What evidence would convince you that a god exists?

July 7, 2010 • 6:24 am

One of the big differences between religion and science as “ways of knowing” is that in science we can almost always specify what observations or experiments would prove our theories wrong.  In contrast, the faithful do not (and cannot) specify what observations would disprove their beliefs—or the whole basis of their religion.  There are two reasons for this distinction. First, through judicious theological manipulation the faithful carefully insulate those beliefs from disproof, often in a hypocritical way.  When evidence is found against them, like the medieval age of the shroud of Turin or observations showing that prayer doesn’t work, the faithful simply say, “No, you can’t test God.”  No matter that if the Shroud of Turin did date to around 30 A. D., or if prayer did cure people in double-blind tests, those same believers would trumpet to the skies the proof of their faith.  Evidence for religious beliefs is counted; evidence against them is dismissed. Needless to say, science doesn’t—and couldn’t—work that way.

Second, because religious belief is irrational, the faithful often won’t let themselves even consider counterevidence.  The evidence for evolution is by now overwhelming (I wrote a book about it, and didn’t even scratch the surface), but still around 60% of Americans think that humans were created by God directly instead of having evolved—and a lot of the latter believe that our evolution was guided by God.  Faith has immunized these people against the plain facts.  I’ve always thought that the existence of horrible tragedy and evil, particularly that inflicted on innocent people and that produced by natural forces like earthquakes and tsunamis, were prime evidence against the more loving and omnipotent species of god.  But there’s a whole branch of theology—theodicy—designed to explain those things away.  Let’s put it this way: if the Holocaust didn’t make people abandon their belief in God, then nothing ever will.

Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong. And without that, you don’t know if you’re right. That’s why science makes progress in understanding the world while religion is still mired in medieval theology.

Granted, some of the faithful—and many of you readers—have abandoned religious belief because it either seemed irrational or was contradicted by empirical evidence.  Dan Barker has chronicled this journey in his poignant book Godless. But the abandonment of faith is often a gradual process, so gradual that believers don’t even realize it’s happening.  How many of you, when you were believers, were brave enough to lay out the kind of evidence that would make you bail on God?

But we atheists, being scientifically inclined, can do the converse: we can lay out what observations would turn us into believers. Over at AlterNet, Greta Christina describes six things that, if they happened or were observed, would convince her that God exists.  These including magic writing in the sky, correct prophecies in sacred texts, accurate information gained during near-death experiences, followers of one religion being much more successful (in ways that couldn’t be explained by economic and social factors) than followers of other faiths.  Go read it: she qualifies and explains all of these things in detail.

Darwin himself, in a letter to the botanist Asa Gray, laid out his criteria for believing in God:

Your question what would convince me of Design is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, and I was convinced from others seeing him that I was not mad, I should believe in design. If I could be convinced thoroughly that life and mind was in an unknown way a function of other imponderable force, I should be convinced. If man was made of brass or iron and no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I should perhaps be convinced. But this is childish writing.

Making the same point, I provided my own list in a critique of the claim that science and faith are compatible:

There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature. And it explains why so many scientists, who have learned to disregard God as an explanation, have also discarded him as a possibility.

It’s your turn.  If you’re one of the faithful reading this, feel free to post those observations that would convince you that God doesn‘t exist.

And, if you’re one of the more numerous atheists, agnostics, or skeptics who comment here, supplement my list and Greta’s with observations that would make you accept God’s existence.   If you comment, don’t be facetious.  This is a challenge to those believers who say that their way of knowing is equivalent to that practiced by science and rational investigation.

228 thoughts on “What evidence would convince you that a god exists?

  1. Evidence for religious beliefs is counted; evidence against them is dismissed.
    Can I have confirmation bias for $50 please? It’s not just religious beliefs that have this going for them.

    1. Whoops, I read the first para and commented due to my poor attention span. Now I’ve read the rest and you don’t want facetious or want requests for what would make me believe in God. My bad.

    2. When evidence is found against them, like the Piltdown man or Nebraska man… the faithful just say: (fill in the blank with your replies)

  2. One of the ways I could be convinced that a god exists would be to clearly see a difference when people prayed and a scientific study would show that there was a significant different outcome for someone/something which had prayer vs that which lacked prayer.

          1. Don’t dismiss it out of hand. If we’re saying that this is what would change our minds, then we can’t very well say ‘that’s a hoax’ if it actually does happen. That would only mean we weren’t really able to change our minds in the first place. I’m with Adam M. Our response should be ‘Ok, get documentation that can be verified’. I highly doubt such documentation will be in the offing, but hey, we have to be true to our word.

            1. If it were true, I’m sure multiple news media would be all over it and scientists would be honing the data so that they could get consistent and better results by figuring out what sort of prayers work best.

              Heck, look how much interest there is in stuff that barely regrows hair (rogaine) or that really helps you lose weight (gastric bypass)… and these are a far cry from miraculous. I doubt anyone would keep limb regeneration cures a secret. It would be obscene to do so.

            1. Or maybe reptiles. Lizards regrow their tails, right? I have spotted several tailless lizards in my home and a kitty playing with a still wiggling amputation.

              I’d like to think these kitty “toys” are a renewable resource. (For all I know it IS a “miracle”… it’s just that god likes salamanders and lizards better than he likes us.)

        1. Such things are indeed claimed but never substantiated. She’s probably confusing what she heard, or thinks she heard, with what she’s actually seen. Or, she could be crazy.

        2. Those other two posters discount you right away, but don’t listen to them. This is exactly what we need, and it’s the biggest find of the last 5000 years, or perhaps ever!

          Tell your friend to get documentation. It should be easy to show from medical records, statements from doctors, etc. that those people were missing limbs but now have them. Just get that information, and you’ll have made the most incredible advance in our understanding of the universe!

          1. I’m sure there will be riches involved. And think of all the limbless people who could benefit. Plus those who demonstrate that such a thing can happen could win Randi’s millions.

            It seems cruel of any god not to regrow an amputated limb if he can actually do so.

      1. Places like Lourdes are littered with crutches from people supposedly cured there.

        But the writer Anatole France deflated the claims of the credulous with the remark “What, no wooden legs?”

        So yes, this would be a forceful argument for the supernatural. Let Lourdes, or any other Catholic shrine, show us just one sufferer who has grown back an arm or a leg after praying to the Virgin Mary.

        1. I had a theist claim that Lourdes was proof of miracles, because the church ONLY validated 21 “true” miracles from there.

          I did the math — turns out, that the chances of spontaneous remission from a serious illness are LOWER if you visit Lourdes than if you just stay at home.

          Millions upon millions of visitors annually — 21 “confirmed” miracles. The odds not only are not in your favor, you’re worse off.

          Some “evidence”.

          1. Quite a lot worse off, when you consider that the number of people dying in road accidents on the way there or back is probably in double digits *per year*.

            1. Plus there are many infections due to the large amount of bacteria in the Lourdes due to the bathers. Some of them, apparently have contagious diseases. God might cure them, but he passes their cooties on to others.

    1. Yes, that’s one I thought of. Clear evidence that prayer for healing or whatever worked would probably do it for me, although I’d still wonder whether this was some seemingly “magic” power of the humans doing the praying rather than a deity responding.

      Still, we don’t have that problem to solve, since there isn’t any evidence of prayer working at all.

    2. I would like to modify on that statement, because I do believe in the mental power of prayer. Essentially I think that you could have a scientifically significant outcome due to religious or secular meditation. Ex: doing better on tests, or sports or something. Really anything that a clear mind could help with. On the other hand, if prayer could affect a mentally-irrelevant task (like craps) then I would be convinced.

      1. That’s not what I meant. Obviously “prayer” or meditation might have a natural beneficial effect on the person doing it.

        What I meant was it having a measurable effect on a third party in double-blind tests. Although it would necessarily demonstrate the existence of a deity, it would indicate the existence of something that we (skeptics) don’t think exists.

        It’s of course a very long way from there to Jebus.

          1. Tests have shown prayer to be actively harmful. At least on cardiac patients who knew that they were being prayed for.

  3. For me, it would have to be an instantaneous injection of belief that would encompass every person in the world – and completely removing the concept of non-theism/secularism. This is circular argument, I know. But it’s the only thing that I think could demonstrate that there is a God – and it just told us that it exists.

    Angels in sky, miraculous cures, would be compelling, but I wouldn’t discount the machinations of advanced extra-terrestrials or inter-dimensional visitors as a source for these things either.

    1. Yeah, I’d be convinced by a simultaneous, global revelation occurring to all people, everywhere (barring clever, non-supernatural, alien beings). Or all the stars being rearranged so that some interesting message were spelled out in the night sky. That would clarify the whole existence thing, but wouldn’t entail that this being was good or worthy of worship or obedience.

  4. Doubting Thomas got to stick his fingers in the wounds of Christ. He wasn’t expected to rely on faith.

    Only in the bizarre and twisted logic of religion could that be construed as proof for the rest of us.

  5. If everyone in a natural disaster was saved and not just one or two who then proclaim that god must have saved them.

    Did that sound facetious, it’s not meant to be. This is though – if O’Reilly, beck and ratz were all struck down on the same day – sorry couldn’t help myself it was the first thing that came to me when you asked the question.

  6. Either Clarke or Asimov (IIRC) said that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    I honestly have trouble coming up with observations that might not, in principle, be explainable by scientific knowledge and technology far beyond ours.

    For instance, could not some advanced technology cause a limb to regrow? Perhaps even in a matter of minutes.

    Could not some advanced understanding of space-time allow for reliable prophesy?

    I’m not saying that I expect these things to be true, but that I don’t understand how we can assume that they could not be, given that our own understanding may not be perfect.

    1. It was Arthur C Clarke, and it’s known as Clarke’s Third Law. Note also Larry Niven’s variation: “Any sufficiently rigorously defined magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

      Yes, miracles like instant limb restoration or accurate prophecies might be the work of extremely advanced aliens, instead of anything supernatural. But until the aliens reveal themselves to us, and show us how to replicate their methods, I’d say such miracles would make me re-evaluate the likelyhood of the existence of a God, or God-like being.

      1. And add that any sufficiently advanced alien civilization is indistinguishable from god.

        Which is why when sci-fi books make the mistake of introducing such a group they have to introduce restrictions on what they can do or the story just dies when the aliens magically fix everything. Either they have moral qualms about sorting things out or they have enemies even more powerful than they are that they have to worry about. See Stargate and the Asgard vs the Replicators.

    2. I think you’re asking too much. I take Jerry’s question to be “What evidence would convince you that a god exists to the same level you are convinced of other scientific knowledge?” In science, all knowledge is provisional and can be overthrown by further data or theoretical advance. I don’t think we’re being asked to be more confident in the existence of a god than we are in, say, the existence of the sun (which of course could be the work of some superintelligent race intentionally deceiving us).

      1. Point taken. To back off a bit, I suppose what I ought to have said is that, confronted with something like a talking burning bush, or any other “miracle”, my inclination would be to say “Neat trick. How did you do it?”

        I do agree with may other commentors that clearer communication and a unity of basic beliefs about the supernatural would do a lot to make the whole thing more plausible.

        1. I’m not sure you should back off too much. At least, I’d prefer not to. There’s a problem with the sun/God analogy and that is coherence. The sun is a naturalistic object, while God is not. Nothing is less consistent with our understanding of nature than a supernatural being.

