Friday, September 25, 2009

Evidence to Convince Me of a God

I've been thinking lately about what it would take to convince me that a God exists. I've spoken with and listened to many believers who have offered all kinds of different evidence that they think are sufficient justification for proof that their god exists. Obviously, the evidence they shared was insufficient for me to believe in their god. I keep an open mind when listening to believers, but it can be difficult at times because I am disappointed again and again by flawed or otherwise invalid arguments. Each and every person has different standards of evidence for believing in the same thing, so there is no single piece of evidence that would convince everyone of any particular thing, especially for something as nebulous as an invisible god character. So I asked myself "What evidence could a believer offer me that I would accept as sufficient for me to believe in their particular god?".

This is actually trickier to answer than it sounds. The simplest answer, and also the answer that would be most likely to convince me, would be that this god reveal himself to me physically. I want to see it, whatever "it" really is. But its unfortunate that believers tell me that their worshiped god doesn't want to provide this kind of evidence to anyone (even though Christians claim that their god once walked on this Earth as Jesus...lucky for the people who lived in those times). There's this odd "faith" aspect. Gods don't want to present you with concrete evidence of their existence, but want to give you just a taste and then you have to "just believe" from there. ***coughBULLSHITcough*** Ahem, excuse me. The answer to the question I am asking myself I formulated upon the following assumptions of whatever the true god (or gods) really are:

  • The true god is omniscient
  • The true god is omnipotent
  • The true god is omnibenevolent
  • The true god does not wish to provide concrete evidence of its existence to anyone, asking us to rely on "faith"

First, allow me to note that if all of these criteria are true, I should already be a believer. This god would know what evidence I require to believe without relying on me making this blog post (omniscient), it would be capable of providing me that evidence (omnipotent), and it should want to provide me that evidence because its such a nice guy/girl/thing (omnibenevolent) and I've asked very kindly and sincerely multiple times before. Yet it has not done so, nor has it done so for billions of other people on the planet, which can only leave me asking "why the wait?". The answer that makes the most sense to me is that no such god exists, or at least if there is one then its either not omniscient, not omnipotent, or/and not omnibenevolent.

Tyler's Divine Evidence Test

Alright, now let me share with you the answer I came up with. First, you will require a human partner to do this. That partner must be a believer and they should make the claim that they've communicated with the divine at least once before. The test involves asking three simple questions. Only if all three questions are answered correctly will it be sufficient for me to believe in their god. The god must use the partner as a means to communicate the answer to you (in other words, you ask the question, the god tells your partner the answer, and the partner says the answer). With me so far? Okay, here are the three questions.

Question 1. I am now thinking of an experience from my childhood. Please tell me what this experience was.
It works best if you recall something uncommon/unobvious to reduce the likelihood that your partner simply guesses correctly. It should be something that you have never shared with anyone, or with only very few people (and certainly not with your partner).

Question 2. Please tell me the answer to the following mathematical constant/equation.
This is one that you will need to have either memorized the answer for or have it written down on a card beforehand. For example, "tell me the value of the golden ratio constant in base 19 up to 10 decimal places". Obviously, your partner should not be allowed time to calculate or research this answer. You should exercise extra caution if your partner happens to be an autistic savant.

Question 3. "....."
Don't ask this one with your mouth. Ask it inside your head. It could be anything at all, but should not be something obvious to guess. If you know a foreign language I would recommend that the answer be in another language, especially if your partner does not know that language. For example, I might ask in my head "How do you say 'black cat' in Japanese?".


There it is! If any believer can answer these three questions for me, I would become a believer in their god. If anyone reading this would like to be my partner for this test, I would love to try it with you. I think its fair game in asking for evidence, but not "concrete" evidence, from the god/gods and I would still have to rely on "faith" to fully believe. Now just to throw this out there, passing this test still does not serve as proof of a god because, after all, if the partner has some psychic mind-reading ability they would be able to pass this test with ease regardless of whether or not a god exists. But I don't believe in psychic powers, and I'm willing to overlook this technicality. I should also note that this should be done with direct questions and direct answers. There is no repeating the question once asked. The partner is not allowed to ask any questions of their own. The non-believer should not feed any "clues" to their partner at all (this is how psychics trick you into thinking that they are speaking with your dead relatives). Once asked, you should keep your mouth shut until the partner answers and then tell them they are either correct or incorrect (or you could ask all three questions and wait to tell them the results at the end).

I will admit that I am skeptical that anyone would pass this test, or even pass a single question, and in fact it wouldn't surprise me if no one is willing to take the challenge with me. Here are some of the apologetic answers I'm anticipating I would/will hear if a believer fails to pass the test as my partner.


