testing god

Some atheist is trying to put god to the test with an updated version of Gideon’s fleece gimmick. This is, of course, completely stupid. It assumes a very primitive view of god. For one, god wouldn’t let himself get suckered into this (he is god, after all); second, you don’t have to believe god intervenes at all in the causal universe to believe in him; third, if this dave guy knew his bible well enough, he would know that god is more likely to zap and unbeliever like himself with a big fat lightning bolt than to link his tabs for him. It’s just not a good idea.

from the friendly atheist:

Dave is putting God to the test.

Which Christians would say is a big no-no. But hear him out on this…

Dave is an atheist. He says he’ll believe in God if he sees a miracle:

Burning bushes, disembodied hands writing on the wall, talking donkeys, water into wine – there are any number of Biblical precedents for things that I’d readily accept as evidence for God. But it doesn’t have to be anything fancy like that. Any small thing, that I could verify as being impossible by natural means, would at the very least force me to reconsider things very carefully.

There’s a standard argument against this, that I wouldn’t really reconsider anything; that my dark atheist soul is too far gone, and that I don’t want to believe in God for my own evil reasons, and wouldn’t change even if Jesus himself appeared before me. Apparently such people have some special insight into my mind and soul that I don’t have, because I’m pretty sure that I would change my mind.

All God would have to do to make Dave reconsider his atheism is take these soda can tabs…

tabs… and link them together like so:

tabs linkedAnd if that happens, Dave will post the photo, go to church, and “tentatively accept the existence of God.”

I’m doing this to put my money where my mouth is, and show that my atheism [has] nothing to do with not wanting to believe in God, but rather not having the evidence to believe in God.

Of course the tabs will never get linked. Prayer doesn’t have that kind of power.

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4 Comments to “testing god”

  1. Hi, how ya doin’? Interesting post.

    “Some atheist is trying to put god to the test with an updated version of Gideon’s fleece gimmick. This is, of course, completely stupid.”

    How childish. “But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Matthew 5:22, KJV.

    “It assumes a very primitive view of god. For one, god wouldn’t let himself get suckered into this (he is god, after all);”

    Who said anything about suckering? I’m being up-front about the fact that I could be wrong, and about one example of something that would change my mind. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV), right?

    “second, you don’t have to believe god intervenes at all in the causal universe to believe in him;”

    True; but can you explain what leads you to believe in god in the first place if he has no causal effect on the universe? That’s like saying I don’t have to see unicorns, or see the influence of unicorns, or interact with unicorns in any way, to believe in them. It’s technically true but it doesn’t actually help me believe in unicorns.

    “third, if this dave guy knew his bible well enough, he would know that god is more likely to zap and unbeliever like himself with a big fat lightning bolt than to link his tabs for him.”

    Interesting. Could you point out where in the bible god strikes an unbeliever with a lightning bolt? I must have skipped that bit.

    The point of the exercise is not set up something that I actually expect to happen. The point is to ask *why* it won’t happen. What kind of god would refuse to demonstrate his existence, and then punish those who wonder whether maybe he doesn’t exist? Even if you take the punishment out, it’s still baffling. Why does god insist on hiding himself(/herself/itself/themselves) so completely?

    I’ll keep an eye out for lightning bolts though. Nothing yet.

    “It’s just not a good idea.”

    I take full responsibility for the outcome then.

  2. hi dave,
    ur right. there is no lightning bolt. but there are bears tearing little children apart for making fun of a prophet (2 kings ch.2), Zechariah goes deaf for not believing god (Luke 1) and Jesus himself says you shouldn’t put god to the test (Matthew 4:7 quoting Deuteronomy 4:16). But all that is besides the point.

    What i most object to, all joking aside, is your picture of God. God is not a person out there who is futzing with the world. People might have believed that a long time ago, and many people still might. But it is not the only way to view god: God does not have to exists in some scientifically provable sense for believing in him to be useful for people. This means at least two things:
    1) the scientific definition of existence is not the only valid one. it might be the only one that will get us to the moon and back, that will cure our colds and make our computers run (more or less) properly, but it is *not* the only one that can help people get along together and in life in general. It is not absolutely *true* that electrons exist. it is only true in the physicists sense. who knows if physicists will still be talking about electrons in two hundred years.
    2) what religion is about is not so much *truth* as the *good* and there is no reason to believe that finding the one will necessarily produce the other (atomic bombs are *true* in the sense that they blow up correctly, but that doesn’t mean they’re *good*). Religion (and hence the idea of God) is (or should/could be) more about what helps us to be good people than about what the scientists can confirm is true. Granted the idea of God has had mixed results so far, and i am in no way advocating it. I am however convinced that trying to prove gods existence is completely besides the point.

    Hence the reason “why it won’t happen”: your experiment is set up wrong. you need not to ask god to fix your tabs but rather to fix your (or someone else’s) *moral life* but that is a much harder experiment to assess.

  3. Okay, based on what you said here, I think you might have responded to a shot that wasn’t aimed at you. My “experiment” is mainly trying to demonstrate a point who think that god *does* exist (in the scientific sense), and that that existence is important. It does assume a primitive view of god, because that’s the view (held by the majority, I think) that I’m trying to address. If the actual truth of whether god exists isn’t of concern to you, then you’re not really the target audience.

    Note that the “experiment” will never prove that god doesn’t exist. It could (if something actually happens) prove that a particular, intervening type of god exists; and it could (if nothing happens for a long time) suggest that that particular type of god probably doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t, as you say, exclude other types of gods.

    But it’s not enough to say that there are other valid forms of existence. A definition of existence is meaningless if you have no way of distinguishing things that exist by that definition from things that don’t. It may not be scientific existence in the sense of physics and test tubes and Bunsen burners, but if you don’t have *some* way to examine to what extent something exists (by any definition), then it makes no sense to argue that it does exist (by any definition).

    So the other way that you suggested that religion has value or in some sense “exists” is whether there is good in it. “Mixed results” is a very generous way to phrase the contribution of religion to society. I find it interesting that you relate god to morality after bringing up the incident in 2 Kings with the bears. 🙂 It’s hard to play “what if”, but I think the most illustrative point is to compare the state of the relatively secular modern Europe to the highly religious US, Middle East and so on; or compare modern countries where church and state are separate, to current or historical states that were run by the church. And that pattern is repeated in myself and people I know personally; the concept of god has not, in my experience, had a net positive moral effect on myself or people I know, and in many cases it has had a negative effect. Conversely, I feel that atheism has had a positive effect on myself. Not that I’m biased.

    (Obviously this is open for debate and I’m not going to cover the whole thing in one paragraph, but that’s essentially how I see it.)

    I know you could argue that many religious people have a warped view of god as well, but if you’re going to talk about the value of religion in terms of its effect on society, then you have to deal with it in terms of how societies have used it and are using it, and by extension how they will use it. And that is not a pretty picture.

    So from the scientific perspective of “existence”, we have very very little to show that there is a god. From the morality perspective, we have an almost uniformly negative effect of the concept of god or gods on society. You’re welcome to offer other definitions of “existence”, but those are the ones with a practical application as far as I’m concerned.

    And that, in summary, is why I’m an atheist. 🙂

    Whew. Rant over.

  4. Made some editing mistakes in the first sentence. Should have said “My “experiment” is mainly trying to demonstrate a point to people who think that god *does* exist…”.

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