          Even some extraterrestrial intelligence indistinguishable to us from a god would have, in principle, naturalistic origins. That is a significant departure from most people’s conception of a deity.

    3. Matt from the Atheist Experience is fond of saying that if there is a god, it would know what it would take to convince me. I’m not sure advanced aliens are not more likely than a god who lives outside time and space.

  7. Ok, here are some things that I would consider evidence:
    1. A 300 pound couch potato would pray to his/her deity at the starting line of a marathon and then go on to win it with a fast time.

    2. Genuine medical miracles: amputees growing limbs back.

    3. Someone with severe Downs Syndrome sitting down and writing valid mathematics (say, solving an open problem in string theory)

    4. Seeing a minister/religious leader condemn us and then watching the condemned burst into flames on the spot, or get struck by lightning.

    5. This happening in the middle of Soldier Field:


    1. “Seeing a minister/religious leader condemn us and then watching the condemned burst into flames on the spot, or get struck by lightning.”

      I’d qualify that with “… and then do it again”. There’s an awful lot of condemning go on in the world and something like this will happen by chance eventually.

      What we’d like to see is something repeatable.

  8. As a former Christian I cannot now think of anything that would count as definitive evidence that God existed. Magic writing in the sky? Far more likely (though I am not suggesting that it’s REMOTELY likely) to be the doing of a super-intelligent alien life form than a deity – after all, we can at least account for how a super-intelligent life form might have arisen, whereas the same cannot be said of a deity. Accurate predictions in sacred texts? Far more likely to be coincidence or fraud. An angel sighting corroborated by others? But 70,000 people at Fatima ‘saw’ the sun lurch close to the Earth: far more likely to be a combination of mass hysteria and Chinese Whispers. Only the ‘good’ being healed? How could you ever test such a thing? How would you define ‘good’? How would you know that a ‘good’ person really WAS good and wasn’t harbouring some terrible secret vice? Vision being restored to the blind? Far more likely to be a hoax or some strange working of the brain. How could you EVER demonstrate that a ‘meaningful DNA sequence’ could only POSSIBLY have been put there by God? Why couldn’t it simply point to a natural mechanism we didn’t yet know about? And so it goes on. For everything you might suggest as evidence for God, other explanations will always be far more likely – including the explanation that it’s simply something we don’t yet understand.

    No, the very concept of a god as defined by Christianity is inherently self-contradictory: philosophically, logically and scientifically impossible. That being so, I don’t see how even the most dramatic apparent evidence should not be more sensibly attributed to ‘something we don’t yet understand’, rather than to this preposterous notion.

    A blogger called Steve Zara has written interestingly and provocatively about this at http://zarbi.posterous.com/god-and-evidence-a-strident-proposal. Worth a read!

    1. I’m open to evidence. If there really is a god who wants us to obey him then one might expect better communications skills. Perhaps if everybody in the world woke up with a Ten Commandments tattoo on their foreheads in their own language, or if Kirk Cameron materialized in billions of places at the same time to evangelize to every human on earth… Or if one religious group consistently healed in unexplainable ways such as regrowing amputated limbs…

      However, there is a problem with any form of proof for god. The problem is that once you invoke supernatural explanations, all bets are off and you can no longer trust objective reality. And proof of supernatural phenomena would not be proof that that believer’s idea of god, of god’s nature, only that there would be proof of supernatural phenomena. There is no way for mere mortals to be able to tell the difference between a Christian god with supernatural powers and a trickster god having a laugh. None. Not even if He comes to earth as a 900 foot tall Jesus and says “I’m the god of Christianity.” So the existence of a specific god can never be proven.

    2. Nothing would be absolute proof, but a combination of various highly-improbable effects that all point to one specific religion would be evidence for that religion…

      1. But how could you get a number of highly improbable effects that all pointed to, say, Christianity as opposed to Islam or any other religion? The only distinctive claim made by Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus, and it would be hard to imagine a range of evidence that would point to that 2000 years after the alleged event. Other religions abound with creators, judges, forgivers, avengers, healers, prayer-answerers and sundry miracle-workers. How could you possibly know which of the many available gods the evidence was pointing towards? How would you know that it was not a god that was ‘None of the above’ but that simply happened to share a few characteristics that had invented in one, two or three invented stories on Earth? And how would you know that it was not just some alien race with a twisted sense of humour which, having acquainted itself with the bizarre religions followed on Earth, had decided to play a practical joke on us? ANYTHING – no matter how farfetched – is more likely than the god answer.

        I think we have to be very cautious about listing things that would be evidence for a god, because the whole of human history is FILLED with phenomena which were not understood and were therefore attributed to supernatural intervention: floods, droughts, plagues, volcanoes, earthquakes, diseases, famines, even sunrise and sunset. All it takes is a few hundred years’ more knowledge, and those supernatural ‘explanations’ become laughable. The lesson from history is that all things have a natural explanation, even if we don’t yet know what it is.

        1. To develop that thought further, I could imagine a sceptical medieval peasant 700 years ago saying something like: ‘You ask me what would be evidence for God? Well, now, let me see. It would have to be something pretty spectacular, I can tell you. Something like – I don’t know – humans being able to travel through the air; or something that stopped us getting awful diseases; or – I know, here’s a good one – how about something that could add up and multiply and subtract automatically, without us having to scratch our heads over it! Or how about our messages getting to our friends in the village 10 miles away instantaneously – just like that! Or something that did our work for us – that ploughed the fields for us without us having to break our backs over it. Or something that made the crops grow more abundantly. Or a box in the corner of our houses that spoke to us and showed us moving pictures of things. It would have to be something like that – something really truly unthinkable that couldn’t POSSIBLY have a natural explanation. If you could show me just one of those things, I’d have to grant you that there must be a god. But ha! It’ll never happen!’

          1. Why would any of these things convince you that there is a god? If they happened, that would simply be in the nature of things. Hence Steve Zara’s question: “what evidence could there be that we are seeing the supernatural and not the unknown natural?”

            And if things began, suddenly, to behave in very different ways — eg., we could communicate telepathically over great distances — then, either this is something that happens regularly, and we need to find the reason why, or it is something that only happens occasionally, and then we have to wonder whether it really did. But if odd things began happening indiscriminately, then, eventually, we would be in the midst of a chaos that cannot be understood — like the world of a paranoid schizophrenic.

            1. My point is that almost any of the technology we take for granted today would have seemed evidence of the supernatural in medieval times; and that this should make us wary of listing things we would not currently be able to understand, and suggesting they might be evidence for a god. Things that might strike us now as having to be supernatural (whatever that means), could well be fully understood in a few 100 years’ time.

    3. I agree, Paula. There is nothing that would convince me that a god exists. Indeed, I’m not at all sure that the word ‘god’ itself has any clear or determinate meaning, which is why most religious people can duck the arguments, and twist and turn no matter what you say.

      We could, of course, define ‘god’ in a particular way, if we chose, and some people do so. The problem here is that we are open to the same complaint that non-believers make of believers, of defining ‘god’ in a way that helps the argument. Atheists argue against the existence of god, and believers say, “But that’s not what I mean by ‘god’.” But it works the other way too. We say what would convince us of the existence of a god, and the believer will answer that a being who acted in such ways would not be what s/he means by ‘god’. In fact, Richard Swinburnes says exactly this in response to prayer studies and the problem of evil.

      We mustn’t forget that, for most religious believers, faith is the important thing. If faith is not, in some sense, a leap (in Kierkegaard’s sense) across a chasm of unreason, it is not of or from god at all. It ceases to be a matter of ‘grace’ and becomes, in Luther’s sense, a ‘work’. But the whole point of faith is to decentre the person, and exalt god. Anything which made religious belief reasonable and compelling would be, for that very reason, a derogation from what faith is meant, from the religious perspective, to be all about.

      This is why the attempt to show that religion and science are compatible is a lost cause. For faith is not a way of knowing. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, ‘we walk by faith, not by sight.’ This is why the old traditional arguments against religious belief, as Dennett says, really don’t achieve anything. We need to approach this from another direction.

      Now, I’ll go and read Seve Zara.

      1. I must respectfully disagree. There are certain things that would convince me of the existence of the god, as defined by the followers of the “big three”.
        To quote Victor Stenger, from his book “god: the failed hypothesis”, if you can show in a double blind study that catholic prayer, but not Islamic prayer, is effective in controlling a condition that is otherwise unstoppable (let’s say ALS), I would have little choice but to admit there is some truth to that faith.
        Likewise, Kenneth Miller claims, god is doing an intervention every time a quantum experiment is run. How does how know that? I don’t have a clue. But in essence there is a way to find out: let’s say, double blind experiments show that prayers aimed at Mecca verifibly change the outcome of the experiment. It would go a long way to prove the truth of Islamic faith, but it would not cause Dr Miller to convert to Islam.

        1. I’m not sure. To start with your last example. The whole point of Dr Miller’s idea that God intervenes at the quantum level is that this could not be demonstrated. And I simply do not understand what it could possibly mean to say that prayers ‘aimed at Mecca verifiably changed the outcome of the experiment.’ So this goes for the first point too. What would it mean to say that catholic prayers were effective whereas Muslim prayers are not? The point about prayer is that you don’t know at any time who is praying to whom. You might set up your experiment, and have people praying catholic prayers at the same time that another group is praying Muslim prayers, but why couldn’t the result have come as a result of one individual praying a Thor prayer, perhaps? Simply implausible as an experimental design.

          That’s the problem with the Roman catholic idea of sainthood. They claim miracles as a result of prayers to a specific deceased person. What does that mean? And how does anyone know that it was not a prayer to another deceased person or to god or Jesus or Mithras that did the trick? As I say, simply implausible.

          1. True to a point. I do think that if you could show a result holding through multiple trials it would be significant. After all the same would more or less be true for drug trials: you are not controlling what any one of the participants is taking on the side. It is impossible to know for sure. But they still work.
            On the other hand I seriously doubt anyone would be praying to Thor for the results of an experiment in quantum physics to change. If someone shows me a study like that I won’t reject it on the grounds that someone might have been praying to Brahma on the sly.

  9. An instantaneous curing of those afflicted by malaria without medical intervention, and no new cases, but without any reduction in the number of mosquitos.

    That would be a good start.

      1. All of the “bad” shit is due to original sin, to “the Fall”. That’s basically how they solve the problem of evil and suffering.

        1. This won’t wash because, as some people say (see a post I’m about to put up), even natural disasters that kill people were a result of the Fall. This presumes that tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. didn’t occur before Adam. And that’s demonstrably false.

          1. The Fall makes no sense anyway. Eve’s ‘crime’ was to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, when God had told her not to. But how was Eve supposed to know that disobeying God was evil when God had specifically withheld the knowledge of good and evil from her? You cannot justifiably punish disobedience (or anything else) in someone whom you have not permitted to know the difference between good and bad. Obedience only makes sense when you understand that disobedience is bad.

            1. Absolutely. Of course, Judaism has never interpreted this story in terms of the fall. As I understand it, the eating of the apple of the knowledge of good and evil is usually understood to be an account of what it means to be human, to know, not only good and evil, but to leave the innocence of the garden — and of most animals – and to know that we will die.

