It’s on you.

I was recently asked what it would take to prove to me once and for all that god exists. I gave my short answer, which is that there really isn’t anything that would quite do it for me. That is to say that there isn’t anything in the human imagination – my imagination, that is – that would prove god exists. Anything I can even dream of could still be explained using natural laws, otherwise it could be discounted as an hallucination.

That’s not entirely true, though. I can think of at least one thing that may do it. If there were some miraculous phenomenon that was witnessed by a sufficient number of people, all at the same time, who could each describe the phenomenon to an equal extent as the next person – that might do it. And by “miraculous” I do mean, of course, something that cannot be explained by natural laws. This would have to be one hell of a show – perhaps a human voice (Jesus?) speaks the exact same words clearly inside the head of every person on earth simultaneously. I would certainly be more prone to believe.

Other than that – some worldwide phenomenon that cannot be explained away by science – I don’t think there is anything that would prove the existence of any of your gods.

But feel free to try. My only request is that you refrain from referring to any of your holy books, as I don’t see that as reasonable evidence for anything. I’ll use the Bible as an example here, since Christianity is the religion I am most familiar with. All the Bible proves is that a couple thousand years ago some guys put pen to paper and made a bunch of stuff up. I’m interested in knowing why you believe the Bible is accurate at all. That may not prove anything to me, but at least it will give me a deeper insight into Christian thinking. I must reiterate, however, that “I believe the Bible is true because I read in the Bible that the Bible is true” tells me nothing other than that you are extremely gullible.

And for the love of your god, don’t tell me to prove god doesn’t exist. You’re the one making a positive assertion – as the title of this article states, it’s on you. It’s on you to back up your statement that god exists. You know as well as I do that I can no more disprove god’s existence than you can disprove the existence of Russell’s Teapot.

I think I’ve said all there is to say without beginning to repeat myself ad nauseum, so I’ll leave you with a quote by Ricky Gervais that pretty much sums everything up nicely:

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.”

Read the whole article by Ricky Gervais

Thanks to @JulienLynn on Twitter for the inspiration to write this article.

11 thoughts on “It’s on you.

  1. I thought we started his conversation on another post? You ridicule the Christian for appealing to the bible as his/her epistemological starting point however you are also making an appeal to an authority…yourself. Christians who appeal to the bible as their starting point are not being gullible, they are being forthright as to their first principles. Let me drive this point home, you are appealing to yourself (your own ability to reason as your final authority and your empirical senses are your axiom)

    You have done nothing to establish that *your* emprical senses are superior to revelation as an epistemological starting point, in fact I would like to see you demonstrate how empiricial observations result in justified true belief?

    On another post you indicated that you would reject certain things as delusions (such as people hearing voices?) However on this post, you indicate that you would accept such an occurance as an acceptable evidence for God’s existence.

    There are good reasons to believe in the Christian God and to reject atheism on the basis of a reductio ad absurdum. Do tell, which worldview comports with *invariant, universal, immaterial* laws of logic? Which worldview is internally consistent? Which worldview accounts for the uniformity of nature whereby scientific observation is even possible. Here’s a hint: it’s not atheism.

    • You still fail to see that atheism is not a worldview. It is a rejection of one (the religious worldview) or many (the Christian, Jewish, Muslim et al worldviews), depending on how you look at it.

      I don’t have answers for everything. In fact, I don’t have answers for most things. But just because I don’t know I’m not going to fill in the blanks with “god.”

      • First, it’s wrong to assert that this is a “God of the gaps” argument…it’s not. The GotG’s argument offers God as the explanation for physical phenomena that we can’t explain. This argument is altogether different. I am asking you about your intellectual precommitments aka your presuppositions.

        Atheism (or better yet atheists) have a worldview. Surely, you are not saying that you have *no* worldview? You have basic assumptions that you make about the nature of the world, reality, how you know things, etc. correct? Based on those underlying principles, how do you make sense of the world around you?

        • Certainly we have worldviews. However, as you yourself noted, it’s more correct to say “Atheists have worldviews” than “Atheism has worldviews”.

          Atheism, in and of itself, contains only one concept, one viewpoint; the viewpoint that there is/are no god/s. That’s it. That’s the whole shebang, right there.

