesis is “astrology doesn’t work”. The a-Santa-Claus hypothesis is “there is no Santa Claus”. None of them have the burden of proof, but all of them are hypotheses, and all of them are falsifiable if the people who do have the burden of proof (theists, astrologers, Clausists) present enough evidence.

    Not having the burden of proof means that you’re not obliged to support your own case in the absence of evidence, not that you can ignore evidence if it does turn up.

  • Karen

    The comic does probably portray the way that Christians perceive many atheists: even if God moved the stars in the sky, we wouldn’t believe. I think that this reaction is based on some big misunderstandings and probably an unhealthy ignorance of the scientific method, but there’s no reason to exacerbate it by saying thing which can easily be misconstrued

    That’s exactly what Christians believe. They say it to me all the time.

    Let’s face it, if some huge, public “miracle”: occurred – like a message in the sky – the great majority of humanity (including atheists) would believe that something supernatural was happening, at least initially. I don’t think we’d all assume it was the Christian god doing the skywriting, but we’d be mighty awed until and unless some other explanations were found.

    The atheist hypothesis is “there is no god”.

    That’s the strong atheist hypothesis. The weak version of atheism says we don’t see evidence for god and therefore don’t believe in one until further evidence is found. There’s a crucial difference there.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Shishberg: “The atheist hypothesis is ‘there is no god’.”

    You do need to be more careful here, since the “atheist hypothesis” is more like “There is insufficient warrant for belief in God.” That said, you’ve pretty much got Greta Christina’s point, which several posters misunderstood. It’s not so much that we have to do “falsifiable experiments to deny every kooky theory some ill-educated crackpot comes up with every day,” that is, to go out and falsify our opponents’ beliefs, but rather that we understand what could conceivably falsify our own beliefs.

    To put it another way, we ought to know what would be the rough equivalent of “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian” for our own beliefs or philosophical stances.

  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    That’s the strong atheist hypothesis. The weak version of atheism says we don’t see evidence for god and therefore don’t believe in one until further evidence is found. There’s a crucial difference there.

    You do need to be more careful here, since the “atheist hypothesis” is more like “There is insufficient warrant for belief in God.”

    Dammit. I always forget that bit. :) Yeah, you’re right.

    Or, if I’m going to get into deep semantics… then I’d argue that the hypothesis is the ideal, unprovable version of what in practice we gather and weigh evidence for and conclude is the best fit. So, f’rexample, the heliocentric hypothesis is that “the planets are in orbit around the sun”, but a heliocentrist’s “beliefs” (not quite the right word, I know) are closer to “the weight of evidence currently gathered suggests that the planets being in orbit around the sun is the best hypothesis”.

    So a “weak atheist” could still be someone who believes that the “strong atheist hypothesis” is the best fit for the evidence gathered so far (or lack thereof, given the appropriate burden of proof).

    Or not. I’m splitting hairs that have already been split here. :)

  • Pingback: I Called It! I Called It! « Josiah Concept Ministries

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Mike Clawson wrote:

    Quite honestly, if anyone here cares how this comes across to theists like me (though I know that these days that’s a big “if”), it certainly doesn’t help bolster the frequent claim that atheists are more “open minded” than Christians.

    Hey, mike, the water’s fine, jump in! What would convince you that God doesn’t exist?

  • Pingback: “What Would Convince You” Is The Wrong Question « The Fake God Blog

  • http://fakegod.wordpress.com Fake God
  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Wrong question, sorry.

    Who had “leaving a comment here in person”?

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Hey everyone, look what Josiah Concept Ministries said about this thread:

    The logical problem is that God isn’t going to appear in front of this dude and work His heart over. It is a process that comes by time and discipline. It occurs over the natural course of a person’s life–God uses His elect and even the non-elect for this work. His Spirit convicts the person of his sin, and the person becomes willing to repent as a result of God drawing this person to Himself. This atheist, however, doesn’t want any of that–he wants God to appear in front of him and do that work Himself, right now. Presumably so that he knows that it is God and not just some “feeling.”

    I guess I have to wait my entire life to see if God’s going to draw me to Him.

    Be patient, fellow atheists, God’s not done with us yet!