              It has to be said that the Christian interpretation of the story is a very tenuous one, and it simply makes a nonsense of the idea of moral responsibility.

            2. Someone here also pointed out that you can’t give god credit for creating everything in the universe and then shield him from the blame when that everything includes pain, suffering, evil, death, etc. He made the fallen creatures… and presumably he made them fully aware that they would displease him.

  10. The easiest way for me to consider the existence of a Judeo-Christian deity would involve a consistently observable, results-oriented baseline for human behavior. In other words, people who subscribe to “Christ-like values” would be contextually compensated and those who do not would endure perpetual misfortune. The reverse often appears to be the case.

  11. Accurate and repeatable prediction of individual radioactive decay events with detailed predictions of individual particle vectors.

    1. Wouldn’t a more plausible explanation be that “hidden variables” had been discovered and measured, variables that operate somewhere beneath the current understanding of quantum mechanics?

  12. A group of Christians, recorded by news cameras, praying for some outlandish suspension of the laws of nature. And it has to be specific. “Lord, please end blindness and remove all forms of ocular degeneration from the face of the Earth.” And within the hour, across the globe, reports of visual impairments disappearing in front of doctors and even missing eyes regenerating, and somehow no one ever loses their sight again. I just realized how hard it is to write something like this and have it not sound facetious.

  13. Here’s the problem I have with this sort of thing- I’m not a blank slate at this point. There’s significant evidence that there is no god, and in fact that there is no magic at all. To be sufficient to convince me that a god exists, new evidence would have to not only be convincing, it would have to overwhelm or nullify the evidence I have against it.

    So I can think of ways that I could have, in the past, been convinced that a god exists. But I’m not sure that I can think of something that could happen in the future that would both be consistent with the universe as it actually exists and as I’ve experienced it for all these years, and which nonetheless convinces me of a god.

    1. Yes, I agree, it’s too late for god to prove himself to me. The world is so obviously not what it would be if it were run by an omnipotent and loving god that I don’t see how I could suddenly be convinced. Where was he the last 4 billion years, on sabatical?

      1. Yes, at this point in my life it really is on par with asking me, what would it take to convince me Santa was real.

        It feels sort of silly imagining the situation…

        Let’s see… um… actual witnessing of the dude with his flying reindeer actively involved in super fast present delivery… maybe explaining why he skips the Jewish and Muslim homes and why poor kids get less than rich kids? How old was he, etc. I think I’d want to scientifically study the magical seeming stuff– Like, at what point were the reindeer lifting off and by what mechanism– are there flying abilities in their DNA? Can we investigate the aerodynamics etc.?

        And we have a much clearer description of who Santa is and what he’s said to do than any gods.

  14. I think that some being that could change the laws of physics universally and selectively would get me. Say this creature shows up claiming to be the creator and announces to the world in order to demonstrate its power at precisely noon tomorrow it will suspend the laws of gravity for 10 seconds but only on people aged 10 years or older mind you. Well, that entity would have a lot of explaining to do but I’d sure pay attention! If that could be done then all bets are off.

    I suppose there’s all sorts of evidence that might be found that could have me rethinking evolution –and I’d gladly accept this evidence with fascination and wonder. Everything I can conceive of however has the major problem of explaining the, up to this point, universal evidence to the contrary. Say some remote unexplored area on earth were found that reliably coughed up fossils of modern species and dinosaurs side by side in the same sediments over and over? At that point we’d have one tiny area disputing Darwin’s theory and the rest of the planet confirming it. How grotesque. If this were a sign of God’s handiwork it also confirm what an irritating sonofabitch he was.

    I suppose this further demonstrates the one “faith-based” core belief that is embedded in adoption of science as the only tool man possesses to apprehend the universe: That the world is not capricious, that it follows rules and does so reliably. Of course it doesn’t require extraordinary “faith” to believe the sun will rise tomorrow if it has done so reliably a million times before.

    1. In fact, the sun “rises” whether we believe it will or not. It did so before we existed and it will do so after we die. Our beliefs are irrelevant to the process.

      Science informs us that the sun only appears to rise, because we are on a planet that rotates toward the sun each morning. That is pretty impressive. I can’t think of anything that impressive coming from faith.

    2. This is the best convincing scenario I have read yet – selectively changing the laws of physics. But again it s still more likely that an advanced alien race is responsible. Maybe if we scoured the entire universe (space and time) and found no physical agents then the agent would have to be outside of space and time ( if we could show a proof that there are no possible agents in space and time rather than just saying we had a pretty good look). At that point, we might as well call the entity a god whatever it turns out to be.

  15. The Bible is full of examples of God openly revealing himself to humans. “Walking in the Garden in the cool of the morning” with Adam and Eve, conversing with them face to face, speaking directly to Moses and the multitudes of Israelites, speaking directly to Samuel, Elijah, Peter & John, Saul of Tarsus, etc. Then there are the hundreds of reported post-resurrection appearances.

    This seems to me to be the most direct means of authenticating someones existence; just show up and introduce yourself.

    1. I agree.

      The great thing about Christianity is that they have the “free will” clause that explains how God can allow the Holocaust.

      I also find it hard to believe that God would allow 2000+ years to pass with only ONE major visit. It seems to me that there would need to be some periodic “reminders”.

  16. “Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong. And without that, you can’t know that you’re right.”

    Very well put. I’m going to quote that from now on, if you don’t mind.

  17. I would be convinced if a majority of people would suddenly all agree on what the nature of God is, and what he wants of us. If all believers would suddenly said “I had a revelation last night, and it’s all clear now.” If they’d all cast aside their old beliefs, admitting that they were clearly wrong, and they’d all had the same beliefs to replace them. That would really give me something to think about.

    Note that believers could technically relatively easily cheat to make this happen: just get enough people together, agree on a story and stick to it. I just don’t think they’ll ever be able to settle on a single story, or keep up the charade for long enough.

  18. The day the neurologists detect a soul (or “something” that shows that we have free will) in our brain, I’ll become a monk.

  19. If any kind of miracle happened I’d want to know how it happened, I still wouldn’t be ready to say “God did it.” And even if it did (somehow) have the obvious signs of an intelligent being I’d want to know more about that intelligent being. I can’t imagine ever adopting traditional religious beliefs in the face of that kind of evidence. If a voice boomed down from the sky telling me to start praying, I’d likely be among those who would resist. I think if God was a real entity who intervened in the world it would be TERRIFYING for believers and non-believers alike. I’m sure there’d be believers who’d “switch sides” once they realised this angry dude in the sky is really real and not just a fantasy of the terminally smug.

    That said, we can’t attribute anything to God until somebody comes up with a definition of God that makes sense and nobody has ever done so.

  20. I think any hardcore miracle (not those lame every-day-is-a-miracle miracles) would at least change our perception of what is possible, though space aliens is definitely more likely.
    I recall an interesting bit from the book Contact, where, upon calculating Pi to some absurd power, there started to be patterns that showed up in it. This sort of situation might be more interesting proof, since I find it really unlikely that a human style god exists, but the start of the Universe is still very much unknown. If there were some sort of non-random code entered into the very fabric of mathematics and physics, it would be a lot more compelling, as long as it was informative and not just some mathematical pareidolia.

  21. From a friend:

    …here is a short list:

    1) Archeological proof that the synoptic gospels were written after AD 70. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple within the timeframe of a generation is so specific that if it were shown to be written after the fact it would destroy the credibility of the bible.
    2) Archeological proof that the biblical writers conspired to fabricate the story of the resurrection.
    3) Except when the bible is referring to a miracle, a demonstrably false scientific statement in its text.
    4) The scientific demonstration of the String multiverse. That is, if it is demonstrated that there is a semi-infinite number of universes each with different fundamental constants, essentially randomly drawn constants, then my faith would be shattered.
    5) The scientific demonstration of Smolin’s Cosmic Evolution theory.
    6) Scientific proof of the claim of many atheists (and what should be the claim of all atheists)that free will does not exist.

    I could go on and on.

    1. You may want to tell your friend that Smolin, or at least his ideas on string theory, may be considered a joke among many theoretical physicists. (At least, that is how I read some of the commentary over at Sean Carroll et al’s Cosmic Variance.)

      Specifically his cosmic evolution theory is not much of a joke, but dead in the water I believe. (Convincing evidence that black holes can’t be “white holes” et cetera.)

    2. I can tell you something about the last one. Free will is an illusion. Look up “bereitschaftpotential”, or simply “BP neurophysiology”. By the time you think you have decided to perform an act, it is already in motion. Your knowledge of doing it is a secondary phenomenon.
      But it is actually simpler than that. Consider walking for example. When you walk you are barely thinking about it. Yet if you are off your feet for awhile and have to undergo physical therapy, you’ll realize every single motion needs meticulous planning and attention. Which means you nerve cells are carrying out the most complicated “decisions”. Your self attribution is a secondary phenomenon.
      And if “free will” exists, how exactly does it interact with your nervous system? Activity of nerve cells is modulated by electro-chemical gradients across their membrane. Not some “ghost in the machine”. If you can show something like that you’ll win the Nobel prize.
      Oh, and some scientific error in the bible? How about the claim that epileptic seizures are caused by evil spirits?
      You may want to tell your “friend” to pick up a book before they make themselves everyone’s laughing stock.

    3. And a couple more things.
      Regarding the gospels, don’t you think the onus is on YOU to show they were written before 70 CE? Afterall, no matter what is found after that date, you can always claim there was an earlier copy that just hasn’t been discovered.
      As for the resurrection claim, why is it that you demand proof of falsehood when it comes to Jesus, but not deities that “existed” prior to him, like Osiris? Do you know how many parallels there are between the “lives” of these figures?
      “I could go on and on”. Yeah, like the “evidence” for existence of WMDs in Iraq.

  22. Which god?
    Considering they come in the thousands, and all are as evident figment of people’s imagination as each other, that makes the choice hard. For starters. Then what really would make it obvious that there is one would be that all the other gods were sent into oblivion.
    As to the lunatic schizophrenic Jewish Yahweh, it takes a real fuckwit to believe in THAT! At least all our Nordic/Germanic gods are half-decent, as are the Greek ones.
    No inferiority complex,no genocide, no sin, no preaching.

  23. What would I see as convincing evidence of a god?

    Finding galaxies arranged to spell out in English “Yes, I made all this. Signed, God”.

    Finding nucleotide sequences in all organisms’ DNA that decode into the message “These are all the ones that survived the flood. Don’t piss me off again.”

    The actual Rapture.

    Natalie Portman having sex with me.

  24. How about anything at all that could convince adherents of ALL the other religions that they’d been worshipping the wrong god(s)?

  25. This is what it would take for me to believe:

    For god to come and tell me that my father and brother’s kidney transplants would be reversed, their original kidneys would be restored to fully functioning non-polycystic kidneys and their transplanted kidneys would be returned to the donors without any harm to them.

    And then it happened exactly that way.

  26. Of course there are various kinds of proof and evidence that would convince a rational person of the existence of a god, but deep down, believers don’t believe because of actual evidence. They believe because of belief. I could have a personal, subjective experience that would convince me, but I still wouldn’t expect my personal, subjective experience to convince anyone else.

