4 Things That Would Turn This Atheist Into A Believer

I honestly feel like the options are essentially limitless, but I’ll pick 4 for discussion.

1 — A falsification of the Copernican Principle

If I see sufficient compelling evidence to convince me that it is likely that the earth is at or near the center of the universe, I will believe in the existence of some God. I haven’t seen The Principle documentary yet, but it could conceivably provide the beginnings of this evidence.

2 — Waiting for 1

Just in case God limits His manifestations to the shadows of probabilities (the clumpiness of randomness) so as to avoid robbing us of free will, I created a random number generator that’s been running for close to two months. It will continue to generate a new random number every minute and record the lowest number. The odds for the generator were very carefully calculated so that the chance of it coming up with exactly the number “1” by the end of the year 2075 are very close to 1 in 100, or a P value of .01 which is the minimum level of statistical significance that would be compelling for me in this single, non-repeatable case (thus plausibly disproving the null hypothesis). I’m not asking for more than I would ask for in a scientific conclusion, and it’s less than would be required to convince most who truly didn’t want to believe. It could still be a lucky chance, but if I see a “1” from that random number generator in my lifetime, I’d find it in me to believe in a God. I check it almost every day. I may blog about it more later if you’re interested.

3 — An obvious (objective) miracle that I could verify.

It would have to be convincing to me and break the laws of physics as I understand them. Stars aligning to convey information about God, the sun standing still, my mom appearing from the dead and talking to me (descriptions of Jesus or another concept of God would sell me on that specific God concept), etc.

4 — A personal (subjective) revelation that I believe is from a supernatural mind (God).

Sure, the immediate cause for any of these could be advanced aliens, or a God-like non-creator God, or many other things (see iMultiverse). However, I want to believe and I admit that I’m primed for it. I’ll believe in some supernatural God if I can. The notion that, “To be an atheist means that one cannot be convinced of God’s existence,” is incorrect. Most of us ultimately care more about truth than about being right the first time and holding that position in spite of new evidence. In many cases it’s just the evidence that we lack — not the character to adapt to it when we find it. Some of us are actively seeking it.

Your turn

If you’re an atheist/agnostic, what are some things that would convince you of the existence of some God? What about a specific God?

If you’re a believer, what would convince you that another God is real and yours isn’t? What would convince you that no God exists?

Gentleness and respect,
—Russell

Image: Heliocentric model from Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Public domain.

65 comments

  1. Take the position of the expansion of the transcendental number pi, as it is currently known (be it four billion digits, five billion digits, it doesn’t matter). Call this position ‘n’. The test for the existence of God then becomes: Return a sequence of one hundred sequential digits from pi beginning at position 2n, before our fastest supercomputer arrives there.” Easy test for a supreme being who knows all the digits of pi right off the top of his hoary head, right? But no, he’s got an out: “Thou shalt not put the LORD thy God to the test!”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Linuxgal, I’m so glad you’re here so I don’t have to say stuff like that. Sometimes my poor husband just needs someone who can speak his language (I do get it, though—I just say it in non-mathematical terms).

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Haha. Excellent, Linuxgal.

      I’ve considered this same example when trying to explain what I would consider a good prophecy – some as of yet undiscovered digits of pi, or extreme prime numbers. I even used ‘n’ in the example! Thank you for this. Not that I expect anything like that to ever happen, but it is a good demonstration of something worthy of what should be the true standard for a “prophecy.”

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Pascal,

        I actually was so accustomed to thinking of numbers, mathematics, the basis of logic itself, etc., as transcendent (and the specific transcendental attributes of pi) that I didn’t even pause at her phrasing.

        One of the things I deal with regularly is the continual feeling that I need to clarify misconceptions about my point of view when people hear I’m an atheist. My lack of a positive belief in any specific God does not mean I’m a metaphysical naturalist who holds a commitment to the belief that nothing above or outside the realm of physical reality exists. Some of these things may supervene upon physical reality or can be thought of as a part of it, but I’m not committed to that view. Transcendence, literally in the same category of things you place God (wholly apart from existent reality), may exist in my world-view, and that’s often how I think about pi because I have no worldview commitment to think otherwise. In the same way, I don’t hold a commitment to the non-existence of the spiritual realm or God. So Linuxgal’s wording didn’t illicit a double-take. 🙂

        Gentleness and respect,
        –Russell

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting list. The first would rock science off its feet, but I’m not sure how that alone would prove the existence of a deity. The second is supremely unlikely, but still within the realm of possibility mathematically, so that wouldn’t give me a second thought personally. The other two would be more interesting.

    The are only two that come to mind for me. The first is a wealth of consistent, previously unknowable, completely unpredictable prophicies. The second is the discovery of an alien civilization with no previous knowledge of humanity’s existence that shares the exact same beliefs as a particular denomination.

    I’m sure there are probably other things that would convince me or at least cause me to think it likely, but I can’t think of any just now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi M.M.J. Gregory! Thanks for your comment.

      I agree that the first two would not prove the existence of a deity – but I’m not looking for proof. I’m really after sufficient evidence to be able to honestly move my 50/50 stance on the existence of some god a little bit to the positive side. I don’t propose that either of them would be sufficient for anyone else. We each have our own standards for sufficient evidence that we’ll accept in different circumstances, and I wanted this post to be an honest assessment of some of mine. I was also hoping that Pascal and my other believing friends would read this and understand that the generalization, “Atheist’s have an unreasonable goal-post because they require proof of God,” is often a straw man (at least in my case). I want proof, sure. But proof isn’t required for basic belief – just the supremacy of evidence in favor over evidence in opposition. I completely understand if you’re holding out for something more substantive. 🙂

      I really like the two evidences you proposed. I’ve read a few articles from others who discussed this topic and they mentioned prophecies and the alien civilization idea. I feel like I could write 50 specific things right now, in the next 10 minutes, but I wanted to keep this post shortish. That’s a problem for me, so I’m working on it.

      Thanks!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand where you are coming from as far as helping theists understand where our thoughts are on the topic. Of course everyone is going to have a different finish line and I’m always interested to hear where it is for others.

        As far as long comment replies, well, if you dig through some of Toad’s posts, you’ll see that I am inflicted with that problem too.

        Thanks for the reply. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all, hello — my name is Seth, and like Pascal I also prefer to call myself a “Christ-follower” (or at least I do now, after reading his apologetic for it). I’ve just begun to look into this blog, but the concept of it is consummately brilliant — it also typifies the friendship I have with another chap, and we’ve fantasized about writing a book together or something. Very neat to see a similar friendship, and beating us to the punch, so to speak 🙂 Bravo!

    Now, my response to this entry: I always admire skeptics who are able to provide explicit goalposts that would cause them to become more open to evidences for “the other side.” Though I suppose (as your challenge illustrates) it need not be skeptics alone — anyone could change their mind. For me, if it could be shown that Jesus of Nazareth did not, in fact, rise from the dead, then I could no longer be a Christian. In fact, I think at that point I would cease to be a theist at all — for in my experience thus far, it seems to me that if God exists, Christianity has the most chance by far of being true among the other religions. I can see no other recourse that holds a candle to the Gospel and still maintains a theistic worldview. All my eggs are in that basket.

    As for your reasons, if you don’t mind I would like to offer my perspective:

    The first two (and, perhaps, even the third) seem, to me, a bit arbitrary. I see it like saying, “I’ll believe that monkeys exist when I see one stand on its head.” If monkeys exist, why should they be expected to stand on their head in order to convince me of their existence? The criterion does not follow from the conditions. In a similar fashion, if God exists (and meaning no disrespect), why should He be expected to jump through the specific hoops that you have set up for Him to jump through? Nowhere in the Bible do I see any promise that God will jump when we say jump; the only possible exception where God actually invites us to test Him would be Malachi 3:10, when God “dares” us to test His faithfulness by giving our full tithe. If there’s any test I would expect God to respond to, it would be that one; anything else seems like an inappropriate criterion, because we have no reason to believe that such things necessary follow from God’s existence.

    Even a demand for bona-fide miracles might be out-of-bounds. Jesus says in Mark 8:12 (and elsewhere):

    “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

    In other words, it looks like Jesus is saying (and the actions of the Pharisees support this) that physical signs and wonders are not an effective means to move someone closer to belief. It seems, rather, that the primary purpose of miracles has always been the authenticate the message of the Gospel and the claims of Jesus’ divinity — with a secondary purpose to free those in bondage and minister to those in need. To demand a miracle of God as a prerequisite for belief (again, meaning no disrespect) seems a bit presumptuous to me.

    If I were to give my advice, I would advise throwing out the first three and keeping only the last. For “reveal Yourself to me” does seem to be a prayer God is keen on answering. My follow-up question would be: What kind of experience, in particular, are you expecting? For, in light of my response to the first three criteria, our expectations I believe can be prohibitive in our ability truly to be open to new evidence and experience.

    Again, brilliant concept, and I look forward to keeping tabs on you two! Cheers.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Seth,

      Welcome! Thank you for your comment. I skimmed it briefly before church this morning and have responses at hand, but haven’t had time to write them. I’m heading to the park with two beautiful little girls. Expect a reply tonight or tomorrow. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Seth,

      Okay. I had some time this evening to go through this. Apologies for the delay. 🙂

      Confession time. Two things. First, I’m not a writer and it shows. Without my wife’s guidance I will often qualify and clarify my thoughts until any post outgrows its intended topic and length by orders of magnitude. I’m working to keep things shorter, but I haven’t yet learned to strike the right balance concerning which things to leave out. That is a precursor to my second confession. I knew I needed to post last night (and the first one got away from me in length), so I wrote this one and submitted it entirely from my phone, from bed, between 3:00 and 4:00 AM in the morning (beside a sleeping CC). Pascal can fact-check the revision timestamps.

      Why the confessions? It appears I failed to properly convey my intent with this post, and I take the blame. It was really a follow-up to the comments in Ask an Atheist (or Christian) Series – Please Comment With Your Questions and Is It Possible To Convince An Atheist To Change Their Mind About God?. What wasn’t it? It was definitely not a list of demands that God must meet before I will believe. When I read your responses to my first three points, I get the feeling I didn’t properly express myself. You seem to be arguing against a stronger position than I hold. To make this clear, I think it might be beneficial to go through your comment line-by-line and respond to anything that jumps out. Here we go! 🙂

      For me, if it could be shown that Jesus of Nazareth did not, in fact, rise from the dead, then I could no longer be a Christian.

      Thank you for attempting to honestly answer the challenge. This is the main response I’ve heard, and it completely makes sense. I don’t know if it’s possible to show that an event such as this, thousands of years ago, didn’t happen. It’s always more interesting, and more distinguishable from pseudoscience, when claims can be falsified. It is what it is, though. With that said, Nailed (which Pascal recently read in order to understand my point of view) provided some plausible explanations that could explain Christianity today without Jesus rising from the dead. My survey of other religions, evolutionary psychology, and early Christianity all strongly support the idea that the event of Jesus’ resurrection is not a requirement for the present belief in it. But that’s far short of proof against it. I’m not making an assumption of what level of evidence you’d need, nor do I want you to find it. I can’t imagine the test that might prove (or show if that’s a more accurate/comfortable word for you) the resurrection false. Do you have any suggestions there? If not, can you think of another answer to the challenge that is actually falsifiable? I’m just curious.