  • The evidence that this would provide is too strong and my god won't provide it.

    Too much evidence, not enough faith...darnit!
  • He's telling me the answers, but I'm not hearing god correctly.

    Isn't god supposed to be infallible?
  • He's not telling me the answers, so he must have some reason.

    The ever-annoying "he's mysterious" argument.


Personally I think asking for the answers to three simple questions is a very reasonable request. Ball's in your court, oh mighty creator.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

Facebook automatically creates a "note" whenever I make a blog entry and this morning some people made a few short comments on my facebook note about what I wrote. I'm going to copy and address them here. I won't refer to my commentors by their full names out of respect for their privacy, but instead will refer to them as "M" and "J". Here we go,

M: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test"- Luke 4:12...

* I should have predicted this apologetic in advance. No gods, it seems, like to be tested or questioned. And why is that, exactly? Oh damn, I just asked another question! :/ Usually when you're told not to ask questions about something, its because someone wants to keep the truth hidden from you.

* This is not a test for the Christian god. This is a test for any god with supernatural powers. I'm no less convinced that Christianity may be true than I am of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Shinto, etc. All of these religions, and the gods worshiped in them, are equal to me, a non-believer. I have no more reason to think that one may be more true than the others.

* God tests his followers in the bible all the freaking time and sometimes in very immoral ways, like demanding human sacrifices. Why is he allowed to test us but we are not allowed to test him? Seems very one-sided to me. Just because he allegedly created the universe doesn't give him the right to tell me what I can and can not do. If you think otherwise, then why would you ever argue with or question your parents who are, undeniably, responsible for giving you life?

* Simply quoting scripture is not going to convince me of anything. I am trying to establish whether or not there is sufficient justification to believe that a god (any god, or gods, or something like a god) exists. I remain skeptical of pretty much every religious or divine claim I've heard of to date. I'm trying to discuss a reasonable method for me to become a believer, as I've already read the bible and I don't believe its claims in the least.

* Asking me not to test and not to question just makes me want to scream "Bullshit!!!" from the top of my lungs. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Believe in something, but don't examine it, don't think about it, and don't ask questions? Not asking tough questions is what allows people to remain ignorant not only of their religious beliefs, but other beliefs as well.



J responded to M's initial comment.

J: Don't put your God to the test? I could say the same thing of a car I sell you if I didn't want you to question its value...

M: How do you expect a finite being to comprehend an infinite God? If you want to compare God to cars, I think that is where we differ....

J: I'm not saying that God, if he exists, is anything like a car. I'm merely trying to point out that people try to convince each other of the existence of a superior being using the same techniques one would do to sell an unnecessary war, peddle an inferior product, or generally dupe someone. You can't expect an intelligent person to accept, "Don't ask questions, it's true because I (or the bible) says so," as reasonable evidence of anything.


I followed up to this exchange with:

Exactly. M, J was merely providing an analogy to demonstrate that you were using an argument from authority. The focus of his original counter-argument is the authority (the salesman), not the claim (the car).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

1:53 PM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

I also want to touch on M's second comment about "how can a finite being comprehend an infinite God?".

I *hate* hearing this argument and I've been subject to it more times than I care to remember. I've nicknamed this the "give up without trying" argument because that's exactly what it is. You point out some contradiction or evidence against a claim of the divine and we are told that we shouldn't even try to comprehend it. That's absolutlely ridiculous and the most intellectually irresponible argument I can imagine one could give. If there is a god then no, we may never be able to comprehend it entirely. But that should never, ever stop us from trying and from asking questions. If we didn't ask questions of that which we don't comprehend, we would never have the internet. We wouldn't have GPS satellites or modern medicine. We wouldn't have nuclear power plants or space stations. These were all concepts that were, at one time, completely foreign and mysterious to us. But because great scientists and engineers made noble attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible, they blessed our species with one great invention after another.

And yet the believer, who claims we can not and should not try to comprehend god, claims that they do comprehend it. They claim that this god is good in all that it is and all that it does. It is good that it created a great flood and extinguished nearly every lifeform on this planet. It is good that he slaughtered innocent children in Egypt to punish the Pharoh for his mistreatment of the early Jewish people. It is good that in 2 Kings 2:23-24, god sent two bears to maul to death 48 children for making fun of a bald man. Do you really judge these acts to be good? The typical answer to this question I get is, "well these deaths caused something very good to happen elsewhere". Umm, no! This is god we're talking about. He could have made those other good things happen without killing anyone. Its totally within his power, assuming he is omnipotent as so many claim him to be. Your god is an evil, malevolent being. Your god is going to torture you forever unless you bow down and worship him. If a mafia boss who threatened to beat you to death unless you worshipped him and loved him and called him good, does that make him good?