  27. I used to believe in God. It was a very nonspecific, “there is probably some supernatural being who created everything (in some form)” sort of belief. Looking back on my thoughts from that time, it’s hard to come up with anything that could have falsified it. For the most part I already believed that the universe worked through natural processes anyway, so positing the existence of God at the beginning of everything literally doesn’t have any more explanatory power than positing anything else at the beginning of everything. And a theory that doesn’t explain anything, can’t fail to explain anything either – thus no falsifiability.

    It all seems so obvious now….

  28. Most people here are stuck in the “instantaneous” god-of-action mode, which is fine, although I think the religious will object to this as “testing god”.

    I’ll just share the first on my list.

    1. A pronouncement by the deity (via a method that would be instantaneously heard and understood by everyone everywhere) that from now on, no weapon would work when it would harm a human. In other words, keep your guns, fire them at paper targets or animals, but if a bullet was either intentionally or unintentionally going to strike a human, the weapon would not work. Same with bombs, gas, biological weapons, and all the rest. To me, this would be beyond the capabilities of even the most-advanced technological alien, but would be trivial for an all-powerful god.

    However, I have thought about this a lot, and I think if we’re going to insist that science is a valid way of knowing about the supernatural, then we need a scientifically valid approach. Instead of “testing god”, we should be “testing FOR god.” Since William Lame Craig and all of the apologist crew uses the argument from design all the fracking time, they can hardly object to my methodology.

    I suggest that the following are the “goalposts” for proving god’s existence.

    1. A clear description of its ontology, agreed upon by everyone. What IS god made of? Not its attributes (eg, all-loving, all-powerful). Does it have mass? Is it energy? What kind of energy? Is it coherent? How? Is it intra- or extra-universal? Extra-dimensional? Only by clearly defining what it IS, do we have any hope of discerning that it’s there.

    2. A testing methodology agreed upon by all parties that is designed to detect what it is being described above. What instruments do you use? When? Aimed where in what configuration?

    3. A validation methodology. Once you’ve detected something with that testing method, how can you be sure you have found what you’re looking for and not something else? Is it “god” or is it merely interdimensional space aliens? Or some natural phenomenon previously unknown to science?

    4. A methodology to test for specificity. It’s really not enough to test for “any” god, now is it? You have to be able to discern your specific god solution from every other potential god solution. Is it Yahweh? Brahma? Zeus? Ea? Quetzalcoatl? How do you know?

    5. And it should go without saying that this evidence is not available in any writing of any holy book (nor in any of the horrid apologetic literature).

    1. I think you’re missing the point about God, Kevin. The supernatural, if it existed, wouldn’t be made of anything. If it were matter or energy or anything natural, it wouldn’t be supernatural. Even an incredibly powerful sentient being made up of energy (if that could even work) would still be just energy, of this world, and very much natural. It would be subject to the laws of this universe. The point of God is that he isn’t subject to the laws – he made them, he is above them. He is, in his true form, unfathomable to human intelligence because he isn’t made up of anything we can conceive of and isn’t limited by anything whatsoever.

      You can’t test for that. There’s the rub. Anything you could test for by definition wouldn’t be God. That is what it means to be supernatural.

      1. I didn’t say it was EASY. Trust me, I “get” how high the bar is. I’ve been proposing that set of goalposts for a long time now, and most theists run FAST the other way when I suggest they don’t even know what their god IS, much less how to discern it.

        The fact that you can’t currently test for it does not absolve the religious – and especially the religious scientists – from working towards a god solution. This is simply the barrier that must be crossed in order for me to take religion seriously.

        It’s no different from the hurdles I expect cosmologists to clear when discussing concepts such as string theory, the inflationary model of the universe, the Higgs boson, the Grand Unifying Theory, and all the rest.

        In fact, if you boil it down to a single hurdle, it’s this — how can you empirically distinguish a real, existent, evident god (or any allegedly supernatural thing, such as the soul) from the purely imaginary?

        1. To answer your question (which I realize may have been rhetorial, but eh), the supernatural would have to have some effect on the natural world. That is the only way we could be aware of anything supernatural at all, since supernatural things are by definition outside our existence. Religious people claim that God does cause things to happen in our world. The problem is, there’s no evidence for it.

          1. Yes. I agree. And if the supernatural (thing, phenomenon, whatever) DID have an effect in the natural world, then it should be measurable, with a degree of sensitivity and specificity that would satisfy a methodological naturalist like me.

            In fact, if a god really existed, this should be an extremely trivial request.

            After all, religious claim godly intervention in all manner of natural events — both good (the jet that landed on the Hudson River) and bad (darned near every natural and unnatural disaster).

            Surely, it’s not too much to ask them how they separate godly intervention from mere happenstance?

  29. If somewhere on the order of a dozen people with no obvious connection to each other and speaking different languages each insisted that they had heard a 30-digit binary number whispered into their ear by a disembodied voice. They would have to write the numbers down without communicating, and the numbers written would have to match.

    Essentially, such a situation is just barely improbable enough that I would have trouble chalking it up to the law of large numbers. An explanation taking recourse to some sort of substance dualism would be tempting, and while it wouldn’t convince me of God’s existence, it would demonstrate to me that something like God is actually possible.

  30. This calls for a Douglas Adams quote:

    “The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’
    ‘But,’ says Man, ‘the Babel fish* is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’
    ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”

    -Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    *The Babel Fish is an organism that translates other languages into one’s own.

  31. How many of you, when you were believers, were brave enough to lay out the kind of evidence that would make you bail on God?

    Actually, I did this constantly. Faith was always a burden for me, and yet, so deeply indoctrinated was I, that it took years to shed it. Yet I reflected often on the reasons not to believe. And during all my adult years, despite my religious vocation, my favourite book was Robinson’s An Atheist’s Values, to which I often referred in Sunday homilies. Perhaps that is why, when push came to personal shove, faith simply dissipated like mist in the morning sun.

    I think a lot of believers reflect on the ‘evidences’ (or lack thereof) for belief. But religion is usually not a conscious process of coming to believe. It is something deeply ingrained from childhood, and, despite all the reasons not to believe, there is that emotional tug that continually serves to keep one coming back to believing, or believing in belief, at any rate. Some of that emotional tug is a deeply rooted fear.

    For me, the problem of evil was decisive in undoing faith, and it was this that made faith always a risky venture, a leap into the unknown. The philosophical arguments for the existence of god were never convincing. Indeed, Karen Armstrong is probably right when she suggests that these arguments lead one to something that is less than god, at least as god is apprehended in religious faith and ritual. While religious people use these arguments, they use them, not to prove to themselves that god exists, or that faith makes sense, but to hold at bay those who question and undermine faith.

    Faith is always more personal, and, in a sense, more solipsistic; for in the end faith is about the individual and his or her destiny and meaning. Faith requires community, not because that is a way of sharing faith, for faith, in a very real sense, cannot be shared, but because faith always needs to be reassured by the (at least apparent) faithfulness of others.

    In other words, I am suggesting — and I think this is true — that faith is always precarious. That is why it is held with such determination. But once the fabric of faith is torn, it is very difficult to mend. The problem of evil and pain is, it seems to me, decisive. There is, doubtless, much that is beautiful about life, but I have not met one person who has sufferred greatly who has thought of life as unproblematically beautiful. And some evils are so horrendous that belief in a benevolent god becomes a moral impossibility.

    1. And it shouldn’t just be your own sufferings which make you think. Just consider Africa, no loving god could condone the situation in Africa.

      My favourite response to “What are you going to say to god if you meet him after you die?”, is “It depends how good his excuse is”. Can’t remember who said it, sorry.

  32. My hope is that some future generation of humans will be proof of gods, having become gods themselves (immortal, omniscient, omnipotent, etc. ) but even better than the gods of traditional religions in that they won’t need or want to control or be worshipped by anyone. And we’ll have been their creators. Whoah…

    And yes. They’ll play soccer.

  33. I’m very happy that this old analysis of Ebonmuse (and no doubt others) is taken up. It is very illustrative of the follies of religion, and this is how Coyne have treated it. Good work!

    Nevertheless I would have to put it a bit differently from my own brand of atheism. I will mention tests for gods, but in order to be topical I need to make the analysis first.

    I contend that atheism is falsifiable, so I’m not satisfied with observations that convince of gods but with observations that falsify atheism. The difference will be clear when we come to the philosophical argument of Clarke and Niven of “magic is indistinguishable from technology”.

    Further, I contend that this is quantifiable, i.e. testable “beyond reasonable doubt”.

    First we test for “naturalism”. Given a few years of current scientific production we can see that testing is used and advance science. We need that:

    Second we test for “materialism”. Same papers and same test, which we now know works, but with the condition that they all are mutually consistent. (In our physics that is energy, causality, et cetera; but it could be anything.)

    Now we can make our list:

    – 1st we list everything that falsifies naturalism. According to above we weren’t dependent on that physics is fully lawful or not, but that it is sufficiently lawful and testing is sufficiently good.

    * No laws at all and no way of telling that an observation or a theory is wrong would do us in.*

    This list would not constitute evidence _for_ gods however.

    – 2nd we list everything that falsifies materialism.

    * Having one set of laws in our living room and another set in our bed room would do us in.*

    Obviously this list can be made very long along the lines of many commenters. Specifically it means that C&N argument is void, we aren’t depending on it to falsify atheism.

    This list would not constitute evidence _for_ gods however. It tests for dualism, not supernaturalism specifically.

    In short, I would have to agree with commenter Scote on comment #8 thread, it is one thing to falsify atheism as in “no supernaturalism/dualism”, another to test against specific gods.

    That is the purpose of specific lists, also already done by many commenters (typically on post-semitic gods). Sure, they overlap with the 2nd list: some tests that falsify atheism would test “theories” of specific gods. I’m using “theories” sarcastically here, keeping in mind Coyne’s excellent observations on the purpose of religious assertion.

  34. I can’t think of an experiment that would convince me, because there seem to always be more reasonable examples.

    Super-smart aliens with a sense of humor would explain many of your reasons and be more likely.

    1. We could certainly create situations that required either a god or aliens so powerful they might as well be gods. To repeat an example of mine from above, if galaxies spelled out “Yep, I am really here, atheists! Signed, God (the Christian one)” across a swathe billions of light years wide, it would be unreasonable in the extreme to suppose that aliens did that — the scales of space and time are just too large for any finite beings to accomplish that.

      Perhaps even more convincing would be if such a message were spelled out in variations in the cosmic background radiation of the Big Bang, since such radiation both spans the universe and arose during the inflationary period of the young universe, when no creature we can begin to imagine would have lived.

      1. Mentally ill people perceive even more outrageous things than that. It would be unreasonable to conclude that something powerful did it when it could be your own brain or some advanced virtual reality.

        1. I presume we’re talking about what is scientific. Based on your concerns, we can never know anything — physics would be just as suspect as a divine appearance.

          1. It wouldn’t fit all the other evidence against the Christian God. It wouldn’t even fit its own claim of being truthful. It would mean that it is engaged in large scale deception. In that case such an extraordinary finding would be better explained by something else than the literal interpretation.

            If nothing else, I’d rather be inclined to believe into some form of mental illness, virtual reality or many-worlds coincidence, i.e. a pattern that arose due to random fluctuations out of a state of chaos.

  35. If I could ask specific questions in prayer, have them answered, and have those answers be later proven to be correct. This could include prophesy, simple knowledge of other people that I could have no way of knowing, or past events that become substantiated after new evidence. If I were to speak to an invisible god, and he were to tell me any of these things, I think I would believe. Even more convincing the more times it happened and the more people it happened to.

