21 Sep

Acceptable evidence for there being a god

Wow, what fun!

Over at the Facebook page for Atheism Ireland, Brian Cullen asked a deceptively simple question; “What would be acceptable evidence for there being a God”.

This started a long discussion, and I think I might be the main protagonist in it… A load of examples of evidence were mentioned, but each of them had problems; in that they could possibly be explained by chance, hallucination, or an incomplete understanding of physical law.

I think the largest problem was that the question did not include a very important definition: What is a god?

When asked, Brian elucidated: “God , in it’s basic form as we would think of when the word is mentioned .”

But the problem there is that everyone has a different picture in their heads of what that means. Many people think of a god as a Santa Claus-like figure dressed in white instead of red, and go no further than that.

I would define a “God” (in the context of this question) as:

  1. an intelligent being
  2. that created itself from nothing
  3. then created the universe
  4. and can do almost anything that it wants.

I think most people would agree with that definition.

It is easy to think of examples of evidence that would prove points 1 and 4.

A very good example was a being which writes a book that can unambiguously be read and understood by every person that reads the book. This shows that the being is intelligent enough to write legibly, and is able to achieve something which is probably impossible.

However, this does not prove points 2 and 3, that the being created itself, and created the universe.

In fact, no matter how awesome the miracle you envisage, not one single shred of evidence can possibly prove that the being created itself and also created the universe.

Even the being taking you back through time to witness its own creation and the creation of the universe is not proof, because any being that can do that can surely also simply slip you a hallucinogenic drug and convince you that you’ve seen the described events…

It was suggested that demonstrating miracles might be evidence. For example, moving the stars to form a word, or bringing a person back to life after a week of decay.

Each of those are evidence of great power, but they do not address the identity of the being.

Not one piece of evidence in the whole thread (which went on for /ages/) was anything that could point towards the being creating itself or creating the universe.

In fact, when we got down to the more extreme demonstrations of power (like signing your name right across the sky in stars), those are actually evidence that you are not living in the real universe, but are in a “matrix” of sorts.

It was suggested that a being outside the laws of the universe can break the laws of physics or manipulate the universal constants.

But, if you can possibly change a universal constant, then it’s not a constant after all. And if you can break a law of physics, then it is not a law. If either of these happened, they would actually be evidence that we do not know all the /real/ laws and constants in physics. They would not be proof that something can somehow break laws and constants at whim.

2 thoughts on “Acceptable evidence for there being a god

  1. Kae,

    Interesting post! I’m sure you are aware of the “straw man” tactic in debates, especially if you’ve ever debated creationists, because they use it a LOT.

    It’s when they set up a “straw man” (describe a belief or position the opponent does not actually hold) and proceed to “destroy it”.

    Example: “my grandpappy weren’t no monkey! His daddy weren’t no sponge!” (Supporters cheer – “evolutionists are so DUMB, ain’t they!”)

    Sometimes, when it’s disingenuous (an attempt to appear to being “winning” when they actually know they are using an invalid argument), a straw man can be malicious, deceptive, and downright dishonest.

    Other times, the speaker might simply be mistaken about the details of their opponent’s position, and break down, quite effectively, what they honestly perceived to be their opponent’s belief.

    This can’t be helped, and it’s why debate is useful – to allow both parties to clarify misconceptions while seeking the truth.

    I have a feeling number 2 on your list of 4 points might be the second type of (well-meaning) straw man, as I’ve seen you mention it a few times before.

    But I can honestly say that I have never, in all my years, met a religious person who believed “God created himself out of nothing”. As far as I know, all monotheistic religions and even non-denominational theists and deists (unless there’s some new branch of deist I haven’t heard of), hold God to be an eternal being.

    I know that science has put forth the idea that time itself began with the Big Bang, so it is not practical to talk about “before” the Big Bang. But this is a relatively recently proposed idea, and doesn’t change the fact that for centuries if not millennia religious thought has been that before creation (the Big Bang, if you prefer) God always existed.

    “Is, was, and ever shall be”, or something along those lines.

    Furthermore, the idea that God created himself out of nothing soon hits a philosophical brick wall. If ‘something’ creates itself out of nothing, then that something has to exist -somewhere – first, negating the concept of ‘nothingness’.

    ‘Something’ cannot exist within ‘nothing’, otherwise it is not truly ‘nothing’.

    If there was ever a state of pure nothingness, surely it would stay that way “forever” (I know, that word is related to time, so it’s not the best choice) – there would simply never be anything.

    Looking around we can see this is clearly not the case, so it seems logical that there was never a state of pure “nothingness”.

    There has always been “something”, and many theists hold that that “something”, “before” the Big Bang, was God.

    I think if you amend point number 2 to “God is an eternal being”, it might improve your argument and get more religious people to listen, as it would reflect what they actually believe.



  2. Interesting point (God always existed), but that begs a question; /can/ anything exist forever? If so, then it is possible that the universe has always existed, thus no need for a god anyway, thus the person saying “I am God” cannot possibly be God in the sense of being the creator of the universe.

    You mentioned the impossibility of something coming from nothing, but this is not quite true. Particles and anti-particles are always popping up out of nothing. As long as the sum of the creation is zero, the overall “nothing” has been conserved, so something has come from nothing. In total, the universe sums to zero (particles and antiparticles), so the universe can be said to exist /and/ not exist.

    The questions, though were pointed at one context: Was the creation of the universe initiated by an intelligent being, or was the creation of the universe a random event. Given that we know for a fact that something /can/ come from nothing (otherwise nothing would exist), and modern physics shows that this is always happening even in the most “empty” of space, there is no need for a creator, so any entity claiming to be the creator of the universe not only needs to prove that they are capable of it, but also needs to prove that the universe is incapable of creating itself without that entity’s help.

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