“Gotcha” Questions and Evidence for God

Earlier today, I stumbled upon an article entitled How to Defeat Modern Day Atheism With Three Easy Questions.

The author starts off by quoting Steve Greene’s How to validate atheism in one easy step. Then he concludes, “Once again, we see how atheism is built on the Demand For Evidence.” Well, yes. Yes, it is. What other method do you propose we use to determine which religious claims are bogus, and which are not? Certainly, you don’t accept that every religion is true? I would sincerely love to know what method you used to determine that your religion is true, and all the others are not. I hope it’s better than the method I used as a child (that is, “Mom and Dad said so.”).

“But we also know that such a demand is more of a rhetorical trick than a sincere expression of intellectual curiosity.”

…So you haven’t got any evidence, then? Aw. Seriously, though, I would honestly and sincerely love to see the evidence if you had any.

“First of all, Greene is working with a shallow, superficial understanding of evidence… So the fact that Greene is not convinced by ‘evidence’ from religious people (appeals to eyewitness testimony, appeals to personal experience, and variants of the fine-tuning argument) means only that Greene finds such evidence to be unconvincing.”

Well, no. First, the fine-tuning argument is an argument, not evidence. Second, anecdotal evidence is commonly considered unreliable. Wikipedia says, “Anecdotal evidence is often unscientific or pseudoscientific because various forms of cognitive bias may affect the collection or presentation of evidence. For instance, someone who claims to have had an encounter with a supernatural being or alien may present a very vivid story, but this is not falsifiable. This phenomenon can also happen to large groups of people through subjective validation.” See also: Anecdotes, testimonials and urban legends. Empirical evidence, such as experimentation or observation (e.g. a photograph, audio recording, or measurement) is much more reliable.

“When someone like Greene comes to you demanding ‘actual, credible, real world evidence of this god,’ there are three simple questions you can ask to expose the sham nature of the inquiry and thus defeat the backdoor attempt to ‘validate atheism.'”

Ah, now we’re getting to the meat of the post!

Question 1: What would you count as ‘actual, credible, real world evidence for God?’ If the atheist refuses to answer, he/she will be exposed as Hiding the Goalpost, demonstrating the inherent intellectual dishonesty in such a demand. If the atheist finally answers, there is a very, very high likelihood he/she will cite some dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power.”

As it happens, I do think a “dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power” would be good evidence, especially if it were objectively documented by photograph, video recording, or similar. I don’t see why this isn’t a reasonable thing to ask for, either. Many Christians and other religious people make all sorts of claims that miracles happen. “Faith healing” is one of the more common miracle claims. I would find it to be strong supportive evidence for a god, if that god’s followers prayed for an amputee, who was then healed (supposing there was enough proof/documentation to rule out deliberate deception, i.e. a faked miracle).

That’s not the only sort of evidence I would accept, though. Accurate, specific prophecies could serve as strong evidence. If, for example, a god’s follower made an accurate prophesy, citing a specific time and place and making a prediction that is not self-fulfilling, likely to happen, or easily predictable given the right information (e.g. predicting that a stock will crash based on insider information). An example of a prophesy that would fulfil these criteria would be a prediction made in 2015 that Mt. Vesuvius would erupt at exactly 5:42 EST on November 3, 2043. The most important thing here is that the prophesy should be falsifiable. Either Mt. Vesuvius will erupt at the prophesied time, or it will not. Whether the prophesy is fulfilled is not up to interpretation. An example of a fulfilled prophesy that I would not accept as evidence would be just about anything you would find in a fortune cookie: something vague and open to interpretation that cannot be falsified.

There’s also the concept of “guardian angels”, or the idea that a god protects their followers. I would find it to be at least moderately supportive evidence if a well designed study found that the followers of one specific religion or sect were statistically significantly less likely to die or become sick or injured than a control group of people from another religion, or no religion.

Some religious people claim moral superiority. If a well designed study found that adherents of one religion or sect had a much lower crime rate than people outside of their religion (controlling for socio-economic status, race, etc.), then I would consider that weak evidence supporting their religion. Which is to say, it would be worth investigating further.

I might also find the smiting of heretics and blasphemers convincing. For example, if everyone who said “[name of god] does not exist!” died within the next five minutes (and the autopsy did not indicate murder as a possible cause), then I would consider that as evidence supporting the existence of that god.

I would also accept it as evidence for a god’s existence if a well designed study found that, among treatments for seizures, exorcism or prayer in the name of a particular god was more effective than seizure medication, or sham exorcism or prayer, or exorcism or prayer in the name of a different god.

I would find it supremely convincing that a god exists if that god came and talked to me, and humored my requests for a demonstration of their power (including letting me take photographs or make a video, so I would know later that I didn’t hallucinate or dream the whole experience).