      In fact, I think at that point I would cease to be a theist at all — for in my experience thus far, it seems to me that if God exists, Christianity has the most chance by far of being true among the other religions. I can see no other recourse that holds a candle to the Gospel and still maintains a theistic worldview. All my eggs are in that basket.

      Nothing showed me definitively that the resurrection was false. However, as my level of trust in the Bible dropped, it became impossible to take its word on supernatural claims. At that point, it just became less likely and so I found that I no longer believed it, despite my desire to believe. My personal relationship seemed very real before I learned about meta-cognition and the non-intuitive mental fallacies that plague us (see The Problem if you’re interested). After I understood such things, I saw my relationship with Jesus as being completely explainable by natural processes which we basically understand concerning the mind and the influences of our environment. I could not distinguish my subjective supernatural experiences from those of another believer’s (of another faith), or from my own imagination. Given that we had a natural explanation for these beliefs that didn’t require a supernatural driving them, and given that it would be more complicated (and against Occam’s Razor) to believe the sufficient natural explanation was bolstered by a supernatural one, and given the incongruence and cognitive dissonance between my faith-based belief system in its struggle against science, I ultimately found my Jesus beliefs less plausible. Here I stand, an atheist by circumstance, not by choice.

      I understand where you’re coming from when you say all your eggs are in that basket. When I was a believer I did feel that way about Christianity – it was either that or nothing. Nothing else came close to resonating with me or reality as I saw it. But I shouldn’t have expected anything else too. It’s what I was raised to believe, and I hadn’t exactly objectively studied other religions at that point (a follower of religion X will likely tell you the same thing about where their eggs are). I found that when someone loses their faith, sometimes they still long for some supernatural, even if it isn’t the faith they lost. I’m not putting heavy restrictions on what such a faith might look like at this point. I just want it to be as close to objectively rational truth as it can be. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all. 🙂

      The first two (and, perhaps, even the third) seem, to me, a bit arbitrary.

      If the earth is in the center of the universe, that is extremely improbable, so it suggests a design/intent. Every other claim of improbability about existence in the fields of astrophysics, cosmology, abiogenesis, evolution, quantum theory, etc. – every one of them fails to demonstrate convincingly that the anthropic principle is not valid in each case (and thus that it is a true improbability). Pascal and I may differ on the nothing that could have spawned the something of the universe (I’m actually not completely sure yet because we need more conversation about it), but I’m not convinced that the default state of reality has absolutely no potential for relationships of any kind (that could lead to what we see around us – see the bottom of iMultiverse). This may sound like gibberish, but trust me when I say that to me, a falsification of the Copernican Principle is not an arbitrary measure.

      As for the second example I gave under the heading Waiting for 1, that also has great meaning for me. I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to understand logical fallacies in my own mind, ferret them out when possible, acknowledge them at times, and admit that I will always have them. With that said, innumeracy, pattern matching, confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and failure to understand statistics – these are key issues that are pervasive and subtle when we talk about how beliefs are formed and maintained. What have I learned? One could spend their whole life saying some version of, “God I’ll believe if you just show me a sign.” Then they’re actively looking for anything that can be a sign. Pattern matching kicks in and, eventually, if they do this enough times, they see something. Confirmation bias gets the belief rolling and they remember the “hits” (the things that supported what they were looking for) and forget the “misses” (the things that didn’t). They fail to understand the statistics of large numbers and the clumpiness of randomness – and they miss that the odds are high that they will eventually strike one of those moments when things appear to support their desired belief. These are just a tiny fraction of the myriad problems with our reasoning, and how we come to hold false beliefs. I know I hold some now, I just don’t know which ones they are. But that admission, along with a strong desire for the truth, makes me more able to examine them – even the closely held ones – than I used to be.

      How do we avoid these pitfalls in reasoning and come to conclusions that are more likely true than false? Being aware of them an humbly cognizant of our own inability to ever master them is a good start (not that I’m one to teach here – just a novice on the road). One thing I’ve done is to circumvent the process. The “Waiting for 1” random number generator thing is not arbitrary. It is a thoroughly considered process to avoid a lifetime of challenges to God in which I may mistakenly misunderstand the odds (the statistics in any given circumstance), and give too much credence to an event that seems to fulfill a desired outcome (and then gets the fallacies rolling downhill toward another set of false, but firmly held beliefs). “Waiting for 1” is my solution for avoiding that. If that number generator shows a 1, it will be significant. Perhaps not to you or anyone else, but it will to me. I wrote it, I control it, and I know the odds clearly. Numbers speak to me. If God wants to communicate to me, he knows my number.

      A child may see a flying toy as a miracle. A parent with experience of remote control helicopters may not. Our knowledge and experience in each subject defines what is relevant to shift our beliefs. Since these are subjective, individual measurements, what is arbitrary to one, may be pivotal to another.

      I see it like saying, “I’ll believe that monkeys exist when I see one stand on its head.” If monkeys exist, why should they be expected to stand on their head in order to convince me of their existence? The criterion does not follow from the conditions. In a similar fashion, if God exists (and meaning no disrespect), why should He be expected to jump through the specific hoops that you have set up for Him to jump through?

      Thank you for explaining your monkey analogy with God. I was lost at first but I think I see where you’re going. This goes back to my confessions. I think I failed to title or write this in a way that explained that I have no expectations of God. As a skeptical atheist who is open to finding God if such a thing exists and desires interaction, I have relatively few constraints on what that interaction must look like – at least compared to believers. I make no demands of this entity. It could be pantheism or deism that is correct. Or neither. Or something far different. The point of the list is to demonstrate what would lead me towards belief that something is there. It isn’t to say that this list is exhaustive or required in full or expected. It’s more to help believers understand that not all atheists are closing their minds and hearts to the possibility of God.

      Nowhere in the Bible do I see any promise that God will jump when we say jump; the only possible exception where God actually invites us to test Him would be Malachi 3:10, when God “dares” us to test His faithfulness by giving our full tithe.

      This is well said, and I’m aware of the biblical admonitions of when and how we are and are not supposed to test God. However, you’re statements here are operating from within the constraints placed upon you by your belief in the Bible. It would be good advice to give to a doubting believer, but an atheist who is honestly seeking likely won’t find harmony with a belief system that says you must not ask questions expecting answers, and you must not test or attempt to collect evidence in favor of what you must believe.

      Even the specific examples, while biblically wise, are probably off-putting to many skeptics. When God dares us to test Him in tithing, there are many outs. It’s not exactly a controlled study, or something we’d consider a test. In the first place, the Bible has God talking to a specific people in a specific context, and the strong’s concordance shows the intent may have been that they test him “now” – that is, that the offer to test him may not have been extended outside of that context. Second, there’s the issue of blessings, which is an immeasurable currency. One could always claim that blessings are not financial, but rewards in your spirit, outlook, distance family relations, or even in a promised but distant afterlife to come (one where the outcome conveniently can’t be confirmed).

      If there’s any test I would expect God to respond to, it would be that one; anything else seems like an inappropriate criterion, because we have no reason to believe that such things necessary follow from God’s existence.

      Nothing necessarily follow’s from a God’s existence (I’ll refer you to iMultiverse again :)). However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have expectations based upon the claims about that God’s character, intentions, actions, desires, plan, etc.

      In Sean Carroll’s lecture called, God is not a Good Theory, I believe he references this line of thinking. His view seems to be that we can have expectations about how an interventionist God with desires for humanity would act. I’m going to extrapolate significantly from anything I’ve heard him say here, but this is what I imagine he might be thinking.

      We could imagine a set of universes for which a set of such Gods were in control. If we find ourselves within a universe that doesn’t seem to exhibit experiences that are in accord with what we’d expect that God’s universe to be like, there’s a dilemma. Is it honest to say that it’s our expectations that are inappropriate and must bend, or is it possible that our expectations are correct and the lack of those expectations being realized is evidence against that God’s existence? What test could we perform that would distinguish a universe in which a God chooses not to demonstrate Himself and a universe in which that God does not exist? If there is no such test, then how can we conclude that it is not appropriate to test God? Not to test him means believing almost anything anyone claims may have come from on high.

      Since revelation is necessarily subjective, personal, first person – there’s a logic fallacy waiting in the wings anytime it is communicated to another person. I think it’s very relevant to note that it is not God we are testing, and a God would know that. It is the claims of human beings who say their heard this or that from God – it is those claims we are testing when we speak of testing God. The concept we hold in our heads under the label “God” (a concept which often changes slightly each time we call it up) either represents something that exists, or it doesn’t. God would likely not be insulted by pleas for Him/Her/It to demonstrate something. And if a God cared to pull people toward the true version of Himself and prune out the false beliefs, he may be willing to do so in some form or another.

      This seems to be the choice we’re dealing with. I’ll create two scenarios. The first representing the Christian God you’re advocating. Scenario one is that a God that exists would choose to judge everything that matters based on what we believe while giving us minds that a naturally subject to many non-intuitive cognitive biases and other logical fallacies. In addition to these minds that are wired for survival more than truth, the God allows us to exist in an environment where geographic location at birth (something we cannot control) determines a great deal about future beliefs. Further, we are exposed to incompatible belief systems about God that are promulgated by many compassionate, faithful followers of multiple religions – and our beliefs are at odds with most of them and occasionally with science. Through all this, the God in this scenario would also decide to set up a principle by which we could not judge the validity of a personal revelation that someone communicates to us – because the God won’t allow us to test Him (that part sounds very convenient to the skeptic). Scenario 2 is that scenario 1 does not represent an accurate God concept for a deity that actually exists. It’s possible that the first scenario is accurate and this God exists (though I lack belief because I don’t trust the Bible and don’t have sufficient evidence elsewhere). However, it’s certainly not obvious that scenario 1 is correct.

      If any of the sacred texts of the world are true, didn’t a God set out to accomplish this revelation for a purpose? Scriptures are man’s claims to revealed or discovered truth that they attempt to convince other people to believe. Convincing happens through evidence, with a possible sprinkling of supernatural synapse tweaking. If a God wants to convince, it’s going to be doing it through signs. Even subjective synaptic restructuring is likely physical and, in principle, detectable as a sign in the near future.

      Even a demand for bona-fide miracles might be out-of-bounds. Jesus says in Mark 8:12 (and elsewhere):

      “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

      I don’t think expecting a sign is out of bounds given the signs that were asked for and performed in many places in the Bible. Sure, there are many where they were denied, but their fulfillment even once shows that asking may not be a fruitless endeavor. You phrases it as “a demand for.” I’ll reiterate that I’m not demanding here. 🙂

      The Bible quote here is still problematic as an explanation for why we shouldn’t ask for signs. The question attributed to Jesus in the first part of the quote has to be rhetorical. It’s a little confusing why anyone would wonder at the reason a group of people would be requesting evidence about supernatural claims, when they’re surrounded with them and not sure which ones are correct. For the writers to have Jesus dismiss the request for evidence in this fashion does not bode well for a reasoned faith in the minds of many skeptics.

