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What would convince an atheist to believe?

Skeptic Daniel Florien asks his mainly atheist/agnostic readers what it would take for them to believe.

The first 3 of 87 responses (and counting) are:

"Evidence and an explanation that makes sense"

"Evidence"

"Show himself and fix the world"

One commenter I've interacted with before said this:

"For me, god would have to demonstrate how the universe makes more sense with him in it. Something no religious person has ever been able to do."

I like how that first sentence begins.  I groan when I get to the words "in it".

Anyway, the whole thing is really fascinating reading.

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0 thoughts on “What would convince an atheist to believe?

  1. John Gault

    I, most assuredly, can't speak for all atheists, but I'd be happy to share with you the short list of things that I would need in order to believe in God.

    1. A verifiable demonstration of divine power that breaks the known laws of physics. So, if God were to materialize at a nationally televised news conference and, through the wave of his hand, briefly turn off gravity for everyone in the world at the same time, I would instantly believe. I know this example sounds sarcastic--such is the risk of blogging instead of talking--but I assure you it is not. There are many, smaller miracles that he could perform that would satisfy me as well, but the "verifiable" part would take time to execute and space to explain in this format. The "over-the-top" drama of my example, then, is simply a demonstration of something that would satisfy me instantly.

    2. A verifiable religious prophecy that is clear, concise, relevant, and isolated. That means that it has to be known before the prophecised event. It has to be easily understandable--no vague, interpretable Nostradamus-style poetry allowed. It has to pertain to something notable--prophecies about what Bob Smith will eat for breakfast tomorrow hold no sway with me. It also has to be isolated--this means that you can't throw a hundred prophecies against the wall and then proclaim divinity when one of them happens to stick. So, if Pope Benedict declares tomorrow that the volcanoe under Yellowstone National Park will erupt on July 25th of 2011--and then said eruption occurs on schedule--I'll convert to Catholocism on the 26th.

    Those are the only two things I can think of that would instantly make me certain of theism's validity. There is also a short list of things that would make me lean in religion's direction. I would consider these things "evidence" of God's existence--not conclusive evidence, but supporting evidence.

    1) A complete religious text with no internal inconsistencies and no contradicitions of the natural world as we know it to exist which maintains its consistency and accuracy as new scientific discoveries unfold.

    2) Any lab-quality, controlled-environment experiment that validates the power and effect of prayer, sacrifice, worship, confession, ritual, etc. All such studies (again, REPUTABLE studies) have shown these things to have absolutely no effect beyond the natural margin of deviation we see in placebos.

    I'm sure if I put more thought into it, I could come up with a few more, but these should be sufficient. The important point to take home here is that there ARE things that would convince atheists (at least THIS atheist) that God is real--and they are things that should be well within the capabilities of an all-powerful God to accomplish. The question to really think about, however, is what evidence would YOU need in order to abandon your faith? If no such evidence can even be conceived of within in your mind, not even imagined as a hypothetical concept, then you have an unfalsifiable faith--a blind faith. How can anyone call a faith like that rational--and why should anyone take it seriously?

  2. Glen

    Hi morsec0de, welcome to the blog.

    If you're thinking about the natural world, surely we've all got the same evidence. And plenty of it - a universe full! And even if you think about special revelation (holy books etc) - we all have access to the same evidence. So unless everyone's deluded/stupid except atheists, the problem can't be the evidence can it? Isn't the real issue the interpretation of that evidence? Things like - what is admitted at the bar of this tribunal? Who says? What are the rules? Who says? Who's in the dock? Who's prosecuting? Where does the burden of proof lie? None of these questions have an obvious answer to some supposed 'neutral.'

    Personally I can't think of a single feature of the natural world that doesn't proclaim Christ. You'll say - 'Ah but you're reading it all from a Christian perspective.' And I'll say 'Yes. There is no neutral perspective.'

    What's the way forward? I believe it's in ty's challenge to "demonstrate how the universe makes more sense with [Jesus]." A universe in which love, mercy, goodness, beauty, hope, redemption and sacrifice are at the very centre is Christ's universe - and as I step out into it, the evidence confirms this hypothesis. A belief that the universe runs on "blind, pitiless indifference" runs up against almost every fact of my existence and rings untrue. It's inability to handle the evidence of almost every feature of my daily experience is quite stunning.

  3. Glen

    Hi John, welcome to the blog.