“Question 2: Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God? At this point, the atheist will likely try to change the topic. But persist with the question. What you will find is that the reason why the atheist would count such an event as evidence for God is because it could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science. In other words, because it was a Gap. Modern day atheism is built on God of the Gaps logic.”

Er… Not all of the examples of evidence I gave are “dramatic, miraculous, sensational event[s]”. Each of the examples I gave supports a specific claim made by the followers of various religions, most of which are attributed to a god, or agents of a god. No one single example I gave would be sufficient to prove a god exists (except for the last one), but it would certainly be supporting evidence, if not of the existence of a god, then at least of the veracity of (some of) that religion’s claims.

The idea of the God of the Gaps is that things that we do not understand are attributed to a god or the supernatural. E.g. lightning is caused by Thor, or seizures are caused by demonic possession, or a god (or gods) created the universe. Mostly, these are things that, at some point, past or present, were not explained by natural causes or science. That’s what a gap is: something we don’t currently know how to explain, not something that “could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science”. Furthermore, my examples of evidence are based on actual claims made by religious people about what their god or gods can do. If you interpret some of these as gaps, then that is a property of the sort of claims religious believers make, not some plot by me to find some gaps.

“Question 3: Is the God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God? If the atheist has not bailed on you yet, he/she will likely run now. For if he/she answers NO, then it will become clear that nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. Why? Because if the only ‘evidence’ the atheist ‘Judge/Jury’ will allow in his/her kangaroo court is a Gap (something that cannot be explained by science/natural law), and God-of-the-Gaps reasoning is also not allowed by the atheist, then it is clear the atheist demand for evidence is a sneaky, dishonest game of ‘heads I win, tails you lose.'”

How is my asking for evidence of claims made by actual believers some sort of kangaroo court? Also, see my answer for question #2 to correct your misunderstanding of the God of the Gaps concept.

“Of course, if the atheist answers YES to question 3, then the theist is free to raise Gaps as evidence for God (origin of Life, origin of the Consciousness, etc.).”

Just because we don’t know how to explain something, isn’t evidence that a god did it, or that it has a supernatural cause. It just means we don’t know. This is precisely the sort of God of the Gaps reasoning that atheists criticize theists and supernaturalists for using. Your convoluted attempt to turn that criticism back on atheists is frankly ridiculous.

Bonus question: I’ll provide evidence for God’s existence, but can you first provide evidence that you are capable of considering my evidence in an open- and fair-minded manner?

Sure. My answer to the first question contains quite a few examples of the sort of evidence I would find convincing. In general, I’ll keep the following points in mind while I’m considering your evidence:

  • Is the claim it supports falsifiable?
  • Is the evidence objective?
  • Is there good documentation?
  • Is it empirical evidence, not anecdotal evidence?
  • Are there potential confounding factors?
  • Is it a hoax?

I’m looking forward to evaluating the evidence you have for me.

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22 thoughts on ““Gotcha” Questions and Evidence for God

    • By all means, please, cite the scientific evidence for the existence of god to me.

      “But how believable is science to people (atheists) who think everything just happened all by itself?”

      I don’t think everything just happened all by itself. I don’t claim to know how everything happened. I’m okay with not knowing everything. But just because I don’t know all the answers doesn’t mean I find “God did it” to be a convincing argument.

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      • By all means, please, cite the scientific evidence for the existence of god to me.

        I hope you are not holding your breath, it will not come, not from him anyway.

        I don’t think everything just happened all by itself

        the person chiding atheists, believes their god just was. Which is more absurd; to believe that matter has always been or that a being without extension created matter?

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        • “I hope you are not holding your breath, it will not come, not from him anyway.”

          I’m not. “I have evidence but I’m not going to show it to you because you wouldn’t accept it anyway” is not the sort of thing I would expect to hear from someone who actually has evidence (as opposed to, say, unverifiable anecdotes).

          But, if he wants to prove me wrong and actually post some evidence, I’m certainly open to that.

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  1. Good article. Good points. So many people try to prove God, yet the things they use normally don’t pan out. Like you mentioned, healing is a big one, and most of the time it is something that can’t be absolutely proved being done by God. As a christian, I’m not a lot different than you on my questioning, and the longer I seek God for truth, the more questions I have. I think the main difference is I choose to believe, or have faith, that God is there and loves each of us. I certainly can’t prove it. Some of the things over time that “proves it to me” are certainly not absolutely documented events. They are things that I choose to believe was done by God. I also think that each of us should be free to decide for ourselves what we choose to believe, not force our views on others or condemn others for thinking differently, and accept each other as human beings. Unfortunately, that is something that just isn’t found to much these days, especially in the christian world. We are to busy arguing among ourselves over doctrine or interpretations, and trying to prove our point. It really, at least for me, boils down to a matter of personal belief and faith (on the christian part). We cannot prove God is, and we cannot prove God is not. Either way, we should be able to accept each other, care for one another, and have conversations without fights and arguments.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “We cannot prove God is, and we cannot prove God is not.”

