Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What Would Be Proof Enough For You?

There is no irrefutable evidence of the existence of God which could convince radical empiricists, who a priori rule out the possibility of supernatural intervention. Even if it were possible to produce video tapes of the Sinaitic Revelation, they would still say 'let us find the natural causes of this extraordinary and puzzling event.' Any recourse to supernatural causes would be categorically rejected by them. It is entirely our choice whether we want to explain the world purely in naturalistic categories and therefore treat religious faith as a phenomenon to be explained away (courtesy of Freud or Durkheim) or whether we wish to adopt a conceptual scheme, which, in addition to naturalistic modes of explanation, also is prepared to acknowledge a transcendental realm, which can be invoked for ethical and spiritual purposes. We have to realize that were we to insist on a exclusively naturalistic vocabulary, we would be utterly bereft of any guidance in the area that matters most, namely, our conduct. - Walter Wurzburger in God Is Proof Enough.

Although I take issue with Wurzburger on a number of points (on the same page he says "Since even the validity of science cannot be demonstrated, I am not uncomfortable with the fact that most thinkers agree that there is no proof for the existence of God."), but I also think that he has framed the problem succinctly: if you consider yourself an atheist or agnostic what would be sufficient proof to you for the existence of God?

Now I understand that the question begs another question: what is this God that we are trying to prove? For the sake of avoiding an even more difficult question, let's not over complicate things nor get bogged down in philosophical arguments about omniscience and omnipotence etc. and assume that we are talking about God as conceptualized by most religions: that omnipotent, omniscient, eternal entity who created the universe.

If you are up to the challenge, don't forget that you should also consider Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Remember, you are trying to prove God and don't want to be confused by an encounter with an extremely advanced alien life form! (So it may not help, but you still have access to any scientific instrument you desire, top scholars in any discipline, the ability to access all information gathered by humans to date.)

So let's say that you are on the level of Abraham or Moses or Balaam and can communicate with an entity that claims to be God. You want proof, however, before you are going to attempt to sacrifice your first born child (some would automatically exclude God-ness from any entity that demands this but so be it). What would you minimally require? Would you require a miracle on the level of resurrection of the dead? How about repeated and inerrant prophecy being communicated to you? A demonstration of the suspension at will of some fundamental scientific law, like the First Law of Thermodynamics?

9 comments:

Lubab No More said...

> what would be sufficient proof to you for the existence of God?

A proof that might work for me would be a book (or scroll), given to all of humanity, that dictated a reasonable set of rules for all people to live by. Further, the rules would be timeless and easily understandable to even the simplest reader. When people followed the rules listed in this book, they would consistently became better people and care for the betterment of all humanity. There would be a direct correlation between people observing the laws in this book and a reduction in violence/increase in peace. This book would also have to be true in every way. i.e. no insane claims like Noah's Ark.

I don't think such a document would be beyond god's abilities.

elishajan said...

That is an easy one for me. Just have the alleged deity suspend any of the natural laws temporarily. It must be witnessed by ALL not just those in a specific area. (like sinai)

The Jewish Freak said...

>There is no irrefutable evidence of the existence of God which could convince radical empiricists, who a priori rule out the possibility of supernatural intervention

Bogus argument.
You could say the same thing about aliens, ghosts or any number of "supernatural" phenomena. Fact is, if we can see it, it is a natural phenomenon. Acceptance of the limits of human knowledge is an important starting point in the pursuit of knowledge.

Frum Heretic said...

Lubab - what if the Torah had all of the myths removed and was basically just a book of mitzvot. Let's also say that it wasn't addressed exclusively to the Jewish people and thus the laws applied to all (we'd obviously have to remove things like Avadim Canaanim). Or similarly take the NT or the Koran or the Book of Mormon or All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. If everyone followed the rules (and in the Torah case also meted out punishments against murderers, homosexuals, adulterers, thieves - man I hate lumping these categories together but it's important for the argument), wouldn't that fit your criteria?

Frum Heretic said...

Elishajan -

Any of the natural laws? If the alleged deity was able to consistently locate the position of a subatomic particle and tell you its momentum (violating the Heisenberg uncertainty principle), that would be enough for you rather than postulating that perhaps our understanding of quantum mechanics was flawed?

Frum Heretic said...

The Jewish Freak said "bogus argument".

Perhaps Wurzburger's argument is bogus, but I don't think the question which follows from the argument is. If you reframe it as "what would be sufficient proof to you for the existence of aliens or ghosts", it would be pretty easy for a scientist to come up with an answer. Not necessarily when one wants proof for God.

Lubab No More said...

FH,

If the Torah was stripped down, and whatever else was added, and it was given to all of humanity, and it was understood by everyone who read it, and when people followed it they became better people (without fail), and the document was claimed to have come from god, and there was no proof to the contrary... then yeah. That might fit my criteria.

> If everyone followed the rules (and in the Torah case also meted out punishments against murderers, homosexuals, adulterers, thieves - man I hate lumping these categories together but it's important for the argument), wouldn't that fit your criteria?

There's no evidence that following all the rules in any of the books you listed makes people better human beings. Torah, as interpreted by Modern Orthodox Jews, makes for a very civil and peaceful community but only because of how it is interpreted. There are radical religious communities that interpret the same Torah and have a very different result. The document I described is "self-evident" (to borrow a phrase) and doesn't require any interpretation.

Lubab No More said...

BTW, I liked this question of yours so much I put my response on my blog.

LubabNoMore: "What Would Be Sufficient Proof of God?"

elishajan said...

FH - If the violation of the natural law is temporary without ramifications to us or our environment, then yes, it will suffice as proof for that deity. It, of course, won't be proof of the Judeo-Christian deity or a deity that created everything but it will prove that it has the power to interact with our environment.

But I still wouldn't worship it.