    I wonder if Cory at JCM will honor our spirit of open and unashamed discussion and let us know what would convince him that Christianity was false.

    I’ve often said that what would convince me would be a feeling in my heart. I’ve followed people’s advice. Prayed over the question, put my doubts at rest and asked the lord to let himself into my life. I’ve spent the last year blogging for a Christian Ministry and surrounding myself with people who made this conversation so interesting and enlightening… and yet I feel no spiritual tug toward Christianity at all.

    I think I’ve been as up front and honest as I could possibly be on the subject… even to the point of setting aside my self-consciousness, my doubts, my feelings of “this is plain silly” and praying in all good faith, so that I could honestly say to myself I inquired with humility, openness and unalloyed curiosity.

    Cory at Josiah refers to posters here derisively as “true skeptics” and “scientists” (hey, HE gets the frame, Mike!) and closes with this:

    Another fulfillment of Romans 1? You decide.

    Stay classy, Cory. Don’t let the haters get you down, bro!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Hey, mike, the water’s fine, jump in! What would convince you that God doesn’t exist?

    I’m still waiting for most of the atheists here to answer the original question.

    But first off, I’d have to say that I probably can’t be “convinced” of anything either way, if by “convinced” you mean “having no doubt”. I’m not convinced that God does exist, and I don’t think I could be convinced that she doesn’t either. I just don’t think that kind of certainty is possible for human beings.

    But I suppose we’re probably using “convinced” in a more colloquial sense to simply mean “in my opinion”, or “persuaded that it’s more likely than not”. In that sense, I guess I’d have to say that I’m not sure exactly, since my faith rests less on individual pieces of evidence, and more on how the whole picture hangs together. What I mean is that I am a theist not because of some miracle or some particular spiritual experience, but because when I consider the totality of my experiences and what I know about the world (including science, psychology, the humanities, etc.), I just find that, IMHO, theism helps the whole picture hang together better than the non-theistic option (or some of the other options). I’m not saying that the non-theistic option is necessarily false, it just doesn’t “fit” as well. It’s explanations don’t seem to work as well for me. I mean, of course it has explanations, as does theism – that’s not the issue. For me it’s just a question of which set of explanations seems to make the most sense to me, to be the most likely. I think it ultimately comes down to a choice between paradigms, and I respect the fact that different people will feel that different paradigms are more convincing to them personally.

    So what could convince me to choose differently? I guess you’d have to show me the inconsistencies or incoherencies of the theistic worldview, and also, at the same time, show how a non-theistic option deals with these in a more satisfactory way. Again, this is more than simply showing me that there is a non-theistic explanation. Just because you can come up with an explanation doesn’t mean that it is necessarily to be preferred.

    We have of course had many profitable conversations along these lines, and you all have helped me see many inconsistencies or difficulties with certain aspects of Christian theism. However, thus far at least, these have done less to convince me of the inadequacy of theism per se. Rather, they have shown me the inadequacy of certain forms of theism, and I have adjusted my beliefs accordingly. However, I’m still not convinced that the total picture of non-theism is to be preferred. Frankly, and I’ve stated this many times, it’s still too much of a deconstructive philosophy. It’s too much “contra-theism”. But for me to change my mind I need to know not just what you don’t believe, but what you do believe. I need a better picture to replace the other one with before I will switch.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Vincent said,

    February 11, 2008 at 11:19 am

    I always liked the way Reginald Finley (the Infidel Guy) answers this question:

    I don’t know, but if there’s a god, He’ll know, and He can provide exactly what’s needed to convince me. So far nothing.

    That’s the statement that makes the most sense to me out of all of the above comments.

    For me, searching for God is not a group project. Faith is a personal thing. “Miracle” is a relative term depending on who you talk to. I seriously doubt that anyone or anything can “convince” someone of the existence of God except God himself/herself/itself. And IF God did exist, does it make a difference at all who does or does not believe? Facts are facts and truth is truth, regardless of the number of people who are convinced…

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    This sort of begs the question: If there is a God then why does he want some people to believe that he does no exist? If a theist believes that miracles did occur in biblical times but no longer occur then what has changed? If they believe that miracles (actual events that occur contrary to the known laws of the universe) still occur then shouldn’t we be able to witness them more often. I mean people capture stupid videos of all sorts of strange events, are there really no “miracle” videos?

