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What evidence would convert an atheist?

November 6, 2010

trainwreckOh, Internets. You crack me up. And depress me so. But like a trainwreck, I just can’t quit watching you.

A while back, I read a topic on a private board…the topic question was: Question about Religion/Atheism.

…I ignored the fact that the alternative to atheism isn’t religion, and the alternative to religion isn’t atheism, but I wasn’t prepared for what the topic would come with next:

As a religious person, would you stop believing in God if there was irrefutable proof that he didn’t exist

As an atheist, would you start believing in God if there was irrefutable evidence that he did.

I feel like for the most part atheists would begin believing

but the same wouldn’t be true for religious people.

I was a bit dumbstruck at the presumption of this argument, and a bit dumbstruck at a lot of things here…and as a result, in the end, I clicked out of the topic and didn’t think much about it.

But now, Jon, in his latest link bomb at USU SHAFT, has made me aware of a serious of blog posts where atheists answer this virtually exact question.

As it was linked, I read Steve Zara’s and P.Z. Myers’ answers first, and oh, how ashamed I was to be even loosely associated with these figures!

If you hadn’t figured out, I am not really on-board with Zara’s and Myers’  answers, at least, at face value. They take the position that there is no possibility of evidence to convince them that God exists.

…all of my (admittedly minimal) work is frustrated! My message is simple: atheists are people who simply do not believe gods exist. We are not convinced or persuaded or compelled to believe God exists. That doesn’t mean we believe God is “impossible,” but simply that we are not convinced that he/she/it/they is/are actual.

But nope; for PZ and Steve, things are different.

Reading into Myers’ and Zara’s arguments further, I can tease out a slightly more palatable reasoning…they write that there is no possible evidence that could convince them God exists because God has been pre-defined as something that defies such evidence. As Zara writes:

God isn’t like a mythical beast. God isn’t a dragon, a unicorn, a hippogriff. Such a beast could potentially be seen, examined, and proclaimed real. Its mythical status lost, the biologists could get to work. They would be surprised, but would have something to deal with. They would have evidence: scales, wings and flames do indeed mean dragon. That’s clear enough.

God isn’t an alien. Arthur C Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What he did not say is that such technology actually is magic. What Clarke said has great power, as it implies that we are almost certainly unable to recognise magic, as we have no understanding of the limits of technology. And now we start to see the problem: with such ignorance, what evidence could there be that we are seeing the supernatural and not the unknown natural?

I guess I didn’t get the memo…because for me, the question here becomes, “What’s to stop God from being the unknown natural? If the “supernatural” represents a maximal (or in some way superlative) class of nature that we do not understand, then would that deprive God of Godness?”

These kinds of concerns run throughout my reading of Myers’ and Zara’s arguments…they seem content to dismiss particular constructions of God because they do not fit against their bias of what a god should be (e.g., if Christians would not accept, say, that God could be material or an advanced natural being, then any thing that portends to be a god but is material or natural cannot be god — I think Greta Christina address this well at AlterNet when she points out that Myers is “focusing too much on existing religions, gods that people currently believe in, and on whether any of those could ever provide any evidence that would persuade him”)…and then wave away other constructions as incoherent or unintelligible (e.g., what does “ground of being” even mean? I probably haven’t thought about it much, so I’ll say it’s meaningless.) As a result, every construction becomes not just unbelievable but also theoretically untenable…and voila, there becomes no possibility for evidence that could show God’s existence.

…Fortunately, Why Evolution is True author Jerry Coyne came back with something that lowered my blood pressure back to somewhat reasonable levels.

First, though, I find it curious that an atheist would assert, a priori, thatnothing could make him believe in a god.  While some atheists may assert simply that there is no god, most of us claim that we see no evidence for a god, and that’s why we don’t believe. But to make a statement like that presumes that there could be some evidence that would make you accept God’s existence.

I have a few quibbles with his later using Dawkins’ “atheism scale”…but mostly because I believe it assumes too much about people’s comforts with assigning probability. (If one admits one doesn’t know God doesn’t or does exist…how then does one go and say, “But I’m pretty sure I know that God probably doesn’t exist?”) Additionally, I feel most people — including Coyne — assume too much about what would or wouldn’t convince them. (E.g., what is “some evidence.”)

