Good question. Easy answer: I can’t. I don’t know if God exists. Here’s another question. “How can you be sure there is a God?” The correct answer is equally easy:
You can’t. You don’t know if God exists. So we’re really in complete agreement. I don’t know and you don’t know. On this, agnostics and the faithful are as one.
At least, they should be. Such is the well-reasoned conclusion of the convincing “How can you be sure there is no God?” essay that I recently read on the Ex-Christian.net web site.
Unfortunately, most believers deny the reality of their uncertainty. And they make an additional mistake by equating these decidedly unequal propositions: There is no God. There is a God. The author of the essay correctly observes that affirming something is true is much different from affirming that there is no evidence of something being true.
I’m confident that fairies don’t exist. You may be equally confident that they do. However, the burden of proof is on you, not on me. I don’t have to prove the non-existence of fairies. Rather, you have to offer proof that they do exist.
Often you hear it said (by those who still believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for example) that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” But both the scientific method and common sense are founded on positives, not negatives.
I can’t prove that replying to an email message from Nigeria won’t enrich my bank account by ten million dollars, but I delete it unopened anyway. It’s up to spammers to convince me of the veracity of their pitches, just as it is up to a scientist who claims a research breakthrough to produce the results.
Nobel prizes aren’t awarded to those who say, “Prove I didn’t discover the secret of the universe.” So why is it that the religious faithful are so adamant in asking non-believers to produce evidence that God doesn’t exist? As ex-Christian Dave says:
Someone could state that the Earth is being held in space and spun by giant invisible spirits. Now, before anyone would be expected to accept that belief, they would be well within their rights to ask for some evidence that supports the belief.
I agree that the world is hanging on nothing and spinning. I might not know how the Earth could possibly hang in space and spin, but I don’t believe invisible ghosts on steroids are pushing it in a steady rotation. I might not even have a better explanation than a “ghost theory,” but I still deny that such a thing is true.
It falls to the person who claims to have the explanation to provide the supporting evidence. It doesn’t fall to me to provide evidence as to why I don’t believe in the ghostly world turners. All I need do is state that the evidence presented by the "spirit theorists" is unconvincing.
I need not provide evidence as to why I deny the explanation; I simply deny that the evidence presented is sufficient for me to accept and believe.
So stand tall, fellow agnostics, doubters, heretics, and unbelievers. For testimony to the correctness of our stance is heard everywhere, though it is spoken mutely. When the faithful are asked to provide demonstrable evidence to support a belief in God, their silence says it all.
Although the essay is a good discussion about the fetishism of proof, the essayist "Dave" actually reframes the question, and does not address the the original, more fluid one, thus: Another version of the “how can you be sure there is no god” question, would be: “what is your evidence that there is no god?”
That is not a different version at all. It is a different question entirely. Because the answer to the first, internal to the essay, is that the writer is not, in fact, sure.
The writer then creates the opportunity to propound the logical impossibility of proving a negative, through many examples. But there is a philosophical equation process, where we can take disparate propositions and devise parallel syllogisms for them.
We use the syntax of language to create the logic sentence: God exists, therefore I experience God, and; God does not exist, therefore I do not experience God.
By stating them as syllogisms, we see that the ideas behind the sentences are faulty logic. Not necessarily faulty thinking, per se, but not strictly amenable to logical proof. This argument has been more or less heated throughout philosophical letters, even depending sometimes on the language used to make the statements.
Because the existence of God, and the complete catalog of my modes of experience, are two completely divergent propositional cases: I have been using this object as a table, you put your feet up on it and say this object is an ottoman. The existence of the object is only "a priori" essential to my belief in what it is. And afterall, in this discussion, it is belief that is the nutmeat.
An ottoman used as a table, a table used as an ottoman... The whole universe is beautiful, not divine; or the whole universe is divine, not beautiful.
But let's ask a different question: if there were a God, how would the universe be different? Conversely, and for balance; if there were no God, how would the universe be different?
Nothing to prove, just a gendankenexperiment.
Posted by: Edward | June 14, 2006 at 08:24 AM
I find it so funny that socialists and liberals (they are one in the same really) harp on the subject of God - yet they claim there is no such thing as God.
So, if there is no such thing as God, why do they "waste" their time in fear of what they claim does not exist?
Talk about STUPID!
Posted by: JustaDog | June 14, 2006 at 11:04 AM
Edward, interesting thoughts, as always. You reminded me of one of Clifford Pickover's thought experiments in his fascinating book, "The Paradox of God and the Challenge of Omniscience." He writes:
"Consider two universes. Universe Omega is a universe in which God does not exist, but the inhabitants of the universe believe God exists. Universe Upsilon is a universe in which God does exist, but no inhabitant believes God exists.
In which universe would you prefer to live? In which universe do you think most people would prefer to live?"
