Do You Want To Know The Truth?

Do You Want To Know The Truth? January 28, 2016

Hemant Mehta shared a really useful thought experiment/discussion starter, which deserves to circulate widely. It is inspired by a newspaper column by Robert Kirby, and takes the form of a simple question: if there was a button that you could push, which would tell you definitively whether there is a God, and more specifically, whether your thinking about God is correct or not, would you push it?

The question might seem simple to answer, and it might seem that the obvious answer is “yes.” And I don’t disagree. But there are those who would not push the button, claiming that it would eliminate “faith.” But in my view, that is a terrible way to think about “faith.” Faith should not be believing without evidence, or worse still, refusing evidence because we think there is some merit in refusing to fact check and investigate and just believe what we assume or have been told instead.

But of course, unless one or both of us pushes the button, we won’t know for sure whether or not my thinking about that is misguided.

I think the really interesting part comes when we reflect on what happens after we push the button amd get our answer. If you find out your suspicion or strong conviction is right, how would your approach to life and to other people change now that you know for sure? Would you become even more intolerant with others now that you know for sure that you are right?

If so, then perhaps not knowing for certain was indeed better for you.

And if you found out that you had been wrong, and some other group, whether atheists, Christians, Hindus, or no one on Earth was right, how would that affect you? Would you embrace the truth with joy or begrudgingly, and why? Your instinctive reaction will tell you something about where your foremost commitment lies: to the truth, or to your tribe.

I can also imagine that, even if the results of the button-pushing could somehow be guaranteed, there are those who would refuse to accept what was revealed. Would you possibly find yourself among them?

I hope you think about this, and then take the opportunity to discuss it in the comments below!

big red button



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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    “There is no religion higher than Truth” the Theosophists said, and I couldn’t agree more.

  • Marcus Maher

    I’ll be very honest here (a risky thing to be on the internet). Personally I would find it a terrifying prospect to have the opportunity to push a button like that. I know I would push it, but I would not be really happy and excited to do so.

    I think the reason is that I try to live as if Christian hope is true. If it turned out to be false it would be hard to handle. I know a lot of my ethical beliefs are shared broadly by people of different religious persuasion so I’m not saying this from a position of feeling morally superior in any way, but to risk knowing that my devotion has been misdirected for my whole life is a scary possibility.

    Some of this fear comes from experience. I grew up fundamentalist and I’ve shed that over the past decade or so. Early on that process was personally a stressful and painful experience. Taking this kind of risk would be far greater. And that’s not even taking the social cost into account. I’m already a minority view and a bit of an outsider theologically in my church. While the leadership is gracious and inclusive of me I can still feel that I’m not on the same page. And our church is the source of many of my good friendships. If I stopped attending because I found out God wasn’t real that would certainly weaken friendships because I wouldn’t see these people in the normal pattern of life the way I do now.

    In many ways this taps into one of my fears as I continue to study the Bible, theology, and philosophy in my spare time. I try to be brave and study as honestly as I can, but I’m sure there are times where semi-subconsciously I shy away from topics or positions because I’m uncomfortable with the doubt it raises. It’s unavoidable because I feel like I have so much personally invested, but I still try to push through with as much honesty as possible.

  • The Eh’theist

    I had several different thoughts when I originally read this on Friendly Atheist. Initially, it was thinking about the difference in experience being told the right answer, or simply ‘yes/no’ without any other information. How does one respond to a ‘no’? Where would the new search start? How do you feel if you knew for certain your belief was wrong? Do you tell yourself that it’s ‘a trick of the enemy’?

    Then I thought about whether anyone would get a yes. How correct would one have to be? Would you need to know God as well as a friend? A close friend? A spouse? What if you were right on character and wrong about metaphysics? What if as an atheist you are right in that there is no God as you define the term, but there is a God who meets another definition? (Cats perhaps?) 😉

    Buttonology would quickly become an academic discipline with its own group of academics.

    • And a very divided field, reflecting the very different approaches to buttonological matters…

      • The Eh’theist

        At least no one would be suggesting we were writing about a heavenly button and others misunderstood us…perhaps not for a few centuries at least. 🙂

  • arcseconds

    I’m afraid that, although I regard myself as at least as imaginative as the next person, I have trouble conceiving of what would induce me to believe the results of such a button press.

    It seems to me that any such stage-setting would make the button press irrelevant. Is the button provided by superhuman beings I’m somehow convinced know the answer to such questions? That of course raises the question as to why I’m convinced of this, but at least I can see how I could be extremely impressed with their knowledge. But why couldn’t they then just tell me?

    • “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask the Red Button, which gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

      Wouldn’t you believe the Red Button if the Red Bible told you to?

      • arcseconds

        Only if there’s another holy book I already believe that tells me to believe the Red Bible.

  • If we think about it, all of us are pressing such a button, ever so slowly throughout our lives. The button will finally “click” when this life stops and then we’ll (hopefully) see the truth. That being said, if offered the chance of pressing it right now, heck yeah, I’d press it! (:-)

    • Well, I’ve thought about it, but I don’t see anything about life stopping that would induce the button to “click”. There’s no indication that those who die ignorant will ever be corrected.

  • Caleb G

    Good questions. I have wrestled with my own doubts about God for several years now, so if such a button existed, I would want to push it because I do want to know the truth regardless of how emotionally unconfortable the answer might make me. An equally important issue, as you bring up, is how we would respond to others once we learned the answer. Learning the truth through such a button could make one judge and look down on those who disagree with you, but plenty of people, theist and non, do that even without the button.

  • I don’t see how that thought experiment is any more interesting than a similar one that has already been performed ad nauseum: If there was a book that you could read that would tell you definitively whether there is a God, and more specifically whether your thinking about God is correct or not, would you read it?

  • CrazyDogLady

    I’d press the button, but then, knowing me, I’d spend the rest of my days asking the question, “how does the button ‘know’ for sure?”

  • Of course the reality is that seeking truth in all fields is nothing like a magical button push, but more like working one’s way through a complicated maze carrying untold weights, dealing with ill health issues,
    helping others find their way, managing to counteract strange people who keep trying to mislead one down wrong paths, even attackers trying to stop maze searchers, and when going seems impossible, one keeps going!

    A more apt image for seeking truth would be–if truth is at the top of Mt. Everest would you make the arduous climb and accept it?


    Though my main question isn’t whether God exists or not. I worked through that at university to a very deep level and came out a committed theist (though on Thursday, I am still an existentialist;-).

    What concerns me much more is the second part of your question: What is God/Truth like?

  • James, I reposted your short article as a guest post on my blog.