      Second, the context of this verse is that Jesus just finished a massive sign for all the common-people. A little while later the Pharisees show up asking for a sign from heaven and Jesus gives that response. So, again, it isn’t clear if we are to ask for or at least expect some signs or not. He said no to the Pharisees, but he clearly presented many signs all over his ministry (according to the Bible). So it’s a mixed message at best. We are to have great faith and accomplish many miracles (signs) with the spirit, even more than he did in his life. The quote to the Pharisees is further confused because he speaks of “generation” which doesn’t translate well. It’s ambiguous and could mean several things which I won’t get into. I will say that the context could have just meant that the Pharisee’s won’t be given a sign, which would make it less clear that non-first-century-Pharisee’s aren’t to ask for a sign. For example, one definition of “generation” in this verse (at least as I read it in the Strong’s) means, “a group of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character.” So he really could have just been talking about the Pharisees rather than a generation of people – since clearly, many other people were being given signs at that time. And even if he meant an age generation, does that necessarily extrapolate to us, living nearly 2000 years later without his presence in bodily form and obvious miracles? So this verse, like many, is not really all that clear as a foundation for what is appropriate to ask of God, even under biblical constraints – much less atheistic ones.

      In other words, it looks like Jesus is saying (and the actions of the Pharisees support this) that physical signs and wonders are not an effective means to move someone closer to belief.

      There’s a tendency to defer to very strong authority. It’s one of those fallacies that I found revealing about my own personality, especially earlier in life or in the church. It’s been shown that if a trusted, charismatic leader speaks, our cognitive faculties literally become less active as we defer to what they say. This effect is likely proportional to the degree to which we trust that speaker and view the disparity between our power and their own. In the case of a gnostic Christian and the words of Jesus, I know from personal experience that I wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t second guessing the words in read. I just wasn’t. I’m not saying the same is true for you. Maybe your objectively challenging the words in red with unbiased skepticism as if they were the words of a news editor you didn’t know. All I know is that I trusted everything claimed to be from Jesus, implicitly, because it was the gold standard for life, love, morality, ethics, meaning, purpose, etc. (see Not an outsider). However, if this is indeed what Jesus meant – that physical evidence is not an effective means to move someone closer to belief – then it sounds like Jesus was wrong. Or maybe that’s not what he meant. But evidence doesn’t sway belief. I have strong evidence for that belief. 🙂

      It seems, rather, that the primary purpose of miracles has always been the authenticate the message of the Gospel and the claims of Jesus’ divinity — with a secondary purpose to free those in bondage and minister to those in need.

      I suspect I’m misreading you. The way I break all this down, authenticating message X and claim Y is achieved by providing evidence for message X and claim Y. And miracles provide evidence. So miracles, signs, etc., those are just evidences in favor of these messages and claims. Does that make sense? If a healing’s main purpose, as I think you’re saying, is to provide evidence for God, and it’s secondary purpose is the healing itself – it sounds like you’re saying that providing evidence is a higher priority to God than helping them in this life. I don’t have a problem if that’s your view, but it seems to call into question the previous verse you sighted where Jesus was refusing to give a sign to the Pharisee’s – a sign which would have served well to “authenticate the message of the Gospel and the claims of Jesus’ divinity.” I probably missed something in what you meant here. I apologize. It is getting very late again. 🙂

      To demand a miracle of God as a prerequisite for belief (again, meaning no disrespect) seems a bit presumptuous to me.

      This is another sentence that led me to believe I’d misled you. I’m not demanding miracles of God. I’m just saying that if I see something that points to a God I’ll acknowledge it and believe to the extent that I can (in whatever type of deity is suggested by the evidence).

      If I were to give my advice, I would advise throwing out the first three and keeping only the last.

      The first three are relevant to me, but I do appreciate your advice. I’ll always welcome it and I’ll do my best to listen.

      For “reveal Yourself to me” does seem to be a prayer God is keen on answering.

      What about “help my unbelief?” Or “please help me find you.” Those are more my style. I don’t presume to command a God. With that said, I’m a skeptic. So the bar is set a little different. If a God is there, he/she/it will see the honesty in my search. It will find me if it wants to and is able.

      My follow-up question would be: What kind of experience, in particular, are you expecting? For, in light of my response to the first three criteria, our expectations I believe can be prohibitive in our ability truly to be open to new evidence and experience.

      I completely agree that our biases can shut us out. We tend to be primed to see what we’re looking for and close out other things – another reference to those fallacies.

      Excellent question. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I know what I’m not looking for. Anecdotes won’t do it. A presence maybe? One that I may understand psychologically and neurologically, but is real and personal to me nonetheless. A sense of truth about something related to God that is uncommon for me and persistent, despite my skepticism? Maybe a persistent vision that I could explain away as a waking dream, but was real to me in some other more compelling way that I can’t yet explain? Perhaps just a sudden change in my mind so that things snap into place and I can make all the pieces fit – with belief becoming a natural state based on my experiences. Whatever it is, it would need to be something that could convince me. A God who’s intending to pull that off would know what to do. We’re only scratching the surface here. That list could go on and on and on. My expectations regarding a personal, subjective revelation are really not as limited as this brief list makes it sound.

      Wow. I’ve said a lot. Let me apologize again. I’m fairly certain I’ve made many typos and thoroughly misread and misrepresented you. I’m sorry. I have limited time for the blog these days and I feel the need to rush through these things. Just imagine if I had more time. Haha. You just think this is long. 🙂 Still, I do hope that you’ll come back and help me learn where our differences actually are in all this. Please skim Why I Respect Pascal when you have a chance. I hope that you and your friend will continue working things out. My friendship with Pascal has been invaluable. It’s worth all the long, rambling, misrepresenting comments I subject him to – at least I assume it is because he keeps writing. 🙂

      Thanks again for your excellent comment and all the opportunities to clear up (or further muddle) my points. Come back any time!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow, what can I say? I’m blown away by the attention you’ve obviously given to a thorough response, to the transparency you exhibit, and the content of your well thought-out counterpoints. I especially, especially appreciate the citations you provide for further reading — I’m always trying to get my hands on new material. Many thanks — your time is valuable, and you honor me with such a forthright, prompt, and profound response.

        I shall do my best to follow suit and provide some responses:

        Two things. First, I’m not a writer and it shows.

        Could have fooled me! 🙂 I have similar struggles — my tendency toward longwindedness is my greatest struggle, I think. I always have to remind myself of the quote from A River Runs Through It: “Again, half as long.” 😉

        It was definitely not a list of demands that God must meet before I will believe.

        I understand you now, and forgive me for jumping to conclusions. I can see now how several of my counterpoints operate under the assumption that all these criteria must be met by God before you would believe. As this is not the case, my original response perhaps would have been softer.

        I don’t know if it’s possible to show that an event such as this, thousands of years ago, didn’t happen.

        Fairly put. Admittedly, the criterion I provide is by no means fallacy-proof or bias-protected. I guess, if I were to rephrase, I would say that, as I currently understand the historical evidence, the conclusion posited by the eyewitnesses (i.e. the resurrection of Christ) seems the best explanation with few (if any) feasible alternatives that account for all the details. But I’m willing to table this until I’m able to pick up Nailed and hear perhaps a more cogent defense for the other side than I’ve yet heard.

        If not, can you think of another answer to the challenge that is actually falsifiable? I’m just curious.

        I’d have to think about it. The obvious bit that comes to mind would be the discovery of Christ’s body — that would clinch it for sure. But, then again, how can one be sure it’s the body of Christ, and not someone else? If the New Testament is correct, there was a conspiracy by the Jews to cover up the resurrection — certainly they could have taken a cadaver, pierced its side with a spear, put thorns on its head, lacerated its back, and put it in a stone tomb somewhere — later to “discover” it and say, “Aha!” But even as I write this scenario, I don’t think I would buy it — if the Jews had really done that, the evidence would have surfaced by now.

        So, I guess that would be something that would certainly shake my faith — the discovery of Christ’s body. Though I don’t know how high that sets the bar, archaeologically speaking — how likely is it, after 2000 years, to excavate a corpse and identify it with any level of certainty? I admit I must appeal to ignorance in this case.

        Given that we had a natural explanation for these beliefs that didn’t require a supernatural driving them, and given that it would be more complicated (and against Occam’s Razor) to believe the sufficient natural explanation was bolstered by a supernatural one, and given the incongruence and cognitive dissonance between my faith-based belief system in its struggle against science, I ultimately found my Jesus beliefs less plausible.

        Occam’s Razor is a tricky thing, isn’t it? I’ll certainly give The Problem a read, but from where I stand now, aligning the naturalistic psychological explanations with my personal experience doesn’t make the grade, in my opinion; I think the explanation that my brain is, essentially, playing tricks on me and causing me to conclude that my experiences originate with an external entity is actually more complicated than the theory that there is, in fact, a God behind these experiences. But that’s just me.

        As a brief aside: I don’t think faith has an inherent struggle against science. Sure, modern science makes some claims that seem to counter those of Biblical Christianity — but scientific induction is yet another tricky thing, isn’t it? There is always a jump that must be made between hard, scientific evidence, and any metaphysical claims a scientist can make based on that evidence. I think science is great for what it does, but I don’t think one of those things is philosophy. I wrote a bit about this in my scientism series.

        Here I stand, an atheist by circumstance, not by choice.

        Funny you should say that — it seems I feel the same way about my conversion as you do about your deconversion 🙂

        When I was a believer I did feel that way about Christianity – it was either that or nothing. Nothing else came close to resonating with me or reality as I saw it.

        I’m not sure we’re on the same page here, and I think it’s due to my lack of clarity in my language: I don’t mean “or nothing” to mean actually “nothing”, but rather to mean “any alternative theistic worldview to Christianity.” What I’m saying is, if Christianity proved false, I could not find recourse in any other religion — I would have to become a naturalist.

        BTW, I do have some experience with other religions, though I wouldn’t consider them to be vast enough to constitute a thorough, unbiased, objective study. But it was enough to reinforce a belief I had already come to entertain. You can read more about my story if you’re interested.

        … a falsification of the Copernican Principle is not an arbitrary measure.

        I don’t mean arbitrary in and of itself, but rather arbitrary as a criterion for supporting God’s existence. If God exists, why should the earth be the center of the universe? I don’t see the connection.

        Numbers speak to me. If God wants to communicate to me, he knows my number.

        Well said, and more power to you! Now that I understand your original list to be open rather than closed, my objections here are less applicable.

        Though I do understand what you’re saying about the unreliability of subjective experience. Then again, though, most of our decisions made by our brains are made in the limbic system, the “subjective” part of the brain — and those made in the prefrontal cortex (the “objective” part) tend to be worse decisions rather than better, and often fall prey to the pitfall of overthinking. Long story short, I think the bias of scientism in our culture has cast too heavy a shadow over the role of subjective experience in our human lives; in trying to avoid anything that could be classified as subjective, we end up overthinking and actually making worse decisions. I could soapbox on this for awhile, so I’ll leave it at that 😛

        … an atheist who is honestly seeking likely won’t find harmony with a belief system that says you must not ask questions expecting answers, and you must not test or attempt to collect evidence in favor of what you must believe.

        Quite true. However, I’m not saying that “one shouldn’t ask questions expecting answers” — I’m simply pointing out that some questions are, perhaps, better than others. To use an analogy: If a child wished to prove that his parents loved him, it wouldn’t necessarily be a valid criterion to say, “If I ask for this toy and they give it to me, then they love me.” There could be all sorts of reasons why the child shouldn’t have the toy, regardless of whether or not his parents love him — so this would not be a good test. However, there are better questions to ask — such as, “Will you comfort me when I’m hurt?” or “Will you continue to care for me even when I’ve done something wrong?”

