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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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Picking and Choosing Your Moral Code

I saved the best for last. These two clips are the final in the list I had made to share with my religious friend, and they also happen to be my favorites.

This is episode #503 of the Atheist Experience. The topic is on responding to apologists. The portion of this episode that I want to focus on is in the last fifteen minutes or so, but feel free to watch the entire episode. Go to the 1:14:00 mark to listen to a great conversation between the hosts and a Christian caller.

The discussion here eventually turns to biblical inerrancy and morality. When the host points out some of the deplorable acts of god and his immoral laws in the old testament, the caller claims that those things no longer apply and that those laws were to "train up" the people of ancient times. The host knocks her argument out of the water by making three important points.

  • In the bible, god says that he us unchanging and therefore if something was morally correct in the past, it should be morally correct today
  • Jesus himself in the new testament says that not a single aspect of the old laws will be changed (Matthew 5:18)
  • The caller believes that the ten commandments are binding today, yet those are written in the old testament

This is a great example of how many believers are guilty of picking and choosing from their religious text. They focus on only the positive parts of their doctrine that make them personally feel good. And they ignore (or choose to remain ignorant) of all of the horrific acts and commands. Here's a nice long list of cruelty and violence found in the Christian bible. It says to kill children, kill those who commit adultery, kill non believers (hey, that's me!), kill homosexuals, cut off the hand of a woman if she touches a man's genitalia, etc. Now why do you think Christians ignore all of those commandments? Probably because they don't want to follow them, because an average human being is much more moral than this psychopathic deity character that so many millions of people worship. It makes no sense to me. But I suppose I would rather have them pick and choose and only focus on the good stuff than try to live out what the bible says word for word. But I still find it really, really annoying when believers pick and choose parts of their doctrine that they like and ignore everything else.

This is another Christian caller and the discussion in these clips focuses on the morality of human beings and god. Moral superiority and inferiority, justification of adequate punishment for misdeeds, biblical portrayal of the nature of god, and thoughts on hell. I don't have much to add here because I think this video needs no commentary. I do share the host's frustration and disappointment with the caller. He seems like a very nice, very decent guy and he just doesn't have the balls to oppose his religious dogma. The last two thirds of the second clip are a passionate rant by the host on the caller's reluctance to be honest with his feelings.

Well, that's it! I finally finished posting all of these clips. I'm going to make another post later that has every single one of these clips embedded to make it easy to reference. I also have a lot of other videos I found related to these discussions that I'll share in another large post. But I'm not going to analyze and discuss each of them like I have done so here. Most of them are long documentaries, but they really taught me a lot and gave me some interesting perspectives on the matter. Thanks for sharing in all this material with me and I hope that you thought about the topics and gained something out of it!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Truth and Dogma

This clips talks about problems in the Christian bible, which including conflicting accounts, contradictions, later additions and forgeries, and more. Particularly the hosts focus on the tale of the resurrection of Jesus. I don't have much to add here in way of commentary. I selected this clip for my friend because she believes in biblical inerrancy. While I never can and will never claim that I can disprove her god (or any god), I can confidently state that there are errors (many errors) in the bible based on nothing more than elementary logic and reason.

By the way, if you are interested in biblical truths and how scholars go about determining what the original books of the bible really said, I recommend you read Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart Ehlman. I read this novel a few weeks ago and I loved it. It is a very interesting read and I learned many things I didn't know about Christianity, religious history, and textual criticism. And the book is not anti-Christian or pro-atheism by any means at all. I think it presents a very unbiased, unprejudiced analysis and I recommend it for both believers and non-believers.

This clip, split into two videos, discusses dogmatic religious mindsets. The host, Matt, makes a very interesting observation about how gods have gotten less and less specific over time. Many early religions, such as Greek mythology, had many very specific gods fulfilling very specific purposes in the world, such as bringing out the sun or controlling the seas. Religion seems to have "evolved" (pun intended) into the worship of less gods that are extremely ill-defined. Most believers around the world today are monotheists (believe in and worship only a single god). When they tell me that their god is good and I find an example of an evil action their god was said to have done in their holy text, I usually get an answer like "well he's mysterious".

The discussion continues with the caller noting that when you destroy a religious, dogmatic mindset (due to overwhelming evidence), it seems that the believer will just replace it with another dogma. The co-host Jenn adds that she thinks its because these people have some sort of "childish need for certainty in their lives", which is a view that I happen to agree with. Science will never be able to tell us everything and I happily admit that I don't know everything, including the fact that I don't know if there are any gods or not. I just don't believe that any exist. But belief in something and knowledge of something (including claiming to know) are very different. Perhaps people cling to religious dogma because they are afraid of not knowing what happens after they die (I would argue that no one knows that actually), or afraid of not having an all powerful being in the sky that's always looking out for them. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Carl Sagan. A view that I concur strongly with.