As for me, I can’t stake out what objective event would convince. I can state, more vaguely, I could be converted with personally persuasive evidence. What does that look like? I would assume a god would know. I just know of too many instances where an event that took place, or a new fact learned, or a new idea played with ended up tipping one person over while serving as utterly uncompelling to another person. And I would certainly assume that a theoretical god who knew my heart could tug at the relevant heartstrings.

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  1. I’ve said this before – the mere acknowledgment of the existence of God is not the main point of religion to begin with. It’s not exactly a trivial aspect, but by itself, it comes pretty damn close.

    What the divine in any religious tradition has required of human beings is devotion and transformation in the life of the believer.

    Honestly, what does some weak cerebral mental assent have to do with that?

    So you believe in God?

    Congratulations – even the devils manage that much.

    It’s nothing to write home about.

  2. That’s an interesting point, Seth (that I indeed have heard frequently, haha).

    If only because I’ve always implicitly tied one to the latter. If you *really* believe in God and in (insert religion here), then it’ll manifest in your actions. If your actions are inconsistent/unchanged, then I suspect you don’t really believe what you say you do.

  3. Hi, Andrew. I would like to first say that I think you’re doing a great job with this blog. I am grateful that I somehow managed to find this.

    As a former atheist, I think that it’s a double-edged pov. See, if there’s undeniable proof that God does exist, yes, I think everyone will believe in some form or another. But, the meaning of that evidence would also be subjected to ones interpretation.

    That scenario would never happen because the great concept of faith would not exist. When we believe in something that we can’t confirm, that’s faith. The truth is that science can’t claim it has the answer to creation because it’s too predictable. That’s the thing about God: he’s unpredictable. Even when Moses asked, “Who are you?”

    God answered, “I am who I am.”

    God, in a theological point-of-view can’t be understood because he can’t be controlled. It repeats this message all throughout the Bible, including the book of Job.

    Does science explain the existence and non-existence of God? No, I don’t think it’s possible because to claim this would be claiming that we understand God.

    I would like to add more on this, but I would probably write 10 pages before even knowing it. So, I’m just going to leave it at that.

  4. Well, now we’re playing fast and loose with what the word “believe” means.

    In my experience, whenever an atheist is talking about “belief” he is usually talking about mere intellectual assent. Which frankly, I couldn’t care less if he has or not. By itself, it really doesn’t amount to much.

    And if you think that mere intellectual certainty of God’s existence is enough to inspire a person to any sort of worthwhile life transformation, I’d say you hadn’t been paying much attention to the scriptures’ take on it.

    I also think such a position betrays a rather lamentable naivete about human nature.

  5. I guess I’ll address Seth’s comments first.


    I can also see what you’re saying and withdraw my previous (half-baked) statement…especially from some of the responses like Greta Christina’s and with respect to how I’m going to respond to scholarofchrist (in part). At some point, she describes a situation where she would be convinced that a god exists, but would not follow or worship such a god because he/she/it would be a “trickster” god.

    And I too have used a similar.argument: that the question of God’s existence is entirely different than the question of whether one follows such a God. So, I recognize my error.


    The reason I wanted to address your response after I addressed Seth is because you said something that made me realize that my counter would fit Seth’s point.

    You say:

    …See, if there’s undeniable proof that God does exist, yes, I think everyone will believe in some form or another. But, the meaning of that evidence would also be subjected to ones interpretation.

    That scenario would never happen because the great concept of faith would not exist….

    And that’s where I would point out two different things. Faith isn’t just believing God exists…it’s following in, trusting in, relying on God. (Or do you disagree)? It inspires transformation.

    If everyone believes God exists, that doesn’t eliminate the concept of faith. I could easily say, “OK, so I know God exists, and I know what he demands of us, but what he demands is so unpalatable to me that I cannot, in good conscience, follow it.” In this case, I believe in God, but do I have faith in God? No.

    As a result, when you say: “When we believe in something that we can’t confirm, that’s faith.“, I disagree with you on what it is that cannot be confirmed. I don’t think it NEEDS to be the case that God’s existence is that which cannot be confirmed (although it could be the case). Instead, let’s say God’s existence were certain…we’d still have to believe in God’s goodness — which would not be confirm-able. The difference between previous times and now is that old-time people seemed to have a lot more direct interaction with God…but did that mean they lacked faith or opportunity for faith? No. Because they still had these great ethical challenges and demands placed upon them by God. The challenge was not believing that God exists, but believing that God’s way will work. (cf, Abraham and Isaac)

    Do you disagree?