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Mike, half the stuff you wrote could apply to me as well. Though I am more precise on the point that I’m generally convinced there isn’t an interactive god. Non-interactive gods (deist) match the world around me, but do not require any worship other than my general worship of the wonders of the universe around me. And that’s just out of plain love of life, and is no trouble or work to my heart to sing with the joy of that emotion.

    What would cause my belief in an interactive god would be precicely that… interactivity. It wouldn’t have to be for myself… if people who double-blind prayed for people had their subjects get better in any way that could be confirmed… but no. If as others have written… the fruits of christians were, present company greatly excepted, something better than the bog standard of what human nature produces.. then I might think there was something worthwhile to it. But atheists and christians and anyone else you want to throw in there are no better or worse people than anyone you’d meet, which tells me that nobody has any secret key to living life any better than anyone else.

    In fact, the only reliable “have a better life” key I know of is the magic trinity of education, hard work and a good support system. Learning about your own mind and human psychology is very important, as is conflict resolution. And cultivate what I call a moral imagination. A moral imagination allows us to picture how our actions may cause unintended but forseeable harm. Our president is not gifted in moral imagination, as he couldn’t see the pitfalls of unintended consequences as clearly as he saw the benefits of his intended consequences. A moral imagination will serve you very will in interpersonal relationships as well as in all aspects of life.

    That’s it. That’s the whole enchilada… the rest is just yakking. I once saw a math professor hold up a 500 page calculus book. He said, this is the calculus textbook for this course. It consists of two equations. That’s it. Two equations… and 498 pages of examples.

  • Claire

    The question I find pointless, but the subtext bothers me a lot.

    Does anyone else hear the question less as a genuine inquiry, and more as a “What the hell is it going to take to CONVINCE these people of what they should already believe? Why don’t they just stop being STUBBORN and admit they are wrong?”

    Or is it just me that hears the question that way?

    I also don’t like to see the converse posed to believers, as to what would convince them not to believe. In either direction, it just seems like a pointless attack on their sincerity, looking for an opening to say “See, I told you they were unreasonable!”.

  • JeffN

    I don’t know, but if there’s a god, He’ll know, and He can provide exactly what’s needed to convince me. So far nothing

    Pardon me but I feel compelled to give a Christian answer to this statement which is; God does not want robots which is why we have a free well and the ability to believe or not believe in God. Continuing on with the Christian answer to the above statement we have the Word of God lots of preachers and nature itself not to mention a conscience which inherently knows the difference between right and wrong. It’s up to each of us to make a conscience choice to either believe in God or not believe in God.

    Who was it that said there are stranger things in heaven and earth then could be dreamt of in the imaginations of men. There is faith involved no matter which way we choose to believe.

  • JeffN

    Claire I appreciate your points and my post above was made in spite of them not because of them. :)

  • Claire

    Claire I appreciate your points and my post above was made in spite of them not because of them.

    My problem isn’t with answering the question, my problem is with the spirit in which it is asked.

    It’s up to each of us to make a conscience choice to either believe in God or not believe in God.

    Gotta disagree with you on this one, JeffN. It not a matter of choice at all, and to say that it is implies that all the necessary evidence is there and we’re just ignoring it.

    Well, the evidence isn’t there and I’m not ignoring it. I just don’t have it in me to believe in things that seem preposterous if there is no good evidence for it and lots of indirect evidence against. It’s not a choice at all, anymore than my love of a good puzzle or my lack of musical ability.

    There is faith involved no matter which way we choose to believe.

    I’m not saying it’s the same for everyone, just how it is for me. There’s no choice here and no faith involved.

    I think it’s one of the biggest blind spots some christians have, that not everyone does ‘faith’. They insist on thinking that everybody must have it, and atheists just have the wrong kind, and need to be switched over. It’s just not the case.

    PS I said ‘some’, not ‘all’. You know who you are and aren’t….

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Claire,

    I absolutely agree with you about choice. I don’t believe it is a choice…not in the sense that most of us think of choice. But about faith, I don’t know if I agree. Believing requires knowing but faith requires open-ness. They are not synonymous.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Who was it that said there are stranger things in heaven and earth then could be dreamt of in the imaginations of men.