        If the Christian God exists, then He is a person, and He must be approached relationally. He is not an impersonal force that, like the natural world, whose actions can be tested and verified. This is why I think “if… then” conditions are not necessarily the best test of God’s existence. He must be thought of as a person with a will — and persons can be unpredictable. I hope I’m making sense — I’m being intentionally brief.

        His view seems to be that we can have expectations about how an interventionist God with desires for humanity would act.

        I will withhold judgment before reading the book, but this seems to me a dangerous premise, especially in light of my points above about the relational and willful nature of God.

        Since revelation is necessarily subjective, personal, first person – there’s a logic fallacy waiting in the wings anytime it is communicated to another person.

        Yes, bravo, well said. I never want anyone to take my word for anything, nor do I believe that objective evidence alone is enough to make a compelling case for God — it certainly wasn’t enough for me. I thoroughly believe that for anything to be known about God (including His existence), the ball is mostly in His court; He must reveal Himself to the individual, in ways only He could know how to do. On the other side of that coin, however, He does not seem interested in violating one’s will to disbelieve in order to do this revealing — in most cases, it seems we are asked to make at least the first step.

        When sharing my experiences with others, I hope that perhaps my own experiences can help others be more open to the possibility that what I believe is true, to at least give Christianity the “ol’ college try.” You don’t seem to need prompting in this regard, though.

        Scenario one is that a God that exists would choose to judge everything that matters based on what we believe while giving us minds that a naturally subject to many non-intuitive cognitive biases and other logical fallacies.

        This is one of the myths (as I see it) that I am working to debunk about God: I actually don’t think it’s ultimately so important to God what we believe on a creedal level. I think, rather, He is more interested in our response to what He has revealed to the individual about Himself — and as the level of revelation is different for each person, different levels of response may be required. I’ll leave it at that for the sake of brevity.

        I don’t think expecting a sign is out of bounds given the signs that were asked for and performed in many places in the Bible.

        Well, I guess it depends what you mean by “expectation” — for, remember, God is a person, not a cosmic gumball machine. We could be expecting something specific that God has good reasons unknown to us for not providing. This is the danger of “expecting” signs as a prerequisite for belief; it’s okay, I think, to ask for signs, but I don’t think it’s best to say things like, “I won’t believe until I see thus-and-so occur.” It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

        If a healing’s main purpose, as I think you’re saying, is to provide evidence for God, and it’s secondary purpose is the healing itself – it sounds like you’re saying that providing evidence is a higher priority to God than helping them in this life. I don’t have a problem if that’s your view, but it seems to call into question the previous verse you sighted where Jesus was refusing to give a sign to the Pharisee’s – a sign which would have served well to “authenticate the message of the Gospel and the claims of Jesus’ divinity.”

        I’m struggling with responding to this point, because I think it’s important — but this conversation is proving to be so rich with important issues, and my brain is having trouble giving them all the attention I think they deserve 😛 To be brief, though, I think perhaps you are giving the Pharisees (and the role of evidence) too much credit.

        I for one have known many people who are so convinced in their worldview (theist and non-theist alike) that it seems they are impervious to evidence. Sure, for an unbiased, completely reasonable person, evidence should be the clincher — but really, could any of us fit into that category? I don’t think we could — we’re more complicated than that, and you mention many of the things that make us so (cognitive dissonance, bias, fallacious thinking, etc.). We exhibit these things without even being aware of them — how could be expect to be moved by mere evidence when there’s so much going on behind the scenes that we can’t even be fully aware of?

        Jesus had a way, it seems, of addressing the “question behind the question,” so to speak, when He interacted with people. Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John is a prime example that comes to mind: She was just talking about temporal things (water), and He looked past her question and saw in her a desire for something deeper (living, spiritual water). In the case of the Pharisees, they were asking for signs in a time when (as you said) signs were already happening all over the place. Would one more sign really be enough to convince the Pharisees that Jesus was whom He said He was? Not likely, and Jesus knew it — that’s why He refused to play their game.

        I’m running out of steam 😛 I can only keep so many ideas in my head at once!

        I’ll leave it here, though: The nature of evidence and how we tend to process it is a veritable can-of-worms topic, and it’s on the back-burner of subjects I’d like to tackle in a post someday on my blog. But I think it’s an over-simplification of the human condition to state that evidence alone is sufficient to make someone “change their mind” about something. They can certainly get someone’s attention, but I think the rubber really hits the road in a different realm entirely, when it comes to the human psyche.

        Thanks again for the great response! I’m going to go take a nap now 😛 LOL

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Darn it, none of my quote tags worked in the response, so it’s impossible to distinguish from where I’m quoting you and my own words 😛 That’s frustrating, sorry. What tag did you use to make your quotes call out so clearly??

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          1. Hi Seth,

            I just saw this. No worries. I use “blockquote” (surrounded by the standard “”less than” and “greater than” signs used for web tags) and “/blockquote” (surrounded by those same tag signs) to close it. Does that makes sense? I’ll try to have time to read through your response during my lunch break later and add those tags for you. 🙂

            Gentleness and respect,
            –Russell

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Hi Seth!

                Thank you for the thorough response. My time his been tight this week which is why it has taken me so long to type a quick (yet long) response of my own. Apologies. I’ll jump right in. 🙂

                I guess, if I were to rephrase, I would say that, as I currently understand the historical evidence, the conclusion posited by the eyewitnesses (i.e. the resurrection of Christ) seems the best explanation with few (if any) feasible alternatives that account for all the details. But I’m willing to table this until I’m able to pick up Nailed and hear perhaps a more cogent defense for the other side than I’ve yet heard.

                That’s fair. We disagree here due to our previous exposure to different evidences and the varying weight we put on each piece of that evidence. I find natural explanations sufficient to explain the belief in the resurrection of Christ. I don’t trust the source of the eyewitness accounts and I don’t believe the anonymous gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the resurrection. The ascension evidently wasn’t even in the first book to talk about it (Mark) but was added later. It’s all a bit too suspicious and conflicting (in my honest opinion) to hold a positive belief in it based on the Bible’s account alone – without a personal conviction. Such a conviction was based on many logical fallacies, sufficiently explainable by (more likely) natural causes, and indistinguishable from convictions of Muslims/Mormons/my-own-imagination/etc. In addition to Nailed, there are many sources that discuss the skeptic’s response to the resurrection. A Google search should reveal quite a few – some more cogent than others.

                I’d have to think about it. The obvious bit that comes to mind would be the discovery of Christ’s body

                If I were a believer, I’m not sure how it could be sufficiently demonstrated that a body discovered this late was actually that of Jesus. Actually, as an atheist I would be just as skeptical of such a claim. I see by the reasoning you provided that you agree. This requirement seems unmeetable, and even if it were achieved, most people would be highly skeptical of it – meaning their belief in the veracity of the claim that the body belonged to Jesus would not outweigh their belief in their faith. Then there’s the fact that some believer’s think that Jesus was resurrected more in spirit form (more in line with Paul’s account) rather than physical. If Jesus’ body were found, and someone believed it actually was his body, it’s conceivable that they might just adopt a spiritual resurrection of Jesus. Given all these holes in any evidence that might be compelling against the faith, I’m curious if there is still another criteria that would cause you to doubt. I can think of some that did for me, but I won’t project them on anyone else. I’m not trying to move the goal-posts here. If you’ve provided the only answer you can think of, then so be it, and thank you. If you think of another, please let me know. 🙂

                The reason I ask, beyond curiosity, is that I’m trying to pin down part of the challenge I have with my former faith. Why am I not able to just take the first step and believe in something that isn’t demonstrable? I think part of the reason is my reticence to step into a system that has no means of determining if it is false. From the outside, I can’t, in good intellectual confidence, close my eyes and walk forward in faith like that by choice or force of will. I need good evidence that the path is leading to a place that is reflective of reality as it is, not just as we want it to be. I’m sure you can identify with this in other areas of your own life. For example, if someone encouraged you to believe in another religion, or in astrology. Popper’s identification of, and solution for, the problem of demarcation was very useful for me. Unfortunately, like other logical and scientific solutions, it has made me wary of practically unfalsifiable beliefs. If someone can show something that is falsifiable about their belief, perhaps something we can test – something that demonstrates their belief and hasn’t already been falsified – I would be more interested and willing to engage in such a faith in small steps. Otherwise, I feel like I’m forced to watch from the sidelines. I hope this is making sense.

                Occam’s Razor is a tricky thing, isn’t it? I’ll certainly give The Problem a read, but from where I stand now, aligning the naturalistic psychological explanations with my personal experience doesn’t make the grade, in my opinion

                I think many believers tend to compare their faith to their view of naturalism (or any other faith, for that matter) and conclude that their faith makes more sense of reality. Then they use that conclusion to reinforce their specific faith, whatever that may be. I believe this because it’s what I used to do. The problem I eventually had with that approach was two-fold. First, I knew I wasn’t being objective about my Christian faith because I was brought up in it. I couldn’t compare it to others properly, and there were sincere believers in other faiths that were in the position (seeing theirs as superior). I had to admit that to myself.

                Second, I couldn’t see it as an either/or problem (either my faith is correct or naturalism is correct). I didn’t lose my faith by making a comparison between the two, and choosing naturalism. That can sometimes be a misunderstanding of atheism (or how some people arrive at it). In my case, my faith just crumbled beneath me – and I was then left without a faith. I do not believe that something like a God does not exist. That would be me choosing naturalism. I just don’t believe any specific concept of a god that I’ve heard of or imagined represents a God that actually does exist.

                It’s perfectly fine to start from your worldview and then evaluate naturalism. That’s a good exercise. However, many apologists use the term naturalism incorrectly – just like they use atheism incorrectly. People tend to argue against straw men versions of competing worldviews so often (not that you’re doing this) that they forget about the other positions people in those Venn circles do hold. They attack strong atheism, more than the (likely) more popular negative/soft/weak atheism. And they attack metaphysical naturalism rather than methodological naturalism.

                I didn’t evaluate my faith and compare it to naturalism and decide naturalism sounded better. I just ended up without a faith, which has happened to many people. Naturalism isn’t really that relevant of a label for me. I definitely don’t assume there is nothing beyond the natural realm.

                Yes, Occam’s Razor is tricky. Like any belief mechanism, the probabilities that come out are only as good as the data that goes in, and I’m not even sure Occam’s Razor should apply to supernatural questions. But we work with what we have. We each possess some intuitive sense based on our specific phenotype (genes and experiences), and mine takes me the other way. I’m sure we could identify where we differ there if we take the time. Maybe that will happen some day. 🙂

                For me, having some exposure to the natural fallacies of human reasoning and the appearance of design in nature (and the evolutionary advantages of that belief in evolutionary psychology), I think it’s just as likely (or at least as likely) that our subjective interpretations of reality are somewhat flawed (skewing us toward the superstitious) than that there really was a designer/creator/etc. You said “the explanation that my brain is, essentially, playing tricks on me and causing me to conclude …”. But we know that our minds are playing tricks on us. This is very carefully and deeply studied, and demonstrable over and over. These are the fallacies we’re talking about. They’re often non-intuitive so we don’t know we’re subject to them unless we study the evidence for them, and they explain every religion on the planet. We can alter the electrical state of certain parts of the brain and trigger visions that seem to be other-wordly or supernatural. Even if we thought it might be plausible that a God designed our minds to be superstitious and therefore more likely to find said deity, that doesn’t mean a God belief gives merit to a Christian God. The human race’s propensity for belief is satisfied by God-concepts that number in the 10’s of billions and are each unique.