    I don’t think that being able to say, “OK, we know God exists” means that we understand him in any sense. Understanding of existence does not imply being able to explain that existence.

    • Hi, Andrew.

      Thanks for the response. Yes, I agree that faith would still exist without placing God in the equation. What I meant was the meaning of faith in terms of Biblical interpretation. We can even say that we have faith in love. In life.

      Hindus can be faithful, Buddhists can be faithful, yes, that’s true.

      But, sadly we do live in a world that needs confirmation. I must admit that I was one of those skeptics who had a hard time following the Bible because I didn’t believe in God. I studied Biblical history, archaeology, and a bit of theology. But, unlike other people, I began believing in God by studying religious history. This contradicts skeptic belief that historians have a hard time believing in the Bible.

      Andrew, I think it all boils down to the search of believing in something and then asking ourselves why we do or don’t believe in something.

      My problem, Andrew, was that I already concluded not to believe in God before asking myself the question why I didn’t believe. When I ask most atheists today why they don’t believe, the answer they give is either a no comment or that it doesn’t make sense believing in God.

      • What I’m wondering is how would a Biblical definition of faith be negated if God’s existence were known?

        You sidestep this by talking about other kinds of faith, and other kinds of faithfulness. And I feel that you misinterpret what I was saying. I’m not saying, “Faith would still exist without placing God in the equation.”

        I’m saying that, if the existence of God is given, faith or lack of faith would still exist because faith is not about believing God exists (which even the demons allegedly do).

        From here, I don’t really know how to address your points because I feel that we aren’t even addressing the same thing.

        Incidentally, I feel like most people believe or disbelieve without asking why — that’s true for believes and nonbelievers both. The why is embedded in their belief or disbelief, but doesn’t have to be brought to the forefront to exist. This is a non sequitur to the fact that yes, people do believe or disbelieve.

        • Now, Andrew. It seems that we’re heading into one of those things that we’re going in circles. And I know why.

          As I said, I was referring to the Biblical point-of-view. Whether you’re referring to nonsecular or secular point-of-view, yes faith is faith, as you pointed out. If the intention is to define faith when God’s existence is proven, well, that’s a different thing altogether. This is how I see it and most scholars in the biblical field surely do agree with this: there has to be doubt for faith to exist. It’s not faith if doubt isn’t present, therefore, what you’re implying is a nonbiblical interpretation of the subject. If the subject can’t be objected to the actual meaning of the word, there’s no possible answer because it then becomes a double-negative. In the world of philosophy, it’s what’s known as a fallacy.

          This explains why we’re going in circles. There’s a confusion between what faith actually means. As you know, you have the word ‘negative’ in your question. Something cannot be answered when the definition of the subject is contradicted by it’s very meaning.

          I’m sorry, Andrew, but these questions cannot be answered. In actuality, people in these situations often argue for days, weeks, and years without a well-defined solution because what they didn’t realize is that their conversations have various types of fallacies such as these.

          God Bless, Andrew.

          • scholarofchrist.

            I feel you’re still not getting my point, so you’re addressing arguments that I’m not making and missing arguments that I am making.

            I am very well aware that with faith, there must be doubt. But you’re missing my question: what is it that must be doubted?

            Let me provide a scenario: Suppose you know that an entity exists, and that this entity is God. Suppose that this entity asks you to do something that you find morally reprehensible. You know that this entity is God…does that mean you have no doubt?

            I’m arguing that yes, you still have doubt. You doubt that this entity is good. You doubt whether you should trust this entity. You doubt whether you should follow this entity. Even though you know this entity is God, since God’s ways are not man’s ways, there is still plenty of room for doubt.

            I believe my interpretation is sound. James 2: 19 points out that believing in God is not enough for faith — after all, even the demons believe. Also, consider Hebrews 11, especially verses 17-19 as per Abraham. Consider Romans 4:3. It says Abraham believed God. It wasn’t just that he believed in God. That wasn’t up for question. It was that he believed God. He trusted God. In verses 18-25, Paul talks about how Abraham trusted and hoped and believed in God’s promises. What was there (potentially) to doubt? It was not God’s existence. It was the fulfillment of God’s promises. How did Abraham show faith? It was not by believing God existed. It was by believing God’s promises would be fulfilled.