          Atheists, as individuals, naturally have worldviews. But we don’t base them on any sort of religion, or even our lack of same. When I make a decision, when I vote on an issue, I have never once thought to myself, “As a good atheist, what should I think about this?” Never. Instead I rely on my reason, on my senses, on my sense of morality, and on repeatable, verifiable experiments that have been performs.

          My lack of faith doesn’t impact on it at all.

          • P. Victorious,

            How do your senses provide knowledge? I actually already asked A. Dave to explain why empiricism is a better foundation for knowledge than an appeal to revelation. Perhaps you would like to hazard a response?

            • The use of my senses is only one of the examples I provided, and my acquisition of knowledge is not wholly dependent on them. Far from it; I can’t see molecules, but experimentation has proven that they exist, and shown how they behave.

              It’s not so much a matter of senses vs. revelation, it’s a matter of falsifiability. The senses are imperfect, certainly, but in the instances where they don’t detect the whole picture, or are simply wrong, they can be shown to be wrong. Revelation allows for no such thing.

              Additionally, unless you’re having a personal form of revelation – a voice in your head purporting to be divine, for example – the examples I see for revelation also rely on the senses. Those of you making these arguments read your holy books, and listen to your preachers, and call it revelation even though all this information comes to you via your senses. What’s the difference?

              • P. Victorious,

                You said:
                “It’s not so much a matter of senses vs. revelation, it’s a matter of falsifiability. The senses are imperfect, certainly, but in the instances where they don’t detect the whole picture, or are simply wrong, they can be shown to be wrong. Revelation allows for no such thing.”

                Incorrect. An epistemology based on revelation (whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) does allow for an internal critique just as an epistemology based on naturalism does. All systems of thought strive for internal consistency and when contradictions are found the system reduces to absurdity.

                Additionally, if knowledge acquisition is possible through the senses, then who are you to doubt the senses of those who wrote down revelation? You either have to admit that no knowledge is possible via the senses or admit that you simply don’t disagree based on your own empirical observations or intuition.

  2. I have a hard time taking “atheists” serious. You want proof in order to believe, therefore it becomes logical to believe. On the other hand, you don’t think faith is a valid arguement and we’re all lemmings. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that what you are trying to say is “I can choose not to believe, but you can’t choose to believe.”

  3. @blogginbaldguy

    Starting a new comment thread because the one we were working on was getting too narrow to read.

    An epistemology based on revelation (whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) does allow for an internal critique just as an epistemology based on naturalism does.

    Sure it does. But it doesn’t tend to allow for external critique. This is where it falls apart. It can’t be tested, and often refuses to try. That’s what I require in my information; tests. Confirmation. If I’m going to take something as fact, it needs to have attempts made to disprove it, and it needs to pass those attempts. Without confirmation, my senses, the ideas of scientists, the ideas of revelationists (which may or may not be a real word, but it works for now), are equally worthless. The difference is that revelations are presented as truth immediately, whereas scientific discoveries are under constant scrutiny and subject to revision as new information comes to light.

    Additionally, if knowledge acquisition is possible through the senses, then who are you to doubt the senses of those who wrote down revelation?

    I doubt their word in the same way that I doubt the word of new and revolutionary scientific theories, until such time as corroborating evidence has been amassed. Those who write down revelation, as I’ve already said, expect their words to be accepted, immediately, even in the face of direct contradictory evidence. -That- is the part that causes me to doubt.

    To summarize; it’s not that I don’t trust the senses, it’s that I don’t trust them alone.

    As an aside, I want to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying this debate. You’re making me stop and think about what I believe, and why, in ways I haven’t been forced to in a long time and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time. So thank you for that.

    • P.Victorious,

      For what it’s worth, you’re welcome. I enjoy the debate as well, especially if it is charitable, and devoid of the usual ad hominems (from both sides).

      I would be interested in your definition of an *external* critique; you and I may be saying the same thing. What I am referring to is testing a worldview for internal consistency and coherence with reality. Coherence with reality could be further defined *not violating the law of non-contradiction*.

