Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ask God: Why This Is a Bad Idea and Why We Ask for Evidence

   As with my last post, this post is inspired by a large thread on Facebook about discussions between atheists and theists. This time, though, I want to take time to address an idea proposed by the theist I had mentioned I spent much of my time responding to as well as similar ideas presented throughout the thread. For this post and the sake of argument, I will be making three assumptions:
  1. A god, and one god only, exists.
  2. This god interacts with people through some method similar to telepathy.
  3. This god does not mislead/deceive people when it interacts with them.

   The idea proposed by the theist is that atheists should just seek out or ask this god to reveal itself (as opposed, I assume, to atheists asking the theists to present evidence for the god they claim exists). This may sound like a good idea, but once you look at the world as a whole, the idea is problematic. Basically, the problem comes down to this: there are many people (perhaps billions) who claim to speak to God, but they often still disagree on things. As God is not deceptive (part of my assumptions), they should all be in agreement if they are truly speaking to God. Before we can consider asking God, we need to determine why there is so much disagreement.

   First, let me say for the record that I am not just speaking about the disagreement between Christians, of which there are over 38,000 denominations alone! (Granted, the differences between many of these are trivial, but there are differences nonetheless.) I am also including Islam, Hindu, and basically every religion that has ever existed — Greek/Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Native American, you name it! It doesn't matter that some of them worship multiple gods or even just animal spirits. It would seem that these people were trying to seek out God and still failed to come to the same conclusion as the theist who brought forth this challenge.

   Going back to our investigation, could it be that many of these people are either lying or just made up their various religions? That seems like a lot to accept! What might be the motivation behind lying? Profiting off the gullible could be a reason, and I actually suspect there are a number of preachers (especially those preaching the prosperity gospel) are frauds. Peter Popoff comes to mind. But not everyone can be a fraud! The people who would fall for the fraud, for example, would likely be legitimately seeking out God. If they were doing this, and if God is expected to respond to them, they would recognize the fraud and not fall for it. Why, then, would they lie about their experience with God when they know they are being scammed? It makes no sense. So we can rule lying for profit out (as a reason for the diversity in religious belief). This has led to another possibility, though. What if God only responds under certain conditions? Then we have a problem in that the theist has not provided us with the information we need to find God. (Though, perhaps they are unaware that there is a certain method if they got "lucky" finding God without knowing the method. Why would they challenge us if they knew we would fail?) We also have a problem that people are incorrectly detecting God, but we'll get to that later as we still need to look at the idea that these are just stories people made up with no intent to profit from the stories. This is also very hard to believe. I cannot understand why people would lie so much and spend so much of their time and money on something they know is just a story. We can rule this out as an explanation too.

   As was briefly mentioned in the last paragraph, another possibility is that people are incorrectly detecting God. Let's assume for a moment that they actually are seeking out God, and God is answering them. This is a huge problem and prevents me from taking the theist's challenge. Why? Because it is clear that human senses are not capable of properly interpreting God's word/interaction. So, even if I did go seek out God and did get an answer, how can I be sure I am understanding correctly? I can't. And if this wasn't bad enough, it gets worse if we then take back that assumption that God answers the people who seek it out. Now, we not only have to worry about misinterpreting God, we have to worry about whether what we are sensing even is God!!! This would, however, explain why there are so many diverse views of God.

   Now that we have a possible reason for the diversity of religion, what do we do to find out who is right (if anyone) and who is wrong? The answer is evidence that is independent of people's subjective feelings. ...Unless anyone else has a suggestion???

   Unexplained events do not count because they are just that — unexplained!!! Claiming such an event is the work of a god is committing the fallacy known as argument from ignorance. This includes "miraculous" healing of the body. The person who was healed may claim it was God's doing, but we must reject that claim as it is a subjective one. Something that would be interesting is if Christianity spread in a way other than from person to person. For example, when Christopher Columbus arrived here in America, if he would have met natives who were Christians...that would be evidence that God does successfully communicate with those who seek God out. The fact that there has never been a person who was a Christian before meeting a Christian (except for the founders of Christianity) bodes poorly for Christianity...and it should be enough to make people think at least twice about Mormonism — you know, the religion that claims the natives were actually some lost tribe of Israel and that Jesus came over here and visited them after (or was it before?) the resurrection. (By the way, I would not be surprised if there are some claims out there of people being Christians without an encounter with a Christian preceding this. Even if such claims were true, they would be so few and far between that we still have the problem of few people actually understanding God's message.) The fact that there were no Christians here and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that DNA testing shows that the Native Americans are not Israelites and are more closely related to east Asians invalidates some of the very basic claims of Mormonism. Yet, there are still Mormons. There are people who continue to convert to Mormonism. This does not bode well for neither Christianity nor the theist presenting this challenge because we know that there are people who are willing to believe things that have been proven false. This is yet one more reason why it is a bad idea to simply trust our subjective feelings.

   I am an atheist because I know I cannot trust my subjective feelings and I have found no testable evidence independent of those feelings for any religion I have studied. Additionally, when you take away those three assumptions mentioned at the beginning, we cannot even take the subjective feelings of people as evidence of a god. When we have these conflicting views of what God is, we know they cannot all be right. But we also know they can all be wrong!

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