Saturday, December 5, 2009

What evidence would it take to make you believe in god?

I've answered this question a lot lately. So I thought I'd put down how I am answering it - that way I can just point to a reasonable answer, instead of having to write one every time. I may polish it slightly over time, to clarify what I am getting at.

So what evidence would it take to make me believe in god?

The short answer is "almost any evidence at all, if it meets a few criteria, and I know before we start what it is we're looking for evidence of".

Here's a longer version, slightly clarified from one I posted elsewhere to a question from a theist.

First, let's agree on what phenomenon we're investigating:
  1. Which god are we discussing? What are its properties?
  2. what observations would rule out such a being?

This is necessary because if its properties are undefined, how can *anything* constitute evidence for it? How would one distinguish between evidence for, evidence against and irrelevant information?

Given suitably clear answers to those, I will accept pretty much any evidence that's
  • sufficiently extraordinary to match the extraordinariness of the claimed god,
  • sufficient to rule out alternate non-supernatural explanations, and also
  • sufficient to rule out alternative supernatural ones

i.e. any evidence sufficiently strong to convince me we found what we were looking for (rather than something else extraordinary or even ordinary), and that we're not just fooling ourselves or being fooled by someone or something else.

In other words, if you specify which god hypothesis we're proposing up front, and what evidence could rule the hypothesis out (otherwise it's an hypothesis without any explanatory value at all), I'll then be prepared to consider evidence for it. To cover all those bases, it will have to be multiple, pretty consistent pieces of evidence, but I won't limit it. Lots of things will do.

[One problem I often run into is that frequently the theist asking the question's concept of what constitutes evidence is not what's normally regarded as actual evidence for a phenomenon at all. Feelings aren't evidence, for example. Nor is popular opinion. Nor is "it's written in this book" really evidence, because not everything written in books is true. Historians have ways of becoming reasonably convinced of certain things having happened, rather than relying on statements in a single work of unclear providence.]

Any real evidence. Almost anything that's demonstrably not just at some stage come out of people's heads.


Now your turn, theists: What observation(s), if any, would convince you that your particular god doesn't exist?


Tomato Addict said...

I'm a poor excuse for a theist, so I can only speak for myself, but I think you are asking a meaningless question. My belief (such as it is) is not based on any sort of evidence, it based on faith. Show me real evidence and I'll call "Babel fish".

Efrique said...

If I had asked "what evidence, if any, made you believe", your response might make sense (though you seem to imply later that the response is then "none", so why not say that?).

But I didn't ask a question related to whether or not your belief was based on evidence. I assumed it was not, since that's not generally how people come to believe in the supernatural.

Unless you are now making the claim that having any religious belief held by faith makes it impossible to consider evidence at all (a fact that ex-theists know to be false), my question was not about that.

One can have faith without evidence and still consider whether (and what) evidence could make them disbelieve.

Your last sentence seems to imply* that you think that no evidence can exist - that your God can't have any kind of measurable impact on the world.

If there's no impact, that implies that it's all just a word-game.

In which case, frankly, what's the point in such belief?

(I take it then, that you aren't Christian; Christianity (in the sense that one accepts that accepting the Nicene creed makes one Christian) pretty clearly asserts impact.)

*(I do encourage you to keep reading Douglas Adams. I have hopes that eventually his underlying point in the bit about the babel fish will become clear.)

Laura said...

hmm, interesting question. I think it is important to have an answer because it gets asked enough! I've heard it, but I haven't really thought of it before. I don't know. I guess if God is omniscient and omnipotent, he would know exactly what he needs to do to make me believe in him!