            So what is it that people must do to have faith? What is it that one can doubt or trust in? In all of these instances, the question is whether they trust that God’s way for them will work out. The substance of things hoped for, but which are not seen is that God is moral and just.

            In none of these cases are these people simply having to believe that God exists. Rather, they are tested as to whether they will be changed and whether they will follow God’s commands.

            If you feel this is unbiblical, I would certainly love to have you provide scriptures and then walk through them. I would certainly love for you to try to provide alternative explanations to these scriptures and others. But if not, then I guess we will continue to go in circles. But please don’t say it’s because of a confusion of what faith means. Please don’t try to impute fallacy on to me when you haven’t even addressed what I am saying.

          • I do apologize, Andrew if I had somewhat misguided you because I’m insisting on Philosophical pov. while you’re leading the the theological pov. In no way can we truly reach an agreement because in the philosophical pov. the answer is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

            My problem is, Andrew is this: how can there be doubt when there’s certainty? There’s no way a person can doubt something when he’s certain, therefore, it rules out the aspect of faith. It know then relies on ‘trust’.

            To answer this, we must place ourselves within the context of the biblical peoples. We must remember that they themselves did not understand God. They didn’t know if he was Good or Bad. We, on the other hand, can’t make that same assumption because in a way modern people like us are spoiled to the fact that the bible answers so many things that biblical people could not obtain the answers to like whether God is good or bad.

            The interpretation of God in the bible is that he’s all good. We have that to work with. But, biblical people didn’t so they could indeed make the argument whether God is Good or Bad, assuming that they were certain that God does exist.

            I am impress with your biblical prowess, Andrew. I only wish that I am as good as you are in biblical theology. But, I’m not. I’m a philosopher and a historian.

            But, I would like to recommend a scholar that you would find quite interesting. He’s name is Peter Kreeft. His books are highly respected in the biblical world. He can explain it better than I ever could.

            God Bless.

          • scholarofchrist,

            Actually, it is somewhat problematic for you to insist on using an allegedly philosophical POV while I’m using a theological POV…since your counterargument to me heretofore has been to allege that I am not using a Biblical definition of faith. But if you’re not using the theological POV, it seems as if you are shifting the goal post.

            I still don’t think you’re getting what I’m saying. You ask: “How can there be doubt when there is certainty?” I answer first: certainty in one area does not imply certainty in another. And then I ask back, what area of doubt does Biblical faith concern?

            You say:

            We must remember that they themselves did not understand God. They didn’t know if he was Good or Bad.

            That is precisely right! So what did faith require? Faith didn’t require trusting that God existed, because people in the past just “knew” that God existed. Faith required trusting that God was good.

            However, today, we have two pitfalls, not one. Not only do we not know whether God is good or bad, but we do not know whether God even exists. The same God who was very active and involved and visible in the past is increasingly shy in the modern era.

            My point is: why couldn’t God show himself to all to exist? This would make certain his existence, I agree. But it would not eliminate faith, because it would not remove doubt as to the goodness of God.

            I do not believe that the Bible eliminates doubt on this. Because the Bible itself is part and parcel of a package that must be accepted on faith.

            do you disagree that people can doubt the bible? If you AGREE with me that people can doubt the Bible, then you should agree with me that there is not certainty as to whether God is good.

            The problem is…we have a second conundrum — we don’t even know whether God exists and God does not find it fit to show himself to all.

  6. Another curve is thrown that religion has already defined itself out of the conversation these atheists are having to begin with.

    Religion – by definition – deals with that which cannot be established by human empiricism. Some religionists do not realize this and sometimes misguidedly try to act like God can be logically proven in such a way as to compel anyone you are debating on the Internet to believe. I’ve seen Catholics argue this way on occasion – trying to finger the Big Bang as proof positive of the hand of God. To such I offer the remarks of Pulitzer Prize-winning world leading physicist Brian Greene who said of the Big Bang:

    “A common misconception is that the big bang provides a theory of cosmic origins. It doesn’t. The big bang is a theory… that delineates cosmic evolution from a split second after whatever happened to bring the universe into existence, but it says nothing at all about time zero itself. And since, according to the big bang theory, the bang is what is supposed to have happened at the beginning, the bang leaves out the bang. It tells us nothing about what banged, why it banged, how it banged, or, frankly, whether it ever really banged at all.”