Man, the things I hear so many people repeat really gets to me sometimes. I wish that more people would present me with new and interesting arguments and not recycle the same old apologetics that they hear in church or read in books. But that would require deep thought and tough questions, which too many people are too afraid or too ignorant to ask.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Sean Leather said...

It seems that there is quite a bit of redundancy in your DET. Would it not be enough to reduce the formula to just the last question?

Personally, I don't think passing your test proves anything about divinity. It merely indicates that someone can answer your question via a means that you may not understand. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

2:41 AM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

I agree that the test doesn't prove anything about divinity, as I said in the post, but I'd be willing to conceed to the belief in a god until further evidence was discovered and pointed that assumption to be incorrect. I formulated this test primarily as a response to the people who assert to me that their god exists and that they receive communication from him/her/it on a regular basis. This test is meant to help them prove or disprove their claims. Like I said, really the best test for divinity is for the god to make itself visible and come have a chat with me. That would be pretty damn convincing for me personally, but no gods I've heard described are willing to do that for anyone (even though they have done so a few times in the past). Sounds fishy to me.

Yeah, technically I guess just one question would be sufficient. But I wanted to cover a wider range of information to test the omniscience of the god. The last question answers "Can this god read my mind?". The first question answers "Does the god know my entire past?" and the second question answers "Does the god know the mathematical laws and constants that describe our universe?". So its not entirely redundant. I realize that answering all these questions correctly still does not prove omniscience. But having more than one question makes the test feel more comprehensive and complete, and also reduces the already small likelihood that the partner will guess the correct answer without any divine intervention.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Sean Leather said...

To be slightly pedantic, there really is no such thing as "proof" that a god exists. While a god-like entity may answer your three questions correctly, she/he/it may not be able to answer the fourth. In other words, it doesn't prove omniscience. AFAICT, omniscience can't be proven. In the end, belief in the omniscience of a being must be taken on faith.

What you're saying, then, is that you have a strong doubt that a god exists, but you're willing to believe if confronted with certain evidence of omniscience. Does that mean your standards for belief are lower than those of science? Or will you only accept the evidence once the results have been reproduced by others (for example)?

Apologies if I'm repeating what you said. It's mostly for clarifying my own understanding and not meant to correct you.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

You could make the same argument that gravity has to be taken "on faith", because we haven't gone around to every single place in the universe and measured gravitational fields to confirm our expectations of gravitational theory. Who knows, maybe there's some distant solar system on the edge of the universe we haven't detected yet where the planets don't orbit their nearest star. But we all go about believing in gravity anyway. It makes sense to trust a theory that has shown itself to be correct every time that it has been put to the test. The important thing is to always be ready to question and revise the theory should it ever fail to predict the outcome of a measured event.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Sean Leather said...

The difference between what you're saying about believing in gravity and believing in a god is that the concept of gravity has been tested by a lot of people and improved upon and refined over the years so that many people understand it better and have come to accept a common foundation. Indeed, before Newton's time, gravity was still like magic. And before Einstein, there were still problems with it.

On the other hand, if a person somehow passed your test, that only convinces you and not everybody else. It also does not contribute to a rational explanation. Only if we could form a plausible scientific theory about the act could it become as reasonable to accept as gravity is now.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Sean Leather said...

Thank you, QualiaSoup!

6:36 AM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

Wow, awesome find. I love that video!

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

You have a good test, but I would alter questions 1 and 2 slightly and add two more questions. Question 1 as you have it is essentially the same as Question 3, i.e., a mind-reading test. You should ask your partner to describe in detail an experience from your childhood, one about which you are not currently thinking. This would specifically prove knowledge of your past rather than knowledge of your thoughts.

Question 2 is simply another mind-reading test if you memorize the answer and even if you write it down but forget (the answer might still be in your subconscious). Rather, have your partner calculate a complex equation rapidly, and then calculate it yourself later.

You should also ask your partner to reveal some scientific truth that has not yet been discovered (or even publicly hypothesized), but which can be tested and verified. This proves knowledge (and not just the ability to calculate) beyond current human understanding.

Finally, you should ask for a specific prediction of a future event, one which cannot be self-fulfilling (by human ability). Ideally, this event should take place between the time the prediction is made and the time you are no longer able to monitor your partner to verify that he doesn't tell the prediction to someone else that can make it happen.

I'm not sure if omniscience requires the ability to foresee future events, but such a god should be able to cause the event through omnipotence, or calculate it by taking into account the movement and interaction of all energy and particles in the universe (unless free will consists of more than such interactions).

7:06 AM  

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