For me, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

In the second part, Matt goes on to discuss how his position on his atheism would change when/if he is presented with extraordinary evidence to support an extraordinary claim for some supernatural power. Personally I think that anyone, whether they are a theist, atheist, or something else, who would deny or reject sufficient contradictory evidence to their stance is a complete and utter fool. Any ideological system, whether religious, political, or something else makes any sort of statement that the believer is not allowed to question its views or assertions should be immediately questioned. For me, whenever I am told not to question something it immediately sets off my "bullshit sensor" and I am much, much less likely to believe whatever it is I'm being told not to question.

I may have mentioned this earlier this year when I started my posts on religion. But my enemy is not religion. I have identified my enemy as dogma. I've come to reason and believe that dogma is responsible for so many evils in this world. Its responsible for the massacre of millions throughout religious wars like the Crusades. Its responsible for medical doctors being murdered in cold blood for practicing abortions. Its responsible for terrorists flying airplanes into buildings and bombings across the world every day. Its responsible for the merciless torture and slaughter of Jewish and other minority groups at the hands of Nazi Germany. There is nothing, nothing positive about enslaving your mind to anything or anyone, regardless of whether that force is good, evil, or something in between. Part of the reason I continue to write about religious topics in my blog is for the hope that by doing so, maybe I can weaken dogma's cold grip on people just a little bit more. Dogma isn't going to disappear overnight and it probably will always exist in some form somewhere, but that's no reason for me to not even attempt to defeat it.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Finish What You Start

Lately instead of posting to my own blog, I've been reading and commenting on others. In particular I've been pretty active at the Atheist Experience blog. I had a great discussion with others in a couple recent posts there. The first post was a discussion about the moral/ethical implications actions of professed gods. I made the first comment to that post so if you're interested, read it through and follow where the discussion led (there was at least one theist who participated in the dialogue). Also in that post someone shared a quiz called "Religion 101" which I enjoyed. I don't agree with the wording, fairness, or relevance of some of the questions on there, but in general I think its great. The quiz can be found here. I have a Christian friend I've been having some religious discussions with off and on in the past few weeks and I'd like to ask if she would mind taking it and then we can have a discussion about the answers that she selected. The second post I commented on was about the "end times" doctrine in Christianity found in the Book of Revelation. The original topic was a discussion of how sick and disturbing it is to see believers actually express their desire for the end of the world to come and to observe all the non-believers suffering in agony, but the discussion in the comments went all over the place.

If you recall, earlier this year I mentioned that I had put together a selection of various video clips from The Atheist Experience that I wanted to watch together with my religious friend. And when our discussions broke down and she no longer wished to talk about the subject anymore, I started sharing the clips on my blog. The last time I shared a clip was way back in March and I'm not even half way through my list, so I need to finish what I started. Here's the next clip in the series on how the concept of "sin" is a control mechanism. In my notes I wrote to watch only the first four minutes and thus will only comment on that length, but feel free to watch the entire 10 minute clip.

The commentary by the co-host Don is rather acerbic, but I do think he makes an interesting conjecture on how sin is used to exploit people, and how ridiculous the concept of original sin is. If you don't know, original sin is the idea that you are guilty for all the "sinful" actions of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etcetra all the way back to the original two human beings, Adam and Eve (of course, I don't believe that two homo sapiens spontaneously popped into existence from nothing in the first place). I don't have much else to add here.

Link to google video (Sorry, blogger isn't accepting the embed code for some reason)

This is actually a full 90 minute episode, not a single clip. The portion of this episode I want to discuss is the segment from 6:00 to 35:00. Yes, its nearly 30 minutes long. In my notes I wrote that this segment is about the following. "A dialog on what motivates people to believe in Christianity, reasons for beliefs, reasons for disbelief, and touches on young Earth creationism". At 12:00, the hosts discuss a Christian blogger who told atheists why they are atheists, and gave two reasons (both reasons he gave require the atheist to believe in God). I've seen this many times before, on both sides of the aisle. Rather than listen to why the other person believes or disbelieves in something, they assert their own reasons on that person and assert them. Sometimes they do this because its easy for them to refute. Sometimes they do it because it makes them feel more comfortable about their own beliefs. But regardless of why they do this, its wrong for them to do so. The hosts also mention that some people, such as Ray Comfort, claim that there are no atheists. Rather those that call themselves atheists do believe in a god (particularly his god), but are in denial about it or reject the god for some reason. Its quite an ignorant assertion.

Between about 14:00 and 22:00, the hosts divulge into a good summary of the difference between theism, gnosticism, and weak/strong atheism. Around 24:00 the co-host Tracie provides a great example of contrast between the reaction of two fundamentalist Christians when they are presented with conflicting evidence that the Earth is 6,000 - 10,000 years old. One believer is open-minded at looking at the scientific evidence and as a result, becomes convinced that that particular belief they hold was wrong. The other is adamant that nothing can nor ever will change their beliefs. The latter believer is the type that I have serious problems. They proudly boast about being close minded and either uniformly reject or ignore contradictory evidence. Regardless of what you believe or disbelieve, whether its gods, UFOs, or political ideology, I think it is a horribly awful thing to be dogmatic and close minded to contradictory arguments, evidence, and opinions. And religion, particularly many forms of fundamentalism, are excellent and promoting this maligned view.

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