    Brian Greene, “The Fabric of the Cosmos”, pg. 272.

    But Greene’s statement cuts both ways. If the big bang does not reveal the hand of God, it certainly does nothing to define him out of the picture either. What happened before “time zero” is not even on the table for discussion – one way or the other. So you’ve done nothing to establish God, or rule him out by talking about the origins of our localized space-time.

    Thus these atheists critiques of religion are misguided. Science has nothing to say about God one way or the other – by definition. So the atheist who rails against religion for not having any empirical proof ought to be regarded with the sort of bemusement one reserves for the guy in your college English class who finishes reading a Shakespeare sonnet, closes the book with a snap, and snorts “this is stupid! It doesn’t have a testable hypothesis!”

    Well, no it doesn’t. But so what?

    This relegates the role of atheism in dialogue with religion to one of essentially parasitism. It sits around and critiques the positive arguments of religion, but offers nothing positive of its own. It stands in the corner making rather obvious statements like: “well, God hasn’t been proven” and “atheism is not belief, but lack of a belief.” Well, yes… I can see that.

    But why am I supposed to care? What is being offered by the atheist? Can anything be offered by the atheist?

    Or is he just the annoying guy at the corporate retreat who sits around sneering at all the “dumb” ideas everyone else is fielding, but steadfastly refuses to offer any of his own?

    If he is that guy, then obviously the solution is to fire him as soon as you get back to the office.

  7. Which is not to say I see every atheist I interact with as Wally from the comic strip Dilbert.

    Atheists can and do bring valuable stuff to the table. But not when atheism is all they draw on – or pretend to draw on.

  8. Seth,

    But why am I supposed to care? What is being offered by the atheist? Can anything be offered by the atheist?

    Or is he just the annoying guy at the corporate retreat who sits around sneering at all the “dumb” ideas everyone else is fielding, but steadfastly refuses to offer any of his own?

    Nothing offered by the atheist as atheist. But in alternative roles or with differing hats (e.g., as advocate of science, as a reformer, as a supporter of human rights), the nonbeliever wants to divorce aspects of culture, government, policy, whatever from what s/he believers are outdated, harmful religious practices and traditions.

    In such a case, they *are* offering alternatives, and they are trying to argue that the religious case in the first place hasn’t justified its entrenchment in the public sphere.

    The parasitic nature of this role is kinda like how the party out of power acts at every election. “Look at what the majority party did when they were in power. They messed things up; let’s bring the country back to order by doing something different.”

  9. scaryreasoner permalink

    Easy. Tell me what number I’m thinking of. That’s it. Surely an omniscient god is capable of reading my mind, figuring out what number I’m thinking of, communicating this information to one of his believers, who then tells me: you’re thinking of … (whatever my secret number is).

    So, you, who may think you’re in communication with an omniscient being…

    What number am I thinking of? Well….?

  10. Religion – by definition – deals with that which cannot be established by human empiricism.

    So says the non-overlapping masteria advocate. The problem is that religion makes plenty of claims about the physical universe that can be established by human empiricism. Water turning into wine can be verified scientifically, for example. The only catch is that it allegedly happened in remote location a couple of thousand years ago, but surely if you believe religion and science are totally non-overlapping, a simple time and space gap doesn’t change it from being a claim about the physical universe to being solely an otherworldly supernatural event that science could never touch.

    Mormonism overlaps in the natural, scientifically verifiable realm when it makes claims about the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, the gold plates, the Book of Abraham, miraculous healings and a whole slew of physically manifested miracles from the scriptures and church “history”, homosexuality (where it leads to and where it does and does not come from), promised answers to prayers, events in church history (how they played out), basically any time that God intervenes in human affairs it is necessarily exposes him in the physical universe somehow.