                In my understanding, we have an explanation for all of these beliefs that is both natural (and therefore demonstrable and more likely) and sufficient to explain every supernatural belief on the planet without requiring that the supernatural object of those beliefs is extant.

                The counter-hypothesis (that a God is defying nature to cause such a belief to arise in some) does not account for the fervor of opposing beliefs held by other religious followers (or those in other denominations). Listen to the worship of Michael at 4:48 in this video and the firm belief in spite of the failed prediction in the last video. Then listen to the power of indoctrination – the similarities between what we experience in a Christian church and what’s happening to the poor children at 29 seconds into the final video, Pt. 5, should be a little unnerving (the effect of worship music, claims from authority, a child’s lack of understanding about what to expect of reality, our lack of understanding about the many non-intuitive cognitive biases and other logical fallacies that lead to similar results, etc.).

                To account for this would require more supernatural beings with the ability to control minds and battle with the primary one (which is yet more complicated). The natural hypothesis covers all the beliefs in one, and is explainable by evolution which already has great support and testing under its belt. The naturalistic explanation is the groundwork that we know exists (because whether a God tweaked someones mind or not, that God belief can itself be invoked by tweaking the chemistry of the mind). We now have to add the additional framework of a supernatural on top of that, which is adding another set of hypothesis (untestable ones) to the equation and violating Occam’s Razor (again, not that I’m sure it even applies for reasons I can explain later). In either case, whether God(s) tweak the synapses in some human brains to strengthen belief or not, couldn’t He have accomplished the same by designing this to occur naturalistically once He set creation in motion? My points are that it’s not clear the a God(s) tweaking hypothesis is simpler than a naturalistic one, and that a naturalistic one does not preclude the existence of God(s).

                As a brief aside: I don’t think faith has an inherent struggle against science. Sure, modern science makes some claims that seem to counter those of Biblical Christianity — but scientific induction is yet another tricky thing, isn’t it? There is always a jump that must be made between hard, scientific evidence, and any metaphysical claims a scientist can make based on that evidence. I think science is great for what it does, but I don’t think one of those things is philosophy. I wrote a bit about this in my scientism series.

                I so want to jump into this. But I cannot. Not now. I’d like to read these posts you linked at some point when time allows. I actually think we’ll agree about much of it. All I’ll say at the moment is that I’m not convinced that science is the only way of knowing. I do think that faith and science have an inherent conflict – but it depends on your definitions of course. Philosophy and science are like ends of a continuum that stretches across our quest for answers. There is a lot of overlap. Science informs our philosophy which governs the rules of science. As big questions become empirically testable, they become a science, and the science leads to more questions – some of which are empirically testable (more science) and others of which are not (more philosophy). There is a lot of overlap and dependency between the two domains (I’m not a proponent of Gould’s NOMA). When people say things like, “Science needs to stay in its domain,” I think two things. First, I agree – there’s far too much confidence being flung about by some few scientists who should be exercising the pearls of their field (humility and I don’t know). Second, the speaker may be placing too strict a domain on what science can accomplish. Just because we can’t currently empirically define love or get past the is/ought problem in all cases, doesn’t mean science won’t have a heavy vocabulary and reach into these domains in the future. Let’s be careful not to decide a-priori what we will be able to test as our tools, knowledge, and questions improve. Time is far too short to get deeper into this here. Let’s hold this as an open topic.

                What I’m saying is, if Christianity proved false, I could not find recourse in any other religion — I would have to become a naturalist.

                Maybe, but I think that’s a tough claim to make while someone still holds their faith. I’m in the situation now of looking for alternatives that support my theistic expectations driven into me by my culture and previous (likely imagined) relationship with Jesus. I lack belief, but others might find a nugget of truth to pursue in some other religion if they were in my shoes. It’s hard to say.

                I don’t mean arbitrary in and of itself, but rather arbitrary as a criterion for supporting God’s existence. If God exists, why should the earth be the center of the universe? I don’t see the connection.

                It’s not that I would necessarily expect the Earth to be at the center of a universe where a God existed. I can certainly imagine universes in which the Earth doesn’t hold a special place (I think that’s the case with the one we’re in). The point is, if we find evidence that the entire universe is literally revolving around the earth (or very very close to it), rather than the earth revolving around the sun, the sun around the galaxy, the galaxy dancing with the local cluster, etc., that would be very indicative of a design. If our consciousness exists here (presently) and nowhere else that we present know of (for certain), and if the universe is keyed to our planet or small region, that implies something. You may say that the physical constants, DNA, etc., imply something, but they don’t to me. I watched your recent post of a video from John Lennox as he described abiogenesis. That’s not a compelling argument to me for reasons I won’t get into here. Falsifying The Copernican Principle would be compelling to me – so it’s not arbitrary.

                Then again, though, most of our decisions made by our brains are made in the limbic system, the “subjective” part of the brain — and those made in the prefrontal cortex (the “objective” part) tend to be worse decisions rather than better, and often fall prey to the pitfall of overthinking. Long story short, I think the bias of scientism in our culture has cast too heavy a shadow over the role of subjective experience in our human lives; in trying to avoid anything that could be classified as subjective, we end up overthinking and actually making worse decisions. I could soapbox on this for awhile, so I’ll leave it at that

                I want to jump into this, too. I love that you understand neurology and the role it plays in these things. I can’t tackle this topic now due to time, but I hope we can revisit it sometime. I think you’ll find that I put reigns on science. This is a great book Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It that I recommend. Also, Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills. These two courses were very valuable in helping me establish when to trust science and when not to, etc. I’ve also read a bit about philosophy and science, metacognition, metaphysics, cosmology, apologetics, etc. So much so that I suspect we have many similar areas of interest and background. I do not dismiss the role of subjective experience in our lives, but I’m not sure that the prefrontal cortex leads to worse decisions, on average, than the limbic system – at least in my subjective experience. 🙂

                Quite true. However, I’m not saying that “one shouldn’t ask questions expecting answers” — I’m simply pointing out that some questions are, perhaps, better than others.

                Agreed. I think the issue is that if you ask questions and your answers, on average, are indistinguishable from the answers you’d get from praying to a God that didn’t exist (but that you believed in) – and if part of the theology about that non-existant God was that it always answers, but sometimes says “no” or “wait” – you’d have very little way (if any) to detect that the God was not real. To further complicate the issue, there are specific types of prayers that, from scripture alone (foregoing the lack of evidence in today’s world), we should expect that God would answer. The lack of these answers is evidence against that type of God, evidence against the Bible, or both.

                To use an analogy: If a child wished to prove that his parents loved him, it wouldn’t necessarily be a valid criterion to say, “If I ask for this toy and they give it to me, then they love me.” There could be all sorts of reasons why the child shouldn’t have the toy, regardless of whether or not his parents love him — so this would not be a good test. However, there are better questions to ask — such as, “Will you comfort me when I’m hurt?” or “Will you continue to care for me even when I’ve done something wrong?”

                Agreed, but there should be at least some question the child can ask that would yield a response from the parent which would demonstrate that the parent is more likely to exists than the child’s imaginary friend. A parent that loves a child is present in the child’s life. The question of love may be doubted an re-affirmed. The question of a parent’s existence rarely is. Even so, I agree that some questions are better than others. But with a qualification. We should judge the appropriateness of questions based on the original scriptures for that faith, not based on the present-day expectations of whether that deity will answer those questions.

                If the Christian God exists, then He is a person, and He must be approached relationally. He is not an impersonal force that, like the natural world, whose actions can be tested and verified.

                I understand the relationships aspect, but are you saying that no part of a God could be expected to be knowable by its actions? Because we can know something of a person from his or her actions. Further, those actions can be tested and verified. If you think some of his actions can be tested and verified, then I think I missed your point. That’s probably because it’s late. I apologize.

                This is why I think “if… then” conditions are not necessarily the best test of God’s existence. He must be thought of as a person with a will — and persons can be unpredictable.

                There’s a difference between “unpredictable,” and being completely unpredictable – to the point that it is impossible to distinguish whether the person exists or not. If… then conditions are, demonstrably and repeatedly, a great way to detect things. If my belief in my non-existent God doesn’t perform well under the if… then conditions it prescribed to us to use, should we be skeptical of the very successful process of if… then, or of the existence of that God? You’d probably agree, normally, that if… then conditions and testing are great ways to determine if something exists. In the case of God, though, it seems like you’re giving Him an out (or an exception to the rule) simply because He does not reliably or consistently answer any questions or pass any tests that are claimed about Him in the Bible. Because of this, you think it’s possible that testing just isn’t a good idea because he’s just wholly unpredictable by nature. If his responses are equal to praying to Zeus, how are we to determine that He is any more likely to exist? Throwing out testing because we don’t like the results doesn’t seem very Occam’s Razor-friendly, no matter how we frame it.

                On the other side of that coin, however, He does not seem interested in violating one’s will to disbelieve in order to do this revealing

                I gave a nod to this in point 2 of this post, but it’s not a very compelling argument to me. Miracles seem to violate one’s will as much as anything. If you believe he’s ever done any, why claim he doesn’t seem interested in violating someone’s will in this way? And how is a heart change not a violation of the will? The Bible clearly says he does this and you think it happened to you (supernaturally, correct?). Just trying to sort out that confusion. Maybe you can help?

                This is one of the myths (as I see it) that I am working to debunk about God: I actually don’t think it’s ultimately so important to God what we believe on a creedal level. I think, rather, He is more interested in our response to what He has revealed to the individual about Himself — and as the level of revelation is different for each person, different levels of response may be required. I’ll leave it at that for the sake of brevity.

                Either our belief in the creed (as people who have been exposed to it) that “Jesus rose from the dead” (and the few key doctrinal things that go with it) is something God cares about, or it isn’t. If you think it is, then I’m not sure that my first scenario represents a myth.

                Well, I guess it depends what you mean by “expectation” — for, remember, God is a person, not a cosmic gumball machine. We could be expecting something specific that God has good reasons unknown to us for not providing. This is the danger of “expecting” signs as a prerequisite for belief; it’s okay, I think, to ask for signs, but I don’t think it’s best to say things like, “I won’t believe until I see thus-and-so occur.” It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

                Here’s the other danger. If you ask for specific signs and they don’t appear, but you want to believe, you’ll begin to ask for and accept signs that are more and more likely to happen by chance alone. If you do this enough times, or just don’t understand the odds for one of them well enough, eventually you’ll see the confirmation. We tend to see what we’re looking for (primed for) – that is pattern matching which is one of the fallacies I’ve been speaking of. Then confirmation bias kicks in and we start seeing more confirmations of our desired belief and it becomes more and more real to us. That’s what is lurking in the subjective minds of billions of people on the planet right now who are unaware of it, and are committing themselves heart and sole to their relationship with their version of God that they were told to look for. So when you say that we shouldn’t ask for something specific, that seems to be only because God doesn’t seem to grant specific things (which would also be expected if He didn’t exist). Since we can’t ask for specific things, you’re warning is that we should believe without the sign. But that puts us in a position to be primed for pattern matching, which gets the cycle started. It’s why people are cutting off heads today. I’m asking for something specific in Waiting for 1 (point 2 of this post) because I haven’t seen any other signs.

                To be brief, though, I think perhaps you are giving the Pharisees (and the role of evidence) too much credit.