    In addition to the point I've made above regarding evidence, I'd just make the observation that the question of *which* god we're trying to prove is all important. Several commenters have made this point on Unreasonable Faith and I think it's absolutely right.

    The tests you've thought up for God are tests of power.
    It's interesting to note what Jesus' miracles were like. He didn't blow the tops off of mountains or make donkeys tap-dance and sing "Oklahoma". He fed the hungry, cleansed lepers, healed the sick, the blind, the deaf, the lame etc, etc. Not displays of sheer power, but restorative acts of mercy. The miracles of Jesus were, of course powerful, but far more they were signs of His love.

    And the greatest sign at the heart of the Christian faith is not one of power but of utter weakness and self-sacrifice. The Lord who made us bled and died to receive back His enemies into friendship with Himself. To me, this is the greatest proof of the divine glory of Jesus. It is self-evident to me that such profound love is the pinnacle of all reality.

    You've asked what would falsify my faith. If it turns out that God is not like this Jesus then I'll renounce God entirely. I'll go to hell (or to nothingness) with this Jesus and others can endure 'paradise' (or whatever) with the god of power. You say you'd convert to a god who shows up on national television to suspend gravity. Why? What's he ever done for you, except show off? No, if there's a god who shows up like that he'd prove himself to be very unlike Jesus. It sounds like if that god showed up, we'd swap sides. You'd become a theist, I'd become an anti-theist! (And I'm not joking!)

    Now if you find no evidence for, and wish to reject, the god of abstract power - I'm totally with you. I think atheists are entirely right to reject some arch-potentate in the sky. But Christians have a very different being in mind (or at least they should do!) when they say "God."

    Here's an excellent talk on this issue. It's all about how the atheists are right. Love to hear your thoughts on it:

    https://christthetruth.net/2010/04/08/mike-reeves-evangelistic-talk-the-atheists-are-right/

  4. John Gault

    Thank you for the warm welcome...

    Lots to address here, so let's just take it one piece at a time.

    Your description of Jesus as the personification of weakness and self-sacrifice has a couple of problems. First, Jesus is only one leg of the spiritual tri-pod that I assume you worship. The "Father" of that Holy Trinity has a whole prequel of books that he has to be accountable for--and the Old Testament is absolutely chock-full of the kinds of feats that I'm talking about--just ask the first sons of Egypt. Second, the image of "Jesus meek and mild" isn't exactly correct. There are many examples, but one should suffice for our purposes. Matthew 21 tells the story of Jesus basically throwing a hissy fit because he wants a fig when they are out of season. Rather than conjuring up a fig or blessing fig trees with a year-round fruit season (positive acts of creation), he instead curses the tree and it withers and dies (a negative act of destruction). Immediately after that, in Matthew 21:21, Jesus makes the following statement to his followers:

    21:21 Jesus answered them,

    “Most certainly I tell you, if you have faith, and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you told this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it would be done.

    So, you see, Jesus wasn't all that opposed to "blowing the tops off mountains" as you might like to believe.

    It doesn't matter though. My conditions for belief can be met just as easily by your image of a gentle Jesus as by my image of Cecil B. Demille's God of the O.T. Instead of shutting off gravity, Jesus could appear--again, I'd like to see it televised so that all the world can bear witness--while a man with an inoperable brain tumor stands in an MRI. Live pictures of the tumor could be streamed across the world as Jesus waves his hand to make it disappear. We could all see as the tumor first shrank then vanished and C. Everett Koop pronounces the patient "cancer free". The nature of the miracle doesn't really matter--it's the verifiability and the absolute exclusion of natural causation that is key.

    That still leaves prophecy, consistency of scripture, and experimental trials as possible evidence as well. I see no conflict with those requirements and the image of pacifist Jesus.

    Lastly, I found it interesting that you shifted the debate from "belief" to "obedience". You stated that if God were to make himself known undeniably, but his nature were contrary to your current Christian beliefs, that you would become a non-theist. Naturally this is impossible. If God--any God--let's say Zeus were to show up with his thunderbolts blazing--were to make himself undeniably and indisputably known to all the world, you could choose to not obey him. You could choose to not worship him. You could not, however, choose to NOT BELIEVE in him. I told you what my threshold of proof would be to believe in A god--any God at all. I said virtually nothing of what that God would have to do for me to get on my knees and worship him. I'm curious, though, about my original question. What scientific evidence of any discipline--biology, physics, archaeology, etc.--would you need to see that would cause you to abandon your faith in the EXISTENCE of ANY god at all? What would it take to make you turn atheist? If you can't do the same thing that I have done and define a threshold of proof that would make you reverse your opinion, then your belief is, like I said before, irrational.