    Mormonism even holds that God is very physical and has a body of flesh and bones. The existence of such a being could be scientifically verified if the being were to volunteer itself to examination. The fact that no such being ever has doesn’t mean that it is completely out of the realm of science to able to verify it. As a Mormon, you have to make a concession here (unless you have your own apostate flavor of doctrine), that it is scientifically possible to verify God’s existence, but that he simply won’t allow it. This is a far cry from non-overlapping magisteria. You can’t say that religion defines itself as completely separate from everything physical and only hides behind neverending layers of questions starting with “why”, each one peeling away to reveal another, as if at some point there will be an Ultimate Question About Life, the Universe, and Everything that has nothing whatsoever to do with the physical reality we find ourselves in.

  11. Carson, if you had ultimate control of the laws of nature – are you saying it would be impossible to molecularly reorganize water into wine?

    What basis do you have for that claim? Even the crew of the Enterprise manages that much – and I’m inclined toward the school of thought that says if the human mind can imagine it – it can eventually accomplish it – given enough time and resources.

    I think you just picked a bad example.

  12. Besides Carson, you are utterly confusing the issue.

    I never said that the incidentals of religion – like how it treats homosexuals – were not subject to judgment.

    Just that the metaphysical fundamentals were not subject to being credited or discredited that way. You have confused the fundamentals for the incidentals. And you have lost sight of the atheist queries that we were discussing here.

    I was talking about atheist claims that the universe has no ultimate meta-physical aspect at all. I wasn’t even talking about how religions temporarily view sex, or how they view the transmission of scripture. Those are side tangents that you are being distracted by.

  13. I didn’t say anything about the possibility of turning water into wine. I don’t really understand that response. A God in control of nature could do a whole lot of things, naturally. My point is that it is possible, using human empiricism, to verify that water was turned into wine, and this is among a whole host of religious claims that could be verified by human empiricism. Religions in general tend to shy away from claims that can be verified easily in practice, but by no means does religion refrain from making physical claims about the universe that are within the realm of potential scientific inquiry.

    You said that religion (and I assume this means religious claims) are completely outside the realm of human empiricism by definition. This is what I’m disagreeing with.

  14. Then I should have been more clear I guess.

    There are a lot of things that are attached to religion that you can apply a variety of reasoning schemes to. For instance, you might take Apostle Boyd K. Packer’s suggestion of “singing a hymn” to combat sexual thoughts and apply all sorts of human reasoning to that one. And you might get some useful results from such an exercise.

    But I wasn’t talking about these kinds of things. I was talking about the ultimate metaphysical grounding of religion. Questions like – is there a god? Or – is there a spiritual aspect to human experience? Those kinds of things are pretty-much off-limits to scientists and Internet empiricists.

  15. So the atheist who rails against religion for not having any empirical proof ought to be regarded with the sort of bemusement one reserves for the guy in your college English class who finishes reading a Shakespeare sonnet, closes the book with a snap, and snorts “this is stupid! It doesn’t have a testable hypothesis!”

    Believe me, if religion kept itself squarely within the realm of ultimate meta-physical philosophy, the religious skeptic would not be railing, only chuckling. It is these distracting side tangents, these “incidentals”, that make up so much of the baggage of religion.

    Just as atheism by itself without context isn’t very interesting at all, neither is belief in some ultimate meta-physical narrative very interesting without fitting into the context of it’s supposed impact on our lives.

    • I guess it’s when both theists and atheists take their claims down out of the realm of theory and try to give them real-world application that they BOTH get themselves in trouble.

  16. Seth,

    but once we’re trying to go to real-world application, isn’t that exactly where empiricism comes into play?

  17. “What evidence would convert an atheist?”

    I’ll assume that you mean convert an atheist into a believer in God and answer from there.

    My understanding is that there are certain events that cause all mankind to start to worship gods: planetary and interplanetary high powered plasma displays. When displays are on a solar system level, everyone “converts” into a believer in (some sort of) god and starts worshipping something. The skies are currently “sleeping” but soon will “awake” and begin manifesting the various plasma forms found in laboratory experiments. At that moment, everyone, even the atheists, will start worshipping one or more gods. This is because humans, by nature, respond in this way when the electrical current of the solar system powers up. It strikes us on a primitive level. Historically, this is how it has always been. Atheism only creeps in among men when the skies are asleep, such as now.