I think I'd choose Universe Upsilon. I think most other people would say the same. But I'm not sure if I'd believe them, given the ubiquity of blind belief.
Posted by: Brian | June 14, 2006 at 11:31 AM
Liberals and athesis are diffinately bed buddies. One things for sure, if liberal politcal policies pervailed, huge wars results as corrupt and evil dictators become more and more enboldened. Yet liberals believe that the entire history of mankind is wrong on the axiom "evil prospers when good men do nothing". Therefore, by parrallel argument, they should also be wrong on the subject of God's existence.
Posted by: running snail | June 14, 2006 at 11:42 AM
Yes, yes, I remember the window from ethics class a hundred years ago, but I can't remember the author.
Two choices on the x-axis: "Believe" and "Don't Believe". Then two choices on the y-axis: "There is a God" and "There is no God". You combine the possibilities and decide which is logically the best bet.
x1,y1 - best world
x2,y1 - worst world
x1,y2 - waste of time
x2,y2 - null impact
The assumption here is that if there is a god, and I don't believe, I am in trouble. Very OT.
My wife immediately said she would prefer your Omega world, (or x1,y2) because the moral constraints observed in a world where people believed in God, regardless of the truth, would make life more tolerable.
This kinda follows from the concern about proselytizing: if everyone believed that I believed in God, no one would need to convince me at the point of a sword.
Posted by: Edward | June 15, 2006 at 01:22 PM
Kindly forgive my analytical nature in dividing "things"(/ideas) up, but (although rather belated in so doing) I wish to mention a set of distinctions I evolved some years ago.
The term most English speaking folks use for the (supposed) "divine" which they encounter in their experience of the world is a word that sounds essentially the same as "gawd." Based on my observing this word widely appearing as "god" and "God," in various written materials (in English), I have also (perhaps) given vent to my own egotism in deciding to further use the additional term "GOD." The distinctions among these (same sounding) words/terms is as follows:
A "god" is - quite simply - a "false god" in the opinion of nearly all. For all but a particularly small minority of people in the world, thus, Odin is a (false) "god." Ditto for Enlil. (Among non-Hindus, this is also true for Shiva - but such a judgment will not be permitted among faithful Hindus. And for Jews, likewise, Jesus Christ is a [false] "god" too - not truly constituting the "divine," despite being so believed in by their Gentile neighbors, particularly in "Christian" lands where Jews are a minority.) Knocking the capital out of the word, thus, reduces some such supposed divinity the diminished status of a false assertion.
In my "Western" (specifically "American") dominant culture, then, it is the generally accepted practice that the word "God" refers to the concatination of divinity which occurs as a character in the Bible. In the Hebrew "scriptures" it is the character mostly known as YHWH - but who is also referred to as Elohim, El Shaddai, and some few other names/titles/circumlocutions. In the Greek "scriptures," thereafter, the character Jesus Christ(i.e., Christ Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Lord, etc.) is the denominated divinity (at least as in association with his supposed "Father" [cf. the god in the "Old Testament," just above].) In very early Christian theology, thereupon, this supposed interrelationship came to be expressed by the logical knot referred to as the "Trinity." So far as I can perceive, however, the "divine" characters/personages in the Bible are just misconstrued notions of "god(s)" as defined above.
Despite all this, however - and as you suggested in your day's presentation that concluded with your "Wow!" - there yet seems to be that from which we have, in fact, arisen, which has expressed itself in the (known or unknown) occurances of history/past times, which constitutes this moment of the "present," and which will lead into the future which flows from the now. Personally, I refer to this as "GOD." It constitutes all which truly was (including also all the mistaken thoughts/conclusions/assertions made by all the thinkers/sayers/writers of the past), the circumstantial condition of what exists as presently actual "reality" (including the misperceptions various of us presently accept/believe in), and what will eventuate therefrom/herefrom. "GOD," thus, is the that which has been, is, and will come to be. In its non-differentiated expression, it is the "One."
For me, I believe that my notion of "GOD" seems better to account for all the various "gods" I've encountered in my studies of what numerous different folks/cultures have said/written (including about the god[s] in the Bible) than any of those supposed gods I've ever been told about have been able to account for this plethora of alternative accounts. (Of course, my view is not accepted whatsoever by the "true believers" adhering to the various different "theological" groups I differ from/with. My experience is mostly in being disagreed with by Christians [of one type or another], but I rest well assured that my views are/would be rejected by adherents of many, or most, other "religious" viewpoints just as well.)
So, I sum up: I employ the following distinctions: "god" = a "false god"; "God" = the false god(s) found told about in the anthology called the Bible (in the English language variant of our "Western tradition"); and "GOD" = the that from which we (and "all") have come, which constitutes the situation of my/our being "here," and what will be when this present moment has passed (like when other folks might later read/consider my words/suggestion/contention).
I hope what I've said may be valuable for its consideration by you and others. Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | June 18, 2006 at 10:59 PM