  5. Brian Westley

    "we all have access to the same evidence. So unless everyone’s deluded/stupid except atheists, the problem can’t be the evidence can it? Isn’t the real issue the interpretation of that evidence?"

    disclaimer: I'm not morsec0de...

    Sorry, you seem to be equivocating, as if all the thousands of mutually exclusive religions is somehow a point in FAVOR of one of them being right.

    They can't all be right. But they CAN all be wrong. If at least 9,999 religions MUST be wrong, that doesn't help the 10,000th one at all.

    For example, is polygamy morally right or wrong? When every religion agrees on this question, wake me.

  6. Heather

    Jesus could appear–again
    He will.
    It is prudent to make peace with Him before then, though.

    I found it interesting that you shifted the debate from “belief” to “obedience”.
    The primary obedience to God is to believe Him.

    You stated that if God were to make himself known undeniably, but his nature were contrary to your current Christian beliefs, that you would become a non-theist. "non-theist" and "anti-theist" are not equivalents.

  7. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    You must of felt like debating, I thought you didn't have alot of time ;-).

    I always find it funny, anecdotally, that atheism must first assume theism in order to live off of its negation (somebody brought up cancer earlier).

  8. Bobby Grow

    One thing, ironic, I've found about atheists, most of them (well even their poster-boy, Dawkins), is that they are as "Fundy" as "Fundies" (Christians) are. They typically don't have a clue on the history of ideas; they don't know how to think self-critically; they don't understand how logic works; they haven't considered the power of worldviews on the interpretation of data; they borrow their "ethics" from the Christian worldview (functionally); and they often shift the burden of proof to others, when the burden is on them (we're here) --- and when they try to prove their burden, if they do, they end up in an infinite regress (like Dawkins again).

    John needs to do his homework.

  9. Bobby Grow

    Here is some advice for atheists put together by my friend Doug Eaton:

    Through countless discussions surrounding atheism, it has become apparent that someone must be feeding bad advice to atheists. Since the following errors are made repeatedly, this partial list has been populated to warn atheists of this underground movement in order for them to avoid these pitfalls. If you are an atheist and hear any of the following advice, realize that if used, it will be harmful to your cause.

    1. Assume that because you compare theism to believing in pink unicorns or fairy tales that you have made a good argument.

    2. Become hostile and use degrading vulgarities while maintaining that Christianity is an immoral religion.

    3. When you are having trouble answering an argument posed by a Christian theist, simply say, “well even if this were true, it doesn’t prove the existence of the ‘Christian’ God.”

    4. Assume that simply because you explain a phenomena from a naturalistic perspective that it constitutes an argument which must be true.

    5. When arguing against the Christian God, simply say that you only believe in “one less god” than most people, as if that does not require you to defend an atheistic understanding of cosmology, anthropology, ethics, philosophy of history, philosophy of politics, philosophy of science, and epistemology.

    6. Make metaphysical statements that suggest that metaphysics are a useless waste of time.

    7. Argue that we should only believe things proven by empirical evidence without proving it with empirical evidence.

    8. Use logic like it is a universal, transcendent, unchanging reality when atheistic naturalism cannot account for universal, transcendent, unchanging realities.

    9. Argue that there is no evidence to believe in the existence of God because all the evidence that is produced fails to pass the standards of evidence which have been constructed from the belief that God does not exist.

    10. Argue that human beings are robots, puppets, and machines programmed by natural selection in a closed system of cause and effect, and then argue for free thought and moral agency.

    11. Place your ultimate trust in human reason while believing that man’s mind evolved from lower animals such as monkeys and will continue to evolve until we become the monkeys from which the minds of the future will have evolved.

    Doug Eaton orginal posting: http://christiantheology.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/pitfalls-for-atheists-to-avoid/

    Some more fodder for our friendly atheists.

  10. Glen

    Now, now Bobby. This is not the time to talk about "them thar atheists" en masse. (Though I very much recognize Doug Eaton's 11 points above!) We have guests who have made specific and on-topic challenges. I'll try to get round to these.

    Hi Heather - good points. Especially about faith and obedience. Jesus doesn't care about being acknowledged as a plausible hypothesis!

  11. Glen

    Hi Brian,

    Welcome to the blog.