                I’m not sure. If you would like to explain this further I’ll let you know if I agree.

                We exhibit these things without even being aware of them — how could be expect to be moved by mere evidence when there’s so much going on behind the scenes that we can’t even be fully aware of?

                Evidence that someone processes always moves them, just not always enough to be perceptive. Sometimes it takes a great amount to make much progress because belief is asymptotically high, but that does not make evidence futile. Jesus was offering evidence in the examples you mentioned.

                In the case of the Pharisees, they were asking for signs in a time when (as you said) signs were already happening all over the place. Would one more sign really be enough to convince the Pharisees that Jesus was whom He said He was? Not likely, and Jesus knew it — that’s why He refused to play their game.
                In the quote I mentioned, the Pharisees in question weren’t definitively present for that miracle, so we don’t know if they had seen any miracles. It’s reasonable and expected from them to ask for one at that point in the story if we put ourselves in their shoes.

                This response also sounds like you’re saying that God is refusing to provide signs because one more sign would not be enough. A single sign would be sufficient for anyone – because God knows any number of things that would be just convincing enough to allow faith to take each person the rest of the way. It doesn’t make sense to me that the person who wants us to believe in Him would show signs, but deny signs to some because they won’t be convinced by signs (evidence). Everyone can be convinced of anything with sufficient evidence. If He’s going to use signs at all, why only with some people and not with everyone, and why make those signs equivalent to that which will, on average, naturally be achieved by chance alone (which our minds are subject to because we don’t understand these fallacies)? Just in case all this is the way a God that does exist chooses to operate, I have point #2 in this post.

                But I think it’s an over-simplification of the human condition to state that evidence alone is sufficient to make someone “change their mind” about something. They can certainly get someone’s attention, but I think the rubber really hits the road in a different realm entirely, when it comes to the human psyche.

                We may disagree here, but it could also be a definition thing. Evidence is the information we process, but it is also used to shape the filter through which further evidence is processed. One way or another, almost everything we believe goes back to evidence (or experience). The rest is a base operating system (or mental environment) that processes everything. It has a few hard-wired features that we call emotions and instinct (pro-social behavior, fear, etc.), but everything else, including any belief, is very hard to account for outside of the influence of evidence.

                Thanks again for the great response! I’m going to go take a nap now 😛 LOL

                Right back at you. 🙂

                I need to apologize for the length now. Also, I admit that I did really rush through this so I’m sure I misunderstood a few of your points that a closer examination may have revealed properly. I hope that didn’t happen too much. Maybe we should work with shorter responses (I have a problem with making them too long) so this will be easier for both of us.

                Haha. I probably can’t do this again or I’ll never find time to write a post and Pascal will be very sad. 🙂

                Gentleness and respect,
                –Russell

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    3. Welcome Seth – – we’re so glad that you’re here. I’m still chewing on Russell’s first three. If the scripture is true as I believe it to be, then there were those who saw miracles and did not believe. So I’m not sure that seeing an improbable even impossible thing will change a heart. Why do I require less to believe? Probably due to the operation of reason 4 and an inability to construct an alternative that helps me live as well given my flaws. Alternatively, I may be more superstitious or gullible by nature or personal history.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for responding! I think you hit the nail on the head when you used the language “change a heart” — for we’re not discussing dry, sterile, intellectual beliefs that can be changed like one changes clothes, we’re talking about something way deeper: how one views the universe, the paradigms through which one filters his experiences, the framework of significance and meaning that one gives to his own life. It’s a discussion that goes far beyond just “looking at the evidence” — and so I think expecting evidence alone to move us from a place of unbelief to a place of belief is too short-sighted. As I mention in my response to russell, it certainly wasn’t enough for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Seth,

          I think evidence alone would be sufficient to move me from a place of unbelief to a place of belief. As for whether I’m expecting evidence vs something else, I’m not sure what that something else would be. I have a pretty inclusive view of evidence, actually, and I can’t think of much that has happened in the way of changing someone’s beliefs that didn’t ultimately come back to evidence. It’s possible that our views only differ over the definition of terms here.

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Pascal,

        I have a lot of thoughts about when miracles would count as evidence and to what degree – and how the heart would be affected by that evidence and to what degree. I can’t get into it now, but let’s talk about it some time.

        In brief, I can definitely see how some could doubt a miracle and that would lead to them not being convinced of the claim the miracle worker was making. However, I think that may have more to do with their assessment of whether the event they witnessed was indeed a miracle. Or if they witnessed it at all, versus hearsay. Or how well firmly the miraculous event shattered a firmly-held expectation (sun stopping is highly unusual, vs someone telling me about a solar flare that took an odd path is a bit more nebulous since I don’t have a good understanding of what to expect there). Miracles, and the context around them, exist in degrees and so do the level of evidence they might evoke. All things being equal, a miracle we witnessed ourselves that we truly believe, and that is very counter to what we know to expect based on evidence – that type of event would necessarily be compelling. Would it change a heart? It certainly could. It depends on the strength of the counter-evidences that your pre-fontal cortex is using when it allows your emotions to pass-through into your behavior.

        We can talk more about this later. Time is short at the moment. 🙂

        Have a splendid afternoon, my friend.

        Gentleness and respect,
        –Russell

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hi Pascal!

        I think people can see highly improbable things and not be convinced if and only if 1) the people doubt the legitimacy or improbability of the event, or 2) the improbability of the event does not overcome the strength of evidence in favor of the thing being challenged by the improbable event. How heavy was the pencil in the crossword puzzle? However, given enough events or enough significance, I think any belief could be swayed (heart conviction seems related to beliefs).

        Bah! J told me that condition #2 was “horrifically worded,” and I completely agree. It’s 12:45 AM. So, good luck! 🙂

        Gentleness and respect,
        –Russell

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  4. A god who is vastly knowledgeable about its creation (humans) and educates on the actual root causes of antisocial behavior and social dysfunction, as well as giving guidance on prevention; as opposed to the cultural gods (including the Abrahamic god) and sacred writings that promote and cause the very environments that negatively impact the brain, gene expression and ultimately, behavior.

    We’ve already gained significant knowledge in the last 2 decades on what causes antisocial — inappropriate behavior, but this knowledge has generally been attained from scientists who don’t believe in God(s).

    Thought provoking post, Russell.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Welcome N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ / Victoria!

      I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I absolutely love your very clever use of text graphics in your blog name! I’ve enjoyed the few posts I’ve read on your site and I share your interest in neuroscience.

      Excellent example of something that would be convincing, or at least point in that direction. Some Easter religions seem to do a better job fostering positive social environments – and you’ll always find some set of believer’s in Abrahamic religion X that will be satisfied by focusing on the good parts of their belief system. You’re always welcome here. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Russel. The text graphics, like the sun and umbrella, are symbolic with regard to my interests such as space weather, geomagnetic activity and how they impact the human brain/body — health/behavior — etc.

        “Excellent example of something that would be convincing, or at least point in that direction.”

        I appreciate your feedback. Like you and others have mentioned, it’s just one in many expectations I would have. I have high standards but they are not unrealistic. Any supreme being, if one exists, would, I think, welcome these standards.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Welcome Victoria! I’ve mentioned in other forums just how much I enjoy your blog. The reason? I’m also interested in the way we are constructed and the human brain is just as fascinating (probably more so to me) as the universe at large.

      My difference would only be this – – it is rare for God to speak directly. I’ve never heard an audible voice and neither do I require one. That may get to Howie’s problem of hiddenness below.

      So I accept that learning through scholarship (I’m referencing yours now) is an appropriate way to learn truth. I also don’t flavor truth as secular or sacred – – truth is truth. So, if your studies and writing help me to understand myself, our tribe, and how to overcome our flaws – – then thank you. I also thank God for you, because to my way of thinking you are made in his image and glorify him by using your talents to teach.

      It is a huge mistake for Christ-followers to only seek truth from theists. I know that I’m risking a God of the Gaps logical fallacy when I teach my sons that God authored our neuroanatomy or let it evolve. I have not yet embraced the nothing from nothing hypothesis. I have to hold that possibility with humility. But, I will always learn from the scholar – -secular or sacred. Thank you for being one of those scholars. I look forward to our conversations.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Pascal,

        Thank you for your generous words and just for clarification, I am most definitely not a scholar. But I am annoyingly curious and love learning and sharing what I’ve learned. This knowledge has given me a love for humanity that I didn’t have as a believer, because with this knowledge came understanding. I say annoyingly because I asked questions a lot when I was a kid and drove my parents nuts sometimes. But the one thing that was taboo, not just with my parents but with my teachers, and among clergy and the community, was to question God.

        So, in addressing some of the things you mentioned, I question why an all-knowing god would wait so long for our brains to evolve, knowing that the side-effects were enormous suffering, dysfunction and destruction. If he/she/it created the universe then certainly he/she/it could have created a fully evolved, and well educated brain that is not exceptionally vulnerable to its environment. Why wait until very recent history to make available to us the vast amount of neurological information and technology we have now that can greatly reduce antisocial behavior and unite us as a species. Even Yahweh (Jesus daddy) is alleged to have said “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” But we are still stuck with Bronze/Iron Age ideologies, also manifested in laws, which inhibits our progression.

        Btw, I read where you shared with Madalyn, I think it was, that you have not experienced a miracle other than the change your your nature, and consider that to be profound, because you say you were headed down a rather dark road. Did you know that in America, over half the doctors prescribe placebos and a high percentage of people get well or their ailment is relieved? The brain is powerful. So is the placebo effect, except when it comes to growing amputated limbs. 😀 I’m bad, I know it. lol

        OK, getting serious again — when you can find the time, I highly recommend watching this superb documentary. It may seem a little slow in the beginning, but when you get to parts 3 and 4, it is very eye opening, and educational.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Ah Victoria – – finally a point of passionate argument between us. You most certainly are a scholar. Self taught? So what? Curious and careful. A scholar. I’ll watch the documentary. One of the best ways I know to respect another is to read or watch that which sways them.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Hey Russell,

    Excellent post, and it spurred so many related thoughts that my comment is a bit long.

    First and foremost I most definitely believe that there are things that could convince me of the existence of a god or gods, (and I agree with you that the options seem limitless). I know that when I was in college I was doubtful that any god existed, but then after careful critical study of prophecy I ended up becoming a Christian. After more study later I realized those prophecies weren’t as clear and as sure as I had thought and also ran into other issues with the belief system so I progressed back into doubting the existence of gods. So I don’t see why another change couldn’t occur again (I’m actually leaving out that I had changed beliefs even before that, so I’m always open to change based off of new evidence or reasoning).

    I see this relating quite a bit to what some people call the hiddenness problem: there seems to be a consistent belief in Christianity (obviously from the bible) that at some point (either beginning at death or on the day of Judgment) the existence of God would suddenly become clear to everyone who has ever lived. What that tells me is that if the belief were true then there exists a way for God to make his existence clear to us, and if it could happen after death then since god is believed to be all powerful then he could do whatever it took to make himself clear to us right now. For each person that may be a different thing – e.g. for you #2 would be convincing, me maybe not so much. Further, the belief typically includes the idea that God wants a relationship will all of us while we are on earth, so putting that together with the idea of a fully capable God who remains hidden leads me to believe there likely is no hiding going on – it seems more reasonable to doubt the existence of such a being.