  18. Interesting

  19. Unfortunately, I didn’t read through this entire thread, but I wanted to respond as to how I make sense of this issue.

    In medieval Europe, people didn’t believe in God. They knew God. God was everywhere, in everything, at every moment. The idea of “believing in God” came about as a result of the alternative position. As science explained more and more, and the “evidence” of God seemed further and further off, knowledge of God became “belief” in God (at least publicly, and not in every public space). David Hume went so far as to say believing in God, and certainly “knowing” God, is irrational; it’s all in the mind.

    Soren Kierkegaard (a 19th-century Christian philosopher) took on Hume’s logic, and instead of arguing for an essential rationality when believing in or knowing God, or for direct evidence, he embraced irrationality. He pointed to the story of Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac, and how Christianity–and God–requires humility beyond human rationality.

    Later, people of course questioned Kierkegaard. For example, some argue that if Abraham had truly been in a “religious” space, he would never have listened to the angel that told him to kill his own son. There’s a kind of unacceptable violence in being okay with being irrational.

    Nowadays, we live in a world where people say they believe/know God and are okay doing so irrationally (though they also tend to consider themselves rational). Cultural norms perpetuate themselves, such as sexism, homophobia and racism. I’m not saying “irrationality” is totally bad… for example, desire is often irrational and works wonders at breaking down sexism, homophobia and racism. But it’s incredibly difficult to argue with people who won’t ordain women because “the original 12 apostles were men, case closed” or don’t support gay marriage because “homosexuality is a sin, case closed.” For me, the existence of God is secondary to the way in which an existence of God is used in these other ways. In fact, I don’t even really have a position on the existence of God personally and am willing to talk about God as if He exists depending on my audience. Does this make me two-faced? Or considerate? It’s hard to tell sometimes.

  20. If the best gifts of the Spirit were fully operative within a church, then it would be easy to discern which was the church of God.

    Signs follow them that believe for the purpose of converting the unbeliever.

    We only have such discussions as “What evidence would convert an atheist” — when we really are asking “What other evidence” — for when the gifts aren’t manifesting, we have to look elsewhere.

    • Gilberto velazquez permalink

      The reason God does not manifest more miracles than the ones taking Place now such as the comming forth of the book of mormon or the mere. Manifestation of the father and the son in their true nature ,are Precisely the reason why they are silent . faith is evaporati g in a fast pace among men from the religious to the non religious aswell the none religious look what is happening to the so called religious ones now they abandon the faith because the y are tired of hearing the same thing over. And over. Tired of waiting for something extrardinary. I really fi d the answers in the book of mormon more clear then in the bible it self on this regard even when the bible points out the same phenomenon. Thruoughout its pages selflessness. Overcomes Faith. That’s the cicle people believed and prospered but once they prospered in all sorts of goods and knowledge,pride overturned all and they were seeking for something else that the one that prospered them seeking for something new. That is happening to all nations now from tthe poorest to the wealtiest ones specially the last ones tommies full and pace Around them so no need for God but one a big catastrophe. Strikes ; or a big earthquake happens no atheists no unreligious people found apl the churches get full even those who ask their names to be removed from record tremble. Soon. We will see something like that just watch. then those evil things that we once rejected and we now defend will immediately come to mind . if you do not believe ,keep challenging Hod the way you are now and you will give me the reason its a magger of a few years you will see.God blesses the humble. With vissions a d even angelical manifestations. With the only requirement that they believe but at the same time he hides from those who rebel against him and his servants denying his existence. Alma chapter nine from verse 15 to 25. Testify of the manner in wbich he operates i am a personal witness of this God still manifest and talks to us and the devil do the same fighting for our souls .

      • Gilberto velazquez permalink

        Thise are the signs of the last days denile. Of agods existence, figthing Against Gods prophets ,doubt selfishnes embracing and defending Sin homosexuality and lesbianism is simple abominable on Gods eyes no matter how good these people are they are good the act is not it is the same as adultery or fornication for heterosexuals distorting. Of truth etc they are the work of the father of lies don you guys get it look around.

  21. An atheist sees a glass as being empty a religious person sees the glass as full of air. They both see the same and interpret it differently. GOD is everywhere so an atheist sees him/her/it as nothing – while the religious person says its omnipresence. A buddist doesn’t believe in god at all – they see nothingness as the overridng pressence. The chinese call this tao. The Maya call it nature. If two people see it the same way they form a relgion.