    Sorry, you seem to be equivocating, as if all the thousands of mutually exclusive religions is somehow a point in FAVOR of one of them being right.

    They can’t all be right. But they CAN all be wrong. If at least 9,999 religions MUST be wrong, that doesn’t help the 10,000th one at all.

    I might be misunderstanding you here, but you seem to be exempting atheism from the category of a mutually-exclusive world-view seeking to explain the evidence. Why aren't you in the bundle of 10 000 trying to make sense of the world? Do you stand over and above us somehow? And says who?

    It's not just religions in general - you and I have mutually exclusive views and I'd say we're both at least as far away from the Aztec as we are from each other. If you're privileging naturalism - which you seem to be doing, but I might have misread you - then you just need to go back to my original comment to morsec0de.

  12. Glen

    Hi John,

    Thanks for interacting.

    On Jesus as one Person of the Three - that's correct. But He is the perfect revelation of the Father. "I only do what I see my Father doing" etc (John 5:19)

    On the Old Testament, the church has always read the Hebrew Scriptures as a witness to Jesus. So in the example of passover - indeed we learn that the Lord is not simply a mild-mannered pacifist. It is the pre-incarnate Jesus who is visiting judgement upon His enemies. Those set against Him will, in the end, have no place in His presence. But more ultimately we realise that Jesus, when He takes our humanity, deliberately dies at passover. He becomes Himself the Lamb provided to give shelter from that judgement. That's just an example of how Christians have always read what you call the pre-quel.

    On Matthew 21 - yes the fig tree incident really stands out doesn't it? Again let me say I'm not simply arguing for gentle Jesus meek and mild. He's a Lion who dies as a Lamb (Rev 5:5,6). There is incredible severity and plainspeak from Jesus. In Matt 21 we have religious folk who are totally into fig leaves with no fruit - they will in the end crucify Him. And the curse which, you're right, involves *this* mountain, is something fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem a generation later - it is hurled into the sea (a picture of the raging nations in the bible). Here is a unique miracle pointing to destruction not restoration. Those who reject the crucified One will be rejected.

    It's important to remember the Judge of the world hangs on the cross. As well as the wonder that it's the Judge of the world who hangs on the cross. The severity and the mercy actually serve each other.

    On not believing in Thor - Heather's right to point out that I didn't say non-theist but anti-theist. Me and Chris Hitchens would hit the road and proclaim our opposition to this kind of god.

    This raises the very important issue of what is faith. The God of the Bible has absolutely no interest in being assented to as a helpful hypothesis. His revelation is not to the end that we would *acknowledge* His existence!

    You can't seriously imagine being in the presence of Beauty, Holiness, Grace Himself and simply 'notching it up to experience' can you? If you can, then it's clear you're enquiring after the wrong god.

    The second half of your comment assumes a paradigm that I want to challenge. I'm imagining a court room in which you are the judiciary, the Judge and the cross-examining Prosecutor and a procession of deities show up in the dock to be put through their paces. As a thought experiment you've imagined evidence that would convince you that the god-you-are-prepared-to-acknowledge becomes the god-you-do-acknowledge because he's satisfied your criteria.

    My question is - what's changed? I mean this isn't belief in any theological sense and it's certainly not any kind of meaningful conversion. You remain the same, the process of knowing remains the same and even the god in question remains the same. You just go from skepticism to acknowledgement of this one fact of existence. And you're still in control! You imagine in the presence of your Maker that you are still calling the shots!

    *All* knowing involves a symbiosis of knowing subject, known object and epistemological method. And that whole complex is radically affected depending on the nature of the object of knowledge. This is true in every branch of knowledge. But it's especially true theologically, because here we are talking not only about a known Object - but He is Himself a Knowing and Speaking Subject. To seek after this God means the knowing subject and the epistemological method *must* be radically different (the court room is great for establishing some truths, not so good at others and terrible at theology!). No, the Knowing, Speaking God must know and speak to us. And we must be known and listen to His Word. This method is the *only* way by which we seek *this* God. That's not a cop out, it's simply the nature of the case. And given the priority of our *being known* by God - this knowledge is something that captures us, not something we hold onto today and may discard tomorrow. So I don't have the falsifiability you're asking for. But that's not irrational - it's simply the nature of true theological rationality. Again, if you make falsifiability the litmus test of true rationality, you are excluding from the outset the knowledge of *this* God. Which, if you ask me, is irrational.

    Whatever god we imagine would show up in our little court room is not *this* God. When Jesus was on trial He was silent. Because He's not known in the court room. He's known on the cross.