    That was William Shakespeare.

    God does not want robots which is why we have a free well and the ability to believe or not believe in God.

    Rather God wants us to play a perverse guessing game with our souls in immortal peril. “Guess which religion is the real one, and enjoy eternal life, guess wrong and eternal punishment is yours. You will have no confirmation during your life. And just to confuse your choice, all of the religions of the world will be poisoned by wicked, self-serving power-mad oligarchs and low, bigoted, brutal xenophobes. Refuse to play my shell game, and be damned forever. Now choose, for your very soul is in certain peril!”

    Excuse me, but F that.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Rather God wants us to play a perverse guessing game with our souls in immortal peril. “Guess which religion is the real one, and enjoy eternal life, guess wrong and eternal punishment is yours. You will have no confirmation during your life. And just to confuse your choice, all of the religions of the world will be poisoned by wicked, self-serving power-mad oligarchs and low, bigoted, brutal xenophobes. Refuse to play my shell game, and be damned forever. Now choose, for your very soul is in certain peril!”

    Excuse me, but F that.

    Very well put Siamang. Mind if I quote you?

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Sure, Mike.

    When I saw you had responded to this, I thought your response would be along the lines of “yes, if that’s how I pictured God, which it isn’t.” I realized I didn’t issue the standard disclaimer of “obviously not every believer sees it this way.”

  • Karen

    What would cause my belief in an interactive god would be precicely that… interactivity. It wouldn’t have to be for myself… if people who double-blind prayed for people had their subjects get better in any way that could be confirmed… but no. If as others have written… the fruits of christians were, present company greatly excepted, something better than the bog standard of what human nature produces.. then I might think there was something worthwhile to it. But atheists and christians and anyone else you want to throw in there are no better or worse people than anyone you’d meet, which tells me that nobody has any secret key to living life any better than anyone else.

    You summed it up exactly, for me, right there.

    Theism – an interactive god – obviously makes no sense. I’ve examined the apologetics that are brought forth to justify it (free will, Satan, etc) backwards, forwards and sideways and they do not hold water for me.

    Deism – maybe. I don’t have enough information to say yay or nay to that notion, but more importantly, I don’t think I need to. An unattached, uninvolved deity doesn’t seem to demand anything specific of us, let alone worship or belief. Even if I were a deist, I would answer ultimately to myself for my life and beliefs.

    If there’s a benevolent deity and an afterlife in another, as-yet-undetectable dimension, I’ll be pleasantly surprised after death. If there’s not, I’ll be dead so I can’t be disappointed. This is why it makes the most sense to me to live as an agnostic atheist.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    When I saw you had responded to this, I thought your response would be along the lines of “yes, if that’s how I pictured God, which it isn’t.”

    I figured I didn’t need to say that by now, it’s a given that I don’t think God operates that way. However, I think your comment will be useful to me in illustrating for other Christians why exactly I don’t.

  • JeffN

    I don’t know, but if there’s a god, He’ll know, and He can provide exactly what’s needed to convince me. So far nothing

    I’m usably not one given to ranting but in this case I made a bit of an exception. The idea that God is going to somehow magically make you believe or not as suggested above sort of struck a sour cord with me.

    although i don’t necessarily agree with everyone’s point of view I respect your rights to have them.

  • http://enklabloggen.blogspot.com/search/label/Written%20in%20English simple z

    Well, if i remember that i had breakfast this morning, and don’t think of any way that my memory could play me tricks today, i probably would take that as a basic belief (not needing to prove).

    But try and give examples of self-evident events and the examples will not be agreed on by different experts . They won’t agree with eachother.

    So, exactly what is scientific proof then? Can we trust our senses at all?

    Today i write about the issue of proof and spaghetti monsters

  • http://josiahconcept.org Cory Tucholski

    What would convince me that Christianity is false?

    Well, Christianity is based on the historic truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. If a person could show me that the Resurrection never happened, then, as the apostle Paul put it:

    . . . your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:17-19)

  • Adrian

    Cory,

    What would convince me that Christianity is false?

    Well, Christianity is based on the historic truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. If a person could show me that the Resurrection never happened, then, as the apostle Paul put it:

    Can you be specific about what would convince you that Jesus wasn’t resurrected?