  36. It’s hard NOT to be facetious on this one. Any genuine, scientifically-verifiable “miracle” would convince me that a God exists; a man raised from the dead would be quite convincing, if it could be scientifically established that he was medically dead before returning to life. In other words, I’d believe James Randi if he told me a genuine miracle had occurred; at that point I’d be forced to reconsider my atheist position.

    And since I answered honestly, now I can be facetious. My preferred miracle would be something like every time a soldier gets wounded in Iraq, Dick Cheney’s body empathically receives identical damage, yet Cheney himself stays alive and floats, Jacob Marley-like, periodically onto the Senate Floor where he gives an exact accounting of his wounds, and the conditions under which they were received.

    That would convince me there is a just God.

    1. Bravo…I agree wholeheartedly…with the added caveat that every meal Cheney partakes of becomes instantly covered with the oil from the Gulf spill until he eats the ecosystem back to health.

      Now THAT would be evidence!!!

  37. Thanks to Paula Kirby for mentioning my essay.

    I believe those who consider that there could be any possible reasonab;e evidence for the deity described in Christian doctrine (for example) are profoundly mistaken (and that used to include me).

    I have gone over the arguments in detail in my essay, but to summarise a couple of them:

    There is in principle no way to distinguish between advanced technology and supernatural phenomena. Some scientists and philosophers have suggested we live in a simulation. Would the simulators be “magic”? Would they be Gods? No, of course not.

    The Abrahamic God is a being of infinitudes – enternal life, infinite power, infinite knowledge. None of these attributes are verifiable.

    Also, Paula Kirby has summed up things very nicely.

    Jerry says: “Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong.”

    I would go further: “Religion is also not a way of knowing because it has so distanced itself from reason that there can be no reasonable evidence that it is right”.

    The break from science and reason works both ways.

    If the dead started to come back to life, my response would be either “I’m deluded”, or “I wonder who is running this Matrix”.

  38. I know this sounds facetious, but I mean it — evidence that there is an all-powerful, interested god would appear in the form of money or material support for his chosen church; not chivvied from followers or extorted from a government, but miraculously deposited into the bank account or collection plate of the chosen organization, tested by modern ccounting methods. I am vastly suspicious of a church that claims to speak for god, be inspired by god, doing god’s work, and having to beg human beings for money to get it done. Why doesn’t “God will provide” have any literal meaning?

  39. “Whoso wishes to grasp God with his intellect becomes an atheist.” — Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf

    I don’t think that there are any observations that would turn us into believers. Believers in what? The supernatural?

    It’s exactly vice versa. You can only refute but never prove the supernatural. And what can neither be proven nor falsified is not even wrong.

    The terms themselves, ‘God’ and ‘supernatural’, are oxymorons. ‘God’ is just a possible entity and the supernatural merely natural.

  40. Like several others, I cannot think of a single thing that would convince me of the existence of a deity. All suggestions offered would be more parsimoniously explained in some other way.

    Can’t explain some apparently miraculous observation? Remember Arthur C. Clarke – any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. As incredibly unlikely as it is that some advanced other alien life form found its way to Earth, such an event is still orders of magnitude more probable than the existence of a deity, given the evidence (physical and logical) arrayed against the latter.

    This holds no matter how impossible the display is, for it’s not necessary to actually do something impossible, but merely to trick a brain into thinking the impossible has occurred. It’s not outrageous to guess that within my lifetime (another 40-45 years if I’m average), we ourselves will have the technology to completely fool a human brain in such a way.

    So what would it take to make me a theist? On current information, I find it utterly impossible. You’d have to rearrange my neurons directly to turn me into a believer, and if you did that, it wouldn’t be me anymore.

  41. Jerry, you ask to provide examples of tests for hypothesis which is not properly defined in the first place.
    If you ask me for providing test for existence of tooth-fairy or Santa Claus – it is fairly easy. But for such nebulous multi-faced non-substantial entity – the task is just impossible.
    Providing the consistent non-contradictory definition first is necessary (or asking believers to do it).

    1. But for such nebulous multi-faced non-substantial entity – the task is just impossible.

      I meant the thing called GOD here of course.

      If no definition is provided we can only construct tests based on some singular assumed properties (like “infinite love”, “omnipotence”, etc.) which alone do not necessary prove GOD’s existence.

  42. I have to say, if all—or even most—Christians were universally more moral, wise, and happy than non-Christians, it would give me pause. It would make me think, “Maybe there’s something to this…” Sadly, in my experience, the opposite has been true. Christians tend to be no more and no less moral, wise, or happy than anyone else. I would go so far as to say that the more devout someone is, the more they tend to have skewed morality, faux “wisdom,” and shallow happiness.

  43. If I saw his spread sheet rows for all 6.5 billion names and column’s for each thought or deed (millions of thoughts per day) with a green check for a good thought and a red x for bad thoughts. A black strike through the red x’s to indicate forgiven bad thoughts or deeds and a black strike through the green check for good thoughts or deeds not done in the name of Jesus. This would be test 1 and test 2 would be; for me to win the national lottery. Then I would happily believe and ask to have the black strike added to my red x’s. … Did I missunderstand the question?

    1. I think the super smart alien explanation would always be in the back of my mind. The Day the Earth Stood Still dude had that cancer curing device he tried to give us.

  44. What would make me believe in a god?

    First i’d have to get a clear notation of what constitutes a god, since the definitions vary.

    but for sake of argument i’ll pick one incarnation of the abrahamic god.

    1) jesus and his old man make a public appearance where they answer and prove w/o a doubt that they are who they claim to be.

    2) same as one, but instead of public, i get private verifiable evidence. something that i could use to prove that what i saw or heard wasn’t me going mad.

    3) yaweh actually doing something. he’s supposedly a loving or assholish enity, yet we never see any real interaction. if i saw some bearded rat bastard float or come down in a bolt of lightning and start shoving cancer into a babies or kicking catholic priest and fred phelps asses. i’d be like i do believe. still wouldn’t worship, but i’d acknowledge him.

    4) this one would almost certainly would get me thinking . A close up of a very far away, previously unexplored/untouched planet that says yaweh was here bitches in a clear non photoshopped manner.

  45. Anyone out there read fantasy fiction? If so, go check out a series by Steven Erikson called The Malazan Book of the Fallen. It is dense, dense fantasy: hundreds of characters, many different races, hundreds of thousands of years of history, 10 books in the series; it’s not easy stuff. The author is, by trade, an archaeologist and anthropologist, and it shows.

    Anyway, some of the main characters in the book are gods. They are constantly manipulating people, pulling strings, and at war with one another. As I’ve been working my way through the series, I have said to myself “this is what I would expect our world to be like if a god or gods actually existed”. You see, when a character makes a prayer to a god, or when an animal is sacrificed in a name of the god, the god shows up. Or he doesn’t, and the character knows he has been forsaken. There are no atheists in Erikson’s world; there are just people who ignore the gods because they don’t like the games they play. The god’s are actually present, the same way trees and birds and clouds are present in our world.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that, for me to believe in a god or gods, I’d have to be living in a world of fantasy fiction…

  46. If my cat walked up to me and said, “I am Bastet and you are in big trouble” I would start working on a temple immediately.

    1. Might I suggest seeking a medical opinion first? It’s probably easier to take your meds than it is to build a temple.

  47. How about, then Christians all start being kind to each other..and everybody else? When Christians start being tenderhearted, compassionate and forgiving. How about when Xtians are completely humble and gentle, patient. When Xtians stop lying. When Xtians stop stealing. When Xtians stop bragging and being self-righteous. When Xtians stop being rude and angry and scared and condescending.

  48. I posed this exact question to evangelical minister Frank Turek, during a presentation he gave last spring. Turek is co-author of the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”, and tours the country giving seminars under the same name. He responded by saying that if the body of Jesus Christ was found, it would mean that he never rose from the dead, and that Christianity is founded on a false premise and is therefore untrue.

    1. …funny…since there is a pretty large body of skeptics who don’t think there was an actual historical person named “Jesus” in the first place.

      Also, since the standard method of burial in those days involved 1) placing people in a tomb temporarily while their flesh rotted away; and then 2) placing their bones in an ossuary, it’s darned unlikely those conditions could possibly be met.

      1. How’re you going to prove it’s the body of Jesus if he did exist (I don’t think he did)? You’re looking for a coffin inscribed, “Here lies Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, crucified by Pontius Pilate and failed to rise on the third day as predicted” are you? Yeah well let’s get up an expedition right away!

        1. I know the book says the “third” day… But if he died Good Friday at night and rose on Easter Sunday morning then that’s just a day and a half at most. Then there has to be time for burial and then to leave him alone so he can escape from his tomb unseen (according to at least one account…)

  49. If a great number of people in a short time period got struck down by specifically targeted lightning right after uttering or doing something blasphemous, I’d consider the idea, especially if that happened on bright, sunny days.

  50. Say Jesus, or Vishnu, or Zeus, etc., appeared to Richard Dawkins in a dream and showed him a 20 digit number 21,866,687,779,231,419,735 with the command to write down the number when he awoke (it would also be arranged that he would correctly remember the number when we did awake) and email it to Jerry Coyne at 1800GMT that night, explaining that Jesus/Vishnu/Zeus asked him to do this. And NOT to share this revelation with ANYONE else.

    So Jerry receives the email at 1200GMT, but also receives one, at the same time, from Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, AC Grayling and Victor Stenger.

    Jerry confirms that each of them has independently had the dream and acted according to its wishes. He posts the results on this blog.

    That would be pretty hard to dismiss.

      1. But even, still, that’s a lame trick. At least the number should mean something. Maybe a coordinate to where there’s other life in the universe… something “almighty”…

        Number guessing is mighty… provincial. Penn and Teller are more clever than that.

  51. I’ve changed my list, not like anyone read it.

    1) A theist pulls off a horton hears a who. just was reminded of that after watching the film version. If they pulled one of those, then i’d be almost as gobsmacked as if i saw a real life transformer.

  52. What would convince me of a higher power would be if all humans were fed three meals a day. Also all disease eradicated along with no more war and humans able to fly like birds. No more natural disasters everyone with the same amount of clothes and housing no more rich taking and swindling from the poor heck no more poor everyone equal. Of course none of these conditions will never happen so I will remain atheist.

  53. How about 16 stars forming a neat 4×4 grid in the night sky, which prove on examination to be in a 3D array whose parts are at vast distances from each other with actual brightnesses in ratios to give equal brightness as seen from earth under the inverse square law?

    Or how about many stars (>40) generating a good (much better than Orion) outline of a human, disances as above?

  54. What would convince me? All I’d want, or even expect, is a semblance of internal consistency. If the Almighty exists and talks to Preacher McGawd, then he should be telling the same stuff to Imam IbnAllah, and also to Yogi Sri Brahman — and arguably to me as well. Therefore, the independently-written holy texts from various parts of the world should agree on salient details. My reading of said scripture should lead me to the same essential conclusions as anyone else’s, without us ending up arguing over which parts are metaphorical, etc. — and over which “apocrypha” or “heretical” writings get thrown out altogether.