      Our positions are not completely dissimilar, you do not trust the senses alone, I do not trust them at all [at least with respect to knowledge acquisition]. You made an interesting admission, one that I would like to press you on. You said that science [or more properly scientific discoveries ] are open to revision as *new information* comes to light.

      This is interesting because:

      i. *Knowledge* is not really possible. To say that you or I know that the universe is 15 billion years old is really not knowledge in the sense of being a justified true belief, since *science* could provide additional information that negates this claim.

      ii. Science cannot present *truth*, in the sense of deductive truth. The inductive method reasons from the general to the particular and in every case is logically fallacious. Don’t get me wrong, science does provide answers however it does so based on a fundamental principle that does not comport with what most *atheists* generally hold as their first principle; i.e. naturalism.

      iii. Science depends on the uniformity of nature. This does not comport with a system of ambiguity where endless possibility exists. If someone asserts that in fact endless [or infinite] possibility does not exist, then we are logically back to an impasse with respect to origins.

  4. It’s possible that we are talking about the same thing. I consider it quite easy for something to be internally consistent; the Scientologist story of Xenu, for example, is internally consistent, in that none of its elements contradict any of the others. It’s a concept I hold as separate from what I think you’re referring to as coherence with reality. The myth of Xenu, in this case, fails external critique; there’s no evidence that our planet is a galactic prison, or are infested with Thetans.

    A side note here; I admit that a lack of evidence -for- something is not evidence -against- anything else. These are two different concepts, and I treat them accordingly. That is, I do not say ‘There is no God’, instead I say ‘I don’t believe there’s a God’. On the other side of that coin is Young Earth Creationism, which has a significant body of evidence against it. In this case, I’m confident in saying that YEC is wrong. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s very important, in my eyes.

    As to your points:

    i. You say “*Knowledge* is not really possible”, and I agree with you utterly. Science, in the most honest sense of the word, says the exact same thing. This is why we have so few scientific laws, and so many theories (as opposed, of course, to hypotheses). It is, for me, more a comparison of probability. How much evidence is there? What are the odds of one argument or the other being true? This is why I don’t believe in God; I’ve seen no evidence at all for the existence of the supernatural, and it seems to me most likely that natural law is all there is.

    The idea that true knowledge is impossible is one of the weakest points against religion, in my mind. So many religions, and so many of the religious, present their holy words as utter truth, subject to no scrutiny. I think you see why I think this cannot be the case.

    ii. Again, in my view, it’s a matter of odds. I agree with you that science cannot provide deductive truth (outside, perhaps, of mathematics), for the reasons I’ve outlined above. However, because the observations are taken, the experiments repeated, over and over again, with each successful repetition of the same natural law it becomes more and more likely to be an accurate reflection of reality. It never reaches 100%; again, this is why it’s the Theory of Evolution, rather than the Law.

    To again contrast it with religion, I offer the reasons I don’t subscribe to Creationism. Leaving aside my non-belief in the Bible, it remains untested, unfalsifiable. We can see in our own solar system the marks of formation, the interplay of gravity and velocity, collision with other bodies. We can watch in as distant stars form, grow old, and die, and they all follow the same patterns, varying only on a few variables (amount of material being the foremost). It happens the same way, over and over, all over the place, so there is no reason not to suspect that the same process created our sun, our planet. With Creationism, however, there is no such body of evidence. The entire argument is based on the teachings of one book. This doesn’t mean that Creationism is necessarily wrong; it’s entirely possible that when I die I’ll be told I was wrong my whole life. But I consider this to be, by a significant distance, the less likely option.

    iii. I admit I don’t fully see what you’re trying to say here. It seems to my like it’s an impasse no matter what we try. Either natural law is the only law, or the supernatural exists. I feel as though atheists would argue that there is no infinite possibility – that no matter where in the universe we go, we’re bound by the laws of nature – and that theists would argue the opposite, that infinite possibilities are available at least to their god/s, and natural law is mutable, able to bend to the will of the god/s.

    In terms of the origin of the universe, I certainly won’t argue that science has all the answers. In this particular area, the difference is that scientists will continue searching, seeking new evidence, trying to winnow out the best answer they possibly can, while religion has its creation story, and that’s all they need. It’s the lack of inquiry that troubles me most.

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