/ ask / What would be “Proof” that God Exists?

Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
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Dear Darrel,

I understand that the argument against religion is that there is no proof that God exists. What would a religious person, or God, have to provide to constitute proof of His existence that would be enough to convince atheists He is real?

From Dr. Ray

I tend to think of the question in these terms: what proof would you require to believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the one true god? Imagine all the different ways I could try and prove to you that the FSM lives and moves in our lives? With respect to supernatural claims, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. As Carl Sagan was fond of saying, “Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence.” Every proof that religionists have used to “prove” a god, can also be used to “prove” the FSM. And none of these proofs can be scientifically tested.

A proof requires objective validity. Can it be verified and reproduced? For centuries, religion used stories of miracles as proof of various gods. They still do today, but these claims are unverifiable and subjective in nature.

Remember also that just because something is strange does not mean that it is divine. Suppose that someone claiming to be the messiah performed the miracle of turning water into wine: it might be impressive to the people who witnessed it, but unless he could do it repeatedly under laboratory conditions, I would have to assume he was simply a skilled illusionist. Even if many teams of scientists each independently verified that this person can alter the molecular structure of water into wine with no possibility of him having fooled them, that would still not prove that he was God, or that God was doing it through him. Saying “I don’t know how that was done, so God must have done it” is never an acceptable answer. Instead it would create many new questions that history tells us science would eventually answer.

Suppose that I fell down the stairs and went into a coma, and while unconscious I seemed to meet God and walk around Heaven with him until he told me it was time to go back and I woke up in the hospital. Alas, that still does not constitute proof of the divine. Instead a much more reasonable explanation would be that I had experienced a dream or hallucination in which my unconscious mind had incorporated culturally common imagery into a wish fulfillment fantasy. Imagine if instead of dreaming about Heaven I dreamed that I traveled to Oz and killed the Wicked Witch of the West with a bucket of water. Would you then believe that Oz was real? In either case, it is not reproducible under laboratory conditions.

Suppose that a giant image of a person appeared in the sky and spoke to everyone on Earth simultaneously in their native language and announced that he was God. I imagine that most people would totally freak out. None the less, I would have to remain skeptical. The most obvious explanation would be that a human, or group of humans, was using new and powerful technology to try and fool the rest of us. As the great science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clark said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Furthermore how would we know it wasn’t aliens, or time travelers? And regardless of who was creating this massive projection, their technological superiority would not be any kind of proof that they created the universe, or that their morality was better than my morality, or that they could verify the existence of an afterlife.

The most plausible explanation for a global event like that would simply be that I had gone insane and was experiencing a private hallucination? This is all completely theoretical of course, since nothing like that has ever happened, and in all likelihood, never will.

When people talk about how they “know” God is real, they often say that they “opened their heart to Him” and that they can now “feel His presence” in their daily lives. Unfortunately all that really means is that these people have demonstrated their  ability to delude themselves into believing anything they want to.  It is exactly the same principle as when a charlatan psychic (and indeed, there is no other kind) claims that her powers only works for those who believe in her powers.

 
Religion’s claims are so far-fetched that they are ludicrous to the objective observer. That is why Christians think the claims of Islam are ridiculous. And why Buddhists think Christians are primitive. Most people see how ridiculous the claims of Scientology are, even though they are not really that different from the claims of Mormonism. Everybody thinks their particular gods are superior to everybody else’s. Every religion claims that they can prove their god exists, but we are all still waiting for that extraordinary evidence. Even some ordinary evidence might be a good start.

 

For further information on this subject, visit the Rebuttals To Religion page on this site and watch the excellent videos by QualiaSoup.

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