  • Adrian

    simple z,

    So, exactly what is scientific proof then? Can we trust our senses at all?

    Science doesn’t prove anything, only mathematics and formal deductive logic can.

    I don’t follow how you can leap from “can’t prove 100%” to “can’t trust anything”, I’m sorry.

  • http://josiahconcept.org Cory Tucholski

    Can you be specific about what would convince you that Jesus wasn’t resurrected?

    William Lane Craig outlined four indisputable facts that can be gleaned about Jesus’ life based on the Gospels and secular histories:

    1. Jesus was buried in a tomb
    2. That tomb was discovered empty
    3. Jesus appeared to His followers
    4. Origin of disciples’ belief in the Resurrection

    You would have to show me that the Resurrection isn’t the best explanation for these four facts.

  • Adrian

    Cory,

    You aren’t being very specific. For instance, what would convince you that any of these “facts” weren’t facts? What convinced you that they were?

    To me, just glancing at the list it’s very apparent that none of these are facts, but conclusions, and as far as I can tell, all of them are based solely on the gospels (the entire secular “history” of Jesus boils down to a couple mentions of Christians written two generations after Jesus’s death). Is that good enough for you? I imagine that you’re willing to dismiss similar pious accounts from other religions.

  • Spurs Fan

    Cory,

    I would also be interested in what specific “secular histories” (isn’t historyby defauly, secular?) you are referring to.

  • http://enklabloggen.blogspot.com/search/label/Written%20in%20English simple z

    Adrian

    What i meant was: The cartoon above shows that no miracle could be proved to be a miracle anyway, so there is really no point in discussing the issue with atheists since no example of/argument for miracles would be accepted by them anyway. ;)

  • http://josiahconcept.org Cory Tucholski

    Adrian and Spurs Fan,

    Try listening to this debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman. Pay attention to Craig’s case. It should give you a better idea of what I mean. Also, this article from Craig gives a more developed case than the one in his debate.

  • Adrian

    Cory,

    With respect, I’m not talking to Craig, I’m interested in your views.

    You’ve said that you could be convinced that Christianity was false if it could be shown that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Do you require absolute proof that Jesus did not rise from the dead or just reason to doubt that he did? Hypothetically, what sort of observations could shake your faith?

    Incidentally, Craig is not using any secular sources in that article. Does this mean that you think pious accounts of miracles are sufficient evidence? Under what circumstances would you accept non-Christian accounts of miracles?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Adrian,

    If I may butt in here for a moment…. You bring up some very interesting questions and made me think. I also do not like answers that only points to what someone else has said. But that seems to be the way the whole academic world revolves. Most thoughts seem to come from one big ball of referencing and cross-referencing.

    Nothing is credible unless someone else has said it before or if more than one person agrees. And whoever said it first was probably thought to be crazy.

    So how can anyone voice an original or unique thought without taking a huge risk of rejection?

    I’m just thinking out loud…. Sorry to get off the main subject… Carry on.

  • Adrian

    Linda,

    I completely agree that sources are great for elaborating on a point we wish to make. And if Cory wants to argue that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then academic sources are the way to go.

    But right now, we’re just talking about ourselves. Why do we believe, and what would make us change our minds. If you check out both links, neither begin to touch upon either points and both just boil down to apologetic arguments defending a Christian belief. That’s fine, but don’t begin to answer the question.

    Re: original thoughts, what’s so bad about having an idea “rejected” or at least dissected? If it’s brilliant, then it survives and you become famous, if it’s good then it gets modified and survives and kudos all around, if it’s not good then we get to see why it’s not good and we all learn. Win-win-win. How else can anyone learn if they aren’t willing to voice their ideas?

    As for crazy, there really are genuinely crazy ideas, some that are based off faulty information/reasoning, some that are inspired but turn out wrong, and a very small number that survive. Everyone benefits if we can quickly identify the first two, especially the people that put them forward. Again, what have you really lost if you voice an idea which gets shot down? Stings for a second, but if you learn something, that lasts a lifetime.

  • Spurs Fan

    Cory,

    Thanks for the links…I did begin the article, but must leave soon, so have not finished it yet. I feel I’ve read this before. I have not had the chance to listen to the debate.