    1. How about a commandment that is not just common sense (like “Love your neighbour”), but which might not be common sense, yet actually makes the difference claimed?

      If people who abstained from meat on Fridays had measurably better health (or some other benefit) than a control group who abstained on Tuesdays – even if they didn’t live in a Catholic country and had no knowledge of the custom?

  55. Since we’re talking about science and specific religions, how about some unique phenomenon (kind of MRI scan, magnetic field, measurable radiation) that occurs always and only from the brains of those who are praying to the God of one religion, and not of any others?

    Or only during the saying of the Rosary, and not when chanting Om Namah Shivaya?

    Or only when speaking in tongues, and not when speaking a known language or deliberately babbling meaninglessly?

    Even better, such a phenomenon emanating only from the brains or bodies of people being prayed over?

  56. Of course, to all of my suggested tests (and most if not all of the others), religious people will say “Ah, but that’s not what my religion claims. God does not always answer prayers, or sometimes the answer is ‘No’. God does not do miracles on cue. Religion does not necessarily make people better-behaved than non-religious people.”

    But when asked what their religion DOES claim, all they can say is “eternal bliss for believers after we die, and not eternal punishment.”

    Nice and untestable.

  57. Why should there need to be “evidence” of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God in order to believe in It?

    If It really had my interests in mind, there would be no need for evidence. It could simply put the belief in my head that It exists and I wouldn’t question it.

    Of course, perhaps that’s exactly how it works. The deity chooses some of His pet monkeys to worship Him by beaming the beliefs directly into their cerebral cortices, while the rest of us can go hang.

    1. What about the ones who used to believe and then grew up? He changed his omnibenevolent mind? Omnibenevolent means he’d have to do the same for all.

      1. The deity — in his infinite wisdom! — pre-selects a group to lose their belief in Him. This is to demonstrate to the True Believers His awesomeness …

  58. I’d want evidence that shows that consciousness can exist outside the brain before I’d be interested in anything anyone had to say about any immaterial being or any supposed after life.

    A nice starter, of course, would be plain old regular evidence… the kind that a theist would require to believe in a magical being they don’t currently believe in– Say, Xenu. Or gremlins. What kind of evidence would it take for a Christian to switch to Scientology and why shouldn’t I require at least that much evidence to switch to any belief that involves claims that are indistinguishable from “magic” or “myth”.

    I find all supernatural beings equally unlikely to exist. And if science can’t know anything about such beings due to their immeasurable qualities, then how can anyone else “know” about such beings?

    Besides, if there was a god, then he/she/it/they should know exactly what is required for me to believe. If such beings exist, they clearly don’t care whether I believe in them or not. They also clearly don’t care that multiple sects arise killing each other because of lack of clarity regarding what these invisible beings did, do, or want.

  59. It depends on what you mean by God. If you mean some form of “higher” intelligence that was interacting in the universe then I think David Hume’s suggestion in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion about a voice speaking to all people in all languages carrying the same message simultaneously. Something like that would definitely constitute a greater intelligence.

    But it’s always important to remember Shermer’s Last Law:

    “Any sufficiently advanced ETI is indistinguishable from God.”

    so any such event wouldn’t prove the Christian deity, or even a supernatural event has taken place. So as to the Christian God, what would probably convince me to believe would be the DNA of Jesus. If that showed what the Christian narrative said, then that would be compelling evidence in favour of the belief.

  60. For me it would be a written message that included the following- some religious text, a detailed description of some personal detail about myself that is known to no other person, and the answer to Goldbach’s Conjecture.

  61. To be truthful, I would probably revert to belief if I found it fulfilling and rewarding, but I don’t. I don’t want to think I would, and I’ve nearly convinced myself I wouldn’t, but I would. I know my mind would work so hard to ignore the evidence.

    That is not to say I am a relativist. I do look at the evidence, I do question my atheism, and I come to the consistent conclusion that I am right. I also feel richly rewarded as a freethinker. But what I refuse to do is to think I am somehow immune to the religion virus, or that I am smarter than a theist. I’m just lucky enough to have had a pause from indoctrination long enough to have seen the man behind the curtain. I know that had I not caught that glimpse 20 years ago, I’d be in seminary.

    Solid, tangible evidence in a god I would buy? Any defiance of the laws of nature. Anything less could conceivably be performed by advanced technology or trickery. Anything more, needing only to qualify as evidence and not proof, is intellectual dishonesty.

  62. Probably no single act would convince me. Trust is not given simply for one gesture.

    World peace would definitely give a favorable impression, however. Definite proof of continued existence beyond death contingent upon that being would be another.

  63. As may have been asserted already, I agree with Matt Dilahunty that if there were a god or gods, they would know what it would take to convince me of their existence. It is up to them to so do.
    Case closed.

  64. In response to the many who suggest that answered prayer would be convincing, may I suggest a far simpler alternative: that humans could do magic? Why involve a third party?

    Also, wouldn’t answered prayer be evidence against a benign God? A god who could not be bothered and had to be nagged by prayer is hardly the deity of the new testament.

  65. > “But there’s a whole branch of theology—theodicy—designed to explain those things away. Let’s put it this way: if the Holocaust didn’t make people abandon their belief in God, then nothing ever will.”

    What do you mean by explain AWAY? All they have to do to explain the holocaust is to point to some biblical verses in Deuteronomy. Did you not know this, Jerry?

  66. Of course, it’s notable that flamboyant proofs of a god’s existence were supposedly rampant during the biblical period, what with the flooding of planets, smiting of cities, parting of seas, multiplying of fishes, curing of sick, raising of dead, etc. etc. etc. Funny that gods have become shy only once people became more sceptical.

  67. The problem with most of the “writing in the sky” and other miracle types of evidence is that, even if convinced that I wasn’t crazy, I’d still be suspicious of who exactly this being was. And in any case, there is nothing that would make me “believe in the supernatural”, because, by definition, what is supernatural is not real, i.e. if the the God of one of the Christian sects was accurate down to every detail, it still wouldn’t be “supernatural”, it would just mean that part of nature included an omnipotent omniscient deity.

    Anyway, that aside, a couple weeks ago I thought of a potential piece of evidence, which suffers from many of these same problems, but I think is an original one that not a lot of others might have thought of: If in the distant future we encountered a radically different form of alien life in another solar system, and under the microscope found that it used DNA as its central replicator mechanism, that would at least lend a lot of credence to intelligent design.

    If we found alien life that, at a macrosopic level, was surprisingly like our own, but which used different chemistry for its central replicator, that would not be entirely unexpected. The degree of convergent evolution on this planet suggests that there may be fairly universal constraints on what types of mechanisms can evolve via natural selection. So a completely different genetic code evolving vertebrate-like eyes, for example, or even global morphological similarities such as a wolf-like animal, would be entirely consistent with our current understanding of evolution.

    But an identical genetic code? That seems highly unlikely.

    1. Wouldn’t work for me. I’d interpret the fossil as having been thrust into that layer by some cataclysmic event.

      1. What if the rabbit fossil were in the jaws of a T-rex with perfectly fossilized tooth puncture marks on the bunny’s hindquarters and the dino in a pose of rubbing it’s tummy in gastronomical delight?

  68. There are many kinds of evidence that could convince me of the existence of a being or beings with intelligence or capabilities far beyond those of humans. Consult your favorite science fiction novel or film for suggestions.

    No evidence could convince me of the existence of a being with infinite intelligence and/or capabilities, that is, a being that completely transcended nature. The reason for this is simple: naturalism is the necessary ground for the rational analysis of experience. The very concepts of “evidence” and “proof” are incoherent if experience can be totally unconstrained by any limiting principles. The actual existence of an omnipotent being would render fundamentally unreliable, by definition, any “evidence” used to demonstrate that existence.

  69. For me to believe in an omnipotent, supernatural being I would like to see all suffering removed. Or hell on earth. Rather than just being promised these eternal states in the ‘afterlife.’ Omnipotent beings should’ve made up their mind as to what they think of life by now.

  70. If, when I die, I fail to experience any manner of afterlife- then I will cease to believe in God (…by default). Past that, there’s really nothing on this Earth that can convince me otherwise. I know that probably pisses you off, but that’s Faith for you.

    On a more personal note, I find it very telling that you seem upset at the idea of some of us being comfortable with the idea of God guiding the planet through the evolutionary process. If your study is strictly devoted to determining whether or not evolution took place based entirely and exclusively on present-day empirical evidence, then why waste time concerning yourself with the responsible party- be it random chance, God, magical pixies, flying spaghetti monster(s), or (Dawkin’s favorite) Aliens? Why bother injecting agnosticism/atheism philosophy into a purely scientific inquiry at all unless you have some kind of axe to grind?

    Personally, I abandoned this particular battlefield long ago as it’s as much a debate of philosophy as it is science with people like you; so if we’re going to debate philosophy, I’d much rather argue the infinitely more important issue of Cosmology than waste time bickering over how exactly life on this planet came to be what it is today.

    1. Why do you imagine it would piss people off? Are you pissed off that Scientologists believe in Xenu? Would you be pissed of if someone believed the moon was made of cheese or that the sun went around the earth? Does Santa belief anger you?

      Perhaps you get pissed off when people don’t believe in your supernatural beliefs, but I’ve never met an atheist that is “pissed off” based on peoples’ supernatural beliefs– unless they try to use them as excuses to demand privileges or rights they wouldn’t give to people with conflicting faiths, of course.

      Myself, I’d prefer that people keep their supernatural beliefs to themselves the way they’d keep their fetishes private. I don’t want them inflicting their beliefs on school children in science class anymore than they’d want Scientologists or Muslims to do so.

      I think most atheists care more about what is true than what assorted people feel saved for “believing in”. I find it interesting that you imagine people would be “pissed off”.

      1. @articulett:
        I imagine that it would piss people off because it’s been my experience that Atheism is simply Agnosticism waiting to happen after the person gets over themselves and starts applying the scrutiny of logic that they hold so dear to their own position.

        The moment an Atheist lets go of their hate for all things religious and genuinely starts caring about what is observably *true* about our universe, they become an Agnostic; because the *truth* is that no one can say for certain exactly how the universe transitioned from non-existence to existence. An Atheist declaring “there is no god!” is speaking in faith in the same way that my declaring “there IS a God!” is also speaking in faith.

        The difference is, my faith is in all-powerful eternal being to whom I am held responsible for my actions, and your faith is in your own intellectual superiority. Tell me- which belief system is more hubristic by nature?

        Believe me- I want philosophy out of science textbooks as much as you do, but since Atheists have seen fit to “inflict” their beliefs on schoolchildren, fire must be fought be fire.

        1. the *truth* is that no one can say for certain exactly how the universe transitioned from non-existence to existence

          That is a weird belief.

          Well, the fact is that we can give pathways, see for example Vic Stenger’s “GOD – The Failed Hypothesis” for an example. This is of course uncertain to a certain degree, _but so are all actual facts_. If not, they are precisely beliefs.

          But that is neither here nor there, we are discussing if we can falsify the theory that there are no gods. If you claim that we can’t adjudicate such claims it is a mere belief, agnosticism.

          But the fact is that we can make headway on this, see the thread, and I claim decide the issue, see my comment on the thread.

          Your characterization of this as belief has no basis in facts. Atheism is precisely rejection of belief, agnosticism is one of them.