    In normal practical life questions (take health related questions as just one example out of many) if we feel that we are unable verify a claim given some sort of application of critical reasoning and evidential testing then most people realize that it is reasonable to have doubt about the claim. We might claim to not know for sure, but without some kind of well thought through confirmation we normally realize that we are justified in not believing it. Theists want us to look upon religions which are not their own with this same kind of critical eye to their veracity. But those other religions have the same exact abilities to dodge the evidential tests by saying, for example: “the god of my Australian aboriginal tribe cannot be tested – she will reveal herself to you only on her own terms”. It seems everyone is capable of doing this in order to envelop their own belief system in a shield making it impervious to any critique. In fact, ironically, the testing of Baal in the bible (1 Kings 18) even shows how there seems to be some understanding that gods should be tested to believe in them – is it that other gods are fair game for testing, but the one that the particular person believes in is off limits? I have a hard time making sense of that.

    As far as examples go, I think the Templeton study on healing is a good one: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 If the results of this study had shown a statistical significance beyond placebo effect then that would cause me to lean more toward theism (although which specific god and belief system would still be an open question). Other repeated studies confirming the results would be needed as well to build more confidence. The more cases and studies that would show the same results would increase my belief. If 100% of the patients are healed in all studies I would have a very hard time doubting the existence of an intelligent mind that answers prayers.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Howie!

      Excellent points. I’ve seen a few of the prayer studies and I would love it if they consistently showed strong evidence of success. I would definitely settle for that. I know this is taking it too far, but if amputees in a controlled study began recovering their limbs through no medical intervention – and if these healings were perfectly correlated with prayer from religious denomination X (and no other), that would also be very nice.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think it is interesting that you say that amputees regrowing limbs is going too far. Is it?

        One of the things that always bothered me about Jesus is that he talked a lot about faith. Another commenter pointed out scriptures that detailed how we are not supposed to ask for proof, it is all about faith. God owes us nothing. How unfair and unequal is it that people alive during Jesus’s time were supposedly given miracle after miracle, proof after proof? We are centuries removed, but we’re just supposed to take their word for it? It just seems unjustifiable to give so much to one generation and expect everyone else to leap.

        Growing limbs should be small potatoes, but nowadays we’re told that is disrespectful and presumptuous. Maybe it is, but it wasn’t always seen as such. The only reason it is now is because we don’t get miracles.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Madalyn,

          You’re right. I grew up in a faith that emphasized miracles and had many, many healing services. Some extreme manifestations? People that would not see physicians in the belief that miraculous healing was preferable. In retrospect, I see that approach as less worship-oriented.

          There are different views to miracles from a theological perspective. Some say miracles were intended to start the church, others say that they still happen. I have not experienced a miracle other than the change of my nature. I consider that to be profound, because I was headed down a rather dark road. I’m mustering the courage to tell of my second conversion experience here.

          If the scripture can be taken at face value, then not everyone who saw believed. I’m not sure if seeing a miracle would actually strengthen my faith. Curious, no? I don’t think you are disrespectful and presumptuous. You’re honest, and that is welcome here.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Pascal,

            It sticks out to me that you consider your change of nature to be a personal miracle. As Russell said, a personal revelation could very well change his mind. It is hard for me to even imagine what this would look like for me. I always took my religious beliefs at face value, they were right in front of me. When life events took me away from them, I dropped them for a non-descript ‘spiritual’ label. When I finally looked at the whole picture, there was nothing for me to believe.

            I went through the motions, I believed, but I never felt the spirit beyond community and worship highs. If it did come upon me one day, I’d probably head to a neurologist at my earliest convenience. As you mentioned, even the Bible says miracles were not enough to convince all the masses. So would such a thing convince me?

            I’d say yes. Sure, I’d be stubborn and obstinate until it was proven to me beyond all reasonable doubt, but I’d get there. I guess that’s why personal revelation seems so foreign to me. I am one person, even if I felt entirely convinced, one person’s emotions and certainty do not a statistical significance make. Faith is an essential part of supernatural beliefs, yet I can’t think of any situation in which faith alone would work for me.

            I feel like I might be rambling at this point. Anyhow, I hope you will share your second conversion story. In my blogging experience, courage is profoundly rewarded and freeing.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Madalyn,

              I went through the motions, I believed, but I never felt the spirit beyond community and worship highs. If it did come upon me one day, I’d probably head to a neurologist at my earliest convenience.

              Precisely! I had the exact same experience – I believed so strongly but the only subjective experiences for me were as you listed.

              An appointment with a neurologist would be exactly what I would do if I started having “supernatural” experiences, and I believe it’s a very wise thing to do for the sake of one’s health.

              Liked by 2 people

    2. Hello Howie,

      Your comments are insiteful. What would it take for me to be a Buddhist? That is a fair question and honestly that was the faith that I considered deepest. I realize that early Buddhism was atheistic in formulation. I suppose I’m referring to Mahayana constructs. This question (and Russell’s root question) deserves more thought and reflection before I reply in depth. The working answer now is that Christ-following beliefs cause me less cognitive dissonance. I’ve gone as far as to describe some of them as resonant.

      Does my faith deserve the same doubt as that I have applied to Buddhism? Absolutely. Doubt has tempered my faith, not destroyed it. Some aspects of my faith that were wrong were absolutely burned away. An emphasis on physical healing was probably one of them. I’m more interested now in how to suffer well and die unafraid.

      I’ll always come back to your questions — they are good ones.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. The more I think about it, the more I’m realizing that I’m not sure that any of these would definitively convince me right now. When the evidence became too convincing, I would probably just start questioning my sanity. Maybe what I would need is a changed heart—in the case of the God of Christianity, maybe that’s up to him. “He hardens whomever he wills.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And there’s the trick, right? Which is why personal, “subjective” experiences do not interest me insofar as proof of God’s existence. Almost every aspect of the faith in which I was raised centered around the subjective: answers to prayer, the perception of miracles, worship experiences, etc. Whatever convinces me would have to be oh so very, very objective. Everybody would need to see it and interpret it along the same lines as I interpret it. Then, perhaps, I could get past the whole “sanity” issue.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Toad!

        I feel complete agreement with your response. A personal revelation could not be considered a proof to anyone else.

        Epistemology is a deep and fascinating subject. Everything we believe is subjective, it’s just that we think some of our beliefs are also held by (and backed by) others – which further affirms our subjective belief. Objectivity is a goal because it provides a rational justification to others, but ultimately it is ourselves, our own mind, that must feel comfortable in the house of beliefs we reside in. Some people hold beliefs that nobody else they know does (much to their dismay), but they often maintain them in spite of the lack of objectivity because the strength of their subjective evidence is strong enough. Subjective or objective, it’s all just evidence that counts in varying degrees for or against a proposition that your mind must evaluate as either likely or not likely on the basis of all the evidence (and through the often crazy fallacies and biases of human reasoning). And ultimately, the conclusion is a subjective decision.

        To continue the house of beliefs ideas – a God could, in theory, reshape the house, the blueprint, the tools for architecting and building, or the rules that govern the physics to build it. So I’m not ruling out the possibility that an intentional subjective reshaping couldn’t leave me comfortable in a house where a God belief resides. Put another way, I can imagine a universe in which I believed as I do today, but in twenty years believed something that included a positive God belief (assuming only that this God chose to do something subjective to me).

        I’m still a sceptic, though, and my guards are up against false or unsound reasoning that favors my desires over facts (“a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence” – and all that). So the subjective tweaking that a God would perform would probably need to be somewhat subtle and persistent (or it would have to change the rules) to have much chance of a definitive belief outcome in his favor. However, it’s hard for me to constrain the possibilities there, not knowing what such a being would have to work with or what intentions it might have for my thoughts about it.

        Like you, I’m not so much interested in subjective experiences as evidences for God. They’re too anecdotal when we share them, and I know my mind is subject to fallacies that would almost always easily explain them. As long as I keep myself aware of those fallacies, though, I want to still be open to the possibility that a subjective experience could be a mechanism that a God might use for communication. I can’t say that it isn’t, as much as I’d prefer something objective.

        If I did suddenly believe strongly in God X, I can imagine feeling like I went insane and needing to seek help. However, I don’t need to assume a subjective experience would need to be abrupt or damaging in some way. I think a God could orchestrate a rational belief in it – a belief which did not leave either myself, nor my family or loved ones, feeling that my mental home was falling apart. The reason I listed point 4 was just to show that I’m open to that category of possibilities.

        I hope all this makes sense. 🙂

        Gentleness and respect,
        –Russell

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    2. Hello gorgeous!

      To clarify, the first two items would not be definitively convincing, but they could at least make the notion that some intelligent powerful mind exists more reasonable to me. The last two items are categories that could, in principle, be definitively convincing for me – depending on what exactly were to occur.

      As for the heart change, I saw that as being lumped in with the fourth point. I didn’t really follow that point with a descriptive paragraph. I mentioned some things that might count in that category during a comment response (yes, a looong response) to Seth above. I should have been explicit by putting “change of heart” in the post somewhere under the fourth point, but at least I didn’t wake you to proof it at 4:00 AM! 🙂

      Drive safely. See you soon!

      Like

  7. In all honesty, I’ve stopped looking for proof one way or the other. Thinking about it makes me angry, and it makes my head hurt. Besides which, it’s led to any number of fruitless arguments with people who might otherwise be allies in my search for truth.

    I am content with where I am: be there a God, be there no God, be there several thousand of them. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. This is not to say that I am not open to evidence either way, or that I wouldn’t consider changing my mind given that evidence. But I’ve got very limited time on this planet to make whatever difference I can with whatever limited resources I’ve got. If I happen to stumble across God again in the process, then well. If not, at least I’m getting something done in the meantime…

    As for turning me into a believer…well, I already am a believer. Just not in the God in whose shadow I was raised. Beyond that, I have all kinds of ideas as to what the God-concept might actually mean, and I believe firmly in the idea, if not in the particular manifestation.

    (I hope that didn’t come across as confrontational; I really didn’t intend for it to…)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Toad,

      It wasn’t confrontational at all. I like hearing where you are.

      If I happen to stumble across God again in the process, then well. If not, at least I’m getting something done in the meantime…

      I love this and you’re writing is awesome. You’re point is great and well-taken. I need to watch out for spending too much time thinking about god(s) at the cost of time that could be spent doing something relevant, important, or necessary in the lives of my family and loved-ones. With that said. I’m going to drop this for a while and get to work, then spend time with my family this evening.

      As for turning me into a believer…well, I already am a believer. Just not in the God in whose shadow I was raised. Beyond that, I have all kinds of ideas as to what the God-concept might actually mean, and I believe firmly in the idea, if not in the particular manifestation.

      I’ll leave you with one thought in response to that. Have you seen Howie’s comment on my post called Ask an Atheist (or Christian) Series – Please Comment With Your Questions? I know, the title is too long. 🙂 Anyway, he links to this video which may resonate with you as it did with me.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

    1. Hello catholiclegion!

      Welcome! Thank you. I linked to this video already in the first point in my post, and it is, indeed, what I was talking about. A few questions.

      1. Have you seen it? I tried to but it wasn’t playing in any theaters near me.
      2. Where do you put the odds on it being an error in the measurements or the interpretation (despite the the separate confirmations)? I recall the mistake with the faster-than-light neutrinos.
      3. Do you think science at large will reject the Principle because scientists on average want to hold atheistic world-views (I’ve heard this argument many times and I’m curious if you hold it)? Or do you think that if the data really is in favor of this that the science community will shift in this direction?