      We can’t prove absolutely, 100% that no gods exist, but I would argue that we can at least show that many specific conceptions of god are either false (in the case where a specific claim is made about that god, and the evidence contradicts that claim), or unlikely to be true (in the case of a specific claim where there is no supporting evidence, when we would expect to see supporting evidence if it were true).

      If the conception of a god is such that it could neither be proven, nor disproven (e.g. there is an invisible, intangible pink unicorn that cannot be detected by the senses of any organism or measurement device, that does not affect the world in any way that could be detected), then I don’t really see what use that concept has.

      “Either way, we should be able to accept each other, care for one another, and have conversations without fights and arguments.”

      Absolutely. It’s important to be able to have civil discussions with people we don’t agree with, and to treat others well in spite of our differences.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I also think that each of us should be free to decide for ourselves what we choose to believe, not force our views on others or condemn others for thinking differently, and accept each other as human beings.

      how often are children given this option? I was baptized before I was a year old and taken to church on every other Sunday. If we let people decide what to believe, the religious landscape would be a lot more different.

      We cannot prove God is, and we cannot prove God is not. Either way, we should be able to accept each other, care for one another, and have conversations without fights and arguments.

      Why can’t we? Religious people of all stripes make very specific claims of their gods, their religious books make very specific claims. What conclusion are we to arrive at when these don’t pan out? There is no debate about gravity. Why shouldn’t a god make itself as clear?

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      • Hello makagutu, glad to hear from you. My thoughts on children, obviously we as parents are responsible for our children until they are old enough to make their own decisions. It is more the parents decision to teach their kids how to act, be safe and get along with others. It is also the parents choice to go to church or not, and to teach their kids spiritually or not. As the child gets older, they should then be free to think and reason for themselves. I get what you are saying, the young child has no choice at first, it is what the parents want to do in their teaching. I was making my comments about being free to make our own decisions in regard to adults.

        As far as proving God or disproving, I still think we cannot do that. I understand that there is no proof He exists so He must not be, but to me just because we cannot show proof, that does not mean there is no God. Now I know a lot of christians say they have proof, and say they hear God speak, but I do not agree. I do not think there is proof one way or another. I know some say the bible says so, and that is proof, but if you do not believe the bible is anything special, what proof is that. To me, it is a choice to believe or not. For those of us who do, it is all by faith, there is no proof.

        Also, as a person who believes, I still have many questions. Why doesn’t God show himself, or speak audibly or do miraculous signs that no one can dispute? I know you say it is because He is not real, but for me, I cannot accept that since I believe He does exist. It is a personal matter of interpretation and belief, without proof either way.

        I believe, as adults, we all should have the freedom to make our own choices and believe or not as we feel is right for us. We should also accept each others choices and accept each other even in our differences. We are not all going to the agree, so no one should force their belief and views on others. Certainly nothing wrong with discussing our views, but each should be free to live according to their own convictions.

        Thanks for joining in the conversation. Hope I answered your comment. Just remember these are my personal thoughts and can be debated and disagreed on by others with different views.

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        • We agree on so many things.
          I think it would be better to let children be. Many people who are brought up religious remain so till their deaths. They never have the opportunity or even the knowledge of alternative religions or lack of it.
          We have little choice in what we believe. You don’t believe there is a cross between a donkey and a goat. One believes to the extent they are convinced of a proposition.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hi makagutu, what, a christian and an atheist agree on things? lol. I am just kidding. I personally think we are not actually defined by christian and atheist, we are people. Generally, most people do have many similarities. Of course we won’t agree on everything, it’s just we aren’t as different as some people try to make it. I don’t really like to be defined by the word christian because it usually puts a lot of doctrines and beliefs in the minds of people that I do not actually go along with. I think follower of Christ is better. Also, atheist to most christians is their number one enemy, and that should not be. We are all people and we all deserve acceptance and love just as much as anyone else. In regard to children, I understand what you are saying. We both know that not everyone who grows up in religion stays in it all their lives, but I do agree many do. I look at it that parents take their kids to church and teach them christian ways of life and the child just continues on all his life because that is ‘just the way it is’. I’ve always thought about gospel singing groups. Most of them it is a family thing. Kids grow up taking part and just continue on singing all their lives. I guess there is nothing wrong with that, but I wonder sometimes how many people who just follow on with family tradition are really sincere in their beliefs. I know there are exceptions to every rule. I do believe at least once a person is old enough to think and reason for themselves, they should have the freedom to choose which path they want to follow and live their life that way without others trying to condemn them or change their minds. I think you and I are the same on that one.