  13. Heather

    They can’t all be right. But they CAN all be wrong. If at least 9,999 religions MUST be wrong, that doesn’t help the 10,000th one at all.

    Religion is simply the system by which man makes his effort to please God.

    True Christianity is not primarily about man working his way into God's favor, but God making a way so that man who cannot please God may be found pleasing by Him.

    The Christian faith is a righting of relationship first. The activity of "religiously" living out one's belief is what follows.

    Atheism's god is man, and its practice of religion is to do what man finds to be pleasing.

  14. Heather

    Hi Glen,

    I couldn't resist sticking my nose in here.

    Besides, I think I'm up to five comments now and ready for re-evaluation ;)

  15. John Gault

    Glen,

    You must realize that you have constructed a rhetorical "mobius strip" here that only leads in circles...

    You began this discussion by asking a very reasonable, very answerable question: "What would it take for an atheist to believe?" I, in turn, gave you very reasonable, very achievable (assuming the nature of the God in question) list of benchmarks for proof that would convince me.

    You respond, however, with an extremely eloquent, extremely verbose statement that, essentially, boils down to: "Well, my God doesn't do that". You have constructed your definitions of "theological belief" and "evidence" to exclude all demonstrations of power, measurable achievement, verifiable data, and falsifiable belief. You have eliminated all forms of proof from your God's available bag of tricks and then ask me what proof would be sufficient. Why ask the question to begin with?

    I say "God should speak if he wants to be heard". You say "My God is, by definition, silent. You must hear what is not spoken". C'mon...Don't these mental gymnastics ever make you a little tired? It really shouldn't be that hard to justify something that is supposedly self-evident.

  16. Glen

    Hi John,

    Sorry, I should have been more clear. I wasn't attempting to ask the question for myself. I consider the question to be completely wrongheaded from the outset. I repeated Daniel's asking of it because I found the discussion at Unreasonable Faith to be interesting.

    I consider that both the atheists *and* the theists who have agreed to the terms of the question are essentially on the same side - dealing with a god who (whether he exists or not) is subject to us, not we to him. I have absolutely no interest in proving to you a god who is already subject to the terms of this thought-experiment! That's not so much a mobius strip as a dead end.

    Now my God is by definition the Speaking God - not at all the silent God. Here's just a selection of some of the things I've emphasized:

    * All creation proclaims Christ.
    * Christ Himself is the eternal Word.
    * The bible is the written word testifying to Him.
    * Look to Christ crucified - the glory of God shines at full strength there.
    * Don't set little tests for God but listen to what He's already said, because He's the Speaking God.

    That's been my argument consistently, wouldn't you agree? He's certainly not silent. And if we don't hear Him the problem is not with Him but with us.

    You're right that I've been too verbose. If you want a boiled down version - this is it:

    * We're subject to God not Him to us
    * Any attempt to know Him that denies this is an attempt to know a different god - a god of our own choosing.
    * But this does not mean God is being precious and keeping Himself to Himself. He has made Himself known - and far more vulnerably than by descending to the dock! He's descended to the cross. I really want you to feel this point. The living God hasn't just showed up at your press conference to show Himself to be great - He has showed up on a cruel cross to die for those who hate Him. That's a God I don't just assent to, but love.
    * Jesus - God's Word - is obviously, gloriously, beautifully and self-evidently our Lord.
    * The bible perfectly witnesses to Him. Here is all-sufficient evidence. Read it in submission to the surprising God of the cross and you will see the glory of God in the face of Christ.

    Sorry I get wordy. But I do urge you to look again at Christ crucified as you read the bible. I can't justify God to you - but He can justify Himself as He encounters you through His word.

  17. John B

    If God is the Creator and we are his creatures, who are we to sit in judgment of him and call him to account for himself to us. Romans 9:1-29 is particularly worthy of our consideration in this regard. After all, as Ayn Rand so often herself raised the question, "Who is John Galt?"

    "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." - John Galt

    "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." - Jesus Christ

  18. John Gault

    And here we find the impasse that will inevitably end our otherwise enjoyable conversation.

    Since your God has no obligation to prove himself to me, I will not give him my belief--because I do not believe in things that can't be proven.

    You claim that your God is a speaking God, yet all his conversations come from a book that was written before I was born, by people I can not verify existed. I do not consider this speaking.

