Pharyngula

I have been challenged by Jerry Coyne, who is unconvinced by my argument that there is no evidence that could convince me of the existence of god. Fair enough, I shall repeat it and expand upon it.

  1. The question “Is there a god?” is a bad question. It’s incoherent and undefined; “god” is a perpetually plastic concept that promoters twist to evade evaluation. If the whole question is nebulous noise, how can any answer be acceptable? The only way to win is by not playing the game.

  2. There’s a certain unfairness in the evidence postulated for god. I used the example of a 900 foot tall Jesus appearing on earth; there is no religion (other than the addled hallucinations of Oral Roberts) that ever proposes such a thing, so such a being would not prove the existence of any prior concept of god, and will even contradict many religions. It’s rather like proposing a crocoduck as a test of evolution.

  3. Many of the evidences proposed rely for their power on their unexplainability by natural mechanisms. There isn’t much power there: the vast majority of the phenomena that exist are not completely explained by science. For instance, I don’t understand every detail of Hox gene regulation (no one does), and I don’t understand all of the nuclear reactions going on inside a star (maybe someone does), and pointing at an elegantly patterned embryo or at our Sun will get me to happily admit my ignorance, but my ignorance is not evidence for a god.

  4. Often when people try to convince me that I’m wrong on this, they add increasingly elaborate, detailed intricacies to an invented scenario, piling up improbabilities until they’ve got an event so wildly unlikely to be as close to impossible as possible, and then, aha, I’m expected to admit that if that happened, I’d have to be convinced that the extremely unlikely explanation of a deity must be the best explanation. But I’m not arguing from probabilities at all; personally, I’m ridiculously improbable, being the product of random recombinations of complex strands of DNA and a personal history full of accidents and coincidence, but I’m not god, nor do I think any other peculiar set of accidents amount to a god.

  5. These elaborate proof-scenarios also have another problem: they haven’t happened, yet people believe in god anyway. We have millennia of history of devoted god-belief, but now you’re trying to tell me that loud voices from the heavens, flocks of angels, healed amputees, and personal messages direct from a manifested Jesus would be sufficient to convince me of a deity’s existence? Well, if that’s our standard of proof, then all existing religions have been disproven.

  6. One other odd feature of the proposed evidence for god is that it is all so petty and superficial. Remember, this omnipotent god we’re talking about has been called “the ground state of all being” and is supposed to be omnipresent and essential to the maintenance of the universe, so I expect the evidence for god to be rather more fundamental. No one seems to think to invent a property of nature that is supernatural; even the terms are self-contradictory. But shouldn’t a god be as ubiquitous and consequential as bosons? Despite calling some particles “god particles”, though, the fact of existence makes them natural and immediately disqualifies them from godhood.

  7. The case for the non-existence of god is not simply a negative one, drawn from the absence of evidence, which can be corrected by throwing in evidence for a miracle. We are atheists because we have a scientific understanding of how the universe works, and the phenomena we observe do not seem to require divine intervention to function. So sure, show me a tap-dancing Jesus poofing loaves and fishes into existence with a snap of his fingers…and I’ll ask how his existence influences chemistry, how the silly bearded man matters in the last few billions of years of evolution, and why he isn’t publishing in the physics journals, where his omniscient insight into the machineries of the world might be better appreciated. Even there, though, I’d question whether adding tap-dancing Jesus to the long list of existent phenomena really helps us understand anything.

  8. There are always better explanations for unexplained phenomena than god: fraud and faulty sensory perception cover most of the bases, but mostly, if I see a Madonna appear in a field to bless me, the first thing I’d suspect is brain damage. We have clumsy, sputtering, inefficient brains that are better designed for spotting rutabagas and triggering rutting behavior at the sight of a curvy buttock than they are for doing math or interpreting the abstract nature of the universe. It is a struggle to be rational and objective, and failures are not evidence for an alternative reality. Heck, we can be fooled rather easily by mere stage magicians; we don’t need to invent something as elaborate as a god to explain apparent anomalies.

That last point does imply, though, that there is one path that could convince me of the existence of god: major brain damage. I don’t think that wacking me in the skull with a ball-peen hammer counts as evidence, however.


Some of you are already disagreeing with me in the comments. This is pointless, because I do have a trump card that I can play against all the nay-sayers. I learned it from the theists.

If you do not concede to me, it’s because my arguments are too subtle and sophisticated for you. Hah, take that!