  22. Great post and thread!

    I apologize before hand for not adding much of substance to the thread but I just wanted to respond to this statement I noted in the OP:

    “what does “ground of being” even mean? I probably haven’t thought about it much, so I’ll say it’s meaningless.”

    This link was helpful to me when I was trying to understand what people meant when they referred to God as “The Ground of Being.” Not sure I get it all…but it was helpful for at least getting a reference point.

    Again, thanks for a great discussion.

  23. I just read a testimony from Richard Bushman (famous LDS author) who said he would still believe in Jesus even if they found and verified a discovery of his bones in the earth.

  24. If it’s the same testimony I’m thinking of, the paragraph that includes Bushman’s discussion of the bones of Jesus argument is another reason I have such a hard time taking Mormon scholars seriously. He starts off expressing admiration for the empiricism of Mormon belief (a common enough Mormon sentiment), but by the end of the paragraph, what he winds up actually testifying to is the dogged persistence of Mormon scholars who carry on despite repeated failure to find any evidence to support Mormon claims (a much less common Mormon sentiment). It’s the kind of rarefied rendering of a typical Mormon testimony that puts me right off and leads me to suspect Bushman’s doubts are no less profound than my own.

    And, unless I’m misreading him, I don’t think Bushman has said anything about how he’d respond to the discovery of Christ’s bones. His point was that Christians hold that out as an example of theoretical falsifiability, while Mormons face the greater, more immediate, more real challenge of practical falsifiability. Apparently, that makes Mormonism that much more interesting and Mormon scholars worthy of attention, per Bushman.

  25. Troth,

    Have you posted that link before…it looks familiar.


    Oops! I’ve been away from the blog for a while, so I didn’t notice that your comment had gotten tripped up in the spam filter. Please don’t think that I was trying to censor you.

    As to what you say, I also have noticed this trend with many Mormon scholars. The spottiness or less-than-idealness of Mormonism (and the fact that the scholar knows about it) becomes a point of pride.

  26. Hey, no worries. I’m posting from the other side of the planet and used to waiting hours for folks to wake up and free my comments. Hope I’m not side-tracking the discussion by talking about Bushman. I think Sarah’s comment triggered a response b/c Seth R. kicked things off with this:

    “What the divine in any religious tradition has required of human beings is devotion and transformation in the life of the believer.”

    And so by the time I get to the end of the thread, and Bushman’s name pops up, this question came to mind: What does “transformation” look like in the Mormon context? Can anyone name a well-known Mormon scholar who is NOT from a multi-generation Mormon family? I mean, I guess my question for Mormon scholars (or bloggers) who want to talk about “transformation” would be: so, when did you start believing in Mormonism? Primary?

    • Seth R. permalink

      Chino, the problem again is that you’re trying to boil down the entire thing to cerebral assent about the existence of a divine being again – with your question about “did you start believing in Primary?” remark.

      Transformation is a process. With Primary only encompassing a small part of it. So honestly, what does Primary have to do with anything?

      • Seth R., thing is, as far as I can tell, the problem you’re describing is not limited to atheists … a similar “cerebral assent” is what bugs me about Bushman, Givens, Oman and many (most) other Mormon scholars.

        As others have said before – the mere acknowledgment of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling cannot be the main point of religion. These are not exactly trivial aspects, but by themselves, they come pretty darn close.

        What the divine in any religious tradition has required of human beings is devotion and transformation in the life of the believer.

        Honestly, what does some weak cerebral mental assent have to do with that?

        So you believe in Nephi and Joseph Smith?

        Congratulations – now tell me, show me how that belief has transformed your life and the lives of your fellow believers.

        To the extent that you can, I’ll respect your devotion, but to the extent that Mormons have become mostly indistinguishable from the host culture, I can’t.

  27. Gah. I gotta stop dropping annoying drive-by comments when I’m on my way out the door from work. I think what I was also responding to was this article in the Trib:

    LDS scholar Terryl Givens: Defensiveness has left Mormonism in a pickle

    In Terryl’s case, the answer is apparently that the BofM somehow remains a “completely untapped resource” …

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