    You put virtually all of the weight of your argument on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I'm expected to do the same if I want to be a part of your religion, yet I have no reason to believe the tennets of that premise. I have no reason to believe that the events of the bible are true. I have no reason to believe that a man named Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. I have no reason to believe that if he did exist, that he was crucified. And finally, even if every event of the crucifixion happened as reported, I have no reason to believe that Jesus was divine.

    Obviously, your God can never satisfy my intellectual demands for proof and I can never satisfy your God's demand for faith.

    I wish you well...

  19. Dave K

    I can't resist briefly butting in John... sorry.

    Glen hasn't "eliminated all forms of proof from your God’s available bag of tricks", although he has eliminated the forms of proof that you say would satisfy you in your first comment.

    But, it is important to note that he is not eliminating those forms of proof arbitarily, but because for them to be provided would be to disprove exactly what you say they would prove.

    If you asked David Cameron to prove he would be the best Prime Minister of the UK by asking him to dress up as Big Bird from Sesame Street for the upcoming TV debate, then if he actually did what you asked he would prove the exact opposite. Similarly, if you ask Jesus to appear again "televised so that all the world can bear witness–while a man with an inoperable brain tumor stands in an MRI", and he actually did that, then he would prove himself to be someone other than Jesus.

    In the Gospels Jesus is recorded as refusing to perform miracles on demand, because that he is not a show-pony, but someone who acts in order to rescue.

    However, he has proved himself to be who he said he was in several ways which FIT who he said he is. Contrary to what you say, Glen, and all Christians, don't believe that God is "silent". We believe he has spoken in the most unexpected and unlooked for way: in the person of Jesus and the works that he did. The miracles that he performed, how he spoke, how he died, and his resurrection from the dead all prove Jesus is God because they FIT the character of the God of the whole Bible, and don't fit our expectations and demands.

    As soon as Jesus fits our every demand and expectation he becomes "our God" in the pejorative sense which I'm guessing lies behind the reference to "your God" in your comment. He would be our creation, and our possession. Instead, he challenges us all, Christian or not, to listen to what he has said in Jesus Christ. And having really listened with open ears he asks us to respond by trusting that person who has proved himself to be trustworthy by dying and rising 2000 years ago in a unique, once in a Universe way.

    Those are my brief reflections, anyway. Its an important conversation to have. Thanks for encouraging it. I'll look forward to reading more of it, although I might not get chance to comment again.

  20. Glen

    Ahh - thanks John B. Only just realised 'John Galt' is pseudonymous. And from what I've just read of 'Atlas Shrugged' I guess that's kind of ironic.

    It's been nice talking to you John Galt - I assure you the living God exists far above our calls for proof but, and this is the key, He has descended far lower than any of our expectations. Dissected on the cross for all to see - now you know where to look. I pray you will.

  21. Bobby Grow

    That's fine, Glen,

    I'm just not in a place to engage atheists very charitably . . . at least when I wrote that last night. Sorry, John.

    One more general point about atheists. It makes me sad that they are. I've known too many Christians who went off to Junior College, were confronted with an antagonistic prof, didn't know how to answer and then ended up like, John.

    Rationalism is from satan in concert with our flesh, Genesis 3 says so; and its a strategy that continues to have force for the very reason that it is "natural." In other words rationalism is proportionate to our nature (it lifts itself up). Too bad . . .

  22. Craig Duckett

    We like to think there is a natural relationship between the words we use and the world around us, and superficially there is when words are representative of specific persons, places, and things with which we have intimate contact (e.g., my face, my house, my child, my car). Beyond this knowing interaction, most representational words are abstract and generic (e.g., tree, dog, car, lake) while non-representational words are nothing more than mental proxies for multi-worded definitions (e.g., God, Heaven, Hell, Sin, Soul, Afterlife, Truth, Evil, Fact). Non-representational words have no references or agents in the 'real world' so can only derive their meaning by calling upon other words, a completely made-up and arbitrary process, and wholly subjective.

    While I can point to a "tree" in the real world and I can point to a " rock" in the real world, or a dog, or a fire, or an atom in an electron microscope, the only place I'm able to point to "God" or "Heaven" or the "Soul" are...where? Only as words in books, because ideas like God or Heaven or Soul exist by definition alone and are not based on anything measurable or falsifiable. They rely on subsets of other abstract definitions in order to be 'known' and cannot be known outside these definitions. Religious ideas, supernatural ideas, mystical and occult ideas exist by way of definition alone and vanish in the absence of language. Trees and rivers and rocks don't disappear in silence, but gods and ghosts and demons do (only to re-appear again whenever mouths or books are opened) and so much more than these. Even history, literature, philosophy, science, and politics will all melt away when language is removed. Where is Plato outside the book? Where is Jesus? Muhammad? Postmodernism? Critical theory? Culture needs language to operate, so what does this 'mean' about culture if language is artificial? What does this 'mean' about us and the way we live our lives (or is it the other way around)?