        2. I think you are confused all around. Perhaps you’ll make more sense to your fellow believers. Atheism is just a lack of belief in gods. And I’m quite sure that most any atheist would do better on any logic test than you. You are a fabulous example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Just because you imagine yourself logical, doesn’t make it so. (Kind of like the existence of gods.)

          Agnosticism means it can’t be known. It is not about a belief, rather it is about knowledge. I know you think it means something like “on the fence”, but I suspect this is because you had a poor faith-based education. See, technically everyone is an agnostic about things that can’t be known like whether there are any invisible undetectable entities like gods, fairies, demons, sprites, etc. Nobody CAN know if such beings exist, because they are undetectable. Moreover, we know people are prone to making up such beings to explain that which they don’t understand. Theists, are the arrogant ones because they claim to know which invisible undetectable beings exist and which don’t– they then claim to KNOW what these beings did, do, want, etc. Atheists make no claims to divine truths or “special knowledge” that you can only know through “revelation” OR other untestable means. From a Scientific perspective, your gods, souls, demons, etc. are no more evidenced then Thor, Xenu, fairies, gremlins, ghosts, etc. Until there is evidence separating a true supernatural being from a false one, from a scientific perspective, they are ALL imaginary. If you have a problem with that, you may wish to take it up with your apparently imaginary god(s)so that it makes itself more evident than the gods that you think are mythological.

          There is no atheism is science books. It’s just that the facts don’t support your magical being any more than they support Scientology’s magical beings or Buddhisms belief in reincarnation. Science is about the facts that are the same for everyone no matter what they belief. The sun is a star and the earth goes around the sun no matter what you believe about these things. Moreover, the earth is 4.5 billion years old and life evolved. Science provides evidence for its claims– faith tells you that you just have to BELIEVE– (or you’ll be punished forever.) Maybe you should be questioning those that put such ideas in your head rather than the science that has brought your computer, air conditioning, modern medicine, airplanes, and all sorts of goodies so that even the most faith-addled can benefit.

          Science learns from its mistakes and corrects them. It is constantly refining and honing our understanding of the universe and there are no magical books that are giving us clues. I suggest you get your science from scientists than from your indoctrinators. Sadly, you appear to sound as dishonest, arrogant, and confused as those people in those other religions that believe things that are ridiculous to you.

          There are many faiths; there is only one truth. So far, science is the only verifiable means of discovering that truth.

          1. And I guess you have no answer for Jerry’s question.

            I think that makes theists the arrogant closed minded ones. They believe they’ve accessed “higher truths” and nothing can convince them they are wrong.

            That puts you in the same category as any cult member, Greek myth believers, and people who believe in religions that conflict with yours. You all believe you have the really true magical truth and that all those other people have fooled themselves.


  71. What ‘evidence’ would be considered sufficient to convince one of existence of a god is, I think, ill conceived in first place.

    The difficulty is less with the parameters we would assign to phenomena that would sway our discretion but, rather, with identifying what is meant by the term god in the first place.

    It is my experience that even a deep investigation of religious thought yields little in the way of clarity as to the nature and meaning of god much less what would constitute evidence of such an entity { is that even an applicable term?}

    IF the subject we wish to discuss is not defined as a matter of course by any participants in a discussion I think it a moot point to assume what we would use to verify such things.

    Perhaps one day the people in this world who assert this or that property or trait of the god they worship would be so kind as to,for the first time, come to universal agreement as to what the hell they are talking about then maybe we can intelligently debate the issue.

    I, however, doubt humanity will last that long.

  72. A big arm comes out of the sky and rams Tony Hayward into that damned hole in the Gulf of Mexico stopping the flow, it’s all caught on film and, you got me on board! Too facetious? Tough, that’s my criterion!

    1. Works for me! It doesn’t sound facetious at all; extraordinary claims require extraordinary acts of supernatural justice.
      I had a similar idea a couple of weeks ago, but then it occurred that plugging a giant, gaping, spewing toxic hole with another giant, gaping, spewing toxic hole might not work…

  73. How about this:
    God appears and presents us with a genuine, naturalistic experiment that would provide sufficient falsifiable scientific evidence to confirm or reject the existence of the supernatural.
    Whoa! I just blew my own mind.

  74. I’m not sure it is possible to confidently identify design. It requires too many assumptions about what a designer would do.

    What would convince me of the christian god’s existence? Simple, have him turn up. He is supposedly a relational god who wants the best for us. He supposedly allowed himself to be killed to enable relationship (although if you’re a god, that is meaningless). Given this, his appearance is the only acceptable “proof” – not someone making unjustifiable conclusions based on incomplete understandings of the universe (eg fine tuning) or historical reliability of the bible (which is unreliable). All bilblical accuracy would tell us is that certain events are historically verifiable – not that a supernatural agent was involved. I could take the history of rome and attribute it to Saturn’s intervention. The history would be accurate, but that does not mean Saturn was involved

  75. Among other things, I would accept that God exists if he/she/it showed themself. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so. The evidence required by many for their conversion from atheist to theist necessitates events that are just as miraculuos as if God himself appeared on earth and declared his dominion over the universe.

    In other words, if God existed and wanted us to know about it, why provide only hints, when he could just give us the answer.

    Incidentally, it seems ridiculous to consider that an omnipotent being would even have a gender. Religion’s assignment of a gender to God is just another indication that man created God in his own image.

    1. What would qualify as “showing itself”? Considering the fact of its invisibility… May I guess that you mean that this being should show you a miracle– i.e. one that you personally would categorize as a miracle as opposed to just an awesome coincidence? Or maybe you require a national revelation?

      Also, although it is indeed ridiculous to consider that an omnipotent being has a gender, don’t forget that the main religions call God a “He” /and at the same time/ say that God is genderless. How can they do that? Well, “He” generally connotes more power than “She” and “He” is more personal than “It.”

      1. “The fact of it’s invisibility?”

        Where exactly do you find facts about God? Plenty of opinions, many of them masquerading as facts, but I know of no “facts” that would pass muster for me as such.

  76. How would you scientifically demonstrate that reason itself is rational or valid? My point is simply that science itself depends on prior philosophical (i.e. non-scientific) premises.

    1. Because science WORKS–it helps us find out stuff, like what causes and cures disease. In contrast, faith doesn’t help us find out anything that’s true about the universe. Was Jesus the son of God? Christians say one thing, Muslims another. No way to decide if either (or neither) is right.

      1. Same thing with history?
        Imagine the following response was written in 2080…
        “Some say the moonlanding was real. Some say it was faked. No way to decide if either (or neither) is right.”

  77. because religious belief is irrational, the faithful often won’t let themselves even consider counterevidence.

    Circular argument. The conclusion is already in the premise.

    Isn’t it interesting that you think that even theistic evolutionists are included in the class of those who are “against the plain facts.” This is classic atheist dogmatism. It’s not enough that a person accepts evolution itself. He must also deny that God had anything to do with it in order to be pronounced kosher and orthodox and to get the Good Housekeeping seal of approval pasted on his forehead.

    No one may dare harmonize evolution with his religious beliefs, and believe that God guided the process (a position that Darwin and his original public defender T. H. Huxley thought were perfectly acceptable).

    No, you have to take it a step further. The logic of your position and the grammar of the above statement prove that you think that evolution precludes any talk of God or theistic evolution. Yet that is the very thing you can’t assert, by your own excessive “scientism” — because science can say nothing about God, by the simple fact that its purview is matter (and it often prides itself on precluding any talk of God or teleology).

    Even if science now bans God totally from any and all discussion about the universe, it can’t ban all other intelligent discussion or beliefs about God in philosophy and theology. Science is not the sum of all knowledge.

    If you want religious people to “shut up” and never let their religious views influence science to the slightest degree (even to the extent of excommunicating theistic evolutionists), then it seems to me that you should — by the same token – shut up about religious matters, and not pretentiously pose as an objective observer, all the while engaging in massive self-contradiction insofar as you speak from a “scientific” point of view that has nothing directly to do with religious matters or God. But you want it both ways.

    It is shoddy thinking like this that is deplorable. Bad logic is bad logic, no matter what the source is or how otherwise “smart” the one committing the error may be.

    1. Way to miss the point and argue a complete straw man.

      The fact is, your magical beliefs should be of no more concern to science than a Muslim’s, a Scientologist’s, a Wiccan’s, or an Astrologer’s. Until you have evidence for whatever it is you believe, scientists should be as free to dismiss your “woo” beliefs as freely as you dismiss others– under the same reasoning. Science will change if the evidence warrants, but as you illustrate, the faithful can’t even “hear” the question.

      You might not believe in demon possession and others might. It’s not our job to care about your feelings on the subject, it’s our job to care about the truth. Religions have no such truth. And religions have no way to tell when their beliefs are incorrect… they have no way to tell a correct belief from an incorrect one since a magical god can make things look however he wants.

      Now why don’t you try and answer Jerry’s question in the post instead of getting all hot and bothered because he dared ask it.

      Surely your beliefs don’t rely only on your bluster do they?

      1. My points stand, and they are actually rational arguments, unlike your mere rant: filled with straw men and non sequiturs. I wasn’t trying to refute the whole statement; only a few logical holes that I viewed in it.

        1. Your opinions are like your beliefs– true only in your head. Science is interested in the stuff that is true no matter what people believe.

          But if these outbursts make you feel better about whatever it is you believe, you go boy! What else are you going to do when the evidence doesn’t exist, eh?

          It’s just that nobody is likely to answer you because nobody said all the things you imagined were said. A straw man argument is an argument against claims that no one made… like your whole “rant”. You win (in your head) because you fight a “straw man” and not any actual point.

          By the way, is there any evidence or any amount of evidence that would get you to believe your faith is not true. What sort of evidence would it take to convince you Scientology or Wiccan beliefs were true? How about the Muslim version of God? Or reincarnation? We atheists have given our responses.

        2. In point of fact, science does preclude “any talk of God or theistic evolution” for two main reasons: First, by definition, science deals with natural, observable, testable, empirical phenomena; any assertion that evolution is “guided” by a god is not supported by any evidence. And second, as Dr. Coyne has pointed out, religious thought has no mechanism for determining the validity of its claims, which is the exact opposite of how science fundamentally operates.
          You are certainly free to believe whatever you like, but in the absence of any scientific evidence, “we” are not obligated to believe that evolution is guided by a god. Nor are we obligated in any way to take such claims seriously until such evidence is produced. I would posit that the vast majority of scientists would not even concern themselves with others’ religious beliefs if not for the fact that so many religious people either demand that science incorporate religious ideas or are so misinformed about the scientific process in general and evolution in particular.
          Respectfully, it is not fair – or accurate – to claim that science “bans” any and all discussion of god or religion as it pertains to science; in fact, we are discussing it here. People cannot expect that religious claims upon science will be accepted a priori. For that matter, scientists cannot expect scientific claims to be accepted a priori either; scientific claims are subject to evaluation of the supporting evidence, and are often subject to extensive analysis, criticism, and attempted refutation before being accepted. Outside of a scientific pervue, general criticism of religious claims and/or religious modes of thought is not equivalent to a “ban” either. Religious thought is not somehow specially exempt from criticism simply because it it religious.

          1. Right. ZZZZzzzzz. I continue to await rational interaction with what I wrote, rather than (quite boring and irrelevant) lectures from true materialistic believers.