      Thanks for joining us!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

  8. i have not seen the movie, sadly it is not showing anywhere near me, however i have been tracking it, and these are two one hour videos that is with the producers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvR7pMqAEso


    these two are fantastic videos.
    There of course is room for error, it would not be science if there weren’t. However, it does press the question, are we right in our methodology? Now, on the terms of the findings portrayed here in this film, i do have great trust, these are leading and respected experts not just some off the mill preacher with genesis in one hand.

    And to tell you the truth, yes the scientific community is pro atheistic. This is not just some theory after wearing tinfoil hats, the evidence is around us. The Freedom of Religion foundation for example presses universities and other education systems to teach and only teach darwinism, even though scientific evidence is proving intelligent design. This is just one example out of many. What atheism provides is freedom from Objective “Good” and “Bad” and levels it to a subjective level. This opens more options for the scientific community, look at Richard Dawkins and his support for the end of human life (Euthanasia). How strange is it when a scientist brings evidence that goes against Darwinism and his colleagues treat him like a dunce. However, man naturally searches for the truth. This force could very well shift the mindset of the scientific community.
    -JP
    Pax

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Would you mind providing some peer-reviewed examples of proof of intelligent design?

      Also I feel like some of your statements about atheism are somewhat generalized beyond what might be fair. I can match your one example with one of my own: I’m a pro-life atheist with an objective standard of morality—and there are so many others like me. It seems to me that there may be continuums for morality and for religious belief, and I’m not really sure that they correlate as well as some people think they do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gladly, Jay Richards, “Is There Merit for ID in Cosmology, Physics, and Astronomy?” and Stephen Meyer, “Evidence of Design in Physics and Biology.” Michael Behe, “Molecular Machines:Experimental Support for the Design Inference,” Stephen Meyer, “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang.”
        here is an article
        http://www.algemeiner.com/2011/08/17/scientists-prove-again-that-life-is-the-resulttelligent-design/-of-in

        and here is a great link :http://www.discovery.org/id/peer-review/

        Liked by 1 person

        1. May i point something out @ CC:Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.
          Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the “religious” one.
          But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation.
          Therefore the “religious” view of reality is correct.
          i too once labeled myself as a pro life atheist… but it hit me that i can not be both. The Pro life philosophy contradicts the atheistic philosophy, because one values life while the other claims there is no value to life, we can see this in State Atheism (100 million people have been killed and are continued to be killed by state atheism)
          Take care -JP

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          1. Thank you for the links above.

            I am an atheist, and I continue to feel morally obliged.

            Regarding the idea that the atheist philosophy does not value life—I disagree so violently that I do not dare to respond.

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        2. Hi again!

          Thanks for the links. The first one is broken.

          Science does not prove things in the common sense. It provides reasons to accept a hypothesis as being more likely than other hypotheses. It works off of induction which precludes the ability of logical proofs. I suspect that the article you linked to was written by someone who misunderstands science or is using the language of science incorrectly. Or it was a catchy marketing attempt to get hits (i.e. it misled people intentionally). Or possibly it was an attempt to demonstrator that humans can create RNA.

          Thank you for your active participation on this thread! I hope we each are able to learn something. I’d love to find evidence for Intelligent Design.

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

          Like

        3. Hi catholiclegion,

          I found the link you meant to publish. http://www.algemeiner.com/2011/08/17/scientists-prove-again-that-life-is-the-result-of-intelligent-design/. I skimmed the article but didn’t see evidence that is proving Intelligent Design. The article was essentially about the unlikeliness of abiogenesis, but this is another non-starter for me. I believe abiogenesis could have been likely on Earth. A God could have set up the laws of nature to make it that way, or not. It still leaves me at 50/50 on ID.

          I’ll be happy to look at the peer-reviewed works. From what I’ve seen in the past, almost all the arguments come down to an estimation of the odds – which in my experience could very well be off by orders of magnitude and depends on which expert you listen to, and can often be explained simply by the anthropic principle.

          I’m still looking for compelling evidence of ID. Let me know if you find something strong that doesn’t rest on an estimation of odds that could be way off. That would be a great way to get me back towards some kind of positive belief in a designer.

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

          Like

    2. Hello catholiclegion/JP,

      Thank you for the follow-up. I’d seen both of these videos before I made this post.

      I’m not sure that the documentary is making claims that have a lot of support from leading astrophysicists. It sounds like you’re saying that is because scientists have a world-view issue and are biased against it. This may be true for some scientists, but in general, science works by disproving things which weeds out unlikely hypotheses. If the claims in the documentary are true, I expect a big shift in science, not a burying of the truth. I expect the same for evolution by natural selection versus creationism. In general, I may not fully trust all scientists, but I do trust science as the best method to discover consistencies in nature. Do you agree?

      I will look into The Principle’s claims when I can see the video or access more information. Until then, I’ll hold this as an open issue. I’m not assuming most scientists are going to deny it without good reason, though. Most of them will consider it, and if they think it is plausible, they’ll be after a Nobel prize for upending our understanding of reality. While there is some dogma in the minds of scientists, that’s not what science is about and it isn’t what drives most of them. They’re driven by the quest for Truth. By discovery, not dogma.

      If science is not currently supporting the view I want it to, I choose to withhold my belief in that view. It’s important to me that my beliefs accord with the reality we see around us. I’m not an expert in that field, so I’ll wait for their feedback, data, and interpretations before assuming they’re wrong. Most of them haven’t seen the video and it seems that some of them who are in the video felt misrepresented. I’ve followed many of those I saw in the trailer for years and I have a specific level of trust for each of them. In the end, though, it will be my own mind that I’ll need to convince, one way or the other, based on the facts. I just can’t make an informed assessment until I learn more, from both sides.

      And to tell you the truth, yes the scientific community is pro atheistic.

      I’d tend to classify most astrophysicists as lacking belief in a specific theistic God. Some do believe in something like a designer or at least in the transcendence of the laws themselves. As for science itself, it is specifically devoid of any claims on the existence of God, though it is capable of demonstrating that some God-claims don’t accord with logic or evidence.

      The Freedom of Religion foundation for example presses universities and other education systems to teach and only teach darwinism, even though scientific evidence is proving intelligent design.

      To be clear, the process of science doesn’t really deal in proofs but in disproofs. Further, Intelligent Design is, by its nature, absent of any elements that can demonstrate that it is true. It makes no predictions and provides nothing that can be tested. There is a claim that ID “predicts” “irreducible complexity” which can be “tested” by reverse engineering a biological system to see if it is irreducibly complex. But that does not a provide a prediction of anything in the future (which natural selection does), and it is not a true test since we cannot have confidence that such systems actually are irreducibly complex. So most scientists who reject ID believe this type of testing fails. ID also isn’t falsifiable. These are a few of the reasons why most scientists don’t consider it a valid scientific theory that should be taught in science classes. That isn’t to say that it might not be true, just that it isn’t science because it doesn’t meet the requirements of what it would take to be a science. Thus it isn’t taught in science class.

      How strange is it when a scientist brings evidence that goes against Darwinism and his colleagues treat him like a dunce.

      It’s not that strange, in my opinion. Most scientists believe strongly that evolution is a fact (as you probably agree) and that the process of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection has overwhelming evidence by many independent fields – so much so that it would take an enormous amount of evidence in opposition to make it unlikely (which is why it is currently a theory – or as close to a fact as we can get when dealing with explanations of how things occur in “science-speak”). Many people make a distinction between micro and macro evolution, but there is not a difference in terms of the mechanism. When a group separates from another and experiences evolution (call it micro-evolution if you like) over long enough time, there’s no limiting factor we know of in nature that would prevent it from evolving so far that it could no longer reproduce with the original group when they meet again. Mutation, migration, genetic drift, natural selection – all these provide evidence for divergent species in different environments to evolve separately and there is nothing we know of that would keep what most people call “micro-evolution” from becoming what most people think of as “macro-evolution.”

      Intelligent Design tends to claim that something is irreducibly complex and must require a God to step in a point X in history in order to explain something. This isn’t sufficient counter-evidence for most scientists because in so many of these cases we’ve since found that it actually wasn’t irreducibly complex after all, and in the remaining cases it’s not convincing that they are. These “God of the gaps” arguments just aren’t compelling enough to outweigh the evidence in favor of natural selection (which is what I assume you mean by Darwinism). Also, from a theistic side that supports evolution by natural selection (the overwhelming scientific majority), many theists would argue that God could have set up the laws of the universe to lead to natural selection as a cause for humans. They argue for the existence of an intelligent designer, but not for the reasons given by the Intelligent Design arguments.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

    3. Hi JP.

      If you take a look at this link you’ll find that there doesn’t seem to be a strong bias either way among scientists regarding belief in a higher power (in fact scientists who believe actually outnumber those who don’t).

      And Russell’s main point about the scientific method and the process by which this is handled among scientists of all different persuasions is really more persuasive for me toward feeling I can have a fairly strong confidence in consensus views in science. At the very least I would say that I don’t feel comfortable claiming that I know better than the consensus. Especially when the consensus ends up being so strong.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Russell,
    Thank you for your honest and open post. Your question greatly challenged me personally and I have spent a lot of my time in the last couple weeks pondering your question. I like to believe that by faith and belief do have some evidence behind it. I like to think that I believe the eye witness accounts of the New Testament and the lives lived and sacrifices for Christianity are valid evidence for belief that Jesus truly was who he claimed to be. I also like to think that I believe that the Old and New Testaments are two of the most accurate historical coalitions of documents known to humanity.

    However, I must make some confessions; which I suppose is fitting for my faith. First, while I have tried very hard to critically think about and study my faith, I will confess that I have read far more ‘Christian’ books than books written by non-Christian authors. I confess that when I reflected upon your question I found that while finding ‘conclusive evidence’ (which is broad and not specific as you requested) that the eye witnesses in the New Testament were frauds, lairs, or misguided would greatly shake my faith, I am not sure it would be enough to have me stop believing in God.

    In seeking out to answer your question I found myself falling into the thought that I simply long to believe that the New Testament be true. The idea and meaning that the Bible gives to life and to the universe is a beautiful thing to me. So I confess that while I am sure there must be something that would change my mind about believing in God, I have a feeling it would be a subjective experience that made me having a ‘falling out’ with Christianity. Ultimately, I must confess that I am unsure whether my religious faith is an opiate or truly is an amazing uplifting revelation that authentically makes my life better. I believe that I will continue to have faith because I simply long for the message in scripture to be true.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Russell

    These are very good questions you pose.

    A lady told me a story that she had been at her house cooking one day and ‘God’ told her to go and visit a person who lived a couple of blocks away. She thought ‘this is ridiculous, my hands are covered with flour, I must wash up first’.

    But the impression she had was that she must go that instant. She obedient to the leading she went and knocked on the other persons door, ‘God asked to come and see you, I don’t know why’.The other lady looked shocked, then she hugged her, said nothing and closed the door.

    Two weeks later when they met again the lady who answered the door explained why she reacted as she did. She had been pacing the floor, saying ‘are you really there God: do something only you could do’. At that moment my friend knocked on the door saying she had been sent by God. Apparently her face looked like that of an Angel.

    It is storied like this that keep my tentative faith just alive. But it is hard to live off someone else’s experience. Why does God give experiences to some and not to others?

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