    When a person claims that 'God is all-powerful or 'God is all-knowing' or 'Heaven or Hell await us when we die', was this information derived from direct interaction with the physical world or from language alone? If I remove language I can still point to my face, I can still point to a tree, but I am unable to point to God or even the terms used to define God's attributes (e.g., Omniscient, Omnipotent). In other words, God is defined by terms that exist themselves only by way of definition, as mental constructs, and not as anything mensurable in the real world. God, therefore, is only a word and literally 'defined' into existence. Where can God be found outside of language (or Heaven, or Hell, or Angels, or the Soul, or Life-After-Death)?

    Saying 'God is all-knowing' is as meaningful, therefore, as saying 'Galfaloon is Omni-Spritely' since in both cases the subject and object rely on interior definitions alone to be known (i.e., neither 'God' nor 'all-knowing' or 'Galfaloon' nor 'Omni-Spritely' are found anywhere outside of abstract language). What an ingenious trap! Using subsets of artificial terms to argue the character of other artificial terms (akin, perhaps, to molding an idol out of clay and giving it made-up attributes then calling the idol a representation of God and its attributes God's attributes).

    This is the counterfeit nature of language, since all subjects and objects rely on artificial subsets for definition.

    Language, therefore, is an imaginary patterning system we use to point to-and-from ourselves, each other, other things in the universe, and things that exist only in the mind as subsets of language. It makes no difference whether we're talking/writing about Creationism ("Intelligent Design") or Evolution ("Darwinism"), since the language involved in both cases is part of the same imaginary patterning system. The arguments used to defend Creationism and the arguments used to defend Evolution both consist of words that do not exist in the real world. Words are not natural. Words are symbolic components used in the imaginary patterning system and symbolic components do not exist . Words are not real.

    The important issue here isn't whether someone is arguing from a religious point-of-view or a scientific point-of-view, a liberal point-a-view or a conservative point-a-view, a Christian point-of-view or an atheist point-of-view, but that irrespective of the words chosen the world simply exists, untouched and unchanged by the discussion. A hundred billion words exchanged will never make a scientific theory into physical reality nor will it produce a spirit, a miracle, an angel, or life-after-death. The world, the universe, all the various things that make up the universe simply are, while language is an imaginary patterning system we lay over things to interpret them and invest them with meaning (although 'meaning' is purely conceptual and does not exist in the real world). When we imagine the world to be one way or the other—e.g., whether natural or supernatural—it's as if we are looking through language and symbols to see the world, then mistake our language and symbols to be the world. Language and symbols are not the world. The world precedes all language and symbols. The world simply is.

  23. Heather

    Craig Duckett said
    Words are not real.

    I'm lost.

    You used an awful lot of words to communicate this concept that language is meaningless.

    Language and symbols are not the world. The world precedes all language and symbols. The world simply is.

    The world *is* because God spoke it into existence.

    The world which we see is real. But it is both a symbol of, and testimony to, that which exists but is currently beyond our comprehension.

    We have been gifted language by our Creator so that we may be able to express gratitude to Him and have a means of sharing the message of His love and provision with those who need to hear it.

  24. John B

    Craig, I'm just a visitor here, but since it's Sunday morning, I'm guessing that it may be awhile before the regulars are back on line. In the meantime, in trying to understand your thinking here, would I be wrong to say that only that exists in the cosmos which is discernable to your physical senses or intellect? (Or if cosmos is too expansive a concept, perhaps the real world works better for illustrative purposes.) Just curious.

    Also, when you say, "The world precedes all language and symbols. The world simply is.", do you have any evidence that witnesses to the reality that the natural physical world underlies all existence? Is this just your own perception? Or perhaps it's self-evident truth?

    I'm inclined to agree with much of what you've said along the lines that we make too much ado about human words. In fact, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I rejoice in the gospel witness to him that proclaims, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."

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  26. Heather

    You used an awful lot of words to communicate this concept that language is meaningless.

    That didn't read the way I intended it.