    At this point, however, this seems to be all from the same source, the New Testament. Where are the “secular” histories you speak of?

  • http://josiahconcept.org Cory Tucholski

    Adrian,

    Secular histories include the dozen or so that mention Jesus. They don’t condone the New Testament view that Jesus rose from the dead, but sources like Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Phlegon, and Mara Bar-Serapion (according to McDowell’s Evidence for Christianity pp. 171-174) confirm the basic outline of Jesus’ life and ministry.

    Yes, the New Testament is the primary source for information about Jesus. I believe that the NT is reliable as a historical source–the four Gospels, for the differences in the stories that they tell, clearly are independent attestations and the differences lie in the peripheral details (not the central narrative). This means that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John weren’t huddled together in some corner trying to cook up a good story to sell. They were relaying the facts as they understood the facts to stand.

    Is that a problem with Biblical inerrancy as some claim? Perhaps. But that’s really a different debate.

    As to requiring absolute proof, I will admit that there is no absolute proof for the Resurrection (or any other event from 2000 years ago). So, no, a well-documented hole in the chain of reasoning that leads one to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead would be sufficient.

    Bear in mind that I probably won’t abandon belief right away; I’ll attempt to construct an apologetic against your case. But if I can’t sufficiently find a way to do so, then you may have succeeded in winning me over to the “dark side,” so to speak. (I mean that as light hearted humor–please don’t flame me!) I really want to follow the evidence where it leads. Right now, as the I see it, the evidence points to a historic Resurrection.

  • Adrian

    Cory,

    Secular histories include the dozen or so that mention Jesus. They don’t condone the New Testament view that Jesus rose from the dead, but sources like Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Phlegon, and Mara Bar-Serapion (according to McDowell’s Evidence for Christianity pp. 171-174) confirm the basic outline of Jesus’ life and ministry.

    You should probably look into those claims in much more detail, as you would probably be shocked and insulted that McDowell would make such bold claims based on such flimsy pieces of evidence. I too read McDowell and when I did the research on my own, I felt like he had treated me like a fool and an idiot.

    Quickly glancing at the list, I see that none of these people were alive when Jesus was, and some never mention Jesus at all. The reference that is closest to Jesus was by Tacitus and it comes over two generations after Jesus’s death, and Josephus’s quotes are almost certainly interpolations (even if they weren’t, Josephus too wasn’t born until after Jesus died and does not discuss a resurrection). The rest of the list are even worse.

    So since you seem to be aware that the only evidence of Jesus’s resurrection comes from the bible, I’m curious as to why you would accept these pious claims but not others? If you’ve decided to accept the biblical accounts, what sort of things could shake your faith?

    You already seem to know that there are major discrepancies between the different biblical accounts, ranging from the way in which Jesus appeared, what he did after all the way to the day he died. Yes, you’re right that it shows it wasn’t a collaboration, but it also shows that these accounts are at best accounts of stories passed from person to person and not eye-witness stories. Since you know that, I really have to wonder what more you’d like to see before your faith would be shaken?

    I’m sure that we can provide many accounts by pious sources that are actually eyewitnesses to miracles just as dramatic as Jesus’s resurrection. Would you accept them? What if they weren’t eyewitness accounts and the accounts we have differ from one another in major respects and despite their earth-shattering nature (literally-earthquakes, remember?), no secular accounts corroborate them. Would you believe these miracles just as you believe in Jesus miracles?

    If you already accept that the gospels weren’t written by eyewitnesses (or were written by very mentally confused ones) and were pious sources with no secular corroboration, then what would convince you to change your mind?

    You say you want a “well-documented hole”, but you should know that few records exist from these times. Is your belief in Jesus based around a lack of evidence that a miracle didn’t happen? Do you apply that same sort of reasoning anywhere else in your life?

  • Spurs Fan

    Secular histories include the dozen or so that mention Jesus. They don’t condone the New Testament view that Jesus rose from the dead

    Cory,

    Doesn’t this end your argument all together? This proves Jesus lived. Isn’t the ressurection part pretty important?

    As to requiring absolute proof, I will admit that there is no absolute proof for the Resurrection (or any other event from 2000 years ago). So, no, a well-documented hole in the chain of reasoning that leads one to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead would be sufficient.