            1. In order to have rational interaction, someone other than you would need to think you are rational.

              I thought Todd’s post was spot on, but I understand how it would fly right over your head.

              And I think it’s obvious why others are ignoring your silly straw man rant that had nothing at all to do with Jerry’s question. Did you have a point?

              Or are you just whining because, from a scientific perspective, scientists find your supernatural beliefs as unworthy of the supernatural beliefs you dismiss?

              (Try the Intersection for your coddling needs.)

            2. So what then, Dave, would constitute “rational interaction” to you? Several people have posted responses to your initial comment, none of which have apparently satisfied your criteria for rationality. You made several claims in your original post regarding what you perceive to be faulty logic, poor reasoning, etc., but then wholly dismissed others’ replies as irrational or inadequate without explaining why. Again, with respect, I think that by rejecting everyone else’s arguments out of hand without offering any counterargument is a perfect example of Dr. Coyne’s criticism of religious thought: You posted a critical comment (which is fine – admirable, even, given the audience), but then you can’t be bothered to respond to any rebuttals beyond dismissing them as irrational. There seems to be nothing anyone can say in opposition to your comments that meets your standards.
              So, to reiterate my question (which I hope you will accept in the spirit of debate in which it is offered), what to you would constitute a sufficiently “rational” argument that would meet your criteria to warrant a substantive response?

  78. “Isn’t it interesting that you think that even theistic evolutionists are included in the class of those who are “against the plain facts.” This is classic atheist dogmatism. It’s not enough that a person accepts evolution itself.”

    It’s not dogmatism: it’s knowing when to stop in terms of explanations. If God isn’t needed to explain evolution, it makes no sense to add him to it, and anyone who does should expect to have their ideas rubbished. Once there is understanding, there is no space for magic. It would be like adding Thor to an explanation of the weather, or Poseidon to a study of waves.

    There is a simple test: starting from a position of ignorance about theism and evolution, if you found out about evolutionary theory, would you feel a need to add God? Of course not. God is superfluous. Science involves trying to minimise explanatory factors. That’s not dogmatism, it’s about trying to honestly find out what is going on.

    If you want to add God, do so, but then you are in no position to mock those who think that aerodynamics isn’t enough and planes are kept in the sky by angels.

    1. What about people like me, who accept evolution and also believe in God, not because He is necessary to to immediately explain evolution, but because He is (arguably) necessary to explain the very idea of contingent existence? Darwin may explain evolution immediately (and I think he largely does) but what explains the essence of change? What explains the very idea of causation? What explains simple existence?

      But most of all, why are so many scientists so shallowly incurious about these deeper questions?

      1. I don’t think scientists are incurious at all– I think that’s a label much more true of those appealing to a god as some sort of explanation to vague questions like yours… you guys don’t even ask yourselves if the questions makes sense. How would you know if you were wrong –or if the questions didn’t make sense? How can you correct errors? How would you know if your god was as much of a myth as those gods of yore you don’t believe in?

        Don’t you think every scientist would be testing, refining, and honing the evidence if there was any evidence for gods or souls or whatever? Why wouldn’t they?! Wouldn’t it benefit them, their loved ones and the world? If something is real, then it’s something science can discover more about, right? It’s not the fault of scientists that there is no evidence for the undetectable beings you believe in! Anyone can make up reasons to believe, but those reasons can’t make a god real. Your vague “deep questions” are not a reason for believing in god.

        Why would such a being be so scientifically undetectable and indistinguishable from the imaginary beings that humans are KNOWN to make up anyhow?! Why aren’t theists curious about that? There’s just nothing to test when it comes to supernatural claims– every believer imagines they have access to “divine truths” while knowing that all those believers in Greek Myths and other gods were fooled. I guess they imagine that they are more rational than such people. How arrogant and incurious is that?

        Theists plug in whatever god they imagine into whatever questions they feel need answers. And then they imagine themselves humble, open-minded, and saved for their belief. If there is no god, then your questions are just designed to make you a believer anyhow. Osama Bin Laden can use the same reasoning to support his god as you can. But these “deep questions” (giggle) are not a way of getting at the truth as to whether any invisible forms of consciousness can/do/or did exist! Shame on those who made you think they were. Aren’t YOU curious as to whether you may have been fooling yourself? And how would you know if you had?

        If scientists can’t know if something is real, why would we imagine that you could? Or your guru? Didn’t the Greek Myth believers of yore feel the same way. Don’t the Mormons and the Scientologists? Don’t you see the problem of plugging in the equivalent of “magic” to the questions you find “deep”? It leads to “answers” that are bigger conundrums than the things they supposedly explain!

        I think it’s you who are incurious. You don’t want to know if your god is as imaginary as all the gods you don’t believe in– so you invent “deep questions” and in your mind you tell yourself your god is the answer and that scientists who don’t believe in this god are incurious. Confirmation bias (yawn).

        So can you answer Jerry’s question or not? Or is your faith more important than the truth? Would anything convince you that your god is as mythological as Greek Gods? Or do are you just bent out of shape because he dared to ask a question that challenged the faith you feel so special for having?

        A lot of atheists have an answer as to what would make them believe in god. The evidence doesn’t show a lack of curiosity on their part…

        Why won’t theists answer the question? I think that”s telling evidence as to who the “incurious” people are. You guys are afraid to question the god you imagine yourselves saved for believing in.

        You can believe whatever you want of course, but more rational people require more evidence before they believe in “extraordinary” beings. They don’t want to (or can’t) fool themselves on this subject.

      2. The idea that anything is necessary to explain existence, or change, or causation, does not make sense, because we don’t have any idea what those terms mean in the real universe. What does causation mean in a universe with quantum rules, for example?

        The idea that there is an actual being with a personality who is puffing and panting working hard to ensure that causality keeps happening is nonsensical: for one thing, that process itself would have to involve causality (so it explains nothing), and secondly if some being was outside of causality, then it does not make sense to say that they were involved in anything at all.

        Sorry, but this is a combination of millenia-old theological nonsense and an attempt to randomly put words together to see if they can sound good in a way to justify God.

  79. To be convinced that god(s) exist, I would first have to understand what the word god actually meant. If it was meant to be the creator of the universe, It is not possible for me to think of convincing proof such a god(s) could show me that it created anything. How would I know that he was lying or not? How would I reconcile his being the main god(s) or just another dameon claiming such fantastical feats.
    Actually it would be very easy to be convinced that god(s) existed. All he would have to do is make my mind ‘believe’ he existed. Good luck with that.

  80. In order to have rational interaction, someone other than you would need to think you are rational.

    Why do you bother with me at all, then? To impress your buddies that you can come up with a clever way of making an ass of yourself? That is hardly philosophy or science, but it is juvenile chest-puffing. Who cares about that? Just ignore me and go smoke a joint in the lavatory.

    1. (giggles)

      Hey, Jean… how do DA’s posts fit in with your belief that religion makes people happier?

      To me, religious folks go ape-shit when they realize that, from a scientific perspective, their religious beliefs are as unsupportable as all the religions they laugh at.

      (Perhaps any increased happiness of atheists around religious nutters is due to giggle fits.)

  81. The reason most people still believe in God is not primarily because they have been “immunized” by faith, but because evolution is so contrary to day to day experience. Richard Lewontin himself had the integrity to indicate atheists have an a priori commitment to material causes, and that their beliefs are not caused by science.

    However, an increasingly large percentage of modern scientists believe in an intelligent designer of the universe and life, and this is now an established one way trend. To understand why this interesting and relatively recent turn of events has occurred, see Intelligent Design vs. Evolution — The Miracle of Intelligent Design.

    1. The day variation and selection as in dog breeding is “contrary to day to day experience”, is the day gravity is.

      This is one myth that creationists like to claim. But in fact farmers and gardeners were well aware that species aren’t immutable long before evolution explained the observable phenomena. They were never as stupid and unobservant as religious fundamentalists.

      Also Linnaeus had AFAIU severe trouble with it, both in his systematics and to square it with his contra-factual religion.

      1. Variation and selection in dog breeding etc. produces different types of dogs, not other types of creatures with different DNA structures. This is one myth that evolutionists like to claim.

        1. Yes, and all dogs descend from wolves and are a subspecies of wolf… all these modifications were made by humans selecting for specific traits. But this is way over your head, isn’t it.

          Really, you are way out of your league here. All people who have gotten their “science” from creationists are. It’s akin to getting your astronomy from astrologers only creationists are more ignorant because they imagine themselves saved for believing unbelievable things.

          Moreover, you seem to have no way to determine a myth from a fact. Your magic book is a myth. There is no evidence to support of any of the magical things in there– no more than there is for Greek myths. There is only one truth, and so far, science is the only method proven to reveal and hone that truth. Moreover, it has an error correction mechanism which religion doesn’t have.

          Get an education if you want any educated people to participate in discussion with you. Otherwise, you’re just preaching in an effort to convince yourself that your indoctrinators are telling you the truth.

          1. I read real peer reviewed science journals. The creotards have done zero research, contributed zero understanding to the world, and have added zero useful information on the subject of biology to human understanding –moreover, they unable to get a clue, because they are afraid they’ll be punished forever if they do.

  82. Personally, I don’t think you could ever disprove or prove something like this. Religion’s wired into the human psyche, and originally served the purpose of explaining our world. Sure, it’s possible for one to become an atheist (and many people do), but that doesn’t mean it can’t go away entirely. Even racism and misogyny have not disappeared; they’re just frowned upon in cultured society.

  83. What evidence would convince me that God exists?

    1. Creationism: Young earth creationism makes sets so many testable predictions, in so many different fields of science, that if it were confirmed that would probably be all the evidence I needed.

    2. Faith healers regenerating amputated limbs (on live tv, in front of Richard Dawkins, the Myth Busters, and James Randi, on the skeptics’ terms)

    What evidence would I need to disbelieve in the Christian God?

    1. Very strong evidence of Darwinian evolution. By ‘very strong’ I mean about as sure as we are that the Holocaust happened.

  84. I don’t know if it’s been mentioned yet, but I would believe if I wasn’t constantly finding simpler explanations. It’s just an extension of what many believers already do. For example, most people no longer automatically ascribe erratic behavior to demonic possession. Your average believer is generally going to want to know if a simpler explanation, ie-mental illness, is the source.

    It’s just that accepting simpler explanations on the grand scale is a lot less satisfying because facing the lack of a god means facing the things that terrify humanity the most, ie-fear of death, lack of meaning, etc.

    “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” [James 4:14]

    I’ve never met anyone who finds that a pleasant thought.

  85. Better think of religion and god as concepts being raised in the course of evolution. They surely had good reasons to emerge and good reasons to survive. otherwise it would have been a long time since their extinction. Plz refer to my blog posting labeled “unification”.

  86. With apologies if this is a repeat (I haven’t had time to read ALL the comments):

    With great respect to the author, I think the question is pointless: sufficient demonstration of God would be “proof,” but you can’t prove God, or He wouldn’t be God. I take this as a clear indication that the whole notion of “God” is just pointless and should be derided at every opportunity.

  87. The only way I would be convinced of God’s existence would be if every star in the sky suddenly changed position to spell out: GOD [OR GODS] EXISTS IN THE MANNER OF [INSERT NAME OF SACRED TEXT HERE].

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