    What I'm trying to say is that I don't understand how a person can use words to convincingly relay the message that words are untrustworthy vehicles by which one may accurately transmit information about the world in which we live--or argue for the existence of God.

  27. Otepoti

    Kia ora, Craig. You say, "The world precedes all language and symbols. The world simply is."

    But that's not really the case, is it? The physical world in which we act is in fact an appearance. In reality, at the cellular, molecular, atomic and (for all I know) sub-atomic level, it's information all the way down.

    Information = language.

    That's why I find John 1:1 ("In the beginning was the Word") so persuasive.

  28. Josh

    Thanks Craig, there's some really incitful stuff in what you wrote. It's easy, especially in debates over the existence of (g/G)od(s) to come up with a language about god that is abstract and functions precisely how describe. I guess that's what inevitably happens when you start of with a mind experiment and hope to prove God's existence.

    It's where the incarnation is so crucial. "God is love" is not some vague abstract motion, but is intrinsically linked to a physical historical event of a man dying on a cross.

  29. Gav

    Please excuse my interuption....and this conversation has nothng to do with me.....and...I am not well educated and have low intellectual intelligence next to you guys, and I would be an easy target but.....

    Its no different to John Gault, really, than it was for Thomas...... that he would want to see the evidence a little higher in the hierarchy of evidence in regards to Jesus rising from the dead.

    But for me, like you say Glen, the evidence is there but it all depends on how you process the evidence.

    Thomas had the insight of being with Jesus and heard him tell him it was as about to happen but he still didnt believe it.

    Thomas still didnt believe even though he had all the evidence that he should have needed to believe.(he heard Jesus tell him before it happened, his friends told him after it happened).......He needed to see the nail marks and the hole in his side!........Lucky for Thomas Jesus made it perfectly clear.

    For me I needed more than words also. I was "tapped on the shoulder" by God. It wasnt one intellectuall argument, or one big miracle....it was from a series of events that made it clear that there was a God.

    Then I was finally "sold" (after a long time) when I investigated who Jesus, what was He on about and what it means to follow Him. Then after this my life completely changed. He actually spoke to me (not audibly I might add).

    For me the proof of the world around me, my children, the evidence of Jesus in history (all throughout the bible) and the relationsip I have with Him is proof enough.

    I understand skepticism, wanting to see a higher level of proof....and I reckon without having our eyes being opened (how you process the evidence) by God, there is no chance of seeing what is right in front of you. So nobody can convert anybody either way.

    Like the song goes...."I dont need no one, to tell me about heaven, I look at my daughter and I believe..."

    Excellent discussion and a privelige to read. Well done and thanks to all!

  30. Heather

    Josh said
    It’s where the incarnation is so crucial. “God is love” is not some vague abstract motion, but is intrinsically linked to a physical historical event of a man dying on a cross.

    That is an excellent point! Not just His death on the cross, but the eyewitness accounts of His having conquered death.

    And He's left miraculous, observable evidence of having been here, in the changed hearts of those who do believe--even though they have not had a "Thomas" experience of physically seeing and touching Him. I treasure the fact that Jesus said "Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed."

    In westernized society (at least, in America) there are so many who have taken Christ's name on an emotional or intellectual level--but show very little of Christ's selfless attitude of love for others. We often get distracted with "stuff" and "issues" and neglect our own relationships with Christ.

    If we don't submit ourselves to training as sons to a loving Father---so that our lives actually bear witness to His existence, I can't blame skeptical atheists for disbelieving.

    John 17:25-26 O righteous Father, indeed the world has not known You; but I have known You, and these have known that You have sent me.
    And I made known to them Your name, and will make it known, so that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.

    Jesus' prayer was that God's presence would be made known to the world by the way His people love others. Dead, selfish, wicked hearts are miraculously replaced with soft, kind and compassionate ones. This is the "proof" He has left as a witness. It cannot be scientifically measured, weighed or evaluated by observers. But it is quite real.

  31. Heather

    Please excuse my interuption….and this conversation has nothing to do with me…..and…I am not well educated and have low intellectual intelligence next to you guys, and I would be an easy target but…..

    This sort of comment opening seems somewhat familiar.....

    Gav, I for one appreciate that you are willing to share your experience. Every conversion is different and it is important to remember this.

  32. Glen

    Thanks for all the comments.

    Craig - welcome to the blog. Nice to have you. I see that you've been pretty soundly refuted on a number of fronts. I'd *really* recommend a re-think. Happy to chat further if you want to respond.

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