    Well,…okay then!

  • Spurs Fan

    Okay…I can’t spell…resurrection!

  • http://josiahconcept.org Cory Tucholski

    Adrian,

    You should probably look into those claims in much more detail, as you would probably be shocked and insulted that McDowell would make such bold claims based on such flimsy pieces of evidence. I too read McDowell and when I did the research on my own, I felt like he had treated me like a fool and an idiot.

    Could you recommend some places I might look into these sources? Then I can better answer what you have to say.

    Spurs Fan — No, admitting that the secular histories don’t condone the Resurrection does not end my argument. I wouldn’t expect secular histories to do that.

  • Adrian

    Cory – how much time do you have to devote to this question? Are you looking for a couple hours on the web, a week with a few books, or something even more scholarly? Are you looking for something which deals with McDowell’s claims specifically or the historical evidence in general?

    For an easy start, the infidels.org has some scholarly reviews of the evidence which you can look over. A quick overview of the secular evidence:
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/scott_oser/hojfaq.html

    A long review of McDowell taking many claims point-by-point and explaining the actual evidence, not afraid to acknowledge where McDowell is right and where he overstepped the bounds. It’ll take time to review, but you should get a better understanding of what evidence is actually available and some of the issues that are considered when interpreting it:
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/chap5.html

    Yeah, I know how bad it looks to dump everything from a single site so I used two different authors and tried to select examples which cited many different points of view in the field and tried to educate the reader rather than dictating a conclusion.

    If you want to delve into the gospels themselves, that’s a whole new kettle of fish… :)

  • Siamang

    If I may offer a shortcut… the Counter Evidence Principle:

    Counter Evidence Principle (CEP): S would be reasonable in concluding that p is true on the basis of the evidence E only if it is reasonable for S to believe that the evidence E would indicate ~ p if ~p had been the case.

    In other words, an individual would be reasonable to conclude that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are accurate accounts of witness testimony based on the evidence in the Bible’s account ONLY IF it is reasonable to believe that the writers of the Gospels could and would have reported honest, accurate testimony of witnesses who disputed the resurrection story.

    If you do not think that the writers of the Bible would have reported the witness testimony of people who saw a body in that cave, then it’s not reasonable for you to accept as evidence the testimonies they did include.

  • http://www.xanga.com/drew85 Drew

    Greta–

    What would it take to convince you that you don’t exist? Does believing that you exist qualify as a religion?

    The problem is, God is supposed to be supernatural– if not, he has no meaning. When we can’t think of something that would prove God to us, all we’re saying is, we can’t imagine something outside the physical laws of the universe. This is simply a limit on the human mind. It’s just like our inability to imagine a color outside of the rainbow (okay, plus black and white– perhaps I should say a color outside of all known colors). What do we think of when we think about how Bees see infrared? Well, we translate it into a color– I always imagine a red glow– or something else analogous to what we’ve seen with our senses, and we use that.

    We can’t imagine things outside of our abilities of perception. And for something to be supernatural, it has to prove not only that it has some physical form and certain properties– ie, that it has some natural aspect– it has to prove that it is supernatural. And naturally, none of us can imagine what that would be. It would have to be something more than we can perceive with our senses.

    That’s the difference between someone proving that a germ or whatever exists– for us to believe in those things, we only have to perceive their physical forms and properties. Therefore, we’re capable of imagining them, and we’re capable of imagining what would make us believe in them.

    If God presented himself before me today, and I only experienced him with my five senses, I would have no way of knowing that he was supernatural. To imagine the proof that he would give, is to imagine extra senses that I don’t have. That’s why it is impossible for me to give an example of something that would prove the supernatural.

  • Iztok

    “If God presented himself before me today, and I only experienced him with my five senses, I would have no way of knowing that he was supernatural.”

    That is assuming that anything supernatural actually exists. We have no need for anything supernatural to explain the universe around us. So inventing something that we:

    a. have no need to invent in order to explain anything in our lives
    b. can’t even make sure we’ve invented correctly or invented at all

    makes no sense doing at all.

  • http://atheistic.multiply.com/ Atheistic

    I personally have no use for a god.

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