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        • I think the big problem as far as allowing people to make their own choices and come to their own conclusions, is that there are so many doctrines in various religions to discourage exactly that. The doctrine of hell, for example, greatly discourages people from leaving, leads to much grief when a family member becomes an atheist, and is a prime motivator for aggressive evangelists. The treatment of apostates in Islam, or the practice of shunning in groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, greatly discourage people from leaving their religion, even if they have serious doubts. Even subtle discouragement of asking questions or expressing doubts can have this effect. I had questions and doubts for years that I never told another soul because I thought it would be frowned upon, and even after I became an atheist, I kept it a secret from most of my family for years.

          Liked by 1 person

        • You are so right. This happens to people no matter what group they are or were a part of. It is going on with me right now. My wife and I left the traditional church and religion because we feel it is not what God intended. Religious rules, doctrines, a one-man show on Sundays, just to much of man’s control. And this isn’t even getting into the mega-churches and big name pastors making millions while people in the world go hungry. For us, and I understand it is different for you, we feel Church is a community, a way of life that happens every day. A life of living like Christ, loving and accepting others no matter what. When you have been in the system all your life and all of a sudden start writing about leaving it, and questioning some of the basics you were taught, it can be hard. People can be brutal. It is easier for me to write under a pen name and use a blog site name rather than my own. So I certainly understand. For my wife and I, and I’m just saying for us, if people could forget the doctrines and different denominations and interpretations, and love and accept people without all the scare tactics and condemnation, things would go much better. My wife and I as Christians, we believe God loves us and saw in the bible that Jesus accepted all people and only had issues with the religious leaders of the day. Ha ha, it’s almost the same for us now. I think questioning is a great way to learn new things, and learn how others think and feel. Of course growing up in the church, questioning was said to be showing a lack of faith or that you were against the pastor. My wife and I are believers, and I know we are different on that subject, but that is OK. We believe each of us should be free to choose what we believe and how we should live. Each of us, whether we consider ourselves christian, atheist, islamist, jewish, gay, straight, asexual, whatever, these are just titles we attach to people. We are all human beings who want to be loved, accepted and happy throughout life. For that, we each should be able to live without others trying to condemn us or change us.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. “I would find it supremely convincing that a god exists if that god came and talked to me…” I would have to disagree with this, based on the idea that any technology, being advanced enough, is no different than magic. There’s no proof that that being is a supreme being, but could just as easily be a much more intelligent alien species pulling the wool over your eyes with “parlor tricks”.
    Overall, I very much enjoyed your post. It was well written out, and not condescending, which is always nice. Thank you for writing this sunshine ^.^

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    • If such a being did exist, would they be functionally different from an actual god? Whether gods exist says nothing about whether they are liars or not. I suppose the thing which would most differentiate your hypothetical technologically advanced alien from an actual god would be that their power is a result of using tools, as opposed to being inherent. As such, I suppose it would possible for one of us lowly humans to steal the power of the gods.

      This is amusing to think about. I’m still not seeing much of a functional difference between a sufficiently advanced alien and an actual god, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think they would be functionally different. A god is one who can create and destroy entire universes as one sees fit, and a god controls the ethereal portions of it’s beings (the soul). It can send people to eternal joys, and send them to eternal miseries. It can allow you to live forever or change lives periodically, and it is never ending and all knowing. This is according to nearly every religion.
        Supremely advanced beings could very well feign at least some of these, but if they are finite in their life spans, that would suggest to me strike number one. If they can’t control what happens to you after death (providing we find the ethereal to in fact be a real thing), then, subsequently, my doubt in their godhood would be further increased. If said being fell short of a single one of all the given necessities, it would further my doubt in it’s godhood status.
        A god and a super powerful and/or highly technological being or society are two separate things. The overarching control of the entirety of the universe from birth to death is, as we have written gods to be, is of utmost importance, and if that’s missing, then I would find that to be casting doubt about it’s godhood, but not necessarily it’s awesomeness.

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        • Ah, yea I can see how that sort of god would be functionally different. It seems like the only way to differentiate that sort of god from a high tech alien would involve actually going into the afterlife, or witnessesing the creation of a world, or something.

          And now I’m thinking… if we managed to create a sentient AI in a computer simulated world, would that make us gods? Even if we are really just high tech aliens.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Oooohhhhh! I really like that thought, and it does add something else to think about with that. I have no possible idea on it right now, but most definitely thank you for the brain food. I’ll be mulling that one over for a while.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I feel the same way about this entire conversation. You’re getting me to think about things that I wouldn’t really have thought about otherwise. This seems like the part of the conversation about gods that you don’t really need to think about until after you’ve seen evidence that a god-like being exists. If you never get past the basic question of existence then there isn’t much need to ponder if said god-like being is really all-powerful or just faking it, did they really create the universe, are they good or evil or something in between, are they “perfect” or do they have character flaws, should they be obeyed, should they be believed, is there really an afterlife and is there any proof if that, etc.

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